YPP Network Description

The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) formed out of recognition that youth are critical to the future of democracy and that the digital age is introducing technological changes that are impacting how youth develop into informed, engaged, and effective actors.

MIT Center for Civic Media
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Creating Technology for Social Change
Updated: 2 hours 22 min ago

Confidentiality at the core of harm reduction in youth programming

December 3, 2018 - 8:05am
Youth and privacy in the Americas: Head and Hands/À deux mains, Canada How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. Quick facts Who: Andrea Clarke from Head & Hands/À deux mains What: Medical, legal and social services Mission/vision: To work […]
Categories: Blog

My Deep Sea, My Backyard: Participatory Ocean Exploration

November 5, 2018 - 8:31am
In our lab at the MIT Center for Civic Media, much of our work centers around broadening participation in technology design (for example, the Make the Breast Pump Not Suck project). Lately, in collaboration with the MIT Open Ocean Initiative, we have also been thinking about how to broaden participation in scientific discovery. Traditionally, ocean exploration is done by those with formal degrees and access to costly equipment, but in order to fully explore and understand our vast oceans, we […]
Categories: Blog

Twitter suspended me for tweeting feminist academic research. Here’s why that’s a problem.

September 29, 2018 - 9:55am
This morning, I did what I always, lamentably, do, which is wake up and check Twitter. I noticed that the account for MIT, where I work as an admissions officer and research affiliate, had tweeted a story about Math Prize for Girls, an annual competition, hosted on campus last weekend, for women with an affinity for STEM. I’m a longtime fan and supporter of Math Prize. In fact, I had spoken at the competition, giving a […]
Categories: Blog

Hiring: Gobo Lead Developer

September 19, 2018 - 6:19am
Are you worried about the power of social media platforms? They’ve increasingly centralized and have radically altered the idea of the “web” for hundreds of millions around the globe. Black-box algorithms govern what users see on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, with no mechanisms or accountability for their real world impacts. This has led to waves of backlash against these platforms, with the media and policymakers pursuing them with pitchforks. It doesn’t have to be […]
Categories: Blog

AI storytelling on Messenger for youth citizenship

September 17, 2018 - 10:21am
Youth and privacy in the Americas: UNICEF Brazil How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. Quick facts Who: Nelson Leoni from UNICEF Headquarters and Pedro Ivo Alcantara from UNICEF Brazil What: Campaigning Mission/vision: To promote the fulfillment of children’s […]
Categories: Blog

#MoreThanCode Full Report

August 21, 2018 - 6:42pm
The Technology for Social Justice Project (T4SJ) is excited to release a new report, #MoreThanCode: Practioners Reimagine the landscape of technology for justice and equity. Download the Full Report. #MoreThanCode is a participatory action research report based on interviews, focus groups, and data analysis with 188 tech practitioners from across the U.S.A. The report explores the current ecosystem and demographics; practitioner experiences; visions and values; documents stories of success and failure; and provides key recommendations […]
Categories: Blog

Viral videos to challenge victim-blaming cultures

August 19, 2018 - 6:45am
Youth and privacy in the Americas: Pensamiento Colectivo, Uruguay How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. Quick facts Who: Luciana Almirón, Tania De Tomás, Cecilia López Hugo, Andrea Salle, Leticia Brandino and Agustina López from Pensamiento Colectivo What: Campaigning […]
Categories: Blog

Codesign and intersectionality to revitalize digital literacy

August 19, 2018 - 5:38am
Youth and privacy in the Americas: eQuality Project, Canada How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. Quick facts Who: Valerie Steeves and Jane Bailey from eQuality Project at the University of Ottawa What: Research, policy, school and community resources […]
Categories: Blog

Privacy awareness for a healthy internet

August 17, 2018 - 12:20pm
Youth and privacy in the Americas: Mozilla Foundation, United States/Global How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. Quick facts Who: Chad Sansing What: Program development, research, fellowships, curriculum Mission/vision: To keep the internet open and accessible to all Where: […]
Categories: Blog

