Introducer: Welcome every­body for the next talk, When Algorithms Fail in Our Personal Lives.” It is a one hour talk. Our love­ly speak­er with us today is Caroline Sinders. She’s a user researcher for IBM. She’s also an artist, a researcher, a video game design­er. She’s from the States, and I should also men­tion that she is a mem­ber of the NYC Resistor hack­er space. And I see some fans over here. Cool.

We already learned in a bunch of talks over the course of Congress what algo­rithms do when they fail. Yesterday we learned about how algo­rithms can dis­crim­i­nate, or not dis­crim­i­nate in the hir­ing process, and Caroline is going to tell us a lit­tle more about when it’s bet­ter not to use algo­rithms because there are some things that algo­rithms just can’t do, that humans can do.

So please give it up for Caroline and enjoy the talk. Thank you very much.

Caroline Sinders: Hi, every­one. I’m Caroline Sinders. I should prob­a­bly first spec­i­fy that I am speak­ing here of my own accord and not on behalf of IBM. So just FYI. And that this is actu­al­ly a pre­sen­ta­tion also on a very strange and spe­cif­ic art project I did back in late November. So, when algo­rithms fail in our per­son­al lives. This is prob­a­bly the best way to describe me because I live on the Internet.

I’ve spent the last two years study­ing online fan­doms, com­mu­ni­ties, Internet cul­ture, and online harass­ment. And this is what I do for fun out­side of work. I think a lot about lan­guage and con­ver­sa­tion as iden­ti­fiers, and I spend a lot of time read­ing the way in which con­ver­sa­tions unfold on dif­fer­ent sub­red­dits on Reddit, 4chan, 8chan, Wikipedia, the way Wikipedia is used as a con­ver­sa­tion­al tool not just to upload infor­ma­tion, and obvi­ous­ly Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

And the one thing I’ve sort of learned from all this is that each of these dif­fer­ent plat­forms have a very dif­fer­ent iden­ti­ty and they have a very dif­fer­ent way in which con­ver­sa­tion sort of has evolved lin­guis­ti­cal­ly to that plat­form. The way we talk on Reddit is a lot dif­fer­ent than the way we talk on Twitter. And I think that that is due to the infra­struc­tur­al design of the plat­form itself, as well as the ways in which the plat­form iden­ti­fies itself to users, so like a code of con­duct.

Two years ago, actu­al­ly like a year and a half ago, I real­ly start­ed focus­ing on online harass­ment. I specif­i­cal­ly focused on Gamergate. As a video game design­er, I saw Gamergate kind of affect­ing the com­mu­ni­ty around me. I’m not dri­ven to study harass­ment by why it hap­pens, but rather how. How does harass­ment unfold on dif­fer­ent sorts of plat­forms, and how do plat­forms allow for dif­fer­ent kinds of com­mu­ni­ca­tion? And real­ly how open is the gen­er­al user on a plat­form? How con­nect­ed are they to the pri­va­cy poli­cies? And how aware are they of how exposed they are, and how per­me­able their data and infor­ma­tion is?

So TLDR, I explore com­plex emo­tions and emo­tion­al reac­tions with­in sys­tems. And I’m going to briefly cov­er some of the anti-harassment research I’ve done.

So some­times I write things, the Internet does­n’t like them. Last April, the Internet sent a SWAT team to my mom’s house. If you don’t know what swat­ting is, it’s a very pop­u­lar online harass­ment tac­tic that man­i­fests itself IRL.” Oftentimes a fake vio­lent phone call is placed to a local police depart­ment. That vio­lent phone call trig­gers the mil­i­ta­rized police to be deployed, and this is what hap­pened to my mom.

Sometimes pan­els I’m on get can­celled because maybe they’re kind of con­tro­ver­sial. I sub­mit­ted a design pan­el to SXSW and it was can­celled due to harass­ment and threats of vio­lence.

So I guess my work seems kind of con­tentious. I think that it’s pret­ty straight­for­ward. It’s gen­er­al­ly design. I don’t know why any­one would have a real­ly mas­sive opin­ion around it. But the thing I sort of want to talk about, actu­al­ly, and what I care about explor­ing, is how do sys­tems affect behav­ior? I said ear­li­er I’m here not as an IBM rep­re­sen­ta­tive, but I spend most of my day job work­ing on Watson, work­ing in arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence as a user researcher around con­ver­sa­tion­al ana­lyt­ics for chat robots. That’s kind of a mouth­ful.

What I mean by that is I spend a lot of time work­ing with soft­ware that allows users to set up chat robots. So I think a lot about the ways in which I’m design­ing soft­ware to help peo­ple design con­ver­sa­tions that robots have with peo­ple. So when I say I believe that sys­tems affect behav­ior, I live that every day, and I think about the ways in which the struc­ture of an inter­face actu­al­ly will lead peo­ple to con­verse and what that would look like.

In the past two years of doing I guess broad heuris­tic ethno­graph­ic research, what I’ve come to real­ize is users have a myr­i­ad of dif­fer­ent prob­lems that can be solved in sim­i­lar ways, but yield rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent results. Meaning that we can sort of start approach­ing ways to solve prob­lems of harass­ment through either new kinds of algo­rithms or a real­ly flex­i­ble UI on top of an algo­rithm, ie. what if we gave peo­ple more robust pri­va­cy set­tings and allowed users to start to artic­u­late the ways in which they’re reach­able and how their data, real­ly their con­ver­sa­tions, are read?

And I think this because algo­rithms real­ly aren’t that smart, and lan­guage with­in an algo­rithm is decon­tex­tu­al­ized into data. We as users pro­vide con­text to lan­guage. Language is what we make it. But in a sys­tem it’s not sim­ply just bits of data. So I was dri­ven by this thought: How could I make a flex­i­ble sys­tem to solve a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent prob­lems, for a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent peo­ple?

So I did what I do best, and I made a low-res wire­frame. I cre­ate these spec­u­la­tive wire­frames to sort of focus myself on what I thought could be achiev­able, and then I decid­ed to test it against twen­ty dif­fer­ent users I had inter­viewed that had been affect­ed by Gamergate, as well as a hand­ful of Gamergaters them­selves who would inter­act with me on Twitter and I would ask them ques­tions about the ways in which they orga­nized them­selves, the ways in which they talked to oth­er peo­ple, what con­ver­sa­tions they were hop­ing to get out of inter­act­ing with em on Twitter.

What I start­ed to learn is that we need to focus on pri­va­cy in social media. It needs to be as preva­lent and as impor­tant as writ­ing con­tent itself. Do you see that gray box at the top? That is a place­hold­er for a but­ton that sends you to a redesigned pri­va­cy page.

