HAUTE POP

digital culture and social media and privacy & security and social theory and urbanism and architecture and fashion and anthropology and politics and research
Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, p. 158
Semiotext(e), Los Angeles 2010

Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, p. 158
Semiotext(e), Los Angeles 2010

Obscene Media Studies
(talk in progress)

Obscene Media Studies
(talk in progress)

Thingness of Energy by Jamie Cruse,  Friends of the Pleistocene (FOP), 2012


"Energy materials and flows are often hidden in basements or invisibly channeled through pipes and wires. The Thingness of Energy is a provocation to consider and directly experience the material realities of the energy that fuels The New School and enables learning to occur here each day. Taking The New School’s Climate Action Plan as its point of departure, the project reveals the deep geologic nature and effects of the materials we use to generate and transmit energy. And it underscores the power of deep time—both past and future—as a generator of energy forms and effects"

Stacktivism + Jane Bennett, oh my!

Thingness of Energy by Jamie Cruse, Friends of the Pleistocene (FOP), 2012

"Energy materials and flows are often hidden in basements or invisibly channeled through pipes and wires. The Thingness of Energy is a provocation to consider and directly experience the material realities of the energy that fuels The New School and enables learning to occur here each day. Taking The New School’s Climate Action Plan as its point of departure, the project reveals the deep geologic nature and effects of the materials we use to generate and transmit energy. And it underscores the power of deep time—both past and future—as a generator of energy forms and effects"
Stacktivism + Jane Bennett, oh my!

(Source: fopnews.wordpress.com)

Mea Culpa: Gender, Bias, and Who I Follow on Twitter

So last night I did some analysis of who’s following me on Twitter, by gender. It skewed male. I wasn’t entirely surprised.

But that’s not really the important question. The one that matters is, who am I following? What’s my filter bubble? What’s my bias? I downloaded the file and manually coded all 708 accounts.

I am really not happy with the results:

  • F: 228 (32%)
  • M: 389 (55%)
  • gender-anonymous on Twitter: 16 (2%)
  • genderqueer: 2 (0.5%)
  • organisation: 70 (10%)
  • bot: 3 (0.7%)

For notes on categories see my previous blog post, but quickly to note that “genderqueer” is when someone explicitly identifies as GQ in their Twitter bios. Trans women are women, trans men are men (obviously). Gender anonymity on Twitter isn’t an identity (or probably isn’t one), and isn’t necessarily a queer thing - it just means I as an observer can’t immediately tell from their Twitter profiles.

That out the way, fuck fuck fuck. I know about internalised bias, I know about filter bubbles, and I have made a conscious effort in the last 6-12 months or so to work against that on Twitter. Either this has not worked, or the list of who I was following was super-biased to begin with. Let’s be honest: probably both.

I am also surprised! Surprised-disappointed. I mean, the field of social media research is visibly female-led (Zeynep, Biella, danah, Kate Crawford et al.) I didn’t think I was that far off 50/50. It’s humbling, to be honest. 32% vs. 55%, and I’m supposed to be a feminist? I certainly don’t believe that men are more worth listening to! But apparently I’ve internalised the idea nonetheless. It’s really shocking me how far.

Actually internalising your principles and behaving in ways congruent to them - I knew it wasn’t easy, that’s why I was making this effort to follow more fairly on Twitter. But apparently it’s harder than that. That’s why you measure. Numbers don’t let you off the hook.

This bias also extends to race, class, disability. Gender is perhaps just the most amenable to self-audit.

So who are the people I choose to follow?

In the interests of SCIENCE (oh look, it was past 11pm), I built some Wordles out of each gender’s user bios - the lazy girl’s keyword frequency analysis. Some similarities, thank god - social media and research seem fairly balanced as top interests, ditto data & digital.

But men are directors, whereas women emphasise their PhDs. Founder has heavier weight for men, professor for women. That’s got to map on to income & wealth.

