My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & 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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an interview with me

I did an interview with WireTap a while back about MySpace and youth. Today, it was reposted on Alternet. It’s an OK interview – not very in-depth, but it’s hard to be in-depth in that format. Still, the comments on Alternet make me sad. I’m called “barely articulate” and a “typical talking head” (and my age is brought into the discussion as a way to dismiss me). It’s always peculiar to see my speaking style in written form; i feel far more coherent when i control the written form. That said, those labels sting.

I’m also accused of being too blase about the safety issues. As with all interviews, i gloss over a lot of details to get general ideas across but it is driving me nuts that everyone assumes that because i think we’ve gone too far in the direction of moral panics and culture of fear that i don’t care about safety or teenagers or rape. I find myself wanting to scream. I spent five years working on the issues of rape, domestic violence, and other violence against women; safety is a very real concern of mine, but reality is far more nuanced than the sky is falling perspective seems to convey. When an extremist position is taking up the airwaves, it’s super hard to correct course and it seems as though it’s easy to be painted a radical in the opposite direction even if those are not my views ::sigh:: How have other folks combatted extreme media positions before? Any advice for being more effective?

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27 comments to an interview with me

  • Every time an ignoramus opens their mouth, they prove your points. I wanted to go through the comments one by one to illustrate this, but they really irritated me too much.

    The best way I know to be effective is to speak to an audience that is willing and able to understand your message. (Pity that rarely happens, though it looks like you did at least get a good percentage of such on alternet.) Don’t let the bastards get you down.

    Or, in fine: It’s them, not you.

  • DK

    I saw the same article and have had similar experiences of unfair criticism by ‘lazy’ individuals. Rise abiove it is easy to say but hard to do (even thought it’s the right course of action). Any rebuttal only serves to inflame the issue.

    Best course of action is two-fold: embrace the fact you have more trust and respect from your audience than they ever will and hook up with some friends and create some fun memories 🙂

    Failing that – chinese burns and back-of-the-knee slaps are always good!

    DK

  • I haven’t had to deal with the media, but for years I represented in online forums such as the Usenet the company that was the 800-pound gorilla in its category (Adaptec/Roxio, in CD-R software). Because we were big, we were assumed automatically to be evil, out to screw the customer, part of some big Microsoft conspiracy (to do *what* was never clear), compulsive liars, etc. etc.

    If you do a Usenet search on my name today you will STILL find nasty posts from an obsessed individual, dated 5 years after I (very publicly) left Roxio.

    I just never rose to it. I was so consistently sweet, reasonable, and honest that everybody else would gang up on the trolls to defend me (the above-mentioned individual was shut down by ISP after ISP upon complaints of harassment – which never came from me).

    Mind you, it was tiring being nice to everybody *all* the time. But it worked.

    Just keep defending your side as politely as you can, and never stoop to their level. Those of us who know and love you are still here, and I suspect there are orders of magnitude more of us than them.

  • Bertil

    People victim of extreme media? Mmmh: what about Jews since the Middle Age, Protestant Christians little after that, colored people or foreigners when available… None have been able to be heard, and their lives were generally at stake.

    One common successful point, though: humour. One of the cleverest and most convincing things I’ve heard about excessive policy against sexual predator is Jon Steward explaining that “[approximate, bad memory, quote] the GOP refused to expose Mark Foley because they were afraid of being looked as homophobic gay-bahsrs: considering a 42 yo man – 16 yo boy relation as gay, _that_ is homophobic”. Notice Jon never said what he thinks, he just unfolds someone’s opinion, twisting it so that it looks ridiculous. No one is really hurt as it looks exagerated (not sure it is, but that is another issue) and no one will blame you for making a joke.

    MySpace is great comic material, and you can certainly find some one-liners that will illustrate a well-though analysis.

    You have little other options, if you are dealing with delicate issues, other then to be perfectly accurate, and to prefer written form, or at least, a very precise style. Think Robert Stallman: he is no fun, but he manages his way in a very tedious mix of international law, unscrupulous lobby, evolving tech and heart-felt principles; how? Be being a pain, repeating the same factual elements, telling everyone else they are wrong, because they are.

