SXSW: danah boyd on The Power of Fear in Networked Publics

Always interesting to hear what danah boyd is thinking and writing about. Notes below are a mixture of quotes, paraphrases and near-quotes.

boyd starts off by recommending everyone attend Baratunde Thurston’s keynote at 2p.

Started with three points….I missed one.

  1. We live in culture of fear.
  2. Attention economy….SOMETHING.
  3. Social media is ramping up the culture of fear.

What are our responsibilities in the culture of fear?

Kranzberg’s First Law: Technology is neither good nor bad — nor is it neutral. boyd says: We shouldn’t pretend that it is.

Social media is now genuinely mainstream — it is no longer just a home of geek culture.

Culture of Fear
Fear is employed by marketers, politicians, media etc. to regulate the public. It’s used to control and surpress.

boyd doesn’t want to dismiss the value of fear as a real emotion. It’s a reasonable reaction to many situations.

How is fear used to control, particularly in an American context? Uses example of 9/11. Says it’s not new — look at Cuban Missile Crisis. As a country, we’ve been in “orange” alert for more than a decade now. Fear is operationalized in a public environment to keep us controlled. We don’t even reflect on it — we just do as we’re told.

Humans are terrible at actually assessing risk. — Freakonomics one book that writes on this. Also Barry Glassner’s The Culture of Fear.

Parents worried about Internet — but the MOST risky thing a parent can do is let the child ride in the car with them. Fear isn’t logical — it’s about the perception of risk. The things we don’t understand are the things we’re afraid of. Fear combined with insecurities is amplified. The intersection of young people and technology produces moral panic. Many historical cases remind us of the absurdities.

Fear cannot be combatted through data. If it doesn’t match their perceived experience, people reject the data.

The Attention Economy
We have built this through social media — provides a fertile ground for the culture of fear.

Quote from Herbert Simon: “In an information-rick world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes…the attention of its recipients.”

Social media gives us massive quantities of uncurated information. How do we cope with the onslaught?

Haha. Now shows a funny slide: Book in 1994 called The Internet Yellow Pages. This book looks very familiar…

Most of our tools are designed to make people feel guilty for all the things they haven’t read. No matter how we feel, one thing is clear: Amount of information is not going to decline. It is really hard to get people’s attention.

The more attention-seekers are fighting for attention, they seek to leverage emotion. Fear is so effective, so it is used more and more.

Fear is used in a more complex way on social media than it is on broadcast media. It’s personal and spread by each other in networks.

Radical Transparency
The notion that putting everything in the open will make people more honest. The logic rests on the notion that people hide things. The reality is much messier than that. People think about this in disrupting power structures, but it’s used against real people in more complex ways.

The practice of “outing” is not new. Tells story of Oliver Sipple.

What are real implications of Anonymous? Is radical transparency really effective?

In boyd’s work, most incidents of hate on teens happen with people they know.

With protestors/rioters, crowdsourcing who the rioters and looters are — method of control. Idea that people are controlled when they feel they are surveilled. Those are are oppressed and marginalized are usually those with the least amount of power.

The Ideal of Progress
The idea of outing etc. is that we’re moving toward an era of greater progress — that the incremental harm caused by outing will have a greater good. boyd says paths are often not linear…the ideal of progress may be an illusion.

Tolerance is often espoused as a neutral notion, but it’s not.

Exposure to new people doesn’t automatically produce tolerance, even though we might want it to.

There’s far more bullying, with more damage to youth, at school, than there ever is online. But the Internet has made bullying much more visible to adults, making adults leap to assumptions about where bullying happens.

Power in Networks
The people who make the networks control the system.

Talks about how the Kony 2012 film took advantage of powerful network building — across disparate networks. Invisible Children had been laying the groundwork with its network building for years. The problem is that nuance is lost.

In this country, there’s been a rise of hatred along with the rise of social media. With fearmongering. To say that we didn’t build this does a disservice — though we want technologies to be used for idealistic purposes. What happens is that these aren’t neutral technologies. How do we deal with this?

We don’t have good answers.

Through social media, we are ramping up the attention economy and creating new networks. We need to think about how that works long before it builds things we don’t like.

boyd doesn’t have good answers but challenges audience to figure this out.

Social media can be a great disruptor but it’s being used to enforce the status quo by many.

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