From inter­view­ing these twen­ty users, I got a real­ly robust sense of dif­fer­ent kinds of needs and wants users want­ed out of Twitter. I inter­viewed peo­ple that had over 100,000 fol­low­ers that absolute­ly want to remain com­plete­ly pub­lic. And they want to be reach­able at all times. I inter­viewed some users that had 3,000 fol­low­ers, that want­ed to be com­plete­ly hid­den but still have their tweets treat­ed as media, thus share­able. And I inter­viewed some users that want­ed to not go pri­vate (which is a very pub­lic state­ment on Twitter, to have the lock next to you) but want­ed to have all the affor­dances of pri­va­cy.

What I’ve added as you can see is these check­marks to allow a user to start to change the way their writ­ten con­tent can be accessed and so real­ly actu­al­ly change the way in which the amount of users on Twitter could start to read con­tent they’re post­ing.

One of them is allow fol­low­ers of your fol­low­ers to tweet at you,” so the idea of friends-of-friends. Do not allow accounts with less than X fol­low­ers to fol­low you” or don’t allow accounts less than X days,” mean­ing new accounts are often cre­at­ed in moments of harass­ment cam­paigns. So if an account was a week old with two fol­low­ers, that’s prob­a­bly a troll account. Additionally it also allows users to say, if you’re not on my lev­el you can’t tweet at me.” Not judg­ing; that’s inter­ac­tion some­one want­ed.

And then I start­ed to think more about what does it mean to exist pub­licly as a per­son on a plat­form? Twitter is sort of this mixed iden­ti­ty and mixed emo­tion­al state. It’s both pro­fes­sion­al and per­son­al. It’s used as a net­work­ing tool as well as a social aid and a com­mu­nica­tive tool. So peo­ple either have real­ly per­sis­tent alias­es or avatars that have fol­lowed them from plat­form to plat­form but they’re not using their real name. There’s lev­els of pseudo-anonymity on Twitter. In my case I use my real name and I can’t real­ly undo that. So my needs in using Twitter, espe­cial­ly as a tech­nol­o­gist exists in a much dif­fer­ent way than, per se, some­one who uses it as a casu­al medi­um. And we have very dif­fer­ent needs.

But through these dif­fer­ent kinds of dials, I feel that this serves my needs as well as all of the users I’ve inter­viewed because we’re able to start to tai­lor though UI, and be able to pull from very top-levels of infor­ma­tion, just main­ly around fol­low­ers, as to how acces­si­ble I am.

I added oth­er things such as blocked accounts and blocked tweets. Right now you can only see blocked accounts. You can’t see blocked tweets. What if you could? And I pulled from this because in moments of harass­ment, even if it’s a sus­tained stalk­er, there’s often a tweet that will trig­ger it. It’s nev­er going to some­one’s account, at least with­in a harass­ment cam­paign, you’re not real­ly going to some­one’s account and say­ing, Today I’m block­ing you.” There is often an inter­ac­tion, a tweet, that will trig­ger that response. So what if you could see that, start to group the togeth­er, and maybe send a report to Twitter or to your­self. The user can start to con­tex­tu­al­ize this is a way in which these tweets are linked.” So if there’s a mob harass­ment cam­paign, a user could say, I think all these are linked.” And if Twitter’s imple­ment­ing any kind of machine learn­ing or nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing they’d be able to start batch­ing mul­ti­ple reports at once and see how they’re all relat­ed.

Again, what if you could group men­tions togeth­er?

And I added this last night. One thing that I noticed from a lot of my research is that users don’t real­ly have an under­stand­ing as to how their lan­guage is actu­al­ly data and how acces­si­ble their things are.

I’m sure you’ve heard a vari­ety of sto­ries around tweets going viral. Someone tweets some­thing and then months lat­er it’s dug up. Or they tweet some­thing… In the case of this real­ly well-known inci­dent this woman tweet­ed a real­ly off-color joke about AIDS, got on a plane, twelve hours lat­er this tweet had com­plete­ly explod­ed. The back­ground of that sto­ry is that this woman only had a hun­dred fol­low­ers and had nev­er had her tweets inter­act­ed with very much at all. Not in the sense of with strangers. So for her this was a com­plete moment of the sys­tem kind of break­ing. And I won­der if there are ways to start to artic­u­late to users how acces­si­ble you are. Even if you feel small, even if you feel like no one is inter­act­ing with your tweets, you’re still actu­al­ly com­plete­ly open. And the infor­ma­tion you send out into the sys­tem is media that can be iso­lat­ed and shared quick­ly, and that’s sort of the way in which Twitter func­tions.

So I won­dered what if you could just break some­thing down real­ly sim­ply, and just sort of say fol­low­er impres­sions and non-fol­low­er impres­sions to sort of get an idea of as to who’s inter­act­ing with your tweet, and who out­side of your decen­tral­ized social cir­cle on Twitter.

And then I start­ed look­ing at Facebook. Additionally, I did anoth­er round of inter­views, specif­i­cal­ly for this project I’m get­ting into, Social Media Breakup Coordinator, where users actu­al­ly had no idea what the pri­va­cy check­up meant. I think this is a great addi­tion. You add a but­ton. You can say only friends can see this.” But what if Twitter added a pop­up and then said, Great, this con­tent right here, this com­ment. If your friend Jane com­ments on it, her mom can see it.” It start­ed to real­ly show how extend­ed net­works that you’re uncon­nect­ed to, 2nd and 3rd-party rela­tion­ships, can actu­al­ly inter­act with your infor­ma­tion.

I’m real­ly dri­ven by this need and this idea as a design­er, what would it look like to have a semi-private space in a pub­lic net­work, and how could I design that? I think about this a lot because our com­mu­ni­ca­tion on the Internet is asyn­chro­nous, right? But a lot of social media cre­ates things as a time­line. This cre­ates a false idea as to how infor­ma­tion is actu­al­ly accessed, and how data is actu­al­ly stored. And that false infor­ma­tion is artic­u­lat­ed to users. So what feels like safer spaces, even if you’re com­plete­ly pub­lic because you’re not inter­act­ed with, is a lie. It’s a false sense of infor­ma­tion. It’s a false sense of safe­ty.

So I won­der with all these vary­ing lev­els of needs that we have as users, and as we live more and more of our lives dig­i­tal­ly and on social media, what would it look like to design a semi-private space in a pub­lic net­work?