Activism to reach the newest users in fast-connecting Bolivia

August 10, 2018 - 9:50am
Youth and privacy in the Americas: InternetBolivia.org, Bolivia How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. Quick facts Who: Eliana Quiroz and Cristian León from Internet Bolivia.org What: Advocacy, campaigning, research Mission/vision: To strengthen the free and safe use of […]
Categories: Blog

Research to challenge traditional approaches to digital rights

August 3, 2018 - 5:33am
Youth and privacy in the Americas: InternetLab, Brazil How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. Quick facts Who: Mariana Valente from InternetLab What: Research Mission/vision: To foster academic debate around issues involving law and technology, especially internet policy. Where: […]
Categories: Blog

Research-driven efforts for child data protection

July 20, 2018 - 11:33am
Youth and privacy in the Americas: Datos Protegidos, Chile How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. Quick facts Who: Jessica Matus from Datos Protegidos What: Research, workshops, litigation Mission/vision: To promote, defend and educate about the right to privacy […]
Categories: Blog

Youth league for privacy awareness: Hiperderecho, Peru

July 17, 2018 - 5:42am
Youth and privacy in the Americas: Hiperderecho, Perú How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. Quick facts Who: Miguel Morachimo from Hiperderecho What: Legal advocacy, campaigning, workshops Mission/vision: To promote local development through solidary social economic practices in different […]
Categories: Blog

Empowerment for youth-friendly privacy law enforcement: Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Canada

July 4, 2018 - 8:31am
Youth and privacy in the Americas: Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Canada ————————- How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. ————————- Quick facts Who: Kasia Krzymien and Anne-Marie Cenaiko, Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada What: Investigation of data privacy […]
Categories: Blog

Natural Disasters and Environmental Events

May 14, 2018 - 6:58am
This post was collaboratively written by Liz Barry, Greg Bloom, Willow Brugh, and Tamara Shapiro. It was translated by Mariel García (thank you). Español debajo. Every year, communities are affected by “extreme environmental events.” These might include hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, or floods. There are, of course, official response agencies with mandates to rescue, feed, heal, and rebuild; however, the true first responders are always people who live in the affected regions — neighbors and community leaders. […]
Categories: Blog

Building Data Capacity Roundtable (Video Available)

April 24, 2018 - 6:00am
Our partners at the Stanford’s Digital Impact initiativerecently invited us to host a virtual roundtable discussion focused on building data capacity. In case you missed it, the recording and transcript are now online! We gave a quick background on the Data Culture Project. Then we tried a quick online data sculpture activity; asking participants to make and share a photo of a physical data story just using things they found around their office. From there […]
Categories: Blog

The Four Horsemen of the Free Speech Apocalypse: Emerging Conceptual Challenges for Civil Libertarians

April 10, 2018 - 7:41am
Last April, I blogged about a talk on trigger warnings I gave as a representative of the Board of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), a nonprofit whose mission is to promote freedom of thought, inquiry and expression and oppose censorship in all its forms. Earlier today, at the request of Executive Director Chris Finan, I presented to the rest of the Board some early thoughts about ascendent challenges and emerging threats to those concerned […]
Categories: Blog

The Four Horsemen of the Free Speech Apocalypse: Emerging Conceptual Challenges for Civil Libertarians

April 4, 2018 - 7:05pm

Last April, I blogged about a talk on trigger warnings I gave as a representative of the Board of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), a nonprofit whose mission is to promote freedom of thought, inquiry and expression and oppose censorship in all its forms. Earlier today, at the request of Executive Director Chris Finan, I presented to the rest of the Board some early thoughts about ascendent challenges and emerging threats to those concerned with the freedom of expression. What follows is a lightly edited version of my notes for that talk. Epistemic status: uncertain, but trying to trace lines to see where they might converge. Extremely interested in feedback.

There is, ironically, a common consensus that we live in a fractured public sphere. At the level of systems design, people worry about filter bubbles, echo chambers, and information cascades. At the level of ordinary politics, people worry about the ability to get opposing sides to agree on common facts, let alone effective policy. At the level of cultural coherence, canons are being challenged, and authority redistributed. Whether you blame liberals or conservatives, the alt-right or snowflake millennials, there is a shared understanding that the questions of who can speak to whom about what are more hotly contested today than they have been in some time.

However, there are more profound risks on the horizon for those invested in traditional conceptions of, and defenses for, free expression. The purpose of this blog post is to briefly outline four interrelated challenges to free expression activists that can't be solved by the old civil libertarian saw of "more speech == better speech." To be clear, when I say these are challenges, I don't mean they are necessarily good or bad developments. I just mean they present thorny problems for existing frameworks about free expression. They are: a growing conviction (that I share) that more speech does not necessarily mean better speech, the economics of attention making it harder to be heard, automated content production swamping human expression, and fake content that's indistinguishable from real content.

Conceptual challenge #1: conversational health and detofixication
The core thesis of this challenge was put nicely by Melissa Tidwell of reddit, in a New Yorker article regarding the company's efforts to "detoxify" its community:

Melissa Tidwell, Reddit’s general counsel, told me, "I am so tired of people who repeat the mantra ‘Free speech!’ but then have nothing else to say. Look, free speech is obviously a great ideal to strive toward. Who doesn’t love freedom? Who doesn’t love speech? But then, in practice, every day, gray areas come up....Does free speech mean literally anyone can say anything at any time?” Tidwell continued. “Or is it actually more conducive to the free exchange of ideas if we create a platform where women and people of color can say what they want without thousands of people screaming, ‘Fuck you, light yourself on fire, I know where you live’? If your entire answer to that very difficult question is ‘Free speech,’ then, I’m sorry, that tells me that you’re not really paying attention."

The framework of health and toxicity has also been recently adopted by Twitter, with CEO Jack Dorsey announcing initiatives to research the "overall health" of Twitter, a notable departure from the previously laissez-faire attitude of a company that used to describe itself as the "free speech wing of the free speech party."

In the not-so-distant past, social media companies largely tried to avoid policing what their users posted on their platforms, citing safe harbor provisions and/or libertarian philosophies and praising the Arab Spring as the result of their publishing tools. Today, as companies seek to expand and diversify their userbase (not to mention their engineering workforce), and confront the legal and economic challenges of their most noxious users, many platforms have shifted their own internal value-systems quite rapidly in the direction of a more nuanced understanding of speech beyond the simple (but common) conceit that more == better.

Conceptual challenge #2: the economics of attention overwhelming the economics of publishing
The core thesis of this challenge, argued persuasively by Zeynep Tufecki in her It's the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech, is that the relevant scarcity, and therefore point of vulnerability, to the free expression of ideas is not the inability to speak but the inability to be heard:

Here's how this golden age of speech actually works: In the 21st century, the capacity to spread ideas and reach an audience is no longer limited by access to expensive, centralized broadcasting infrastructure. It’s limited instead by one’s ability to garner and distribute attention. And right now, the flow of the world’s attention is structured, to a vast and overwhelming degree, by just a few digital platforms...The most effective forms of censorship today involve meddling with trust and attention, not muzzling speech itself. As a result, they don’t look much like the old forms of censorship at all

In a whitepaper titled Is the First Amendment Obsolete?, Tim Wu argues that this change in communications technology requires rethinking the way we regulate speech or risk giving up on Constitutional approaches to improving the public sphere altogether. This paper is especially notable as it was published with the Knight First Amendment Institute itself. '

A corollary to this argument observes that, since most publishing is paid for by advertising, i.e. attention/surveillance, platforms are economically incentivized to promote outrageous content. Certainly this is nothing new: yellow journalism and tabloids have turned a profit off this dynamic for decades. However, these processes are now optimized and individualized to a degree of power and precision never before possible. Which brings us to:

Conceptual challenge #3: automated content production
The core thesis of this challenge is that automated content generation, directed by the prenominate economics of attention and advertising, will produce truly massive volume of toxic, outrageous expression and swamp human expression with the proximately computational. In a haunting essay entitled Something is wrong on the internet, James Bridle falls down the hole of weird YouTube videos that, at least in some cases, appear to be computationally generated at massive volume in order to capitalize on the long tail of advertising dollars.

If smart scripts can reverse-engineer popular titles and keywords, and then mash pixels together to produce cut-ups of pop culture references, then Borgesian libraries of content can be manufactured and posted with none (or nearly no) human intervention. Nor is this dynamic limited to YouTube videos: algorithmic content generation and on-demand production means that you end up with screenprinted tshirts that read "KEEP CALM AND RAPE A LOT" by virtue of random pairings of nouns and verbs. As James Grimmelmann writes in The Platform is the Message, in "the disturbing demand-driven dynamics of the Internet today...any desire no matter how perverse or inarticulate can be catered to by the invisible hand of an algorithmic media ecosystem that has no conscious idea what it is doing."

When humans create perverse or disturbing content, we chalk it up to sickness or to creativity, and institutionalize or memorialize accordingly. But when computers do it, at the scale and volume made possible by digital reproduction and incentivized by the economics of advertising, the sheer flood of content may overrun the stream that people can produce, drowning distinctions between good and bad, and obviating the idea of a "conversation" together except as occurs through algorithmic feedback.

Conceptual challenge #4: documentation that is fake but indistinguishable from real
The core thesis of this challenge is that new technologies that can produce fake content indistinguishable from real content will create a collapse of trust and/or rebuild it through invasive and surveillant technological means. Of all the challenges, I believe this to be the most profound and deeply dangerous. The unholy trinity of technologies that can totally destroy the concept of documentary truth include:

  • Tacotron 2, Google's new text-to-speech system that is virtually indistinguishable from a human voice
  • Digital doppelgangers, through which researchers have been able to generate convincing speaking faces from pictures and audio to make people "say" things they never in fact said
  • DeepFakes, a software package that allows moving faces to be mapped seamlessly onto body doubles

In a recent post for Lawfare, Bobby Chesney and Danielle Citron recognized the grim national security implications for these technologies. Grimmer still are some of the proposed solutions, like the concept of digital signatures embedded in cameras so as to track and verify the creators of videos, which, even if it worked psychologically (as the author of the linked article admits it might not), risks building an even greater surveillance ecosystem, or undermining real (but unsigned) videos from everyday people.

So, these are the four horsemen of the free speech apocalypse. While the current controversies about speech and expression are difficult enough to navigate, to me, these risks seem to approach the existential. People who believe in the value of free expression and free speech must plan to confront these challenges soon or risk having the moral and normative ground melt away beneath their feet.

free speechfree expressioncensorshipactivismsocial networks
Categories: Blog

A tabletop game on privacy in Costa Rica: Sula Batsu

April 2, 2018 - 2:17pm

 

How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety.

Quick facts

Who: Vivian Zúñiga from Sulá Batsú

What: Litigation, campaigning, research

Mission/vision: To promote local development through solidary social economic practices in different fields, including information and communication technologies

Where: Costa Rica

Since: 2005

Years of operation (as of February 2018): 13

Works in the fields of: Digital technologies, computer use, digital stories, digital security

Post summary: Sulá Batsú is a cooperative in Costa Rica promoting local development through information and communication technologies; to address the topic of digital security with youth, they designed a tabletop game.

Highlight quote from the interview: “Teaching methodologies need to be adaptative and emergent. When I arrive at a workshop, I don’t have a full show set up. I have learned that things always change and participants have a lot more to say, and I have a lot more to learn. Yes, you must come in with an idea of what needs to be achieved, but nothing that cannot change.”

More resources: Sulá Batsú’s website

Vivian Zúñiga, Sulá Batsú
 

Sulá Batsú is a cooperative that, since 2005, works to promote local development through solidary social economic practices. In a globalized world, information and communication technologies (ICT) have become one of the main fields to promote their vision. Vivian Zúñiga has been affiliated with the cooperative for over a decade and has been one of the driving forces behind their efforts on youth and technology.

 

Sulá Batsú’s work with youth started as a partnership with Fundación Telefónica, the foundation of one of the primary telecommunications companies in Costa Rica. They went to different parts of Costa Rica to hold workshops under the ‘Digital stories’ umbrella: from taking good photos with mobile phone cameras to digital security basics. Their interest in youth has influenced Sulá Batsú’s programs more broadly; TIC-as, their program on gender equality and technology in rural areas of Costa Rica, has created spaces and networks for young rural women specifically.

 

In the digital rights and security ecosystem, Sulá Batsú’s work with youth shows an interesting context that, in my experience, organizations and researchers from the global north struggle to contemplate. On the one hand, local civil society deals with the specific legislative challenges of the Cybercrime Law passed in 2012, modeled after the Budapest Convention – which has been criticized by human rights organizations worldwide for enabling intrusive surveillance without institutional safeguards (Rodriguez, 2011). On the other hand, they don’t have access to some of the tools most widely associated in the global north with countersurveillance efforts.

 

“I can’t come into a community and pose solutions that won’t work for us. Signal does not work well in Central America”. Signal is a communications application for mobile phones that has long been promoted in digital security circles because of its end-to-end encryption and open source development, in an advocacy attempt to promote secure communications by the most failproof and usable means to less technically savvy users.  

 

In the spirit of proposing context-sensitive solutions, Sulá Batsú realized that security workshops in particular can be heavy, and that the topic can be distant from people. After a five-month research process with Fundación Telefónica, they decided to make the learning more fun through a game called Huellas, or footprints. Two to six players have to match online risk scenarios with good practices to accumulate the largest number of tokens. The goal is to “identify scenarios where they know they are at risk of having their rights violated online, so that they can identify and adopt good practices for safe use of the internet”.

 

Why a fun take on security trainings for youth? “We feel that there isn’t much information for youth on this topic. And they can believe that their own information is not important”. Vivian says that their work was motivated partly by prominent cases where personal data of youth were misused in Costa Rica (like in many other of the contexts described by interviewees in this blog post series), as well as cases where young people were being expelled from schools because of incidents related to privacy.

 

For Vivian, work on security with youth does not happen in a vacuum, isolated from other social issues. “When we work with youth, we have to change our language, sometimes for something as simple as complying with the norms of the environment where we meet them. When we go to a school, even saying the word “sex” can be problematic – in Costa Rica, new guides on sex education have come out, annoying the far right movement on the one hand, but raising challenges for educators on the other.”

 

For an organization focused on local development, valuing the local over broader, more global views on technology influences not just the solutions they propose, but also their thematic and pedagogical choices. After working with mothers who have children who use ICT, they decided to provide trainings that would address the digital gap they witnessed between both generations. They focused on giving them options that would help mothers keep their own privacy in devices that were also touched by small, agile hands. They frame these workshops as “Digital technologies”, or as “Computer use” in some communities, depending on the local language.  

 

“In our workshops, it’s about listening to people’s realities and adapting to them. With some of these women, we end up taking a computer apart so that they can see where the internet comes from. For them, being able to see where their information is being stored is very eye-opening”.

 

So what is Vivian’s advice for other people who want to work in promoting digital security? “Teaching methodologies need to be adaptative and emergent. When I arrive at a workshop, I don’t have a full show set up. I have learned that things always change and participants have a lot more to say, and I have a lot more to learn. Yes, you must come in with an idea of what needs to be achieved, but nothing that cannot change.”


You can read more about Sulá Batsú on their website.

youthactivismdigital securityprivacyLatin America
Categories: Blog

A tabletop game on privacy in Costa Rica: Sula Batsu

April 2, 2018 - 10:17am
How do youth allies promote young people’s critical thinking on privacy, in informal learning contexts in the Americas? This blog post is part of a series showcasing the work of different organizations at the intersection of youth development, digital rights, and online safety. Quick facts Who: Vivian Zúñiga from Sulá Batsú What: Litigation, campaigning, research Mission/vision: To promote local development through solidary social economic practices in different fields, including information and communication technologies Where: Costa […]
Categories: Blog

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