Author Archives: jennydavis

Don’t Say Seminal, It’s Sexist

(Edit: 04/30/2014 Due to the strong response to this piece, I’ve written a formal resonse:

Consider this a PSA for the #TtW14 participants, for whom I have so much respect and admiration. Please, you smart and wonderful people, refrain from using “seminal” as a metaphor for foundational ideas.





#TtW14 Panel Preview: a/s/l

Panel Preview

Presider: Alice Marwick (@alicetiara)

Hashmod: Allison Bennett (@bennett_alison)

This is the first in a series of Panel Previews for the upcoming Theorizing the Web conference (#TtW14) in NYC. The panel under review is titled a/s/l.

Though presenting empirically and theoretically distinct works, the panelists of a/s/l are connected by their keen interests in identity. In particular, each work addresses—in its own way—the mutually constitutive relationship between identities and technologies. Furthermore, each paper is structurally situated, couching discussions of identity within frameworks of power in which certain voices, bodies, and desires take precedence over others, and in which technologies are both a means of struggle against, and reinforcement of, these power relations.

Check out the abstracts below: (more…)

ZunZuneo: A Tale of Failed Transparency and Gross Surveillance

ZunZuneo was named for the slang term used to describe a Cuban Hummingbird’s tweet

The Internet seems both excited and generally confused by the U.S. government’s failed entre into Cuban Social media via its version of a bare-bones Twitter, called ZunZuneo. The confusion is not unwarranted, as the operation includes the United States government, two separate for-profit contractors, (and eventually, a management team who didn’t know they were part of an International government sponsored ruse), key players and various bases of operation which span the globe, from Spain to the UK to the Cayman Islands and Nicaragua, and, of course, tens of thousands of Cuban citizens who gratefully began using a new mysterious messaging service that made instantaneous text-based mobile communications financially accessible in 2010, and then inexplicably disappeared in September 2012.

This long form article from the Washington Post does a nice job disentangling the ins and outs of the story, based on documents leaked to the Associated Press. I highly suggest you take the time to read the piece, but in very short summation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) collaborated with Creative Associates and eventually, Mobile Accord, to distribute a Twitter-like service (ZunZeneo) to Cuban citizens, with the hope of eventually utilizing the service to incite political mobilization against communist regimes. Mostly, though, the operation never went beyond gaining users through shared news stories and sports commentary. They ran out of money in 2012, Cuban users lost the service, and no revolutions were incited. It’s all general buffoon-like and harmless (except, of course, for all of the money), begging for cynical commentary and smart jokes about a deeply ineffective U.S. government. Except, something very serious happened in the process, something that should make us all—both Cubans and Americans—pretty ticked off. (more…)

Some Thoughts on Location-Based Dating Apps

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been interviewed twice about location-based dating apps. These are mobile applications that connect people with others in their geographic proximity, often in real-time. Popular examples include Tinder, Grindr (and its counterpart, Blendr), and SinglesAroundMe.  The apps are largely photo based, and offer an opportunity for serendipitous meet-ups, in which users can potentially find love, sex, or general companionship.

The fact that I was invited to take part in these interviews is a bit odd, since none of my own empirical research pertains specifically to dating or dating technologies. I did, however, write a post for Cyborgology about race and online dating sites, which got some attention, and I do (obviously) maintain research interests and projects in new technologies more generally. So anyhow, I agreed to fumble my way through these two interviews, offering the interviewers caveats about my knowledge gaps. In the end, I’m glad that I did, as their questions—much of which overlapped—pushed me to think about what these applications afford, and how they intersect with the realities and politics of love, sex, and gender relations. (more…)

#review: Social Media: A Critical Introduction

#review features links to, summaries of, and discussions around academic journal articles and books. Today I review Christian Fuchs’ book–Social Media: A Critical Introduction.


Generally, I’m not a big fan of textbooks. The bold words and broadly glossed-over content beg for flash-card style teaching. Because of this, I always opt for edited volumes and peer-reviewed journal articles, sprinkled with blog posts and popular media clips. Fuchs Social Media: A Critical Introduction, however, is not your typical text book. Rather than a corpus of definitions, the book is at once a review of the field, an argument about how scholars should approach the field, and a biting critique of the social media landscape.

