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Social Media Collective

People use a vast array of social media and communications technologies as part of their everyday lives and practices. This research collective brings together social scientists and humanists from sociology, communications, anthropology, media studies, information science, and cultural studies to examine how social media fits into people's practices.  We examine social media practices through various methodological and theoretical lenses and provide insight into how social media is reconfiguring daily life.  Much of our work centers on emergent Web 2.0 technologies, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. but we also look to situate these emergent practices in the history of computer-mediated communication. 


The Social Media Collective maintains a blog at:

Recorded Talks Archive
Departing Glances: A Sociotechnical Account of “Leaving” Grindr
Departing Glances: A Sociotechnical Account of “Leaving” Grindr
Jed Brubaker
20 June 2012

On Grindr, a location-based social networking application aimed at gay men and their smartphones, the objective is to see and be seen. Within this context this study asks, “Why do users leave?” In contrast with previous literature on non-use that focuses on ubiquitous infrastructures or services, Grindr is a non-ubiquitous system that never the less has gained broad adoption with its target demographic. Drawing on qualitative interviews with sixteen men who have “left” Grindr, this paper explicates the site of departure, the means by which individuals leave, and the significance of their departure. Analysis of the diverse experiences shared challenges normative definitions of “leaving”, as well as of the application itself. I argue that leaving is not a singular moment, but an attenuated process involving layered social and technical acts; that understandings of and departure from location-based media are bound up with the individual’s location; and finally, that these stories of leaving Grindr destabilize normative definitions of both “Grindr” and “leaving”, and in turn expose a set of relational possibilities and spatial arrangement within which people move around. I conclude with implications for theories of non-use and technological departure.

Teen Privacy Strategies in Networked Publics
Teen Privacy Strategies in Networked Publics
Danah Boyd
27 September 2011

Microsoft Researcher danah boyd’s research looks at the myths surrounding teens and privacy and the ways different teens reconcile technology with their public and private lives.

Interpreting the Community: Information Practices and/for Deviance
Interpreting the Community: Information Practices and/for Deviance
Jessica Lingel
15 August 2011

Drawing on an ethnographic study with online as well as offline components, this paper investigates information practices related to underground body modification procedures used to permanently (and subversively) alter one’s appearance. In contrast to procedures that have gained a degree of cultural acceptance, such as ear piercing or moderate tattooing, the practices at the center of this paper are much more extreme, and, importantly, often illegal. Eighteen individual interviews were conducted with people who had obtained, were interested in obtaining or had performed extreme body modification procedures, generating thick descriptions of practices related to researching, documenting and occluding these procedures. Using the constructs of information poverty and subcultural capital, analysis is centered on participants’ descriptions of maintaining social norms of secrecy; negotiating privacy across one’s social milieu; and the crucial role of community in perceptions of access to and uses of information. With a complex and holistic understanding of how this community uses information to navigate and enforce boundaries of insiders and outsiders, implications for theory and design are suggested.

You’re the Manager but I’m the Mayor: Understanding Foursquare Check-ins in Claimed Venues
You’re the Manager but I’m the Mayor: Understanding Foursquare Check-ins in Claimed Venues
Germaine Halegoua
3 August 2011

This talk is based on a work in progress. The presentation includes preliminary findings and analysis from an ethnographic study of Foursquare users in the Boston area, focusing on their relationships with “friends” as well as “claimed venues” on Foursquare. This project aims to investigate how and why managers of Foursquare’s claimed venues and their patrons use location-based services; what relationships are forged between vendors and customers via Foursquare; how participants understand their own participation and the audiences for their actions; as well as attitudes about locational privacy and the meaning of location announcement over these networks. Some of these findings reflect information flows, practices of listening and responding, and relations of power that are relevant across other social network sites as well.

MSR New England Social Media Research
MSR New England Social Media Research
Amelia Abreu, Andres Monroy Hernandez, and Omar Wasow
7 September 2010

Each speaker will give a 12 minute presentation of their work and then there will be an open discussion.

#1: Amelia Abreu, University of Washington
'Tag!: How games and memes create social infrastructure online'

This paper examines 'tag' games played on YouTube. We employ case study methodology to track and compare games across several user communities, analyzing content and discourse in structure, representation of identity, use of the system, and genre development. Examining individual and group dynamics in play, we extract models for their transmission and formation. Framing tag games as contemporary folklore, we examine how video sharing technology has become subject of folklore as well as an a vehicle for it. As the research suggests, games studied exhibit not only play in sharing and showing details, but in organizing and structuring ideas and identities, thus revealing a complex informal information infrastructure. In conclusion, we consider how this infrastructural model compares to formal systems of indexing.

#2: Andres Monroy-Hernandez, MIT Media Lab
'Copyrights and copycats: understanding young people's remixing practices'

Digital technologies have made it easier for people, youth in particular, to copy and reuse other people's songs, pictures, code and other forms of digital creations. Through the analysis of remixing, or content reuse, we present a more nuanced view of how technology mediates young people's understandings of intellectual property. We interviewed participants of an online community of young remixers and analyzed log data to unpack the role of attribution, communication and effort, in participant's evaluations of different remixing scenarios.

#3: Omar Wasow, Harvard University
'Burned: Can too much 'sunlight' be harmful?'

In the last century, 'transparency' and 'open government' initiatives have attempted to increase incentives for ethical and legal behavior by pushing for policies that track and disclose the actions of powerful individuals and institutions. As improvements in information technology have dramatically lowered the cost of capturing, publishing and disseminating data, the breadth of activities and individuals subject to public scrutiny has also increased. The potential limitations of transparency and open government, however, are not well understood. We consider several models of the effects of transparency on behavior and, contrary to positive conceptions of transparency, identify contexts in which additional transparency may produce worse outcomes. We evaluate our model on the case of publishing individual conviction histories online.

Skill Matters: How Web Savvy and Other Factors Influence Online Behavior
Skill Matters: How Web Savvy and Other Factors Influence Online Behavior
Eszter Hargittai
26 May 2010

Much enthusiasm surrounds the potential of the Internet to improve people's lives in numerous domains from health matters to education, from creative expression to financial independence, from political engagement to on-the-job performance. While it is easy to come up with hypotheticals on how the Web may improve people's life chances, we know relatively little about the extent to which such potential is being met and who is more or less likely to benefit from the various opportunities. Drawing on unique data collected about a diverse group of young American adults' Internet uses, this presentation will look at predictors of various types of online engagement and participation. In particular, the talk will point out variation in people's online skills and how differences in Web know-how influence what people do online.

The Brand New World of Lying
The Brand New World of Lying
Jeff Hancock
17 February 2010

Deception is a significant and pervasive social phenomenon. At the same time, technologies have suffused almost all aspects of human communication. The intersection between deception and information technology gives rise to many questions about deception in the digital age. How does communication technology change the way we lie? Why and how do people lie in online relationships? Can people detect if they are being lied to in an email? Can computer programs identify word patterns that reveal whether someone is lying or not? This talk will examine these questions and describe some recent research that may shed some light on the answers.