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.

Representation & Representativeness at EPIC2019

On Monday, Nov. 11, I’ll be joining Donna Lanclos, Amber Greene, Ruchika Muchhala, and Autumn Sanders Foster to discuss how ethnographic researchers think about representing the experiences of others, especially in the context of industry research, at EPIC2019 in Providence, RI. From the abstract:

Ethnographers take pride in representing people’s voices with fidelity, empathy, and deep contextual understanding. But our work can end up reinforcing a distinction between people who “have experience” that we study for insights and people who “have expertise” to use, shape, and monetize that experience.

Donna Lanclos previews the panel discussion on the challenges of representation for ethnographic researchers over on the EPIC blog, Perspectives:

More information on the panel:

Design & Society Workshop, NYC Nov. 30-Dec. 1

I’m excited to be partnering with Danya Glabau of Implosion Labs to offer a day-and-a-half workshop on Design & Society!

“Design is a dominant paradigm for building and understanding the modern world. The language of design is especially prominent in the digital realm, where its assumptions influence how we interact with the world and with each other. But how has design come to matter? Why does it seem like such an important tool in our current cultural moment? What norms and assumptions inform the design of everyday technologies via design schools like UX? And what are the political implications of interface design?”

We will learn about critical and ethnographic approaches to design, especially digital design, through readings, discussion, and hands-on exercises.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/design-society-workshop-tickets-51554750647

Our webinar from October 16 on Design & Society is also now online!

https://www.implosionlabs.com/design-society-webinar

Design & Society Webinar Oct. 16

Join me and Danya Glabau of Implosion Labs, LLC for a free webinar on critical & anthropological approaches to design, from 1-2pm on Tuesday, October 16. Why has design become such an important tool in thinking about technology and society?

Graphic of a 3D wireframe urban block

Design is a dominant paradigm for building and understanding the modern world. The language of design is especially prominent in the digital realm, where its assumptions influence how we interact with the world and with each other.

In this 45-minute webinar, media anthropologist Dr. Jordan Kramer will outline critical perspectives on digital design that will shake up participants’ assumptions about the impact of design on society. Participants will consider questions like: How has design come to matter? Why does it seem like such an important tool in our current moment? What norms and assumptions inform the design of everyday technologies through approaches like UX? And what are the political effects of interface design?

Participants will leave this webinar with an overview of the critical questions that practitioners, users, and observers can ask to ensure that the futures we design will truly be better than the past that designers seek to transcend.

Implosion Labs
Design & Society Webinar

1-2pm EST
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Logistical Labor: Stop doing companies’ digital busywork for free

A man from the back, in a striped dress shirt and blue jeans, facing a grey wall, hands on hips, looking up at a graphic of five white stars, four of which are filled in.

How much time and energy do people spend rating, reviewing and answering surveys?

Jordan Kraemer, New York University

Over the past year, I stopped responding to customer surveys, providing user feedback or, mostly, contributing product reviews. Sometimes I feel obligated – even eager – to provide this information. Who doesn’t like being asked their opinion? But, in researching media technologies as an anthropologist, I see these requests as part of a broader trend making home life bureaucratic.

Consumer technologies – whether user reviews and recommendations, social media or health care portals – involve logistical effort that means more administrative work at home. As economic anthropologist David Graeber observes, “All the software designed to save us from administrative responsibilities [has] turned us into part- or full-time administrators.” Companies may benefit when customers create content, provide feedback and do busywork once done by paid employees, but what about the customers themselves – all of us?

Many researchers recognize professional workplaces are becoming more bureaucratic, managing workers through documentation and quantification. But fewer acknowledge the expansion of this logic into private life. It might not feel like a burden to update your Facebook profile, review a business or log in to a web portal to message your doctor. But when you lose time answering customer surveys, setting privacy rules, resetting a password, wading through licensing agreements or updating firmware, it becomes clear how digital technologies increase managerial work at home. In my forthcoming book, I explore this phenomenon, which I call logistical labor. Continue reading

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.

