Skip navigation

Tag Archives: danah boyd

This is co-authored with PJ Rey and was originally posted at my blog Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

(Or: How we’ve come to be micro-celebrities online)

Facebook’s recent introduction of “frictionless sharing” is the newest development in a growing trend: data is being increasingly produced passively as individuals conduct their day-to-day activities. This is a trend that has grown both on and offline. We will focus on the former here; especially “frictionless” sharing that involves syncing Facebook with other sites or apps. Once synced, much of what a user listens to, reads or otherwise accesses are automatically and immediately published on Facebook without any further action or approval.  Users may not even need to “opt into” frictionless sharing because many services are changing their default setting to automatically push content to Facebook. In short, we can say that users play a passive role in this process.

Contrast this to more active sharing: when we “like” or “+1” something (by clicking the eponymous buttons that have spread throughout the Web) it requires the user to make a conscious and affirmative action to share something with others in their network. Nathan Jurgenson (one of this post’s co-authors) previously described these two models as types of “documentary vision:” We actively document ourselves and our world around us as if we have a camera in our hand (“liking”, status updates, photos, etc.), or we can passively allow ourselves to be documented, curating our behaviors along the way (e.g., reading a magazine article so that you can present yourself as the type of person who “likes” that sort of magazine) much like a celebrity facing a crowd of paparazzi photographers.

Let’s make another layer of complexity to this documentary model Read More »

Advertisements

This was originally posted at my blog Cyborgology – click here to view the original post and to read/write comments.

This brief essay attempts to link two conceptualizations of the important relationship of the on and offline. I will connect (1) my argument that we should abandon the digital dualist assumption that the on and offline are separate in favor of the view that they enmesh into an augmented reality and (2) the problematic view that the Internet transcends social structures to produce something “objective” (or “flat” to use Thomas Friedman’s term).

Instead, recognizing that code has always been embedded in social structures allows persistent inequalities enacted in the name of computational objectivity to be identified (e.g., the hidden hierarchies of Wikipedia, the hidden profit-motive behind open-source, the hidden gendered standpoint of computer code, and so on). I will argue that the fallacy of web objectivity is driven fundamentally by digital dualism, providing further evidence that this dualism is at once conceptually false, and, most importantly, morally problematic. Simply, this specific form of digital dualism perpetuates structural inequalities by masking their very existence. Read More »

Jeff Jarvis wrote a critique of having multiple identities on social media (find the post on his blog – though, I found it via Owni.eu). While acknowledging that anonymity has enabled WikiLeaks or protestors of repressive regimes, he finds little utility for not being honest on social media about yourself. Jarvis argues against having multiple identities, e.g., one Twitter account for work and another for friends or a real Facebook for one group and a fakebook (a Facebook profile with a false name) for another.

Jarvis argues that the problems associated with presenting yourself in front of multiple groups of people (say, your mother, boss, best friend, recent fling, etc) will fade away under a state of “mutually assured humiliation.” Since we will all have the embarrassment of presenting a self to multiple groups, we all will forgive each other so that others will return the same favor to us. Ultimately, “the best solution”, Jarvis argues, “is to be yourself. If that makes you uneasy, talk to your shrink.” This is reminiscent of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who stated “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity,” or current Google CEO Eric Schmidt who said that “if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

The obvious problem with this line of thinking is that the problems associated with displaying a single self in front of multiple populations is not “mutually” the same at all. Just as WikiLeaks or protestors often use anonymity to counter repressive and/or powerful regimes, we know that anonymity is also used by the most vulnerable and least powerful on the personal level as well. Jarvis misses the important variables of power and inequalities in his analysis.

Having a stigmatized and not always accepted identity can bring much conflict Read More »

[This post is co-authored by myself and PJ Rey for our Cyborgology Blog. View the original post here]

The way in which information is shared in the digital age is headlining the news around many different issues. WikiLeaks is distributing thousands of classified State Department documents; the FFC Chairman is attempting to preserve net neutrality (i.e., the dictum that Internet service providers cannot limit the rate that users access different kinds of legal content); Facebook users are sharing more and more private details of their lives online.  Arguably, the same cultural debate is playing out in all of these cases: Is society best served when all information is free, or are we better off if some information remains private?

