Send in the Trolls

My research on identity-based cyberharassment with Implosion Labs for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center for Technology & Society is now out!

We found that coordinated, identity-based harassment disproportionately harms transgender users and women of color in spaces like social media and online gaming, and draws on anti-Semitic, misogynistic, and other hateful rhetoric. From the full report:

Our interview subjects represent a collection of experiences that have been described as distressing but are also displays of powerful resilience against a barrage of hate. Embedded in their stories are tales of setback, courage, and resistance. But beyond compelling narratives, they also serve a more practical function—these interviews help us more fully understand the dynamics of online harassment at a depth that would be very challenging to extract from survey results. Moreover, these interviews shine a light on how harassers exploit the design of social media platforms.

Our in-depth interviews show that online harassment and hate come in a variety of forms, ranging from single, but intense episodes of hate, to months-long sustained harassment campaigns. They cross from online-only events to offline incidents. They can target one person, or seek to disrupt entire personal and professional networks.

While the breadth of strategies available to attackers can be an overwhelming topic to explore, the impetus for harassment appears to be especially myopic. More often than not, targets felt they were attacked because of an identity-related attribute. Equally troubling is the fact that targets felt they did not have any legitimate recourse for action. They felt stymied in their attempts to remove hateful content by the content reporting mechanisms across major social media platforms.

The Cultural Anxiety of the White Middle Class

This week in Counterpunch, I write about the cultural & racial dimensions of identity & belonging for the white middle class in the “knowledge” economy:

Whiteness has long stood in for class status, ensuring respectability and legitimacy for those who imagine themselves the protagonist of the (white) American narrative. For many whites, losing economic status entails a profound loss of selfhood and cultural belonging—not only economic anxiety, but cultural anxiety.

Read more…

New Book Review: Reclaiming Media Ideologies

Are smartphones and social media destroying our capacity for human connection? New technologies can upend existing social orders, but are equally a product of the conditions—here, late capitalism—in which they are produced. Two divergent approaches offer insight into how cultural and economic contexts shape media practice.

Sherry Turkle. 2015. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. New York: Penguin Press. 436 pages.

Daniel Miller. 2016. Social Media in an English Village. London: University College London Press. 234 pages.

Daniel Miller, Elisabetta Costa, Nell Haynes, Tom McDonald, Razvan Nicolescu, Jolynna Sinanan, Juliano Spyer, Shriram Venkatraman, and Xinyuan Wang. 2016. How the World Changed Social Media. London: University College London Press. 260 pages.


[Turkle’s] diagnoses provide a language for addressing ways smartphones and social media distract many people, offering a “friction-free” engagement that promises freedom from boredom but not from loneliness. And if conversation is what’s lost, then conversation can cure, in the tradition of the open-ended conversation of psychoanalytic therapy, the “talking cure.” Turkle offers two main approaches to reinstating talk, one concerned with design and the other with practice. She advocates, first, designing technologies that do not exploit human psychological vulnerabilities, such as notifications that demand continual attention. I agree that design could offer a means to redress features that are disruptive, but these features — like the interfaces that enable the “machine zone” — are essential to the business model of most mobile platforms. Redesigning them would entail tech companies relinquishing lucrative revenue streams. On the contrary, a broader critique is required of the social and economic context in which media technologies are produced, such as in Silicon Valley and other elite tech hubs.

This article in Anthropology Now is available for free download to the first 50 users here: