class concerns with online spaces and content

danah boyd speaks at the Personal Democracy Forum about “The Not-So-Hidden Politics of Class Online”

For decades, we’ve assumed that inequality in relation to technology has everything to do with “access” and that if we fix the access problem, all will be fine. This is the grand narrative of concepts like the “digital divide.” Yet, increasingly, we’re seeing people with similar levels of access engage in fundamentally different ways. And we’re seeing a social media landscape where participation “choice” leads to a digital reproduction of social divisions. This is most salient in the States which is intentionally the focus of my talk here today.

I suggest you read it all, it’s not terribly long, but if you’re part of the tl;dr generation, the salient point for libraries is this

If you are trying to connect with the public, where you go online matters. If you choose to make Facebook your platform for civic activity, you are implicitly suggesting that a specific class of people is more worth your time and attention than others. Of course, splitting your attention can also be costly and doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be reaching everyone anyhow. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The key to developing a social media strategy is to understand who you’re reaching and who you’re not and make certain that your perspective is accounting for said choices. Understand your biases and work to counter them.

a difficult time, a difficult task

I work occasionally as a fill-in librarian at a local public library that serves a community of about 5,000 people. This is the community I am moving to next month, up the road from where I live now, and while technically it puts me out of the “rural” designation, it’s still pretty rural. Last week and the week before there was a horrible tragedy that rocked the whole community. Short form: a local girl Brooke Bennett, went missing and her body was discovered a few days ago. The most likely suspect at this point is an uncle who is on the state sex offender list.

First off let me say that I’m quoting from news stories only. Our official staff position is “no comment” and I’m sticking to that. Here is why this is a library issue.

  • The initial reports, when the girl was simply missing, was that she had met a sexual predator online via her MySpace page. That garnered the predictable media outcry as well as some very good stories about safety online.
  • It also resulted in law enforcement coming to the library to take the public PCs. You can read the library director’s statements about this in this article in the Burlington Free Press. The librarians waited for a court order, and gave the computers to the police once they received one. The computers have since been returned. The library had an internet policy in place to guide their actions in this situation.
  • As more details emerged it became clear that the MySpace angle was not just untrue, it was the opposite of what people had thought. The person who abducted Brooke had actually logged in to her MySpace page to try to create a fake scenario where she was meeting a “predator” when in reality she was meeting him. IP addresses from these interactions were given to law enforcement by MySpace and were, as near as I can tell, instrumental in helping them determine the sequence of events of this crime and narrow down the suspect list considerably. The older articles still reflect the “internet predator” angle when, like most abductions, the criminal was someone from the victim’s own family.
  • And as far as data goes, danah boyd has a very good article about MySpace when DOPA was more on the table in 2006. One of her useful facts “Statistically speaking, kids are more at risk at a church picnic or a boy scout outing than they are when they go on MySpace. Less than .01% of all youth abductions nationwide are stranger abductions and as far as we know, no stranger abduction has occurred because of social network services.”
  • The accused man is being charged, as of this writing, with kidnaping. This is because kidnaping at a federal level carries a possible death penalty sentence and is, I assume, a bargaining chip. The law regarding this is one that I wasn’t totally aware of “the 2006 Adam Walsh law — named for another abducted child — allowed federal prosecution of such crimes when they are facilitated by the Internet.” Worth knowing for any of us who provide Internet access to the public, I think.
  • The library has set up a book display dealing with this very difficult topic — books on MySpace, the death of a child, dealing with grief — and encouraging conversations.

So, this is all incredibly upsetting and destabilizing to the community here. While I hope that you never have to deal with something like this at your library, there may be some instructive or useful pieces of information here that I felt might be worthwhile to pass on.

The Network in the Garden – how social media is different in rural communities

So, I think I’ve solved my “I dislike WordPress” problem by using ScribeFire which I got working after a lot of back and forth with my techie people at ibiblio and some help from Ask MetaFilter. Can you imagine your librarian helping you get your blog software working?

Speaking of, I’ve been reading an old but great paper about social networking stuff and how its used differently in rural communities. This is science stuff not just “here’s what we think people are doing on facebook…” and I think you’ll like it. It’s called The Network in the Garden: An Empirical Analysis of Social Media in Rural Life and it’s a numbers analysis of how people are using MySpace in urban versus rural areas. You can also see it as slides prepared for the CHI conference. The slides are quite good at getting some basic points across.

The conclusions are a little surprising to me and I live in a rural area [interesting side note, when I move up the street next month I will no longer be living in a rural area because Randolph has a slightly higher population than Bethel] and social media is still not on the radar of a lot of novice computers users. I think this information will help me help people understand what it’s all about.

Rural and urban people use social media very differently: four of our five hypotheses were confirmed. Rural people articulate far fewer friends, and those friends are located much closer to home. Women occupy a much greater segment of the rural user base than the urban user base. Rural users, particularly rural women, also set their profiles to private at higher rates than urban users. However, both rural and urban users seem to communicate with roughly the same proportions of strong and weak ties.

Side note: I’m going to talk to the principal of the high school today to talk about the dissolution of my job for next year. Not expecting any big changes but maybe at least a little more understanding about what happened and focus on what to do next.

be social – explaining social networks to librarians and parents

I did a short tour of some New Hampshire libraries over the past few days. I did a little talk called MyWhat? Decoding social technologies.. It’s only about five slides but most of it was doing a tour of some of the more popular social networks [Facebook, MySpace, Flickr] and showing how they worked, how kids were using them and what parents and librarians should know.

Remember that a lot of the digital divide that we deal with now isn’t that people don’t have computers per se, it’s that they’re not in networks and groups of people that understand them and can answer complex questions about them. The library is often an integral link in this equation. A lot of my time at these talks is spent answering questions about how these social tools work, how I use them, how librarians might use them, and how kids and teens can use them safely and effectively. A lot of the print materials I’ve come across err on the side of caution which is not a bad idea but often there’s no “Hey you really SHOULD try this” couterpoint. I hope I was able to offer that somewhat.

MySpace and Social Tools

I have had to lobby this week to have the IT people that manage the computer filtering at the school I work with to give adults access to MySpace. In fact, I don’t even know if any of the adults that come to computer drop-in time at the hich school ever even try to access MySpace, but I know if they try, they can’t.

The larger problem is that the filtering software they use to keep kids off of a ton of different sites during the school day (Surf Control, if it matters) behaves … erratically. I have computer logins specifically for my adult students and every now and again I go to help them do something and find that Google is blocked. Not Gmail, just plain old Google.com. So I call the IT people and ask them to fix it and they usually do. However, since I actually need to be able to access sites like Google during my evening classes, we’ve reached a compromise where they turn the filter off between 3 (after school) and 8 pm. However, they also track all the traffic that goes through the network during this time. They noticed, they said, that people were accessing MySpace. The implication was that 1) MySpace is against the rules and 2) MySpace has no value whatsoever and 3) even adults don’t have the right to use the computer networks to access social software sites.

So, I went to work and explained that the adults who come to drop-in time shoudl pretty much have the right to look at whatever they want, that MySpace is fine — I hadn’t been looking at MySpace but I had a page on MySpace that I might want to look at — and that the reports of MySpace’s dangers have bee greatly overrated. Read the article. Fewer teens are receiving unwanted online solicitations than they were in 1999. Despite this, we get laws like DOPA. That’s lousy.

can your users “recreate” @ your library?

From The Librarian’s Rant comes this report from AL Online of a public library in Florida blocking MySpace because their Internet use policy prohibits using the computers for “chat-room access, e-mail, and recreational uses.” The actual policy goes so far as to prohibit “entertainment” use as well, so they block YouTube. Longer article here, please make sure to note the MySpace = predators assertion.

some 2.0 for the academic libraries

I met Michael Habib when I was down at UNC Chapel Hill last year and I think now we’re associated via various social networks. I caught his blog post Academic Library 2.0 Concept Models and I think you’ll like it if you’ve been wondering where social software fits in an academic library environment. Hot Venn Diagrams! Available for hire 2.0 librarian!