Women are disproportionately “writers”, whereas men call themselves “authors” almost as much - I can’t unsee that as a claim to authority. Women are more likely to call themselves “editors”, i.e. someone else gets the byline.

I mean, this is an analysis of who I follow, not “social media research Twitter” as a whole. So ultimately it’s reflective of me and the choices I make, more than it speaks about the people I’m actually following. But still it feels like there are some real gendered inequalities there, in terms of who gets to claim power and authority, and under what terms. It’d be worth looking at this in more depth across my professional community.

So what?

I’ll close by amplifying a man’s writing (err) - Anil Dash, talking about The Year I Didn’t Retweet Men and “Being mindful about whose voices I amplify.” He says:

"we spend so very much of our time on these social networks, and there’s so much we can do to right the wrongs we’ve seen in other media, through simple, small actions."

Yeah. It’s important to try.

Try how? So what’s the right course of action? This is the question, I’d really like your thoughts and feedback. What does this mean? And what should I do? Unfollow 160 men? Feminist Follow Friday? Have you ever looked at who you follow? What did you find?

Who follows you on Twitter?

Verrrry different gender stats from Followerwonk vs. Twitter Ads analytics.

Being (as you may have guessed) a wonk, I wanted to explore which seemed more accurate.

Method:

1. Use NodeXL to imports a list of my Twitter followers into Excel.

2. There are 2574, so I’m not manually coding them all. Instead I want to randomly sample 100. Use Excel function Rand() to give each account a random number. Sort smallest-largest (i.e. order randomly) and code the first 100.

3. Coding the data.

NodeXL imports doesn’t Twitter names, just username, bio and link to profile. My process for coding gender relatively quickly:

i) If I know you personally, code immediately

ii) Go by user handle. If your Twitter handle is @MrMattThomas, with a male title and a male-normative username, I can reasonably enough code you as male (more on this below).

ii) If androgynous user handle, click through to profile. Code gender by looking at full name and photo. If these map to male or female, or another named gender identity, code as that. if they don’t, code as gender-anonymous

4. Resulting codeframe:

  • female
  • male
  • gender-anonymous
  • organisation
  • inactive / spambot
  • potential “none of the above” category, to allow for further identities to arise organically from the dataset observed (this is important)

5. Results:

  • F: 29 
  • M: 40
  • Gender-anonymous: 8
  • Organisation: 22
  • inactive / spambot: 1

6. Methodological notes (the real point of the discussion)

The randomly selected 100 didn’t include anyone with identities beyond my initial codeframe. I’m sure the full sample of 2500+ would.

Now, I fully acknowledge that people’s gender identities can of course be more complex than forenames and profile photos allow, and as such this is an imperfect means of assigning gender.

I am aware of this! By my own heuristic, my Twitter profile would code into the category I’ve called genderanon - “Jay” is an androgynous name, and my Twitter profile pic is of the tiles in Jay Street subway station, NYC. While I’m a girl-Jay, you can’t tell that from Twitter. So anon it is.

None of the 8 accounts I coded as gender-anonymous asserted a specifically named non-binary gender identity in their user bios. (I went and checked: neither did anyone I coded M or F.) Again, I know the full list of 2500 people following me does include people who do.

If someone’s profile had said “genderqueer”, I’d have created a specific genderqueer category - ditto other queer identities. The “anonymous” is because the relevant factor to foreground is exactly the inability for an outside observer to fix that user’s gender. I argue this is a reasonable way to respect people’s gender presentation - or at least it’s better as coding these people into a named non-binary identity, e.g. “genderqueer”, when there’s no specific indication they identify as such. (Some probably do. But as I say, their profiles didn’t give this information explicitly.)

The aim is that “gender-anonymous” as a category leaves visible what this project is - an analysis of the social signals about gender that people send, i.e. not the actual identities they personally hold. The latter are inaccessible to me - of course. But gender is also more complex than being something purely inside oneself, purely individualistic - as per Judith Butler et al, it’s something learnt, enforced and performed. Gender exists as a social relation. Which is ultimately the basis that I’d argue coding Twitter users’ gender, as I have done here, is not an entirely illegitimate thing to do.

(Can you tell I’m kind of concerned that Tumblr’s going to call me out on the notion that even presuming to guess anyone’s gender is oppressive, however many qualifiers I give?)

Let’s also acknowledge that a great many people experience gender as straightforward and congruous with sex and societal expectations, too. If someone chooses to use a masculine-normative name and present with a masculine-normative user photo, I’d be doing their identity a disservice if I sought to code them as “ungender-assignable” when they’re using all the profile features Twitter offers to say “I’m male”. We’ve gotta acknowledge people’s performed identities as real.

So again, I hope I’ve found about the right balance. I’m sure Tumblr will tell me if I have not! Your thoughts on methodology and/or ethics are much appreciated, before I COMPLETELY caveat myself into a corner.

What to make of analytics platforms’ gender identification?

For what it’s worth, FollowerWonk looks more accurate than Twitter Advertising. Now, my ratio of 29:40 F:M followers is calculated on a sample, and I’ve not calculated any statistical significance on this ratio for the margin of error when extrapolating to all 2500 followers. That said, it’s in the same broad ballpark as FollowerWonk’s 20.5 to 32 ratio, though that does seem to oversample men.

Twitter Ads, by contrast, would seem to HUGELY over-code men. This is weird. I looked up their methodology:

"we’re able to understand gender by taking public signals users offer on Twitter, such as user profile names or the accounts she or he follows. We have strong confidence in this approach. A panel of human testers has found our predictions are more than 90 percent accurate for our global audience. And where we can’t predict gender reliably, we don’t — and those users won’t be targetable through this feature."

So what’s happening?

The first problem with how Twitter present gender data is that they show it as a ratio of M:F, obscuring those followers who are variously organisations, genderqueer, or gender non-determinable from public signals. As mine and FollowerWonks’ numbers both show, in my case that’s a third to half of a follower base! Rather a lot of accounts to leave off the graph. (On the other hand, that’s a lot of people not receiving targeted gender normative advertising, which some might see as a good thing - YMMV).

Secondly, Twitter seems to be finding it much easier to code accounts as male-gendered than as female. What’s going on here? My hunch is that it’s basically patriarchy. (Finally she gets radical!)

#1: If masculinity is valorised as the norm, then there’s greater social pressure on men to gender conform. So men are more likely to have definitely-male names - while there are lots of female Alexes, Jos and Sams around (i.e. women get to present androgynously or masculinely), there are rather fewer guys called Sali or Su. (My brother’s a Patrick, and he HATES being called Pat.)

#2: Trolling. I don’t need to cite it that women get more harassment on Twitter, and thereby have more incentive to present gender-neutrally or anonymously.

#3: Men get more retweets on Twitter, says this tool called Twee-Q, so that’s another reason that kind of implicitly encourages masculine IDs over feminine ones. I bet I get more RTs as “Jay” than “Jessica” would #sadbuttrue

#4: Short-sighted, probably overwhelmingly-majority male Twitter developers who possibly didn’t put enough thought into the forces biasing their gender-IDing algorithm.

Worth mentioning that we know via Pew Internet stats that American Twitter usage is basically balanced, genderwise (49:51, F to M).

So what?

If you’re thinking tl;dr, I sympathise. Some take-aways:

  • Automated systems for identifying gender on Twitter aren’t very accurate…
  • …though FollowerWonk looks a lot better than Twitter ads
  • Even when you manually human code, there’s a whole chunk of people whose gender isn’t evident
  • It’s good & considerate to create space for non-binary identities, rather than just hide them (as Twitter does on its bar chart)
  • Remember you’re also followed by a good chunk of non-humans such as organisations, businesses and bots
libawr:

companiesmobilizingcustomers:

OKCupid asks Firefox users to switch to another browser due to its CEO’s opposition to gay marriage (via @SaraLang)

Wow.

