New article: Internet governance by social media platforms

My scholarly article “Internet governance by social media platforms,” co-authored with my mentor, Dr. Laura DeNardis, was just published in the journal Telecommunications Policy. Below is a short abstract – As always, I would be excited about comments and feedback.


In scholarship on Internet governance, much attention has focused on the role of global institutions like ICANN as well as the policy decisions of nation-states and intergovernmental organizations in keeping the Internet operational and mediating citizen rights. More recently, scholarship has turned attention to the role of private intermediaries in governing civil liberties online. The current study examined transparency reports, user policies and technological design choices of dominant social media platforms to demonstrate their role in promoting and constraining values related to privacy and anonymity, free expression and innovation.

Results suggest that the data collection procedures underlying the platforms’ business models pose a significant challenge to values of privacy and anonymity. Relying on the disclosure of aggregated user data to advertisers and other third parties, these platforms reserve the right to collect user data ranging from personal information like names to metadata like IP addresses and locational data. Despite their immunity from liability for user content in the United States and various other countries, social media companies have also come under attack for intervening in political conflicts by censoring speech that complies with their policy designs. In the area of permissionless innovation and interoperability, social media companies and their policy designs undermine users’ ability to innovate. On a more fundamental level, the lack of open technical standards underlying these platforms also poses a threat to Internet interoperability, a value that has played a vital role in the evolution of the Internet.

The role of social media platforms’ policy and technological designs in mediating civil liberties not only has significant implications for global citizens’ abilities to participate in the digital public sphere, but also for the future of democracy. More research on this phenomenon is needed to understand how the constantly evolving policy and technological designs of these platforms shape the future of citizen rights online.

L. DeNardis, & A. M. Hackl (2015). Internet governance by social media platforms.Telecommunications Policy.

The Mediation of LGBT Expression Online – The Beginning of my Dissertation Journey

It’s been a very exciting academic year and I just defended my dissertation proposal – I am very happy about starting the next chapter of my PhD journey and work on my dissertation! In my dissertation, I examine the various mechanisms of control that foster and constrain LGBT speech and identity expression online. Under the invaluable guidance of my dissertation Chair, Prof. Laura DeNardis and my Committee members Prof. Kathryn Montgomery, Prof. Deen Freelon and Prof. Jessie Daniels (CUNY, Hunter College), I have developed my ideas and will be spending the next ten months researching LGBT expression online and developing policy recommendations that can hopefully help foster LGBT expression in the digital public sphere. One of the challenges I faced in writing my proposal was conceptualizing LGBT expression. After some in-depth research on LGBT identity expression in historic context, I conceptualized LGBT expression as the ability to speak freely and access LGBT related content, the ability to express one’s identity and under protection of one’s privacy as well as the ability to organize as a community and challenge those with anti-LGBT sentiments.

censorship

photo credit: Cory Doctorow/flickr, The Problem with Censorship is XXXXXXXXX, CC BY-SA

Based on this understanding of LGBT expression, I will examine the various mechanisms of control that foster and constrain LGBT identity online. These forces include national laws and cultural understandings around LGBT rights, business decisions of private industries, social norms and the underlying infrastructure that allows for expression (e.g., Balkin, 2014; Katzenbach, 2013; Lessig, 2008). Rather than viewing the underlying infrastructure as neutral mechanisms providing equal opportunities for expression, I will draw heavily from science, technology and society (STS) studies to highlight the political nature of Internet infrastructure (e.g., Sismondo, 2008). I am very excited about starting my dissertation journey and will share research findings and other news on my blog. As always, I am excited about feedback, comments and questions.

References

Balkin, J. M. (2014). Old-school/New-school speech regulation. Harvard Law Review, 127(8).

Katzenbach, C. (2013). Media governance and technology: From “Code is law“ to governance constellations. In M. Price, S. Verhulst & L. Morgan (Eds.), Routledge handbook of media law (pp. 399-418). Abingdon, NY: Routledge.

Lessig, L. (2008). Code version 2.0. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Sismondo, S. (2008). Science and Technology Studies and an engaged program. In E. J. Hackett, O. Amsterdamska, M. Lynch & J. Wajcman (Eds.), Handbook of Science and Technology Studies (3 ed., pp. 13-32). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Connect 4 Life

The LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute just announced the launch of Connect 4 Life, a program providing homeless LGBT youth with free cellphones and subsidized service. By the end of this year, a pilot program in three different cities will provide a limited number of homeless LGBT youth with first cellphones. To help the organization better understand the unique needs of homeless LGBT youth, I wrote a short White Paper which can be accessed here.

Research Fellowship

Exciting news – this summer, I will be working as a Research Fellow for the LGBT Technology Partnership. I’m really excited about this opportunity to be working on some meaningful research that will hopefully help to make some LGBT-friendly policy recommendations. During my fellowship, I will also continue to write blog entries for the Partnership, which can be found on their website. As always, I’m happy about feedback and comments!

U.S. Transitioning Control over Critical Internet Functions – What are the Implications for the LGBT Community?

Last month, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced it would transition control over critical Internet functions to the global community, envisioning a multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. In a guest post for the LGBT Technology Partnership, I discuss how the leadership over tomorrow’s Internet will shape LGBT visibility.

Digitally enabled LGBT activism: Welcome to my PhD journey

In summer 1969, thousands of gay men and lesbian women protested in the infamous Stonewall riots to draw attention to the invisibility of the community across the nation, giving birth to the LGBT movement we know today. Similarly, the movement came together in the height of the AIDS-crisis to fight the stigma associated with the fatal disease and to demand adequate health protection for those affected by HIV/AIDS. Fast forward to the new millennium, when the LGBT movement in the U.S. received increased societal visibility and political protection. At the same time, technological innovations would greatly impact the activism of the community. With the rise of digital media, LGBT activists would be provided with a new tool to communicate and to organize.

While some may celebrate the online activism of the movement as digital revolution, it is important to keep in mind that some of the greatest battles for LGBT equality are still fought in the streets. In the past weeks and months, media images of Russian LGBT activists protesting in the streets have touched hearts and minds across the globe. In the light of the controversial “gay propaganda law”, the fight for LGBT equality comes at a high price as activists risk political persecution.

Throughout my journey as a PhD student at American University, I want to demonstrate how technological innovations of the past three decades have shaped LGBT activism. Considering the emergence of a global LGBT movement entailed by new information and communication technologies (Castells, 2008), my research analyzes how local activists respond to international issues pertaining to LGBT rights. Discussing the opportunities of digitally enabled activism, my research will also highlight the importance of grassroots efforts, serving as a reminder that we can’t pursue our fight for equality without adopting some of the strategies of the heroes of the early movement – heroes that took to the streets to shape the LGBT movement of tomorrow.

Reference
Castells, M. (2008). The new public sphere: Global civil society, communication networks, and global governance. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 616(1), 78-93.