    I recommand you compare the probability of being harrased, or meeting creppy people with the odds of dying of a fire-arm, in a car crash, because your school suddenly crumbled, or the (always surprisingly high) odd of dying because of a meteorite. But that is me being geeky again

  • Bertil

    Oh: I checked the comments on Alternet (a very neat publication, thank you for the link). Except for the first one, that I asked out for obvious reasons, I found nothing offensive.

  • The safety issue is the most concerning to those inclined not to believe you, so while it may be tiresome to do so, I’d suggest you mention the fact that the majority of child abuse is perpetrated within the family whenever you’re addressing stranger danger and online activity.

  • Ignore them completely. You are extremely good and knowledgeable at what you do. They are just carping and probably envious.

  • In this day and age, when you’re in the public eye, you must use words carefully. Otherwise, they will be taken out of context.

    You should have someone, with a critical eye, look over your speeches/presentations before you give them. I’ve seen some of your videos and you do seem a little “loosey-goosey”. I’ve also read your blog posts and they to are difficult to read. Thus, I read very few of them.

    Simplify your content. Most people, including you, are new to all this stuff.

  • Bob

    danah,

    I disagree with the post that asks you to simplify your message/speaking style/blog. You are a very smart person talking about very complex issues. It stands to reason your arguments will be complex (although I don’t find your blog difficult to follow, and I watched a video of a lecture you gave in North Carolina and you were very clear). Dumbing down what you have to say would do a disservice your readers/listeners/students.

    Bob

  • It’s funny (and often disturbing) the wya the internet .. the anonymity of it .. encourages some people to say thing to and about others that they’d never dare say to their face .. I wonder if the comments people make on forums, etc regarding their beliefs and feelings are truly accurate though, or possibly just a lot of cathartic venting, misdirected though it may be at otherwise innocent victims. Anyway, I’ve been enjoying you blog and find you exquisitely articulate.

  • Rich

    danah, you’ve done nothing wrong. Your responses were on-target. Perhaps a question better than “How can I be more effective?” is “In which environments should I conduct interviews?” AlterNet is an environment that encourages news as discourse rather than news as information first. In that environment, anyone’s comments will be taken apart. However, I’m sure you know that for every bad comment that appears, there likely are dozens of good comments that don’t appear.

    Your work speaks for itself. Let the bad comments roll off your back.

    You have the power to choose the media in which you appear. It all depends on what you want from the brand “danah boyd.”

  • EH

    danah,

    You came off just fine in that article. The comments are just “I don’t agree with you, so you must be wrong, uneducated, and your shirt must be ugly” comments. They are taking the disagreements they have with you about your conclusion, and since they don’t have the facts that you have to back their position up, they are trying to turn it into a personal fight. It’s a common (and totally annoying) fighting style.

    Never let the assholes bring you down.

    Emily 🙂

  • Howard Rheingold

    I’ve learned a great deal from some of the stinging criticism that greeted my early work, danah. No need to dwell on the bullshit, but it makes sense to disarm the obvious and most sensible criticisms in advance by the way you frame your statements and responses. You and I agree that so much of the concern about the danger of online predators for youth is moral panic, and you are in a great position to point out to people that if they are really concerned about sexual abuse of children, they need to be alert to the 80%+ of such abuse that is perpetrated by relatives. But frame your statements about that topic by including some advice about ways that parents and teachers, even those who aren’t Internet-savvy, can help protect kids from the tiny percentage of such abuse that is initiated online — by educating them about what to do when they are suspicious of approaches by strangers, and encouraging them to think critically about everything they see online, especially personal solicitations. This is just one obvious example, but in general, I think you will do well to defuse such criticism before it starts by incorporating it into your public statements and interview responses when appropriate. I have often been accused of utopianism and technological determinism. To the degree that those are legit criticisms, I have certainly added an emphasis on caution about the dangers of technological practices, and my use of language has for a long time incorporated the importance of human agency when talking about the effects of technology. I hope this is useful.