Now that’s a business living its purpose. Bold. Gotta say I’m impressed.

Now, I liked this essay from Erin Kissane (Open News, also part of Mozilla) about not rushing to judgement on what exactly should be done about Brendan Eich. And Mark Surman talks about how "Mozilla is messy" and perhaps there’s a case for working with people you disagree with politically.

As Erin says:

 “Several of my colleagues have called for Brendan’s resignation. I have not done so, despite my strong feelings on the issue, in large part because of my conviction that the open internet is not and cannot be a progressive movement or a liberal movement or even a libertarian movement. In the climate-change fiasco here in the US, we’ve seen what happens with a globally important issue becomes identified with a single political point of view. We can’t let that happen here: the open internet is not more important than gay rights or any number of other progressive causes, but it should and must be a broader movement. The moment we let “open internet” become synonymous with progressive causes—inside or outside Mozilla—its many conservative supporters will be forced into an impossible position.” 

Now, she’s queer - it’s not like she doesn’t take Eich’s homophobia seriously. But it’s a real question any kind of political movement has to consider: how far do allies need to align on issues they’re not working towards? Because if you demand total orthodoxy, you end up working in a coalition of one.

Or perhaps I’m just a sucker for an “It’s all more complicated” argument. Anyway. Despite all that, I can simultaneously admire the boldness of OkCupid’s move. 

Now, internet discourse being what it is, immediately people start attacking OkCupid for apparent hypocrisy:

Hey @OkCupid: Are you still taking money from customers who you know from your questions to be anti-gay-marriage? (Thanks, @mala)— @yoz

But still. Jeez. When was the last time you actually saw a company stand for shit?

libawr:

companiesmobilizingcustomers:

OKCupid asks Firefox users to switch to another browser due to its CEO’s opposition to gay marriage (via @SaraLang)

Wow.

Now that’s a business living its purpose. Bold. Gotta say I’m impressed.

Now, I liked this essay from Erin Kissane (Open News, also part of Mozilla) about not rushing to judgement on what exactly should be done about Brendan Eich. And Mark Surman talks about how "Mozilla is messy" and perhaps there’s a case for working with people you disagree with politically.

As Erin says:

“Several of my colleagues have called for Brendan’s resignation. I have not done so, despite my strong feelings on the issue, in large part because of my conviction that the open internet is not and cannot be a progressive movement or a liberal movement or even a libertarian movement. In the climate-change fiasco here in the US, we’ve seen what happens with a globally important issue becomes identified with a single political point of view. We can’t let that happen here: the open internet is not more important than gay rights or any number of other progressive causes, but it should and must be a broader movement. The moment we let “open internet” become synonymous with progressive causes—inside or outside Mozilla—its many conservative supporters will be forced into an impossible position.”

Now, she’s queer - it’s not like she doesn’t take Eich’s homophobia seriously. But it’s a real question any kind of political movement has to consider: how far do allies need to align on issues they’re not working towards? Because if you demand total orthodoxy, you end up working in a coalition of one.

Or perhaps I’m just a sucker for an “It’s all more complicated” argument. Anyway. Despite all that, I can simultaneously admire the boldness of OkCupid’s move.

Now, internet discourse being what it is, immediately people start attacking OkCupid for apparent hypocrisy:

Hey @OkCupid: Are you still taking money from customers who you know from your questions to be anti-gay-marriage? (Thanks, @mala)
@yoz

But still. Jeez. When was the last time you actually saw a company stand for shit?

I want Quantified Self to be a messy space, one where users willingly choose the aspects of their lives they are proudest of, and most troubled by, and allow them to track, and engage with their narratives over time on their own terms.

I wonder if we can ever reach a point where sensor technology and data-mining can be accessible and successful, flexible enough to be genuinely empowering, allowing users to control their own narratives. Is it improbable to dream of a feminist data future?

