Tag Archives: research

Participatory Culture: What questions do you have?

Question Mark GraffitiHenry Jenkins, Mimi Ito, and I have embarked on an interesting project for Polity. Through a series of dialogues, we’re hoping to produce a book that interrogates our different thoughts regarding participatory culture. The goal is to unpack our differences and agreements and identify some of the challenges that we see going forward. We began our dialogue this week and had a serious brain jam where we interrogated our own assumptions, values, and stakes in doing the research that we each do and thinking about the project of participatory culture more generally. For the next three weeks, we’re going to individually reflect before coming back to begin another wave of deep dialoguing in the hopes that the output might be something that others (?you?) might be interested in reading.

And here’s where we’re hoping that some of our fans and critics might be willing to provoke us to think more deeply.

  • What questions do you have regarding participatory culture that you would hope that we would address?
  • What criticisms of our work would you like to offer for us to reflect on?
  • What do you think that we fail to address in our work that you wish we would consider?

For those who are less familiar with this concept, Henry and his colleagues describe a “participatory culture” as one:

  1. With relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
  2. With strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
  3. With some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
  4. Where members believe that their contributions matter
  5. Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created).

This often gets understood through the lens of “Web2.0” or “user-generated content,” but this is broadly about the ways in which a networked society rich with media enables new forms of interaction and engagement. Some of the topics that we are considering covering include “new media literacies,” “participation gap” and the digital divide, the privatization of culture, and networked political engagement. And, needless to say, a lot of our discussion will center on young people’s activities and the kinds of learning and social practices that take place. So what do *you* want us to talk about?

CFP: public-facing papers on Youth Movements / Youth Organizations

Scholars, researchers, & academics – we need your help!  Below is a “Call for Papers” on issues that many of you know about. We’re looking for your help in translating some of the amazing scholarly work out into a format that can be shared with advocates, activists, organizers, and other change-makers.  If you’re working on areas related to youth movements or youth organizations – or you know people who are – please read/share this CFP.  Thanks!!!

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society is delighted to announce a Call for Papers for The Kinder & Braver World Project: Research Series (danah boyd and John Palfrey, editors) presented by the Berkman Center and the Born This Way Foundation, and supported by the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

For more information regarding the series, please see:

This working paper series publishes short papers that synthesize existing peer-reviewed research or equivalent scholarship and provide research-grounded insight to the variety of stakeholders working on issues related to youth empowerment and action towards creating a kinder, braver world.  The papers grow out of different types of research (e.g., social science, mental health, medical, legal) and are aimed at different audiences (e.g., youth, parents, teachers, school boards, religious leaders, policy makers).  It will be developed in phases, and over time will cover a wide range of topics related to youth empowerment and the development of kindness and bravery.

For this call, we are looking for papers that are related to two topics:

  • Youth Movements for Social Change. What is known about youth organizing and youth social movements?  How do adults and youth work together for social change?  How do youth movements leverage technology? What are psychosocial predictors of youth engagement? How do peer norms affect youth activism? What is the relationship between self-efficacy and youth empowerment? What are key research insights that organizations trying to create a social movement with youth need to know?
  • The Role of Youth Organizations.  Youth have long participated in religious and secular organizations, including programs like the Girl Scouts of America, 4-H, and Gay-Straight Alliances.  How has participation in these organizations shaped youths’ worldviews, civic engagement, and social wellbeing?  What kinds of organizational structures work best to engage youth? Does participation in youth organizations predict healthy civic engagement? How is social media used by youth organizations? What are notable successes and failures in creating youth organizations? What are key lessons from youth organizations that anyone working to support youth should know?

For more information, see the call for papers: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/youthandmedia/kinderbraverworld.

To view previous papers on Meanness and Cruelty, see: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/node/7491


Important Dates

Submissions are due by July 25, 2012 to kbw-series@cyber.law.harvard.edu.

For information on content and formatting requirements, as well as our review process and all other deadlines, please review our Guidelines to Authors: http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/node/7747.

Learn more about The Kinder & Braver World Research Series here:http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/research/youthandmedia/kinderbraverworld.

We look forward to hearing from you; please forward and distribute widely to networks that may be interested.

Bringing Research to Bear on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Minors (a.k.a. “child sex trafficking”)

I believe that technology can be leveraged to empower people in amazing ways, but I also recognize that it can also be used in deeply disturbing ways. All too often, when we as a society see technology being used in horrible ways, we want to blame and ban the technology. As a researcher invested in leveraging the visibility of ugliness to make serious cultural change, my role is to step back and see if we can understand better what’s going on in order to more significantly impact the issue at hand.