As indicated by the title, Fuchs’ work examines social media from a critical perspective. Critical, for Fuchs, refers explicitly to Marxism and neo-Marxism, with power and resource distribution the key focal points. A Marxist take on social media examines exploitation and domination by studying both political economy and political communication of social media. That is, a critical perspective looks at who owns the means of production in both the financial and attention economies, and how various media perpetuate, reflect, or potentially upend, an inherently exploitative capitalism.

Early in the book, Fuchs makes an effort to differentiate this perspective from other uses of the term “critical,” and to distance this work from non-Marxist scholarship. Reminiscent of a debate summarized by PJ Rey, Fuchs explicates this distinction: (more…)

Announcement: Interface to Host TtW14 Special Issue

special issue

The 2014 Theorizing the Web (#TtW14) committee is excited to announce that we will  partner with Interface,  an open access  journal, to publish a special issue based on papers form the TtW14 conference program. The special issue will include peer-reviewed articles and non-peer-reviewed essays, as well as invited panel reviews. All TtW14 presenters are welcome to submit. Look below the jump to learn why we selected Interface as our platform.  (more…)

Commodifying Privacy?

commodifying priv

Irwin Altman defines privacy as “the selective control of access to the self” (1977:67).  To maintain privacy is not, necessarily, to avoid disclosure, but to exhibit autonomy and choice over that which is, and it not, exposed. A privacy violation is that which unduly inhibits this control.

What counts as a privacy violation is far from straight forward, and always situation specific.   Nissenbaum’s contextual integrity framework  delineates the relationship between situational expectations and relative control over access to the self. Specifically, Nissenbuam argues that each context contains its own set of privacy norms, or expectations about how much of the self will be accessible. From this perspective, a privacy violation is that which violates privacy norms. Or in other words, privacy is violated when the self is more accessible than one has agreed to. Ostensibly, one could then avoid those contexts in which the self is highly accessible, and cry “violation!” when the self is unduly accessed.   (more…)

Expanded Gender Categories and the New Privacy Discourse

Playing with my own gender options

Playing with my own gender identity

The Internet is officially abuzz about Facebook Inc.’s newly expanded gender categories.  Here’s the story in brief: Facebook now allows users to select from over 50 gender identifications, such as genderqueer, cisgender, agender etc. (here is a glossary of the options). The move has drawn the expected responses from all of the usual suspects. The deep conservatives are annoyed, the liberals are elated, and the critical progressives appreciate the gesture, realize its significance, but remain dissatisfied with any form of identification confined to a box. I’m of the critical progressive camp, and happy to defer you readers to all of the smart things written by other people.

Meanwhile, I want to focus on another piece of the gender-identity expansion, a piece of great significance which has nonetheless snuck by in light of the jubilation, fighting, and intellectualism surrounding our new opportunity to bend the gender binary.  Namely, I want to talk about privacy, and Facebook’s shifting discourse about identity and power. (more…)

The Real Victims of Journal Paywalls


As a professional sociologist, I maintain membership in several listservs and social networking site groups centered around my areas of study. Every now and then, someone will post a request for a particular academic article to which they do not have access at their home university. Quickly, another member of the group provides the article, and we all go about our business.

Not having access to one article, for a connected professional, is no big deal. But imagine if that same professional never had access to academic articles unless they were willing to pay—exorbitantly—to get beyond publishers’ paywalls. Were that the case, it would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for that professional to conduct research. (more…)

@YesYoureRacist: We can do better


Like many Americans, I spent Sunday evening watching the Super Bowl. This entailed tasty snacks, a comfy couch, and lots of head shaking because, well, the Denver Broncos. It also involved Facebook and Twitter. The day of, day before, and day after were full of commentary, predictions, snarkiness, and declarations of various sorts. Indeed, Sunday’s Super Bowl, like all media events, incorporated multiple media.  One item, within one piece of this media ecology, keenly sparked my interest: The Twitter feed of @YesYoureRacist. (more…)