  • I find it extraordinary you would ever be accused of being unable to articulate something regarding social networking sites. Certainly none of the things I’ve read here point to that. In fact, quite the opposite. This is where I go to understand what’s going on.

  • Steve

    I went and read the Alternet comments, and I think maybe danah is being oversensitive. I thought the comments were pretty well balanced between supportive and dismissive, with a pretty large portion that just shared their own insights without taking any firm “pro” or “anti” position on danah.

    It is a pretty typical online forum discussion, albeit miniaturized, as the actual number of comments and replies were fairly small. There were the thoughtful, the opinionated, the flamers – all the standard types that have been known since the days of usenet.

    And, important to remember, the discussion as a whole is a living intellectual process, not just a static set of messages. People gave opinions, others responded, dialogue occurred. This is the “marketplace” of ideas at work. Even one of danah’s strong critics had a few good points. He said we idolize teen culture. Who could deny that. And the media firestorm over MySpace, et al. is not really comprehensible unless that tendency is considered. He said parents should go online and see what their kids are doing. Generally I support that, except that if the parents happen to be assholes, which some are, their online relationship with their kid will probably be unhealthy. But that just reflects reality offline, and the solution to that is to stop being an asshole, not to think that in principle you shouldn’t check up on your kid.

    So, generally, I thought the alternet discussion was fruitful. Face it, you are in a controversial area where feelings run high and buttons are easy to push. If everybody liked you it would be a sure sign that your work was safe and meaningless. If you make statements that are profound and meaningful, you will upset applecarts, you will rock boats, you will piss off assholes. Get used to it.

    All for now,
    -Steve

  • I think the best defense to those who “think” we are not concerned about safety online is to talk with the kids who are online. Just yesterday, my 17-year-old daughter was interviewed by a local TV station doing an article about online safety. They asked her the question: “Have you ever been approached online about any creepy people?” Her response: “No. Once in awhile I get a comment from someone I don’t know and I just delete it!” She would tell you that for teenagers to reply online to people they don’t know and agree to meet them is just dumb!

  • Steve

    Rob,

    What you have presented is true for your daughter, and undoubtedly many other teens. But teenagers are such a diverse population that I really don’t think we know enough to generalize. Many teens surely are sensible, and experience little or no risk online. But there may well be other populations of online teens that experience greater risk. Unless and until we see some reliable numbers to sort this out, we really don’t know.

    -Steve

  • hey there danah–

    i love your work. i’ve been using your ideas when talking about folks i know with children. some ways that i frame your research when discussing it, that make it easier for folks to listen:

    * of course we are all concerned with protecting children. danah has done x number of years in violence prevention work– she’s always thinking about safety as she does her research.

    * most children are not at risk for violence when they go online; most children are only talking to people they already know online.

    * a very small minority of children go online actively looking to meet new people, because they are so isolated in real-life. it is actually possible to identify these children based on their networks of connections– one of the things danah is looking at is how to do online social work to reach out to and help at-risk children who could not otherwise be reached.

    you don’t necessarily need to go into all of those issues, but i think it would be useful to make a few statements in interviews:

    * i am extremely concerned about children’s safety, and have done x years of violence prevention work.

    * the internet is safer for children then many other activities that they do all the time– list some.

    * comfort with computers is crucial for folks today to be able to get jobs, participate as citizens, etc. one of the ways folks get comfortable with computers is by going online. so you have to look at the risk vs the benefit when discussing children’s online access.

    * the best thing parents can do to protect kids when they go online is to talk to them about how they respond when somebody they don’t know contacts them.

    just some thoughts on potential ways to frame your ideas. good luck! yr already the most effective person doing this work; but i fully believe you can get even more effective!

    xxxooo

    nabil

  • Elle

    ” Social researcher danah boyd (who generally chooses not to capitalize her name) ”
    That certainly gave the tone to the article. Even if that detail has nothing to do with anything, it irritated conservative readers. After all, who are you to ditch the Caps!!? 😉 It’s very suttle, but such intro gives a tone to an article. All of a sudden, you’re not the phd candidate and specialist, but the women that doesn’t capitalize her name ! Anyways, don’t worry about it. You can’t control the way the media willl package the paper (I’m sure the writer din’t mean harm). I work in the media, and really, the truth is, as soon as you express anything, you’ll find somebody somewhere that will either be shoked, or bitch about something said !
    Lastly, i found it quite interesting, how parents/ teachers responded…. Hey, guys, the best way to know your teen is to TALK to them.. not get scientific about their online activity ! !! Cheers !