I know that technology is being used in the commercial sexual exploitation of minors. I also know that many people have responded to the visibility of “child sex trafficking” on commercial websites by wanting to shut down those commercial websites. Seeing horrible things makes people want to act, which is fantastic. Unfortunately, without focus, those actions can be counterproductive. As a researcher dedicated to ending crimes against children, my goal is to make sure that we understand what we’re doing so that we actually address the core of the problem, not just the most visible symptoms of it. Unfortunately, we know very little about how children are advertised, bought, sold, and exploited through the use of technology. There are plenty of anecdotes, but rigorous data is limited. This I realized was something that I could help with. As a researcher, my goal has been to try to untangle the complex ecosystem and obtain data that can help us actually go after the root of the problem.

I worked with Heather Casteel and Mitali Thakor to construct a framing document to ask challenging questions about how technology is being used in human trafficking and, specifically, the commercial sexual exploitation of minors. Microsoft Research Connections (Rane Johnson-Stempson), the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit (Samantha Doerr, Bill Harmon, and Sue Hotelling), and I put together an RFP last December asking for researchers to submit proposals about how they would research and address some of the hard puzzles in this ecosystem. We were surprised – and delighted – to get far more viable, thought-provoking, and important proposals than we could fund. After a difficult decision process, we decided to fund six projects that are intended to bring important research to bear on this important issue. The grant recipients we funded are as follows:

  • Dr. Nicole Bryan, Dr. Ross Malaga, and Dr. Sasha Poucki of Montclair State University and Dr. Rachel Swaner of the Center for Court Innovation, for research on how networked technologies, including the Internet, mobile phones, and social media, are used by “johns” to procure children for sexual purposes.
  • Dr. Susan McIntyre of Calgary, Alberta, Dr. Dawne Clark of Mount Royal University, and Norm Lewis research assistant at Mount Royal University, for research on the role of technology in the recruiting, buying, and selling of victims in the sex trafficking industry.
  • Professor Mary G. Leary of the Catholic University of America, for a comprehensive assessment of judicial opinions on child sex trafficking issued over the last ten years.
  • Dr. Kimberly Mitchell of the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center, for research on technology’s role in facilitating child sex trafficking and understanding the benefits and obstacles for law enforcement.
  • Dr. Jennifer Musto of Rice University, for research on how law enforcement leverages the benefits and overcomes the obstacles of using technology in combating the trafficking of children for commercial sexual exploitation.
  • Dr. Anna W. Shavers, Dr. Dwayne Ball, Professor Matt Waite, Professor Sriyani Tidball, and Dr. David Keck of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, for research into identifying the clandestine language used in web advertising of child sex trafficking and conceptualizing intelligent software to identify such online advertisements.

My hope is that these amazing scholars will investigate these challenging issues and provide new data and analysis so that we can develop sound socio-technical interventions that really work to address the core issue: the commercial sexual exploitation of minors. Through this process, I also hope that we can begin to develop a meaningful research community to really tackle these challenging intellectual and analytic puzzles from multidisciplinary perspectives.

It’s been awe-inspiring to watch so many different organizations and institutions work on combating human trafficking – government agencies, NGOs, advocacy organizations, and corporations. My hope is that this research will provide insight into these discussions so that we can develop new tactics and strategies for helping those who are marginalized and victimized. Additionally, I hope that the development of a research community in this area will help provide a locus to which practitioners and advocacy groups can turn to develop viable interventions.

I look forward to working with these scholars and going deeper into these issues in my own research.

Born This Way Foundation: guided by research

Yesterday, Cynthia Germanotta and her daughter Lady Gaga launched their new initiative to empower youth: the Born This Way Foundation. The Foundation wants to create a kinder, braver world so that youth can be the change-agents that we all need them to be. For youth to be empowered, the Foundation recognizes that 1) youth need to be safe; 2) youth need to have skills; and 3) youth need to have opportunities.

Lady Gaga and her mother are not going at this alone. They’ve worked closely with Connie Yowell at the MacArthur Foundation to learn how to create a foundation. They’ve tapped the California Endowment, Blue State Digital, and Harvard’s Berkman Center to help them. They’ve pulled in youth, researchers, and practitioners to advise them. They’ve asked the public to engage with them, to help make this a grassroots initiative. They want all who are willing and able to help to join in and contribute. In short, they want to change the rules of philanthropy in order to create a movement.