The past two years have real­ly hit this on home that there’s this neb­u­lous­ness sur­round­ing algo­rithms and social media and the way in which our data is saved. And a lot of that hap­pens when Facebook for instance changed their time­line to be algo­rith­mi­cal­ly dri­ven based off con­tent. Then I think it was last sum­mer, or two sum­mers ago, there was this thing called the Ice Bucket Challenge, and these riots in Ferguson, Missouri. And what hap­pened [was] peo­ple real­ized that Ice Bucket Challenge posts were being weight­ed above these oth­er protests. And the way to work around that was to include Ice Bucket Challenge” when you were post­ing about Ferguson to start to flip and change what you were see­ing algo­rith­mi­cal­ly in your time­line. So there’s this idea that users don’t quite know what and why the algo­rithm will weight things over oth­er things. So when you post some­thing on Facebook, the feed­back is, I have no idea when it’s acces­si­ble, how it’s acces­si­ble, and if it will be accessed.”

So that let me do this project that I cre­at­ed. I cre­at­ed a fake per­for­mance art piece—I mean, it’s a real art piece—called Social Media Breakup Coordinator, where I turned a video game art gallery in New York called Babycastles into a doc­tor’s office. And I held fifteen-minute therapy/consulting ses­sions on social media.

I had users fill out a twenty-two point very stan­dard user quiz around why they were show­ing up. But then when they sat with me, I had them sign a terms of ser­vice agree­ment, I lis­tened to them, and then I start­ed to write down notes. But before I start­ed this project, I reached out to a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent peo­ple, because from my research I had sort of start­ed to real­ize that there’s a lot of dif­fer­ent moments where there needs to be human inter­ven­tion with­in algo­rithms with­in social media.

So how do you start to pull away from dif­fer­ent groups that you’ve been asso­ci­at­ed with? How do you start to cut ties? And how do you start to cut ties between infor­ma­tion when you cross-post against dif­fer­ent plat­forms?

A good exam­ple of that is what hap­pens if some­one in your fam­i­ly dies and that ends up in Facebook mem­o­ries because you Instagrammed it? What does that feel like, to have that emo­tion­al trig­ger? What does it feel like to quit a job and not be sure if your new cowork­ers can see your old cowork­ers? Or if you post some­thing neg­a­tive about your old job are you still con­nect­ed to your boss and what can they see? And gen­er­al­ly there is this lack of under­stand­ing that I found that most gen­er­al users (prob­a­bly not most peo­ple in this room) have a lack of under­stand­ing around how much their infor­ma­tion is accessed.

So I was curi­ous on a bunch of lev­els if peo­ple would actu­al­ly pay me to give them advice. If they would trust me as a pro­fes­sion­al. And if they would actu­al­ly engage with my ser­vices. And then I was curi­ous if I could actu­al­ly then covert­ly teach them the pri­va­cy poli­cies of all the dif­fer­ent plat­forms they were on.

When I start­ed this project I real­ized I need­ed to talk to a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent pro­fes­sion­als. I’m a user researcher, so my pro­fes­sion lies in talk­ing to users and design­ing solu­tions for them. But as social media starts to over­take more and more aspects of our lives, I real­ized that there were cer­tain things that I’m not equipped to han­dle. So what hap­pens if some­one has suf­fered trau­ma on social media? As a vic­tim of harass­ment, I still can’t offer any­one feed­back on that, and that’s sort of not my place.

So I spoke to a rape cri­sis coun­selor, an engi­neer, a data sci­en­tist and pro­fes­sor, and a pri­vate ther­a­pist, and a pri­vate psy­chi­a­trist. The take­away I got was main­ly this, and this is some­thing I’d love to impart on most social media engi­neers and design­ers: It’s not my job to nec­es­sar­i­ly tell peo­ple what to do, it’s my job to lis­ten to what peo­ple need to get done.

An exam­ple from that is, let’s say a user came to me for Social Media Breakup Coordinator and said, I have an abu­sive boyfriend and he’s hor­ri­ble and we have a child togeth­er and I want to un-Facebook friend him.” It’s not my place nec­es­sar­i­ly to say, Okay, wait. Can I know more? Are you close with his fam­i­ly? Let’s start to cut down all these ties.” The rea­son I would ask that is, think­ing as a design­er if you’re Facebook friends with some­one, and then you’re Facebook friends with their par­ents, and then it says on that per­son­’s pro­file who their fam­i­ly is, the sys­tem has cre­at­ed more ties to that per­son, even regard­less of if you unfriend them. You would need to block them as well as unfol­low all of these oth­er peo­ple relat­ed to them and tied to their pro­file to actu­al­ly real­ly sep­a­rate.

A lot of the feed­back I got was it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly your job to tell a user all of that if they’re telling you what exact­ly they need. You sort of need to lis­ten and guide from there and not real­ly get into, Well why are you here? What are all these dif­fer­ent real­ly spe­cif­ic and high­ly per­son­al details?”

So why would I do this?

I was just very inter­est­ed in the ways in which peo­ple live their lives online, and I real­ly want­ed to see if I could also gath­er a lot of data from this project. I had six­teen peo­ple fill out twenty-two dif­fer­ent ques­tions and meet with me and walk through all their dif­fer­ent prob­lems. And I was real­ly curi­ous if I could pro­vide solu­tions the way an algo­rithm would. I out­lined ten dif­fer­ent solu­tions that I could affix to peo­ple based of dif­fer­ent that they answered in a cer­tain order.

And again the covert point of this project was to sort of teach peo­ple about the per­me­abil­i­ty of their posts and real­ly how pri­va­cy is looked at and inter­act­ed with on social net­works. And with the onset of all these dif­fer­ent apps, par­tic­u­lar­ly in America, that are offer­ing to out­source emo­tion­al labor to a per­son, mean­ing there’s all these new apps that’ve been cre­at­ed of, We’ll break up with your boyfriend for you,” I was real­ly sort of curi­ous to see if peo­ple would actu­al­ly engage with me face to face.

So, when I launched the project peo­ple thought it was real. And then the media thought it was real. And it was real­ly hard to explain to, for instance Jezebel, that this was an art project. Because they were like, But you’re charg­ing peo­ple… And you made them sign a con­tract… Is the con­tract legal­ly bind­ing?” Yes, it is. So you charge them mon­ey?” I did. Did you give them fake feed­back?” No, the feed­back was all sin­cere. I real­ly legit­i­mate­ly tried to help solve these prob­lems. But it’s an art project?”

The rea­son that it’s an art project is to me it’s a mas­sive com­ment on the shar­ing econ­o­my that’s in America, and just this idea that I could be an emo­tion­al Mechanical Turk. And I com­plete­ly made that by design and inten­tion. Should peo­ple be trust­ing me with their data? Yes, because I am a pro­fes­sion­al, and I made sure to very very clear­ly artic­u­late the ways in which I would use their data, how they would be pro­tect­ed, and that I would not share any per­son­al infor­ma­tion about them. I went through all of those steps, but is that sort of the nego­ti­a­tion we have with social net­works? Do we have that kind of inter­fac­ing?