Quantify Everything: A Dream of a Feminist Data Future
Amelia Abreu
Model View Culture, 24 Feb 2014

Weekend reading, 30 March

Making my overgrown reading list your problem… Some highlights from the last week:

#politics

Hashtags as Decolonial Projects with Radical Origins
Suey Park & Eunsong Kim
Model View Culture, 17 March

#NotYourAsianSidekick: Rethinking Protest Spaces and Tactics
Sophia Sewell
HASTAC, 12 March

Visual Memes as Neutralizers of Political Dissent
Stefka Hristova
TripleC: Communication, Capitalism, Critique vol 12(1)

The Corporate PR Industry’s Sneaky War on Internet Activism
Tamasin Cave and Andy Rowell
VICE, 24 March

Risk, Rated X: Geopolitics and the Pickup Game
Katie J.M. Baker
Dissent Magazine, 18 March

Everyone Is Getting Turkey’s Twitter Block Wrong
Zeynep Tufekci
Medium, 27 March

Aesthetics

Much Ado About Normcore
Kathleen French
Medium, 22 March

Dark Arts: Meet the architects of Tumblr’s cyberpunk renaissance
Molly Osberg
Verge, 19 March

The rebirth of Italian fashion
Paula Coccoza
Guardian, 26 March

Privacy, Secrets, Whispers

Never Forget That 16-Year-Old Girls Run the Internet
Angelo Sotira
Re/Code, 21 March

In Defense of Ghosting
Alexander Abad-Santos
The Wire, 24 March

14 Whispers About Whisper
Rob Horning
Buzzfeed, 9 Feb

Useful

After WhatsApp: An Insider’s View On What’s Next In Messaging
Ted Livingston
TechCrunch, 22 March

Estimating Audience Size on Facebook
Eytan Bakshy
Facebook Data Science blog, 6 March

Privacy And Security Settings in Chrome
Chris Palmer
Noncombatant.org, 11 March

At the Tumblr offices, presenting Tumblr research & talking Tumblr strategy

At the Tumblr offices, presenting Tumblr research & talking Tumblr strategy

The Knight News Challenge is asking “How can we strengthen the internet for free expression and innovation?” They’re offering funding to help people develop solutions.

Screenshots above are from Briar, an app for “secure messaging, anywhere.”

We’re building a messaging app that’s as simple to use as WhatsApp, as secure as PGP, and that keeps working if somebody breaks the Internet.

Briar is a messaging app designed for activists, journalists, and anyone else who needs a safe, easy and robust way to communicate.

Unlike traditional messaging tools such as email, Twitter or Telegram, Briar doesn’t rely on a central server - messages are synchronized directly between the users’ devices. If the Internet’s down, Briar can sync via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, keeping the information flowing in a crisis. If the Internet’s up, Briar can sync via the Tor network, protecting users and their relationships from surveillance.

Go vote it up on the Knight Challenge to help them win funding and move into full public beta.

Disclosure: friends of mine. But also interesting in a lot of ways about building a proper decentralised internet - consider it #stactivism in action?

Briar website
Mailing list

New blog post over at hautepop.net:

Digital Glossolalia and Brand Power, or Why I Bought Some Nike Trainers

In it I talk about:

  • A new book called ‘Absolute Value’
  • How people make purchasing decisions amid information overload
  • Why I bought some Nike trainers
  • The semiotic excess of cultural production around Nike right now on Tumblr, Pinterest and design blogs
  • What we do with brands (inscribe their meanings on to ourselves)
  • What brands do for us (offer edges, points of focus within the chaotic flow of the stream)

Logo from a 2009 project by Marinus Looijenga
Neon light installation by Rizon Parein for NIKE Sejamax campaign

glycemic-indices:

heartbreaking Judith

"Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact. It may be that one wants to, or does, but it may also be that despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel. And so when we speak about my sexuality or my gender, as we do (and as we must), we mean something complicated by it. Neither of these is precisely a possession, but both are to be understood as modes of being dispossessed, ways of being for another, or, indeed, by virtue of another."