Alongside John Palfrey, I am proud to be a Research Fellow on this project. For the last few months, John Palfrey and I have helped coordinate researchers and synthesize research in order to help inform the foundation. As part of our efforts to advise the Foundation, John and I created a working paper series where we work with scholars to synthesize research and provide grounded advice. We’ve been putting together all sorts of research material in order to help the Foundation and the public make sense of the amazing work that scholars have been doing for years. The first five documents that we prepared are now publicly available:

All of these documents are currently in draft form because we’d love the public’s feedback. If you have critiques, pleased send them to kbw-feedback@cyber.law.harvard.edu.

We are super psyched to be embarking on this initiative. John and I have spent many years working to empower youth through research and we’re ecstatic to be given an opportunity to take this to the next level!

New Pew study on tone of social network sites

Pew Internet & American Life Project just released a new study called “The tone of life on social networking sites” where they examine adult meanness and cruelty. This complements their piece on “Teens, kindness, and cruelty on social network sites.”

Like teens, most adults find people on social network sites to be kind. But what fascinates me about both the adult and teen studies is that frequent users are more likely to witness negative exchanges. (Not surprisingly, young people are more likely to be frequent users which helps explain part of why young people report higher exposure to negativity. Cuz, guess what? Adults and teens aren’t that radically different.)

But what I want to know is: why?

Most folks will probably jump to the conclusion that SNSs produce the meanness and cruelty and, thus, frequent use means more exposure. I suspect that this isn’t the case. Instead, I suspect that the types of people who are drawn to and use SNSs frequently are more likely to engage in drama, meanness, and cruelty. But who are these people?

I especially want to know more about the adults who are more likely to have negative experiences. And I really want to know if there’s a connection between teens and adults when it comes to negative experiences. For example, are teens who have bad experiences online likely to have parents who have negative experiences? Or are they totally unrelated? I can imagine it going either way. More things to think about…

In the meantime, if you’re interested in the issues of bullying, drama, meanness, and cruelty, make sure to check out these two Pew reports. They’re fascinating!

Opportunities not to miss…

Over the last six weeks, I’ve posted various opportunities for students, academics, and other scholars that I’m co-directing/hosting, many of which have deadlines looming. I want to summarize them in one post for those who either missed them or wanted some synthesis:

Microsoft Research Postdocs.

  • Who: Newly minted/about-to-be-minted PhD students working on social media topics from a social science perspective
  • Deadline: December 12, 2011
  • More Information

Special issue of JOBEM on Socially-Mediated Publicness.

  • Who: Scholars who want to publish their work on socially-mediated publicness in a fantastic journal experimenting with open-access
  • Deadline: December 12, 2011 for brief abstracts; January 6, 2012 for complete articles
  • More Information

Digital Media & Learning Summer Institute.

  • Who: Graduate students/young postdocs doing work touching on policy and innovation around digital media & learning
  • Deadline: January 9, 2012
  • Application & More Info

Microsoft Research PhD Internships.

  • Who: Current PhD students working on social media topics from a social science perspective
  • Deadline: January 10, 2012
  • More Information

Human Trafficking & Technology Research Grants.

  • Who: Scholars who can research the role of tech in different facets of human trafficking
  • Deadline: February 17, 2012
  • Request for Proposals

Please check out this opportunities and make sure that the right people you know hear about them.

Given how many amazing opportunities I had as a graduate student and young scholar, I’m really excited to be able to give back to others. Thanks to all of my collaborators and the institutions that support us in being able to create exciting spaces for scholars to flourish.

What is the Role of Technology in Human Trafficking?

Networked technologies – including the internet, mobile phones, and social media – alter how information flows and how people communicate. There is little doubt that technology is increasingly playing a role in the practices and processes surrounding human trafficking: the illegal trade of people for commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, and other forms of modern-day slavery. Yet, little is known about costs and benefits of technology’s role. We do not know if there are more human trafficking victims as a result of technology, nor do we know if law enforcement can identify perpetrators better as a result of the traces that they leave. One thing that we do know is that technology makes many aspects of human trafficking more visible and more traceable, for better and for worse. Focusing on whether technology is good or bad misses the point; it is here to stay and it is imperative that we understand the role that it is playing. More importantly, we need to develop innovative ways of using technology to address the horrors of human trafficking.

To date, as researchers at USC have highlighted, there is little empirical research into the role that technology plays in human trafficking, let alone the commercial sexual exploitation of children. As a result, new interventions and policies are being driven by intuition, speculation, and extrapolation from highly publicized incidents. There’s no doubt that all forms human trafficking and modern day slavery are horrible, but if we actually want to help those that are victimized, we need to recognize that this is a complex issue and work to understand how the puzzle pieces fits together. My team at Microsoft Research is trying to untangle technology’s role in different facets of the human trafficking ecosystem, fully recognizing how complicated and messy it is. This is why we need your help.

