#TechWontBuildIt: Big Tech, It’s Time for a Reality Check

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On July 11, 2018, Logic Magazine hosted a conversation on “the new tech resistance,” Tech Won’t Build It. This image is from the Facebook event page.

#TechWontBuildIt is a growing social movement made up of skilled workers in the tech industry who are pushing back against ethically questionable decisions made by their employers. As technology becomes increasingly advanced, complex software has been created with increasingly powerful capabilities. Unfortunately, all too often leadership at these tech companies will sacrifice ethical responsibility for the promise of a lucrative contract. Invigorated by the threat that the current administration poses towards minority groups in the US, tech workers have finally woken up and are organizing to keep their employers in check. Most recently, tech workers at major technology companies have successfully organized and protested to stop their employers from entering into contracts with the US Department of Defense that would implicate them in ethically irresponsible activity. This paper will examine the relationship between Big Tech and the skilled workers building the technology as the #TechWontBuildIt movement progresses. Additionally, this paper will investigate the role of the US government, particularly the US military, in the evolving conflict between tech workers and their employers.

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#MeToo at MIT in the 2018 Midterm Elections

Kresge Auditorium’s lobby, a polling place, glows with the bright lights over the voting booths at the very end of Election Day 2008. Eric D Schmiedl — The Tech, http://tech.mit.edu/V128/N54/graphics/obama-2.html

In the past year, MIT has faced local issues involving sexual harassment on campus and come under fire by some students about their handling. This is already a close issue to students, but with the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the #MeToo movement has come to the forefront of the 2018 midterm elections. With 33 senate seats and all 435 House seats up for election, these midterms will play an integral role in shaping the course of policy and public reaction towards allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the coming years. These issues may or may not have been taken up by campus political student groups. This paper seeks to examine MIT campus voter mobilization efforts related to the #MeToo movement, and whether movement participation results in higher likelihood of voting. This will be done by interviewing student groups to determine campus #MeToo engagement in relation to Get Out the Vote efforts, and conducting an exit poll on election day to survey voters on to what degree #MeToo was a mobilizing factor in their decision to vote.

Make It Or Break It

 

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 10.02.12 PM.pngThe maker movement is a contemporary culture that embodies a philosophical spirit of learning-through-doing. Typical interests of those in the maker movement are robotics, 3D printing, and electronics, although they can range from gardening to cooking; for the purposes of this paper, a “maker” will be defined as someone who builds physical items, and refers to him/herself/themselves as a “maker.” One major appeal of the maker movement is that it claims to democratize access to technology, and this seems to have become even more true with widespread Internet access. In the last decade, with the rise of YouTube and other social media, the online maker community has become quite robust—for example, the subreddit for 3D printing boasts over 220,000 members. Despite this, most research studies on makerspaces focus on offline communities. However, online communities are so important for makers—they are spaces for makers to receive advice and ideas, to connect with sponsorships and other monetary opportunities, and to collaborate. Social inequality within these communities has many real-life ramifications; for example, aspiring female makers may become discouraged from the lack of prominent female role models, thus hindering their progress.

This research paper will assess how access to online maker spaces may be limited by biases about gender, race and disability. To determine bias within online makerspaces, I will scrape and analyze YouTube comments for word frequencies. Biases in most-liked comments will be qualitatively determined. I will also conduct one-on-one interviews with members of online makerspaces.

Final Project Proposal: Mapping Online and Offline Networks in Wisconsin’s Movement Against Big Money in Politics

Abstract

This project will map the online and offline networks that connect Wisconsin United to Amend (WIUTA) and their 16 partner organizations to each other and policy goals throughout the state of Wisconsin. Nodes of this network will fall into three interconnected categories: offline organizing, online organizing, and policy outcomes. Offline organizing nodes include social movement organization (SMO) offices, local SMO chapters, and Meetup groups. Online organizing nodes include websites, Facebook pages and groups, and Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat accounts. Special attention will be given to graphing the connections between Facebook pages in the network using the “pages liked by this page” feature. Finally, policy nodes will map the progress of city and town anti-corruption referenda and the positions of state legislatures on passing a state resolution calling to amend the Constitution.

Research Questions

  • What relationships exist between WIUTA and other actors in the Wisconsin-based movement against big money in politics?
  • How are relationships between partnered movements reflected through page-to-page Facebook likes?
  • What strategies are WIUTA and other actors pursuing to reduce the influence of big money in politics?
    • Anti-Corruption Act and issue-specific resolutions (gerrymandering, ranked choice, or money in politics) are promoted by Represent.Us (goal: bypass Citizens United)
    • City and town referenda and resolutions calling for a state resolution and federal Constitutional amendment are promoted by WIUTA (goal: overturn Citizens United)
  • What acts, resolutions and referenda have been passed in Wisconsin communities so far?

Methods

To understand the actors within this movement, my first step is to construct a dataset with the locations of SMO offices and chapters of WIUTA and their 16 partners throughout the state of Wisconsin. I’ll also search Meetup.com for related groups. From there, I’ll search the web, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat for websites and accounts related to each group with a local presence. Focusing on Facebook, I’ll scrape the page-to-page likes of all related pages.