Judith Butler, Violence, Mourning, Politics

glycemic-indices:

heartbreaking Judith

"Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something. If this seems so clearly the case with grief, it is only because it was already the case with desire. One does not always stay intact. It may be that one wants to, or does, but it may also be that despite one’s best efforts, one is undone, in the face of the other, by the touch, by the scent, by the feel, by the prospect of the touch, by the memory of the feel. And so when we speak about my sexuality or my gender, as we do (and as we must), we mean something complicated by it. Neither of these is precisely a possession, but both are to be understood as modes of being dispossessed, ways of being for another, or, indeed, by virtue of another."

Judith Butler, Violence, Mourning, Politics

“What does it mean to love somebody? It is always to seize that person in a mass, extract him or her from a group, however small, in which he or she participates, whether it be through the family or through something else; then to find that person’s own packs, the multiplicities he or she enclosed within himself or herself which may be of an entirely different nature. To join them to mine, to make them penetrate mine, and for me to penetrate the other person’s. Heavenly nuptials, multiplicities of multiplicities. Every love is an exercise in depersonalisation on a body without organs yet to be formed, and it is at the highest point of this depersonalisation that someone can be named, receives his or her family name or first name, acquires the most intense discernibility in the instantaneous apprehension of the multiplicities belonging to him or her, and to which he or she belongs.”

— 	Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Photo via Michaeloswellgraphicdesigner thusly.tumblr.com, source http://glycemic-indices.tumblr.com/ 
Quotation via deleuzeyoulose, via nietzxsche

Happy Valentine’s, Tumblr…

“What does it mean to love somebody? It is always to seize that person in a mass, extract him or her from a group, however small, in which he or she participates, whether it be through the family or through something else; then to find that person’s own packs, the multiplicities he or she enclosed within himself or herself which may be of an entirely different nature. To join them to mine, to make them penetrate mine, and for me to penetrate the other person’s. Heavenly nuptials, multiplicities of multiplicities. Every love is an exercise in depersonalisation on a body without organs yet to be formed, and it is at the highest point of this depersonalisation that someone can be named, receives his or her family name or first name, acquires the most intense discernibility in the instantaneous apprehension of the multiplicities belonging to him or her, and to which he or she belongs.”

— Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Photo via Michaeloswellgraphicdesigner thusly.tumblr.com, source http://glycemic-indices.tumblr.com/
Quotation via deleuzeyoulose, via nietzxsche

Happy Valentine’s, Tumblr…

DON’T SPY ON US

There are three ways for people to take action:

1. Sign the petition at DontSpyOnUs.org, supporting Liberty and the Open Rights Group’s call for an inquiry

2. Use the form to email your local MP. Here’s what I said to mine, David Lammy:

Mr Lammy -

As MP for Tottenham I know you understand better than most MPs the the importance of ensuring that government security does not override our democratic freedoms. You’ve taken an important stand on police-community relations; I’m writing to you today to ask you to help hold the British intelligence services to account in this way too.

Technology has developed faster than the legislation, and so the balance has tipped too far towards what can be done (mass surveillance of all communications), rather than what should be done. Essential principles of human rights - Article 8’s respect for a private life and Article 10 on freedom of expression - have been sidelined.

The Don’t Spy on Us campaign highlights important principles of democratic oversight, transparency, due juridical process and fair redress. You know that all these are essential for fair policing: they’re essential for the just operation of the wider security and intelligence services too. Please ensure that these six simple requests are heard in debate in the House.

But most of all, I am writing to ask you to drive support for an inquiry into legislative reform to enable Parliament to hold the intelligence agencies to account. London’s Labour MPs are essential forces to stand up for the rights of ordinary citizens against security industry lobbyists. Please help our voices be heard.

Yours sincerely,

Jay Owens
N15 

3. Join Open Rights Group and donate - they’re asking for just £5-10 per month.