Thanks to the generous support of the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit and Microsoft Research, I’m proud to announce a pool of grant money for researchers who can help us understand critical elements of the puzzle. Please forward this far and wide because we’re hoping to find scholars with the skills, domain knowledge, and passion to really help us interrogate how technology is used in human trafficking. We need anthropologists, communications scholars, computer scientists, criminologists, psychologists, sociologists, etc.

In order to help contextualize our RFP, we have prepared a framework document meant to map out one slice of the human trafficking ecosystem: “Human Trafficking and Technology: A framework for understanding the role of technology in the commercial sexual exploitation of children in the U.S.” This document is meant to articulate some of the complex issues and hard questions that we face in trying to understand technology’s role in one aspect of human trafficking. If you’re interested in this space, please be critical and challenge our thinking.

We are also looking to identify scholars who are working in this space, including graduate students and postdocs and researchers whose work is not yet published. Even if you’re not looking for grant money, please drop us a line if you’re grappling with technology’s role in human trafficking.

On a more personal note, I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to work for an organization that is willing to sponsor this line of inquiry. It’s amazing to work with colleagues who are all deeply passionate about really understanding this horrible practice in order to do what’s right. We’re all deeply committed to the importance of research and grounding our decisions in research. And we’re all deeply grateful to all of those out there who are determined to end the violence and oppression that comes with commercial sexual exploitation and modern day slavery.

Thank you! And we look forward to hearing from you!

Related Posts:

Image Source: Brandon Christopher Warren, Flickr

Six Provocations for Big Data

The era of “Big Data” has begun. Computer scientists, physicists, economists, mathematicians, political scientists, bio-informaticists, sociologists, and many others are clamoring for access to the massive quantities of information produced by and about people, things, and their interactions. Diverse groups argue about the potential benefits and costs of analyzing information from Twitter, Google, Verizon, 23andMe, Facebook, Wikipedia, and every space where large groups of people leave digital traces and deposit data. Significant questions emerge. Will large-scale analysis of DNA help cure diseases? Or will it usher in a new wave of medical inequality? Will data analytics help make people’s access to information more efficient and effective? Or will it be used to track protesters in the streets of major cities? Will it transform how we study human communication and culture, or narrow the palette of research options and alter what ‘research’ means? Some or all of the above?

Kate Crawford and I decided to sit down and interrogate some of the assumptions and biases embedded into the rhetoric surrounding “Big Data.” The resulting piece – “Six Provocations for Big Data” – offers a multi-discplinary social analysis of the phenomenon with the goal of sparking a conversation. This paper is intended to be presented as a keynote address at the Oxford Internet Institute’s 10th Anniversary “A Decade in Internet Time” Symposium.

Feedback is more than welcome!

How Teens Understand Privacy

In the fall, Alice Marwick and I went into the field to understand teens’ privacy attitudes and practices. We’ve blogged some of our thinking since then but we’re currently working on turning our thinking into a full-length article. We are lucky enough to be able to workshop our ideas at an upcoming scholarly meeting (PLSC), but we also wanted to share our work-in-progress with the public since we both know that there are all sorts of folks out there who have a lot of knowledge about this domain but with whom we don’t have the privilege of regularly interacting.

“Social Privacy in Networked Publics: Teens’ Attitudes, Practices, and Strategies”
by danah boyd and Alice Marwick

Please understand that this is an unfinished work-in-progress article, complete with all sorts of bugs that we will need to address before we submit it for publication. But… we would certainly love feedback, critiques, and suggestions for how to improve it. Given the highly interdisciplinary nature of this kind of research, it’s also quite likely that we’re missing out on all sorts of prior work that was done in this space so we’d love to also hear about any articles that we should’ve read by now. Or any thoughts you might have that might advance/complicate our thinking.

Regardless, hopefully you’ll enjoy the piece!

Thank you Nashville!

I’m just finishing up the first 10 days of my fall sprint at intensive fieldwork. I’m a long way from being about to synthesize what I’m seeing but I wanted to share a few things since many of you are curious about my observations.