Silicon Valley has become a magnet for evangelists of the “information wants to be free” movement, what has come to be known as “cyberlibertarianism.”  Supporters often argue that the free flow of information is fundamental to democracy.  This is, in fact, the justification behind WikiLeaks’ distribution of confidential, proprietary, or otherwise secret information.

However, it is important to note that many of the most high-profile supporters of a transparent society, where information is free, are Internet companies, like Facebook and Google, that seek profit by collecting and sharing information about their users. Alternatively, companies who would benefit from restricting the flow of information (ISPs like, Comcast and Verizon) tend to oppose the principle that information should be free.

Cyberlibertarianism has range of other critics.  Clearly, the government has argued that state interests are threatened by the leaking of information. On a more micro level, many sociologists (including the authors of this post) are concerned that the pressure to constantly share more, and more personal information can be detrimental to individual users of Google, Facebook, and other social-networking sites. Read More »

Facebook continuously rolls back user privacy, the policy itself is increasingly convoluted, and technical hiccups have revealed users’ information – so, shouldn’t we be experiencing Facebook fatigue by now? (as PJ Rey predicted)

Sure, techno-pundits are crying foul, but Facebook users are not leaving the service in large numbers, and other technologies of narcissism -such as Formspring– continue to march along. Why?

While we know well how to become scared about decreasing privacy -and rightly so- we have only begun to articulate what increasing publicity means. I have described the will to document ourselves across the web as a new sort of “mass exhibitionism.” And while we all care deeply about privacy, this cultural impulse to live in public often wins out (often to the detriment of those most vulnerable).

Take, for example, the most recent social networking phenom, Formspring, where users answer questions about themselves that are often asked anonymously. The site has taken a dark turn. Rampant with verbal attacks, the site has already been connected to a suicide. Danah boyd often uses her expertise to dispel social media fear-mongering, so it says something when she describes the site this way:

“While teens have always asked each other crass and mean-spirited questions, this has become so pervasive on Formspring so as to define what participation there means.”

She goes on to ask,

“[w]hat is it about today’s cultural dynamics that encourages teens to not only act tough when they’re attacked but to actively share the attacks of others as a marker of toughness pride?”

I believe the answer to this question is that mass exhibitionism is simply a more powerful cultural force than even preserving oneself from cyber-attacks. Why?

The logic is just the same as what advertisers have long since come to terms with: bad publicity is better than no publicity at all.

To document oneself online is to exist. We create ourselves as product becuase what is worse than being made fun of is to not exist to begin with. Bad mass exhibitionism has come to seem better than no exhibitionism at all. ~nathanjurgenson.com

by nathan jurgenson

Some have criticized the new slacker-activism, or slacktivism, on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. Slacktivism encompasses activities where people post about issues they care just enough about to spend one minute constructing a status update or tweet about them [some early examples]. This came into the news again because of a viral campaign where women reveal their bra color in order to raise awareness about breast cancer. The critiques against slacktivism predictably followed [here, I am putting aside the important issue of the sexualization of illness that is specific to the bra-color campaign].

These critiques are justified to some degree. It is certainly annoying when you see friends whose support for various causes never goes beyond an incessant stream of awareness-oriented status updates.

However, what is implicit in much of the anti-slacktivism writing is a critique of digital social media. Specifically, that efforts spent on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter must mean less effort is spent in the material world. Opposed to this zero-sum perspective, research on social media has shown just the opposite to be true [this hearkens back to the old Hegelian idealism versus Marxian materialism debate].

Further, anti-slacktivism often falls into the ever-popular trap of criticizing that which is on social media as unimportant or trivial. What fuels this knee-jerk reaction is rooted in the tendency to see the digital realm as separate from material reality. Instead, as I have argued elsewhere, we should view the material and digital as enmeshed and in conversation with eachother. The extent to which social media awareness campaigns are actually enmeshed with material-world activism is an open question.

The point is that if you see status updates and tweets on their own, removed from the user’s everyday lives, they do seem trivial. However, acknowledging that these updates are part of a stream of sociality that bridge one’s digital and material lives allow these updates to be seen for what they are. As danah boyd points out, most of what we say in our everyday lives is trivial, and Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are no exception.

Thus, those who post their bra color or partake in other viral awareness campaigns may indeed care about the issue and be doing more to help. To label them “slaktivists” serves to downplay the overlap that these campaigns have with “real” activism (however the slacktivist-haters actually define this).