And an even big­ger com­ment was no one every com­ment­ed on price. I charged $1 a minute to sit and lis­ten all day to peo­ple. I only gave them fifteen-minute blocks. It was actu­al­ly incred­i­bly tax­ing, phys­i­cal­ly. It was an all-day event where I think I only gave myself fif­teen min­utes for lunch. I def­i­nite­ly have a whole new type of respect for ther­a­pists. That was gru­el­ing.

So before I start­ed the project, I start­ed to break down what plat­forms I would cov­er. These are exam­ples of my Post-It Notes. I had cov­ered Resistor in one evening. And I start­ed to break things down based off the four major plat­forms that are used in America, which is LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I start­ed to break down by what I thought were the four most broad, most uni­ver­sal, social group­ings. So friends, fam­i­ly, work, and roman­tic. Then I start­ed to think about why your roman­tic part­ner would friend you on LinkedIn, for exam­ple. Or why they would fol­low you on Instagram. Or why your boss would friend you on all of those plat­forms.

And I start­ed to attach dif­fer­ent emo­tion­al respons­es. So should you LinkedIn con­nect with your Dad? Maybe? Should you LinkedIn con­nect with your lover? If you want to… But you don’t have to. But then these are connections…if they’re dif­fer­ent par­ty apps that you don’t real­ly use…that you then have to break down lat­er if those rela­tion­ships sour.

So remem­ber when I said that every­one thought that this project was real? It’s because I went to real­ly great pains to also make it look real. When peo­ple showed up, we had a recep­tion­ist who had cof­fee. There was a wait­ing room, and I had peo­ple sign in with the date they arrived, the rea­son, and I the time of their appoint­ment. There was then a paper ver­sion of the quiz if some­one walked in. Sometimes you get walk-ins. The doc­tor gets that all the time.

This is me work­ing. This is what my desk looked like. Everyone got their own fold­er that I would write their name on. I would write out what I called a receipt. It’s all the advice I’m giv­ing them and I’m tak­ing my own notes. We both got a copy of the terms of ser­vice agree­ment. And then I would send them on their way.

So it looked actu­al­ly fair­ly… It looked hacker‑y legit, you know. I mean…a falling-apart build­ing, but I’m giv­ing you legit­i­mate advice and you just paid me $15.

This is our recep­tion­ist, Lauren. This is the wait­ing room. This actu­al­ly was­n’t posed. I popped my head out and saw a bunch of peo­ple sit­ting and read­ing. This is me pro­vid­ing advice. And these are some stu­dents of mine that showed up. I taught a class on visu­al sto­ry­telling with social media, and they had shown up to observe.

This is also what the break­down of the terms of ser­vice agree­ment looked like. This is the first page. It’s pret­ty stan­dard. One of my favorite lines is My obser­va­tions of this per­son­’s behav­ior and respons­es gives me no rea­son to believe that this per­son­’s not ful­ly com­pe­tent to give informed, know­ing, and will­ing con­sent.”

I should also clar­i­fy a real­ly dear friend of mind who’s my col­lab­o­ra­tor, Fred Jennings, works for a law com­pa­ny called Tor Ekeland. They do a lot of dig­i­tal law cas­es. He actu­al­ly draft­ed this up specif­i­cal­ly for me, for the needs of this project. I told him to keep it short, and I told him to bold cer­tain things so users could real­ly see, if they were scan­ning, what I’m talk­ing about. So as you’ll see, var­i­ous social media plat­forms are bold­ed with what I’m giv­ing.

But then I had him out­line the nature of ser­vices. And what you’ll see is that the Client acknowl­edges the Coordinator pro­vides nei­ther con­tent or mate­ri­als intend­ed as finan­cial advice, coun­sel­ing, or ther­a­py.” And I real­ly want­ed to high­light I am not a ther­a­pist, and this is not a ther­a­py ses­sion. If any­thing, I’m like a real­ly weird SEO advi­sor that you’ve con­sult­ed to maybe talk about your per­son­al life with. But I am def­i­nite­ly not a ther­a­pist.

So I had twelve peo­ple fill this out online, four peo­ple do walk-ins. And what’s fas­ci­nat­ing is I only had two peo­ple show up and talk to me about heart­break. This project was not inspired by a breakup. It’s actu­al­ly about break­ing up with social media. I had some­one show up and ask me a lot of real­ly spe­cif­ic ques­tions about LinkedIn and her work­place, and what’s the prop­er way to break up on LinkedIn with your old job. And I was like, You should just prob­a­bly unfol­low them.” I’m like, Do you talk to them on Facebook?”

She’s like, I do.”

I’m like, Well, don’t do that.”

And I start­ed to gath­er all this real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing infor­ma­tion, specif­i­cal­ly around the ways in which my users were using social media. This is some­thing I’m going to open­ly share, prob­a­bly post- this talk, if y’all want to look at what I’m accru­ing.

Different things like, let’s get a lit­tle per­son­al, Why are you here?” Romantic rea­son, work rea­son, friend, fam­i­ly, gen­er­al social media? And maybe these ques­tions seem real­ly innocu­ous, but the way in which I was struc­tur­ing my per­son­al algo­rithm I had built, each of these ques­tions trig­gered a dif­fer­ent kind of answer that I could give some­one, and I could string answers togeth­er. So I could give a com­bi­na­tion of Answer A plus Answer D plus Answer J to sort of give some­one a high­ly per­son­al­ized response to what they’d giv­en me. But this is sort of the way algo­rithm work. It’s not high­ly per­son­al­ized; the com­bi­na­tion to the user just feels per­son­al­ized. And on my end, that was sort of the art project for myself.

And I asked the gen­er­al ques­tion Do you feel safe online?” I was slight­ly sur­prised only two peo­ple said no. But I was more sur­prised that actu­al­ly only two peo­ple said no. I thought it would be less, and then at times I thought it would be more. Given my research in online harass­ment, I was pre­pared for some­one to show up and say, I’m being vic­tim­ized of harass­ment,” and I had a whole dif­fer­ent answer ready for them.

But just the fact that most peo­ple had come with very gen­er­al prob­lems, I was actu­al­ly sur­prised that in gen­er­al 16% of appli­cants don’t feel safe online.

Then I asked how How often do you use social media?” Pretty much every day. How often do you want to be using it?” Pretty much every day.

