My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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justice, fairness, power and privilege

While Marko’s reflection on Clay’s writing prompted me to go off on a tangent about privilege, Joi jumps in to ask are blogs just? and Clay offers a return. The foundational components of this question requires teasing out whether things are fair and/or just and what impact that has on the relevant social groups.

While Joi really unpacks the notion of justice, Clay retorts by pointing out that he’s really focused on fairness. In his argument, though, he notes the economic (lack of) cost involved in blogs. This is what prompted my tangent, but perhaps i should return here. When something costs time and time is a precious commodity, is it truly fair (or equalizing)? Clay also argues that there is no vetting (“subject to expert appraisal or correct”) process. Perhaps not officially, but public blogging is one of (counter)critique and, thus, there is a feeling of a power hierarchy that makes people feel the need to be properly appraised in order to participate. Finally, Clay notes that the threshold for having a blog is only slightly higher than the threshold for getting online. I wish that this was true. This is where issues of social pressure, time, literacy, confidence, etc. come into play. Consumption and production are fundamentally different and there are different forms of pressure when engaging with either. There is no way that one can possibly say that the threshold for consumption is equivalent to the threshold for production.

As a moral question, fairness is inherently intertwined with power and privilege. Thus, this statement by Clay worries me:

To a number of people (including Joi?) evidence of injustice, even in fair systems, calls for some sort of remedy. I can’t imagine a system that would right the obvious but hard to quantify injustice of the weblog world that wouldn’t also destroy its dynamism.

Does this mean that privilege should beget privilege because it makes for cool, dynamic technology? I, for one, would love to hear Clay/Joi discuss the relevance of power and privilege in this discussion.

(For those who are reading this in RSS land, make sure to read the comments on Joi’s blog. Apprently this philosophical discussion is a bit too heady for some and thus the comments are a riot.)

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5 comments to justice, fairness, power and privilege

  • boyd, Ahtisaari, and Butterfield v. Me. (Don’t bet on me.)

    danah boyd (love child of e.e. cummings and archie), Marko Ahtisaari and Stewart Butterfiled take apart my rationale for claims of fairness in the weblog world, taken from the powerlaws paper, and find two flaws I have to cop to….

  • What an we do now to help blogs be more just

    My last blog entry about blogs and justice was a bit theoretical and ended with more questions than answers. Maybe…

  • What can we do to help blogs promote justice?

    My last blog entry about blogs and justice was a bit theoretical and ended with more questions than answers. Maybe…

  • Is the world of blogging ‘fair’? And if not what should be done?

    The main point that has been missing so far in the discussion I think is that the barriers to blogging or other self-publishing (in the developed world at least) are not solely (or even mainly) money and time but attitude. It takes a certain att…

  • Fairness in the blogging world is not just about cool, dynamic technology or about the time people have to spend online typing in their thoughts.

    The sort of public blogging that people compete for attention in and form A-lists is at least as much about discretionary income for conspicuously consumable toys, travel budgets to see each other in lovely far-away places on a regular basis, and other trappings of the rock star lifestyle. When rock stars express their opinions, people listen.

    When something costs money and money is a precious commodity, is it fair?