Last, it should also be recognized that the anti-slacktivists are writing blog posts, creating facebook groups and updating their Twitter feeds and status updates to fight slacktivism, using just the strategies the slacktivists are being criticized for. So much for the argument that creating memes instead of marching in the streets is ineffectual and irresponsible. ~nathan

Further, anti-slacktivism often falls into the ever-popular trap of criticizing that which is on social media as unimportant or trivial. What fuels this knee-jerk reaction is rooted in the tendency to see the digital realm as separate from material reality. Instead, as I have argued elsewhere, we should view the material and digital as enmeshed and in conversation with eachother. The extent to which social media awareness campaigns are actually enmeshed with material-world activism is an open question.

by nathan jurgenson

myspaceThere has been recent news coverage on the relationship between social status and social networking site usage. CNN asked “Does your social class determine your online social network?

“Is there a class divide online? Research suggests yes. A recent study by market research firm Nielsen Claritas found that people in more affluent demographics are 25 percent more likely to be found friending on Facebook, while the less affluent are 37 percent more likely to connect on MySpace.”

And NPR reports that “Facebook, MySpace Divide Along Social Lines.

“Social media researcher danah boyd [has] spoken to teens all over the country about their use of social media. She thinks the online social world is dividing up — just like the real world — into neighborhoods.”

I choose these quotes purposely to illustrate that CNN decided to report on this issue when a market research firm found what was already known to social scientists, such as danah boyd or Eszter Hargittai. NPR correctly focuses on boyd’s research, however, their story comes after CNN’s, and well after social scientists identified the trend.

fbBeyond this point, an argument that I previously made on this blog is that we are seeing a more post-structural, new-media, digital divide. In addition to the problematic of access to the internet, there is the issue of how different groups learn to use the web. Boyd states in the NPR story,

“Young people — and for the most part adults as well — don’t really interact online with strangers. They talk to people they already know. You have environments in which people are divided by race, divided by class, divided by lifestyle. When they go online they are going to interact in the same way.”

Thus, the wealthy are more likely to network with others of higher status, creating a situation where digital socialization mirrors, perpetuates and solidifies old status hierarchies. Following sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, it might be the case that those of high status are learning to network with each other, making themselves distinct in the way they use new media. Does this serve as a counter-argument to those that proclaim the democratizing potential of the internet? ~nathan

Add to: Facebook | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumbleupon | Reddit | Blinklist | Twitter | Technorati | Yahoo Buzz | Newsvine

by nathan jurgenson

Web_2_imageFor many (especially youths and young adults), attempting to quit or never start Facebook is a difficult challenge. We are compelled to document ourselves and our lives online partly because services like Facebook have many benefits, such as keeping up with friends, scheduling gatherings (e.g., protests) and so on. Additionally, and to the point of this post, the digital documentation of ourselves also means that we exist. There is common adage that if something is not on Google, it does not exist. As the world is increasingly digital, this becomes increasingly true. Especially for individuals. One adolescent told her mother, “If you’re not on MySpace, you don’t exist.”

Christopher Lasch’s Culture of Narcissism argues that we are increasingly afraid of being nothing or unimportant so we develop narcissistic impulses to become real. The explosion of new ways to document ourselves online allows new outlets for importance, existence and perhaps even immortality that living only in the material world does not allow. The simple logic is that increased digital documentation of ourselves means increased digital existence. More than just social networking sites, we document ourselves on Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and even increasingly with services that track, geographically, where one is at all times, often via one’s smart phone (e.g., Loopt, Fire Eagle, Google Latitude, etc).

So what?

Neon_Internet_Cafe_open_24_hoursIn this world where we can document our lives endlessly, we might become fixated on our every behavior. How it will appear to others, how it will help us with our jobs, friends, relationships, etc. Simply, self-presentation is a strategic game. Erving Goffman discussed this using a dramaturgical model where we are like actors on a stage performing ourselves. The new technologies described here mean that more and more areas of our life become part of this perforce because new parts of our lives are now able to be documented (e.g., our every-moment geographic locations). More and more areas of our life are lived subservient to the performance and identity we want to convey.

In this way, a hyper-fixatedness on our own subjectivity to create its own digital simulation (e.g., Facebook) can, to some degree, dictate how we live, becoming like characters on a “reality” show always performing for the camera. With digital documentation technologies we can become increasingly subservient to subjectivity and identity via its documentation if we are seduced by the importance and immortality that digital existence promises. ~nathan