And the one I found the most fas­ci­nat­ing was when peo­ple described what they used it for. About half of users said they used it for social­iz­ing. And when I asked what do you want to use it for, half of users replied with net­work­ing.” So there’s a sort of pull to actu­al­ly be tak­en off social media.

And this is what I learned from all of this. A lot of advice I gave peo­ple was, Maybe you should just quit Facebook.”

And that was met with a resound­ing, No. How dare you sug­gest that?”

And I was like, Okay, great. Let’s pull back. Let me offer some­thing else. Do you have a smart­phone?”

Of course.”

Delete the app from your phone?”

They’re like, Oh, that’s bril­liant.”

I’m like, I know, right? Whoa.”

But the one thing I actu­al­ly found the most fas­ci­nat­ing was most peo­ple did not under­stand­ing Facebook’s pri­va­cy check­ups. Whenever peo­ple talked about that they want­ed to social­ize less and be less acces­si­ble, the first thing I always said was, Well, what is your pri­va­cy check­up? Have you done one?”

They’re like, Oh my god, what’s that?”

I’m like, We have a prob­lem.”

And the one thing I found super fas­ci­nat­ing is that most users did­n’t realize—and this is actu­al­ly hyper-specific to one user that came through—that you are acces­si­ble even with very pri­vate set­tings on Facebook, to non-Facebook-friends chat mes­sag­ing you. And if you respond to that mes­sage, that chat is moved into your gen­er­al stream of chats and it makes your infor­ma­tion acces­si­ble to that per­son you have not friend­ed.

So I had a friend who was like, I want to be super pri­vate but the rea­son I keep my Facebook open is like what if a young game devel­op­er’s try­ing to reach me?”

And I was like, Did you know that chat does this?”

He was like, I had no idea.”

And I was like, Well, that’s ter­ri­fy­ing, but you could maybe use it this way if you’re not con­cerned about harass­ment but you’re con­cerned about being reached.” Because he was more con­cerned that friends could be exposed through his open­ness, which I was like that’s a very very con­sid­er­ate [?] way to take your Facebook.

One thing I learned is that no one knew any­thing about Instagram’s pri­va­cy poli­cies, nor did they care. They’re like, Eh, Instagram’s fine. We don’t care.”

Again, most peo­ple want­ed to use social media as a net­work­ing tool.

But the biggest take­away was every sin­gle per­son that showed up— And I had a vari­ety of peo­ple that were incred­i­bly savvy; they were engi­neers. They actu­al­ly thought that they did not under­stand social media as well as they could, and that they need­ed some­one to help them bet­ter under­stand. And they need­ed some­one to help them bet­ter under­stand who they paid $15 to in a hack­er video game space.

And I want that to sort of res­onate, because that is a joke. But also real­ly think about the fact that these tools are so neb­u­lous that you would go to a space and pay some­one $15 that you’ve nev­er met before that says they’re an expert, to just han­dle this for you.

And that for me was the biggest take­away. How can we make things feel more acces­si­ble, or bet­ter yet let’s make a new plat­form.

I’m putting this up here because this is one of my biggest pet peeves. You would prob­a­bly nev­er explain how to SMS some­one through screen­shots. You’d prob­a­bly say, Do you see that lit­tle thing on your phone, the chat? Open it up. Write in a num­ber. Say some­thing.”

When this project launched, a friend wrote about me and some work I had been doing, and one of her fol­low­ers legit­i­mate­ly believed that I did not under­stand Facebook. And he took it upon him­self to try to explain Facebook to me. Which oth­er than being kind of insult­ing because I work for a tech com­pa­ny and I have a Masters in inter­ac­tive tech­nol­o­gy, what I found illu­mi­nat­ing is the fact that this is not a weird response. This is not unusu­al, for some­one to say, Oh, right. Facebook is so hard to use when it comes to pri­va­cy and cre­at­ing lists of posts to peo­ple that I’m going to screen­shot every­thing for you.”

And that is nev­er the way in which you should explain a com­mu­ni­ca­tion tool to some­one. If you have to screen­shot some­thing to some­one, you fucked up as a design­er. [clap­ping from audi­ence] And those are my gen­er­al thoughts on that. I can’t even. I just can’t.

So I guess what I impart to you and all of us here is, let’s make some­thing not shit­ty.

And I know the rea­son peo­ple use Facebook, and this is not a talk to get off Facebook. I use Facebook. Facebook will per­sist for a very long time. Think of all the third-party apps that use Facebook as an auto­mat­ic login. That is a design pat­tern that rein­forces the need of Facebook in every­day users’ lives.

But as a design­er and tech­nol­o­gist, I want to make some­thing bet­ter even if it’s just for my friends. We could do socialmedia.onion? Thoughts? And that’s sort of where the future of this project comes in, as I’m actu­al­ly work­ing on a social media co-op with two tech­nol­o­gists in New York, Dan Phiffer and Max Fenton.

I’m doing anoth­er round of Social Media Breakup Coordinator in Oakland in January. And I’m hop­ing to keep gath­er­ing data around the ways users use these plat­forms through my per­for­mance art piece, but also as well as covert­ly keep [impart­ing] infor­ma­tion on pri­va­cy. And what would it be like if we lived our lives just a lit­tle less online. And I’m hop­ing to even­tu­al­ly have a real­ly robust data set that could be used as an actu­al data set and not just a sam­pling.

Thanks.


Audience 1: Did you ever ask the ques­tion why those peo­ple did­n’t under­stand the set­tings on Facebook, etc. and still used it. I mean, it’s like walk­ing into a gun shop, pur­chas­ing a firearm, and you have no idea what to do with it.

Sinders: Right. I think… What I said lat­er in the pre­sen­ta­tion is we have these design pat­terns in every­day life that real­ly actu­al­ly enforce this use of Facebook. So this project was real­ly cen­tered around gen­er­al users, and a gen­er­al under­stand­ing of tech­nol­o­gy. We are mov­ing to a very high­ly digitally-literate and data-literate soci­ety, but we’re not there yet. There’s pock­ets of lit­er­a­cy. This is a real­ly good pock­et of lit­er­a­cy right here; we’re a real­ly awe­some com­mu­ni­ty.

But one thing I strive is like, the peo­ple that are mis­us­ing” or mis­un­der­stand­ing” Facebook, they’re not like elder­ly par­ents. They’re actu­al cohorts of mine that are my age, peo­ple younger, and peo­ple even a few years old­er. And I think the rea­son is that Facebook is real­ly easy. And it’s high­ly addict­ing to use. And it’s like a phone book; every­one’s there. It stores birth­days for you, which is real­ly actu­al­ly help­ful. It’s a fast way to talk to peo­ple. But I think the big­ger thing is it’s enforced on oth­er sites. Think of all the web sites you go to dur­ing a day and how many of them say log in with Facebook,” sign up with Facebook.” Log in with Twitter.”