Excerpt:

[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:

http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/chSjwK2guCysmvsAbyX6/full

Upcoming talk: When Social Media are the News, Bard College

Thursday, April 20, Bard College, NY

What does it mean for the public sphere when social media become a news platform in their own right? I’ll be discussing how the merger of social media with the news media has troubling consequences for politics and shared understandings of reality.

http://anthropology.bard.edu/events/

A decade ago, social media—that is, social network sites like MySpace and Facebook—were taking off among teens and fan communities. News consumption in the US was shifting as well, as cable news outstripped network shows and print circulation declined. Only a few years later, Facebook and Twitter became widespread, perhaps losing their cool among young people. As social media coalesce into a new mass medium, these platforms integrate news stories into spaces previously envisioned for leisure and friendship. Planned changes to the Facebook News Feed algorithm cultivated this process further. By 2015, breaking events like the Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris unfolded online in a new way, sparking the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag and public memorials across Europe hours later. Reading news websites was already part of daily practice among young people I studied in Berlin in the late 2000s, but by 2015, social media became the place to encounter and experience news stories. This shift is reshaping how the news circulates, facilitating viral “fake” news and disinformation regimes. Social media contribute to reconfiguring the meaning of public and private, but what is at stake when social media are the news?

Time: 6:00 pm
Location: Olin, Room 202
Contact: Jonah Rubin
E-mail: jrubin@bard.edu

Speaking at XX+UX at Tumblr in December!

Excited to be on a panel at Tumblr HQ on designing social spaces free from harassment:

XX+UX @ Tumblr: Designing and Fostering Safe Online Communities

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/xxux-tumblr-designing-and-fostering-safe-online-communities-tickets-30033591280

Description

Haters, trolls, bots, and fake news sites are gaming social media platforms for their own advantage and driving away people who want to participate in positive, constructive dialogue. At Tumblr, we’ve been cautious about introducing new modes of communication—but at what cost?

How can social platforms and media publishers create a forum for free and open communication while protecting the participants from bad actors? How can product designers design systems that encourage good behavior and allow for effective, impartial moderation?

Join us Tuesday at Tumblr HQ for a panel discussion with community trust and safety experts, designers, and academics on these issues and strategies for building platforms that enable positive, productive conversations online.

Can’t wait? Ask or vote on questions ahead of time

Take Critical Design at The Brooklyn Institute this September!

I’ll be teaching my course on critical and ethnographic approaches to design, especially technology design, this September in Brooklyn:

Critical Design: Interface and Imagination
Jordan Kraemer

The Brooklyn Commons, 388 Atlantic Ave in Boerum Hill

Is design the new core competency? From user experience research to sustainable development, professional labor and productivity is increasingly framed in the language of design, while design fields are growing rapidly in industry and academia alike. This is partly a product of “design thinking,” an alternative approach to interacting with the world through the tools of design. In these contexts, design purports to approach diverse facets of human life in terms of innovative problem-solving, whether it be resource management in the Global South, urban development, home furnishings, or the latest tech gadgets and platforms. But what does it mean to approach the world in terms of design, and who is designing what and for whom? What is at stake in framing labor in terms of design? What norms become encoded in interface design, for example, and how does this shape technology-related practices?

This course takes design, especially interface design, as an object of study through empirical and critical analysis. This is not a course in the subdiscipline of “critical design” per se, but rather a sociological and anthropological study of design and related theories and practices. We will read works by Karl Marx, Michel Foucault, Bruno Latour, Gilles Deleuze and other theorists, in conversation with emerging literature in critical studies of design, such as the work of Lucy Suchman, Paul Dourish, Natasha Dow Schüll, Dawn Nafus, and Keith Murphy. In this class, students will not only explore contemporary critical design literature and key theoretical backgrounds, but will also engage critically with the creation, use, and understanding of user experience, interface, and design aesthetics.

Held Thursdays, 6:30-9:30pm
Starts September 8, 2016
Lasts 4 weeks
Costs $315

Enroll at the Brooklyn Institute’s website.