First off, Nashville is a great city to do fieldwork because of a mix of different dynamics taking place here. There’s the obvious suburban dynamics which are really notable here, especially given some of the extraordinarily wealthy suburbs which their posh football fields and McMansions. But even in the low income regions, there are really interesting things going on, both in the city and in the suburbs. On one hand, you have amazing local organizations dedicated to youth culture. The public library’s facility for teens is better than anything I’ve seen in any public library in the States and boy do teens flock there after school to play with the Wii, get free snacks, do homework, get on the computer, and even read books. The energy after school is fantastic. The library and rec center are where many teens go after school to wait for their parents to pick them up or because they live close to these places and find them to be more fun than going home (for a whole host of reasons). Of course, the teens that go to these places aren’t necessarily representative of all teens in Nashville. One teen told me that the types of people who went to the library are “ghetto” which is why she won’t go there. Still, many of the teens that I met there are trying to stay out of trouble and it was great to see a place for them to go. Likewise, Rocketown, a club founded by Christian musician Michael W. Smith is a popular place for youth trying to keep out of trouble. And there’s a Youth Opportunity Center and a whole host of other organizations working to create activities and opportunities for teens. And, unlike many regions I’ve been in, many of the retailers and fast food joints employ teens.

And then there’s the flipside… There are drug issues, namely pills (although oddly, heroin also seems to be coming back). And gangs. Sure, there are gangs in other cities, but the Kurdish Pride gang down here is quite unique. Kurdish Pride is filled with teens and young adults who come from middle/upper-class two-parent families and are doing well in school, but are engaged in a two-front gang warfare battle. On one hand, they’re trying to stand up to the black and Hispanic gangs here; on the other, they’re trying to show that they’re tough to their cousins back in Iraq, Iran, and elsewhere. Things escalated post 9/11 and I can’t imagine that all of this anti-Islamic fever is helping anything down here at all.

A lot of how Nashville is organized depends on transportation, with teens in the suburbs rarely making it into the city because of lack of transportation (and familial rejections of the bus). Malls and movies trump everything in terms of hang out spaces for suburban youth, with parks operating as a critical site for urban youth. All of the youth centers and whatnot are located downtown, although some of the megachurches have great youth programs in the suburbs. Things like football games and Young Life are still playing a huge role in the communities. The biggest socio-economic mixing seemed to have happened at the Opry Mills Mall (which shut down after the flood) and among kids who attend magnet schools or other specialty schools (of which there are some phenomenal ones here… sadly, though, the typical public schools leave much to be desired). As always, geography and mobility really shape the social dynamics.

Anyhow, I could go on and on about the social dynamics of Nashville which are totally fascinating and require much more nuance than I can offer in 3 paragraphs, but I’m sure what you really want to know is about technology. Simply put, technology is really fading into the background and is mostly being used on top of everything else that teens are doing. Teens who are more likely to be stuck at home (namely the teens from wealthier families) are much more consciously engaged in the technology for technology sake, much more likely to sit and chat on Facebook because it’s Facebook. Cell phones are everywhere with texting at unbelievable levels across socio-economic divisions. But teens are treating technology with the same level of emotional connection as they treat their clothes. Some are obsessively passionate about it and some just see it as a functional thing that they may or may not want to engage with.

Some fun little things that I found intriguing… All of the MySpace Top 8 stuff has reappeared in Facebook under “siblings” as teens list their closest friends as their brothers and sisters (which requires confirmation). While joining “groups” used to be a cool way of doing identity marking, it’s now all about clicking “Like” to funny things that get passed around. Relationships aren’t official until they’re “Facebook official.” MySpace isn’t dead among teens but the socio-economic issues around it are extremely pronounced and those who are on MySpace are typically also on Facebook at this point. MySpace and YouTube are ground zero for law enforcement doing gang intelligence. Particularly interesting given that Facebook is heavily used by the Kurdish Pride kids to connect with family back in Iraq; both sides post photos with guns to show toughness and connection. And I confirmed the reality that Facebook is pretty darn public for these teens – available to everyone that they know. And they know very little about how to manage their settings but feel like Facebook’s defaults must be what they should use.

I also heard some pretty crazy heart-wrenching stories. For example, complications to the sexting picture in the news. A boy that I met shared his cell phone with his mother.  He takes the phone during the day and she takes it at night.  His mother appears to be promiscuous (“gets around”).  All day long, he receives naked photos of older men to his cell phone intended for his mother. He’s terrified that his friends will see those pictures and think that they’re intended for him.  He’s super embarrassed about his mother but too uncomfortable to confront her.

Anyhow, there’s a lot more in all of my notes that I still need to process and think through what I have before I can offer more conceptual reactions but I wanted to share a little bit of what I’ve seen. And thanks to everyone who has been so supportive and welcoming. There are some truly dedicated folks in Nashville trying to make a difference and it really warms my heart to see so many dedicated folks working to help teens.

More soon! (Next stop… Raleigh and Durham.)