And those design pat­terns, which seem real­ly innocu­ous to us actu­al­ly are real­ly impor­tant. They fur­ther enforce the ubiq­ui­ty of Facebook, because it makes it easy. I mean, I’m shud­der­ing think­ing about all the third-party apps that would be asso­ci­at­ed right now with a Facebook login if you’ve done that for every site. But the com­mon user does not know that. And that’s sort of the issue, I think.

Audience 2: Hi. Thank you very much for this inter­est­ing talk. I have basi­cal­ly two ques­tions that kin­da are the same, and they are around the art project part of your talk. And the first one is how did you make sure that peo­ple would actu­al­ly under­stand that this was a piece of per­for­mance art. Did you rely on the absur­di­ty of your propo­si­tion, that that would be rec­og­nized? Because clear­ly peo­ple thought not, and in terms of satire there needs to be some ele­ment of exag­ger­a­tion or some­thing that makes it clear that this is intend­ed as a piece of art. So I was just won­der­ing what your thought was that.

And the sec­ond part was where do you— So the data that you get from your piece of art you pre­sent­ed as a research out­come, almost. So that obfus­cates the arti­ness of your project and turns into real-life data. And isn’t that also one of the prob­lems why peo­ple are so care­less with Instagram, because they see it as art when they pho­to­graph their food, whether that’s true or not? That’s open to debate. But they don’t see it as an actu­al act of data col­lec­tion.

Sinders: Right. So, I guess to sort of back up. The way in which I describe myself [is] as a spec­u­la­tive design­er, and I think about crit­i­cal design a lot and crit­i­cal mak­ing, and like what is that line. And often­times you’re mak­ing some­thing real that is sort of mak­ing a point. Most peo­ple seem to sort of get that this was an art project of mine. And it helped that I was in New York doing this, and I was doing it in an art gallery that’s a video game gallery. So there were arcades in the back of the space.

But cer­tain peo­ple, I actu­al­ly real­ized… Because I had a cou­ple peo­ple phone in that had sort of seen this and had signed up online and were not in New York. And I real­ized that they did­n’t know that this was an art piece. And I kind of went with it. And a lot of that is they were sign­ing a terms of ser­vice agree­ment, I did tell them this is not ther­a­peu­tic advice, I’m not held liable for any deci­sions that you make, and I said all that over the phone to make sure that they under­stood that. And then I told them these are just sug­ges­tions. You don’t have to fol­low them, and you are allowed to push back. And that’s what I tell every par­tic­i­pant. I’m giv­ing you these sug­ges­tions based off my best-practice knowl­edge and this algo­rithm I’ve designed that you don’t get to see.

So your ques­tions are trig­ger­ing cer­tain results, but you are also allowed to say, I don’t like that,” and I can tai­lor them slight­ly. If you don’t like the result at all, you should take the quiz again. But the big­ger thing is that it walks this real­ly weird line. And this is a weird anec­dote, but I’m also a por­trait pho­tog­ra­ph­er. My back­ground’s actu­al­ly in fine art pho­tog­ra­phy and I got a Masters in inter­ac­tive tech­nol­o­gy years lat­er. And my work was my fam­i­ly and I recre­at­ing moments post-Hurricane Katrina. So peo­ple always ask, Are these real pho­tographs, Caroline?” Well, they weren’t tak­en on the fly. I set them up. But they were real to me.

And they’re say­ing some­thing. And that’s the way in which I would describe this project. It’s not real, but it was real to us in the moment, and it’s com­ment­ing on things and also pro­vid­ing real solu­tion.

Audience 3: Hi. Do you know of some soft­ware that shows how open you are to oth­er peo­ple? For exam­ple, a Facebook app or some­thing that shows you a mir­ror of your­self, more or less.

Sinders: I don’t know of any sort of check­er like that. I use a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent things. A friend of mind made a real­ly great WiFi snif­fer, which is at the extreme end of what you’re talk­ing about. Not that you all should do this, I often will unfol­low and refol­low, and unfriend and refriend peo­ple and change my pri­va­cy set­tings, and then I try to log out and get some­one else to log in, see if they’ll let me audit. And then I will see what I look like to oth­er peo­ple. That’s a lev­el of insan­i­ty that I don’t think most peo­ple in this room should nec­es­sar­i­ly engage with. But I don’t actu­al­ly know of a check­er that lets you see that.

I know that there are ana­lyt­ics sys­tems you can down­load with Instagram to see who’s unfol­lowed you and fol­lowed you, and who’s fol­low­ing you that fol­lows oth­er peo­ple that you know, which cur­rent­ly Instagram does not have that ana­lyt­ic feed­back for users. It’s a third-party app you have to down­load.

Twitter has start­ed to add ana­lyt­ics on the side to sort of give an idea of how suc­cess­ful your tweets were. But they’ll nev­er say like, This is who did­n’t fol­low you that accessed this tweet today.” But they give you a more robust ana­lyt­ic break­down of, Your tweet about pup­py dogs did real­ly well, but your tweet about OpSec did not.”

Audience 4: Hi. I real­ly appre­ci­ate your insights on visu­al design and the user expe­ri­ence of data at rest. I’m real­ly curi­ous what your thoughts are on tem­po­ral design and the user expe­ri­ence of data in motion. Because you men­tioned that one of the things that came out of your inter­views was peo­ple hav­ing a sense of just sort of not under­stand­ing social media and feel­ing like they need help under­stand­ing social media.

In pro­gram­ming we talk about code smells, which are sort of fea­tures of code and how peo­ple use code that are a sign that some­thing’s prob­a­bly not designed right here. And it seems to me that that sense of mis­un­der­stand­ing is a design smell. Maybe that there’s just too much try­ing to con­sume users’ atten­tion and we need to change the rate at which we’re deliv­er­ing. Anyway, it’s an open-ended ques­tion. I’m just real­ly curi­ous what your thoughts are there.

Sinders: So I’ve actu­al­ly thought about that a lot. I actu­al­ly haven’t met with any engi­neers at Facebook or Twitter, but if you’re here I’d love to talk to you. But I met with some­one that worked in brand­ing at Twitter and I asked him to just sort of talk about his day job and describe how the brand­ing team tar­get­ed ads. Because I fig­ured that was a real­ly good way to get a sense of how the algo­rithm was work­ing.