To understand the progress the movement has made so far in the state, I’ll then create a dataset of the 131 cities and towns that have passed referenda and resolutions on this issue, including their populations, percent who approved the ballot, and date of approval. I’ll also construct a dataset of the state legislators who voted for and against Assembly Joint Resolution 53 and Senate Joint Resolution 54, which were both related to “advisory referendum on an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

With these datasets, I plan to create geographic maps of movement successes and offline organizing locations in Tableau and network maps of connections between the offline and online faces of SMOs using Kumu.

I no longer plan to conduct interviews for this project, but I may draw content from some of the interviews I conducted over the summer.

Lit Review

The bulk of this project will be focused on collecting data to visualize the relationships between actors in this movement. This work will be anchored in social movement theory, media studies, and public opinion research.

First, a July 2018 report from Pew provides useful context regarding “Activism in the Social Media Age.” One of the primary challenges faced by WIUTA – and many other small SMOs – is leveraging social media to connect with and mobilize followers. According to this report, “roughly half of Americans have been civically active on social media in the past year” (Anderson et al.). This report, paired with on youth activism (Rodriguez 2009) and shifting mediation practices (Mansell and Hwa 2015), will anchor our understanding of activism in the digital age.

From social movement theory, I’ll be drawing from Garrett’s work on mobilizing structures, opportunity structures, and framing processes (2006). I’m also interested in the ways activists can work to influence political opportunity structures, particularly in how communities might collaborate to identify what Staggenborg called “critical events” (Meyer and Staggenborg 1996).

Finally, I want to dive more deeply into why local movement on local issues is so powerful. For this, I plan to pull from Crutchfield’s How Change Happens, as well as more traditional political and social movement theory.

Sources

Anderson, M., Toor, S., Rainie, L., & Smith, A. (2018, July 11). Activism in the Social Media Age. Retrieved August 19, 2018, from http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/07/11/activism-in-the-social-media-age/

Crutchfield, L. R. (2018). How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don’t (1 edition). Wiley.

Mansell, R., & Hwa, P. (2015). Social media and activism. In R. Mansell & P. Hwa (Eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society (p. 1296). Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Meyer, D. S., & Staggenborg, S. (1996). Movements, Countermovements, and the Structure of Political Opportunity. The American Journal of Sociology, 101(6), 1628–1660.

Rodriguez, S. (2009). Spreading the Word: Information and Citizen Engagement Among a Web 2.0 Driven Generation. Sociologia Della Comunicazione. Fascicolo 40, 2009, (40), 1000–1014.

Kony 2012: Activism and Accountability in the Modern Era

The Kony 2012 campaign aimed to publicize the crimes of Joseph Kony, an infamous Ugandan warlord whose Lord’s Resistance Army was responsible for kidnapping children and forcing them into soldiership. The movement was centered around a YouTube video produced by Invisible Children, a charity organization aiming to end violence and exploitation in isolated and vulnerable communities. The film had a viral response, reaching over 100 million people in just six days. While the short term impact of the movement was clear in the flurry of social media activity, the long term social, political, and resource impacts of the movement are less clear. In addition, the veracity of the video from Invisible Children came into fire shortly after its publication. The movement faced serious backlash from Ugandans who were furious by the false depiction of their country. Kony 2012 poses an interesting question about the long term impact of fleeting viral campaigns, especially one’s potentially motivated by what is being called the “White Man’s Burden” of the Facebook generation and emotion inducing, visceral content rather than a deep understanding of the subject matter. This paper aims to understand and assess the success of Kony 2012 through three lenses: the Invisible Children Organization, the victims of Joseph Kony’s Lord Resistance Army, and the American people involved in the viral, but brief, internet movement.

Comparing U.S. Newspaper Coverage of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford

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Anita Hill and Christine Ford testifying before the Senate on October 11, 1991 and September 27, 2018, respectively.
Photo by: (left) Mark Reinstein/Corbis/Getty Images, (right) Erin Schaff/The New York Times

This paper will study and compare newspaper coverage of Anita Hill in 1991 and Christine Blasey Ford in 2018. These cases are unique in that both of the accused were Supreme Court Justice nominees, both accusations led to a contentious Senate hearing, and both the accusations were of sexual assault. This allows for a number of comparisons with controlled variables in regards to the identity of the accuser, accused, and the type of accusation. However, like all sexual assault cases, there are significant differences, notably in the race and socioeconomic background of the parties involved, the time period, and the national conversation regarding sexual assault. This paper aims to compare the kinds of coverage Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford received in American newspapers. By looking at material from the fifteen most circulated U.S. newspapers, I will describe the differences and similarities in news media portrayal of Anita Hill and Christine Blasey Ford. I will analyze word frequencies in articles, the number of articles published, the number of editorials for/against the confirmation, the kinds of imagery used, the number of photos of the accuser/accused in both cases, and the connotations of the photos.