DOPA, what? A wrap up, post vote.

I probably should have mentioned in the title that my post yesterday was discussing DOPA. It’s certainly been a topic today, here are just the posts that I saw in my aggegator today.

And then there’s the blogads on Technorati which just say “Looking for Dopa? Find exactly what you want today.” Har har.

rock and roll library tours

The High Strung [myspace] is on a National Rock & Roll Library Tour this Summer. How do I know? I read about it on Flickr. In other mashup-type news, Bloodhag [myspace] has come out with … a book. Who else is touring libraries this Summer? Jetpack UK [myspace] and Harry and the Potters [myspace].

Marylaine has a nice write-up about the power of these shows to do a little image improvement for the public library.

Two quotes that echo 100% of the surveyed results:

“Before it was just ole ladies and now it’s young people. It’s a lot of fun.”

“Yes it did, it made me think that if librarians could make a library not very much a library, basically anyone could do anything,” said one ten-year old.

The High Strung enjoyed the library tour as well. Not surprisingly, they say, librarians are better at organizing and promoting rock shows than most rock promoters. And have better pay etiquette. Of course, on a regular tour, they don’t have to stick around for a Q&A after every show.

How was your day, dear? myspace and irc and blogs, oh my!

It’s been a while since I talked about what I do all day. Now that I’m a bit more outspoken about the work I do at MetaFilter, I’ll wrap that into my little daily report. This is from yesterday.

I got up around 8 or 9, drank water and coffee and turned on my laptop (yes, it’s off at night, until I have an office, this will be the case, the darned thing GLOWS otherwise). I checked through MetaFilter to make sure that 1) no one did something terrible overnight, where terrible = vandalized or otherwise abused the site 2) no one had any questions that need an admin attention (there were a few, nothing terribly difficult) 3) no double posts or other guideline-breaking posts needed attention. This is managed through a flagging queue where people can bring a troublesome or excellent posts or comments to the moderators’ attention. The guy who runs the site, Matt Haughey, is on the West Coast so usually I am awake before him and before most of the site members, it seems. Now that he has a young daughter, that is less the case.

Once I made sure that things were running smoothly, I checked my email. The MetaFilter email all goes into its own gmail folder. It’s another way to see if there is anything not visible on the site that I need to know or deal with. Sometimes this is people alerting me to broken HTML or otherwise needing editing assistance. Yesterday it was a site user complaining that another user was taunting her and otherwise picking a fight with her. I went in to the thread and removed a few comments. I’ll check for anonymous posts that need to be approved, project posts that need to be approved. Once that stuff was all set, I downloaded the newest songs from the newest part of the site, music.metafilter.com, which is the first podcast I’ve ever really listened to. On a site with 40,000 members, a milestone we hit yesterday, keeping up with the creative work the members are doing is more of a pleasure than work.

There really isn’t a sense of “on the clock” or “off the clock” in this job. I’m paid for about 20 hours a week and me and my boss both think I work about that much. Once I’m done with admin stuff I might answer a few Ask MetaFilter questions or maybe just go do something else online or off. How many other librarians get to keep a list of all the questions they’ve answered?

I also have a few writing projects I’m working on: one book chapter, one book introduction, one training session happening at the end of August, and the freegovinfo.info post on open access to government information which took quite a bit of time.