He start­ed spout­ing a lot of buzz­words, as he is prone and wont to do, because he was a cowork­er of mine from a real­ly old job. But he said some­thing that was real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing to me. He was like, Well you know, Caroline, there’s just so much noise. We have all these dif­fer­ent algo­rithms work­ing, but it’s just so much noise on top of each oth­er and you’re just try­ing to find this lit­tle sig­nal.” So I know for instance with Twitter it’s exact­ly that prob­lem, that they infra­struc­tural­ly designed them­selves incor­rect­ly, and to com­bat it you can’t… They’re at a point where I feel like they can­not shut it down and rebuild it and become min­i­mal, with a bet­ter work­ing code­base. So they’re build­ing on top of every­thing.

The rea­son I also think that is a lot of anti-harassment that they have they’ve been rolling out for ver­i­fied users and not for the com­mon use base. So if you’re a ver­i­fied user, the way in which their anti-harassment ini­tia­tives work, it works way dif­fer­ent and way bet­ter for you. They have an algo­rithm work­ing where you will nev­er see as a ver­i­fied use cer­tain harass­ment tweets. They’re catch­ing them before they come to you, and you can look at them lat­er. But there’s all these real­ly high­ly spe­cif­ic changes— And I have not yet seen a ver­i­fied user account. No one’s let me log into theirs. (Again, if you have that, let’s chat.) But I’ve seen enough screen­shots and read enough about it, and talked to friends who have it. And it’s like Twitter 2.0. It’s just slight­ly bet­ter.

So what I think the big­ger issue is, there’s so much data in motion that they can only iso­late it for what they are infra­struc­tural­ly decid­ing who is a pow­er user, and that pow­er user infra­struc­tural­ly actu­al­ly becomes a bet­ter pow­er user.

Audience 4: I guess the hid­den ques­tion I have there is real­ly more of, is Twitter even­tu­al­ly doomed to tear itself apart because it’s trig­ger­ing peo­ple’s System 1 respons­es instead of their rea­son­ing.

Sinders: I real­ly don’t have an answer to that ques­tion, because as a Twitter who’s thought about quit­ting but I real­ly love the com­mu­ni­ty I have on Twitter, it’s kind of a weird emo­tion­al nego­ti­a­tion that I have of like, I don’t know how acces­si­ble I am and I face harass­ment on a usu­al­ly month­ly basis, for a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent things. And it’s this weird nego­ti­a­tion I have of, why am I still here? But I actu­al­ly legit­i­mate­ly like it. And I think that that’s the big issue. It’s like maybe it will pull itself apart, but harass­ment while it affects a lot of peo­ple is also affect­ing hyper-specific groups of peo­ple. And I think a lot of the fear around it, right­ly so, is well if it hap­pens to one per­son it could hap­pen to you because we’re infra­struc­tural­ly in the same place and we’re both equal­ly open.

I guess I’m not sure. I’m inter­est­ed to see what hap­pens in the next two or three years, because Twitter is not gain­ing any new fol­low­ers at this point. They’re kind of start­ing to plateau. So they are not grow­ing at a rate at which oth­er social media net­works are grow­ing. And that’s a major issue. And dome of that issue could be tied towards bad infra­struc­tur­al design or real­ly poor code of con­duct.

Audience 5: Last year my broth­er blocked my mom on Facebook and she still vocal­ly beat about it. I men­tion this because many times our online social net­work is almost direct­ly mapped or close­ly inter­twined with our offline social net­work. So did you look into mak­ing changes into these social net­works that’s online, how does that affect our social net­work offline? As much as you may unfol­low and stop talk­ing to your boss or your for­mer col­leagues, you’ll still meet them at con­fer­ences and at tea par­ties. So how do you deal with that change of this net­work online which does not actu­al­ly give a clear pic­ture of how your social net­work looks like. [?] the inter­ac­tion between the offline and online after that change.

Sinders: I def­i­nite­ly thought about that a lot. Just in gen­er­al as a researcher I’ve always been real­ly intrigued by soci­etal norms and pro­pri­ety and what is polite behav­ior across many dif­fer­ent cul­tures. And I’m speak­ing as an American but I come from a hyper-specific place in the United States. I come from Louisiana, which is the American South. We’re a hyper-hyper-specific cul­ture. We speak two lan­guages. It’s English and then Cajun, which is an oral-based lan­guage. I only know a cou­ple words. But New Orleans where I’m from has the high­est rate of birth reten­tion. 75% of peo­ple that are born there stay there. So the ways in which I social­ize as a New Orleanian is very dif­fer­ent than the ways I social­ize as a New Yorker.

And that’s true even, I think, when you get even more local­ized. If you look at Americans ver­sus Canadians ver­sus Mexicans and get­ting into Latin America. So I thought about that a lot, that actu­al­ly a lot of the inter­ac­tions you have offline def­i­nite­ly affect and influ­ence the inter­ac­tions you have online. So a lot of advice I gave peo­ple was also hav­ing to break down like, how often do you inter­face with this per­son, and let’s think of the most neu­tral and polite way to break things down.

So yeah, I thought about that a lot. I haven’t yet, with the peo­ple I’ve giv­en advice to, said unfriend some­one. Oftentimes unless the rela­tion­ship has incred­i­bly soured, that’s usu­al­ly the advice. But if it’s in the case of a boss, for instance, my reac­tion is often­times, Why don’t you reach out to them if they’re an old boss and say, I’d love to keep in touch. Here’s my email. But I’m keep­ing my Instagram just for friends only.’ ”

Audience 6: From your project, I’m curi­ous to know if you think that social breakup is actu­al­ly pos­si­ble or if it’s not real­ly pos­si­ble because peo­ple end up see­ing your stuff any­way.

Sinders: Is it bad if my response is both?” I think that as social media users, for a real­ly long time we’ve been taught to inter­act with social media in a par­tic­u­lar way. And I don’t think that that way is cor­rect. Facebook active­ly wants you to post more, as does Twitter, and Instagram wants you to share and accu­mu­late fol­low­ers. And that’s the way in which these net­works grow. You’re cre­at­ing con­tent and that con­tent is ana­lyt­ics, and they pack­age and sell that to adver­tis­ers.

I’m polit­i­cal­ly agnos­tic on that, but I have my own per­son­al thoughts, as a researcher that’s just what they do. But I think that that push towards shar­ing and cross-platform shar­ing, that you can cross-post, per­haps in terms of pri­va­cy is a hor­ri­ble idea. What are you say­ing, how are you say­ing it, are all iden­ti­fiers, and they’re all iden­ti­fiers that can pin­point loca­tion and who you are, and who you are offline and where you are. And that’s some­thing I often do try to impart to peo­ple: what are you say­ing and when, and does it need to be said online?