  • Steve

    ” Social researcher danah boyd (who generally chooses not to capitalize her name) ”

    From the viewpoint of the writer, I think they almost have to include something to that effect. Otherwise readers might think it was an error.

    This will ease up when danah becomes as famous as e e cummings.

  • Elle

    What I’m saying as that with such an intro it becomes about danah’s caracter, not her discours.. it’s called an anchor point. The anchor point, here,is that there are her name have no Caps . So people, conservative stuck-up people will decide right away to discredite danah bcause of her ”queer” ways and out of the box attitude. Readers can be manipulated with intros and ways to present the info, but not many journalist get that in journalism. That being said, danah, you don’t capitalize your name and change your style just for a few idiots ! The more you get out there, the more they will find you !!! Frustrated humans that focus on positions rather than interests are everywhere !!! So my advice : forget with idiots and if the critics are right then learn from them.
    ok now,moving on to something else. 20 comments on a futile matter is typical, is’nt it !? 😉

  • Steve

    Elle,

    I understand the effect you are pointing out – some people will interpret an uncapitalized name as literary pretentiousness and cop an attitude.

    All I was trying to say is that I don’t think this intro was malicious or represented deliberate framing on the part of the writer. Look at their problem in presentation. The first thing they need to mention is their subject’s name. And, as it happens, the presentation of that name immediately breaks traditional rules of style. If the writer doesn’t insert the caveat that this is the way danah chooses to present her name, it leaves them open to the audience assuming this is an error in presentation on their own part.

    Perhaps there might have been a more graceful way to resolve that concern, but none occurs to me.

    -Steve

  • Jeff

    Many of the criticisms are generational. Take solice in the fact that you’ll outlive them.

  • Kristina

    What’s up with Brazilian kids doing fake people on Orkut?

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/kadiwow/376437011/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sesameellis/376208877/

    Sigh… my contacts on Flickr are pretty upset about this, I fear this will lead to a second wave of exodus.

  • min

    danah,
    i’d just like to say: as a youth and from a youth’s perspective, you were spot on, not only in this interview but in all your comments, interviews, blog posts, etc., etc…. just keep on doing the best you can. you are reaching far more than you know.
    and thanks for always having a different perspective on things. it’s very refreshing!

  • I think this is a really important question you ask, danah, not because it’s about personal criticism (which I’m sure you pass over pretty quickly), but because it is about expressing complex issues in ways that extend our constituencies of listening. I don’t agree that we should only speak to our charmed circles of agreement, because what’s so radical about that? (Besides, I work with the police on violence against women and children, so I know where some of this comes from!)

    I agree with your friends who have prefaced your insights with a few ‘explanatory’ messages, or who have combined complex arguments with simple(r) – and not necessarily simplistic – messages. Often, using these messages (with a dose of humour/irony/satire) helps in getting people to a threshold of engaged listening (even if it’s not in agreement). Post that, you can raise the bar on complexity.

    Frankly, I think you do that already in your writing on this blog; I hardly work in this area, but greatly enjoy reading your posts. So perhaps you should just figure out ways of getting this potent brew into your interviews!

    And even publishers sometimes capitalise cummings: ouch. 🙂

  • pekpekshorts

    “How have other folks combated extreme media positions before? Any advice for being more effective?”

    Media or not, the keyword is ‘extreme.’ Watch a mac fanboy’s face turn red as his blood pressure rise when performance related questions are asked about his machine. And how do you make a point to someone who’s already considered you inept for using a PC? You can’t.