I drive to the school where I do the drop-in time around 12:30. I’m available for anyone who needs help with computers from 1-4, twice a week. Once the school year starts I’ll be there two days after school to help the kids in the Adult Diploma Program get some tech skils in-between all the credits they need to graduate with a diploma instead of a GED. I have keys to the school but there are usually some people there in the Summer. My students yesterday, all of whom are in their seventies, included

  • The woman who just got an ipod shuffle and is trying with moderate success to get her classical music on it. We walked through the iTunes preferences to make sure it was acting the way she wanted it to. She brought her own laptop to drop-in time.
  • The woman who was selling a copy of the album Paint Your Wagon on eBay. She was having trouble with her digital camera, a cheapie $20 deal someone gave her. It turned out that the batteries were in backwards (her vision is not great and she’s vain and doesn’t like to wear glasses) and then that the drivers for the camera weren’t installed. Then we STILL couldn’t get it to work, so I took a picture with my own camera and emailed it to her. She also brought her own laptop, an ancient Compaq that she got from a computer recycling store. It was running Windows ME when she got it, but she couldn’t get it to work with any of her other stuff, printers, camera, so she took it back and they put Windows 2000 on it. Every time something goes wrong with it, she drives 22 miles to the fixit guy to get him to repair it. There’s only so much I can do. Last month she sold a Montblanc pen on eBay for $700. I taught her pretty much everything she knows.
  • The woman from the garden club who has a Mac running OS9 at home but wants to be able to work on text files at the drop-in lab as well. She bought a thumb drive and has a copy of the garden club mailing list. I showed her how to save it as a text file and tried to explain why the ClarisWorks files were mumbo jumbo when she tried to open them on the lab PCs. I suggested she think about getting a newer computer (I have several older iMacs that would fit the bill, I think) or a copy of MS Word. Her computer guy will come to her house, something I don’t do, and charges her $90 an hour. He installed FileMaker Pro for her to maintain the mailing list which I think is a bit of a mistake.
  • The woman I know from the pool, the one I went to the emergency room with when she had a gall bladder attack last year. She has a new Yahoo email account and met some people in Costa Rica who she played bridge with. They now send her a metric ton of stupid joke emails per day, some of which she loves and some of which she hates. I taught her how to forward an email (and how to remove all the extra header information before she does) and how to send an email to more than one person. Every time I teach her a new thing that yahoo can do, she always acts like I’ve taught her how to levitate.

I also had my chat window open, and I talked to Meredith about a colleague and made some plans to hang out next week. I chatted with my MetaFilter boss about a few problem users and what to do about a few site questions.

After I got home, I had dinner and hung out and played human dictionary for some of the local kids and my landlady who were playing Scrabble. After she went to bed, I helped her former foster kid take a good picture of himself for his MySpace account. He wouldn’t put a shirt on, but he did insist on wearing baggy jeans which he then had to hold up with one hand. We got to spend a lot of time talking about MySpace and what he likes about it, and I helped him change his stylesheet to something not quite so ugly.

After everyone had gone to bed, I hopped on IRC to chat with people I know from the loose MetaFilter universe (actually a spin-off site called MetaChat) and we actually wound up talking about — surprise surprise — libraries. Here’s a small excerpt:

[0:12:37] <n****> i left my camera in a starbucks next door to the library and left town for the weekend before i realized. the starbucks people wouldnt answer their phone, so i called the library and one of the librarians went over to the starbucks, got the camera, and held onto it until i could get someone to go down there and grab it for me
[0:13:59] <f**> I don't think any of the librarians at my library would even check the coffee shop that's IN the library. hahaha.
[0:14:51] <n****> what kind of library do you work in?
[0:15:26] <f**> Well the problem with my library right now is this. It's half librarians that have been there for 30+ years and then a group of young ones.
[0:15:26] <jessamyn> I don't, I teach email to old people at the local vocational high school and do outreach to all the libraries in the county who send kids to that school [it's regional] and help thenm use their computers
[0:15:41] <f**> And the older ones aren't really jumping on what the younger ones are saying.
[0:15:47] <n****> oh cool
[0:15:48] <jessamyn> yeah that's a classic problem

I stayed up just long enough to make a post of my own to MetaFilter on the eve of its seventh birthday — a nice post if I do say so myself — and then went to bed.