So I per­son­al­ly, and I always give this exam­ple with peo­ple that sit with me, I’m like, I per­son­al­ly try to not post loca­tion but I have a very spe­cif­ic rea­son I can’t do that.” And I had a lot of inter­nal dia­logue of should I post that I’m at CCC? What if some­one’s here and they want to talk to me about some­thing that I don’t want to talk about? Or what if I say I’m home, does that make my mom more of a tar­get if some­one want­ed to try to swat us again?

And those are extreme exam­ples. But it’s also impor­tant to think about like, are you acci­den­tal­ly doxxing your­self? If you’re say­ing, I’m at the bar down­stairs from my apart­ment. Let’s check in on Foursquare and post that on Instagram,” you’ve pin­point­ed where you live. And that’s infor­ma­tion that peo­ple don’t actu­al­ly need. So I always try to walk this line of like, I think it’s total­ly find to post pic­tures of food and fam­i­ly and friends and to do it fre­quent­ly. But I think it’s impor­tant to know are you high­light­ing where you are and are you high­light­ing reg­u­lar pat­terns in your lives? And are you then ampli­fy­ing that to a vari­ety of peo­ple that you don’t know and you have no idea how many peo­ple are access­ing it?

Audience 7: [Angel] I’ve got a ques­tion from the Internet. Yesterday there was a talk titled The Possibility of an Army” by Constant Dullaart, who bought thou­sands of fake accounts. What do you think about these actions?

Sinders: I guess I need a lit­tle more con­text. This per­son bought thou­sands of fake accounts to…?

Audience 7: [Angel] Actually, I don’t have any con­text for that for you.

Sinders: In grad­u­ate school, this fan­tas­tic ethno­g­ra­ph­er, Trisha Wang, came to speak to us and the pro­fes­sor, Clay Shirky, at the time was say­ing he bought her 50,000 fol­low­ers in a day, and I think he paid like $100. I think it’s real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing the ways that that bumps you up into a dif­fer­ent sort of social stra­ta, and how it pre­sent­ed her in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent way online. That changed the way in which peo­ple inter­act­ed with her and the amount of fol­low­ers she start­ed to accrue on a dai­ly basis.

Oh, I think I’m… So, this per­son cre­at­ed like a thou­sand dif­fer­ent accounts. I think that that’s what that ques­tion may have meant.

Audience 7: [Angel] From what I read, he bought them.

Sinders: Oh, he bought them? I would be curi­ous to know why. Like if he was look­ing at data or if he just bought a thou­sand fol­low­ers. But I guess I need a lit­tle more infor­ma­tion.

Introducer: Alright. Well the per­son­’s not here so we don’t know. We have anoth­er ques­tion from mic #3.

Audience 8: Hi. My sis­ter had an occa­sion where some­one who she sort of…became a stalk­er, and did­n’t real­ly know her very well, but then start­ed to send real­ly weird mes­sages to her. And it got to a point where they were fol­low­ing her on Instagram and she can’t real­ly control…because this per­son knows who she is and her friends. She could­n’t con­trol her infor­ma­tion and so this per­son would send stuff based on, Oh, we bought this blender,” and would deliv­er it to our house along with let­ters about like how they would have sex even though they had nev­er real­ly inter­act­ed before. And it got real­ly scary and unsafe. And it’s sad for that per­son but also it became real­ly scary for my sis­ter and she did­n’t know where to go and what to do. And when she went to the police and said, I’m scared that this per­son might come and touch me when I’m going home late at night. What should I do?” They said, Well, until some­thing hap­pens we real­ly can’t do any­thing for you.” So there may be resources out there for peo­ple who are fac­ing this, but for those watch­ing this video, what would you rec­om­mend them to do?

Sinders: First of all I want to say I’m so sor­ry for your sis­ter. That’s hor­ri­ble. And sec­ond­ly what I would sug­gest doing is, there are a vari­ety of dif­fer­ent non-profits that exist. Crash Override is one once you’ve been harassed in a real­ly spe­cif­ic way. What I would sug­gest is Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy has this. It’s this real­ly fan­tas­tic book, and they list where you can access, I think, lawyers that are more dig­i­tal­ly savvy around dig­i­tal crimes.

And my rec­om­men­da­tion in a case of that with that kind of per­sis­tence where it’s a reg­u­lar per­son, mean­ing a reg­u­lar stalk­er, it’s one enti­ty and they’re actu­al­ly start­ing to sort of move away from social media and mov­ing into let­ters, you should get a lawyer. And from there fig­ure out ways to assign space between you and the oth­er per­son across state lines, even. I don’t know the par­tic­u­lars of this case. If this per­son is in a dif­fer­ent state than your sis­ter, that gets a lit­tle bit trick­i­er. Are they in the same city? [reply inaudi­ble] So they’re in the same city. There’s a lot more you can do. My rec­om­men­da­tion would be to imme­di­ate­ly find a lawyer who is well-versed in online harass­ment. But if that per­son­’s in the same city and they’re send­ing let­ters, I think that’s a pret­ty good rea­son to start press­ing charges. That would be my imme­di­ate reac­tion.

Audience 9: Yes. Thank you for your won­der­ful talk, first of all. One thing I find myself per­son­al­ly very pre­oc­cu­pied by is not just the ques­tion of how to act on social media in the present, but also how to clean up after my past. Certainly things I’ve writ­ten or post­ed before. And I actu­al­ly find that the obsta­cle towards doing that is fre­quent­ly infra­struc­tur­al. It’s real­ly hard to sort of have an over­sight of every­thing you’ve done in the past. What do you sort of see as the future of design on these plat­forms? Are they inten­tion­al­ly mak­ing it dif­fi­cult, or have they cod­ed them­selves into a cor­ner, and is this going to become a big­ger prob­lem?

Sinders: I guess I would say, bas­ing off the way the design is now, I think it’s a mix­ture of hav­ing cod­ed into a cor­ner and also try­ing to make design min­i­mal. So, a lot of trends in design are around opti­miza­tion and usabil­i­ty. But we’re opti­miz­ing for speed and we’re mak­ing things more usable for mobile. But we’re not opti­miz­ing or design­ing for safe­ty. And we’re not opti­miz­ing or design­ing for longevi­ty of life with­in inter­act­ing on these plat­forms. So I would say it’s a mis­use of design pri­or­i­ties. And I think that now there is some push­back with peo­ple say­ing, How’s this being accessed? There’s harass­ment per­sist­ing on this plat­form. How’s this hap­pen­ing? Oh, it’s hap­pen­ing because of these rea­sons,” etc.

I would say that it’s just a mis­align­ment of pri­or­i­ties with­in a design hier­ar­chy and a cod­ing hier­ar­chy.

Further Reference

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