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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“Do you See What I See?: Visibility of Practices through Social Media”

Knowing that I was going to speak at two different events within a week of one another to distinctly different audiences needing to hear a similar message, I decided to craft one talk for both Supernova and Le Web. This talk is one of my more serious talks, looking at problematic practices in social media and inviting the audience to do something about it. Fundamentally, it’s a talk about visibility… about our ability to see what’s happening in the world thanks to the Internet. And about our needs to ask ourselves what kind of world we want to live in.

As always, I’ve made my crib available:

“Do you See What I See?: Visibility of Practices through Social Media”

If you’d prefer to listen to what I actually said (since I’m terrible at sticking to the crib), you might want to check out the video from Le Web or the video from Supernova (with the beautifully complementary talk by Adam Greenfield). Enjoy!

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6 comments to “Do you See What I See?: Visibility of Practices through Social Media”

  • danah,

    Great insight into the visibility world of social technologies. It has always been interesting to me that people have seen these technologies as “new” or “innovative” where in reality they are just different portals into the world that has always existed.

    I enjoyed your view of the three stories you described during your presentation. I feel that there is an important idea that is missed in the world of visibility that most people do not understand: Text vs. Graphics. With text we create the perceptions of reality through the imagination. So the Ivy league school hearing that the young boy wanting to leave his gang ridden group, the Father who see’s the “what type of drug” are you, and the unresponsive social worker only can visualize what their experiencess tell them about the text they read. Possibly it is heart breaking, possibly it is caution, or possibly it is the boy who cried wolf.

    The difference is when you put images alongside the contextual text that a different illusion of reality takes place. Seeing an image brings a virtual tangibility to the discussion. So when you see an image of the gang signs, the mound of dust in the graphic of the quiz, or a bruise on the body a completly different set of assumptions are created. That image creates the illusion of tangible reality, whether true or false, but it’s that image of tangibility that people hold onto as fact. This is where people who post and people who consume miss opportunities of connection: Positive or Negative.

    I think the balance is how the publisher provides information vs. how the subscriber consumes that information. And an education on both sides is needed to have understanding of visibility be the most powerful. When does text outshine graphics and when does the opposite hold true? If the student showed pictures of studying, working, and improving themself included within the other graphic gang images it might have helped given creedence of the essay in the mind of the admissions person. If the daughter posted on a blog the silliness of this quizzes that “everyone” takes, the father might not have had as much concern. If there were pictures prominent showing some of the violence posted on her myspace page possibly it might have garnered more attention. Knowing how to present and consume the visibility and how different mediums are interpreted does make a difference.

    I love how you end with we need to look, see and act for things that we can create a positive effect. We all need to be more cognazent of what is out there on-line and in the worlds we integrate. A wonderful post and I hope I didn’t degrade your presentation too much with my comment. :)

  • I recently read Visibility practices through social media and I thought it was very insigtful.
    I am a grad student an we have been working through all of the web2.0 tools and how to use them in the classroom or in the business world. Recently we began exploring saftey of web2.0 programs. I think this article speaks to the practical uses and how social media can be misinterpreted.
    http://educationillusions.blogspot.com/2009/12/professional-blog-2.html

  • danah,
    Thanks for this report.

    You said, “What people write (in social media) is based on who they follow, not who follows them.”

    Your conclusion focused on what “we” (society?) should do because of this access into other (possibly hurting) people’s experiences. You did NOT give us your own short list of possible interventions, however. (Your other, quite transparent publications and blogs suggest a few, but that makes us have to guess; a rarely accurate communications model.)

    I wonder: Since GIGO is an apparently valid principle, what “change” can be introduced into other people’s experiences (into their otherwise traumatized lives) by “channeling” their attention spans, by attracting them to follow other individuals or other categories of individuals than those they are currently following?

    Hmmm. This suddenly makes me think of time-travel literature; what would change in history if we went back and only changed one tiny thing–such as whether a person sank into a Facebook mediated introspective Hell or… something else?

    BTW, I am an Ed Tech “system” and interface developer (poor, lone cowboy) trying to teach some college kids techniques that would significantly change the way they use social media–and make it a catalyst for personal productivity. (Or, possibly, just be more fun with less angst.)

  • Yep, good work Danah,

    We really need folks like yourself that look deeper into the socio/psychological effects of the internet. After all, it was DARPA that developed it.
    I find social polarization on the web politically to be a huge barrier towards creating any agreement on facts. I also find that the non accountability issue means a group can pretend to acknowledge facts that are non existent and socially intimidate others from participating in rational discourse.
    Since the relocation of the usenet, and the promotion of .com, the notion of free speech on the internet is gone. Message boards and forums ban people for posting facts and reason without thinking twice, and there is literally no place to go where it is protected.
    It could be said the microsoft was enabled to steal the apple operating system after 25 or so apple attoneys created an iron clad contract so apple could safely proceed with contracting microsoft to optimize word and excel for the apple. The contract was meaningless in federal court. Now, PC’s running windows have immense vulnerability to viruses and apples cannot connect to the usenet without special software purchases.
    American governments have always used PC’s so those people working there and the others, with a bite out of the apple have no place to go.
    Software producers of browsers obsolete a generation of computers in a few years by making larger memory requirements and more bells and whistles on websites. A class division is created when people cannot afford to upgrade their machines to run new web browsers.
    Happy New Year!

    Chris

  • Kudos for pointing this out. I just gae your link to the crib to a friend, Mary Lu Wehmeier, who’s encountering a similar phenomenon among Facebook-using ice+roller figure skaters and their coaches:

    Mary Lu’s status on Facebook :

    Comment to Coaches: Skaters posting how well they placed or won a contest is not bragging or being hurtful to other skaters. Two points: 1) This is how kids share how they did to their friends and family and for feedback, and 2) Other skaters need to understand it’s a skating COMPETITION. These comments I’m getting about skaters being told to take their placements off FB is insane!

  • I think the balance is how the publisher provides information vs. how the subscriber consumes that information. And an education on both sides is needed to have understanding of visibility be the most powerful. When does text outshine graphics and when does the opposite hold true? If the student showed pictures of studying, working, and improving themself included within the other graphic gang images it might have helped given creedence of the essay in the mind of the admissions person. If the daughter posted on a blog the silliness of this quizzes that “everyone” takes, the father might not have had as much concern. If there were pictures prominent showing some of the violence posted on her myspace page possibly it might have garnered more attention. Knowing how to present and consume the visibility and how different mediums are interpreted does make a difference.

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