Photo by verkeorg, Flickr CC
Photo by verkeorg, Flickr CC

We tend to think of the world wide web as a place of equal opportunity, granted everyone has access to it. But NYU’s At A Glance recently covered Charlton McIlwain’s new study that reveals how systemic racial inequality forms and operates on the internet. The study looks beyond lone bigots who make racist comments and analyzes how site traffic steers users to certain kinds of pages. People who visit non-racial sites tend to visit other non-racial sites, more than just by chance, while those who browse pages with race-specific content find themselves jumping to other race-specific sites. McIlwain says,

“The evidence suggests a tendency toward racially segregated site navigation. Web producers seem to build pathways providing equitable access to sites, without concern for the racial nature of the site.”

While segregation may not be the intention of site builders, user’s personal preferences and search engines intervene to influence how web surfers get from point A to point B.  

“These results, along with disparities in website traffic rankings, show how a race-based hierarchy might systematically emerge on the web in ways that exemplify disparate forms of value, influence, and power that exist within the web environment.”

Photo by Randy Lemoine, Flickr CC
Photo by Randy Lemoine, Flickr CC

Many are sure to remember the historic peace talks between Israeli Prime Minister Rabin and Palestine leader Yasser Arafat in 1993, negotiations which were facilitated by the White House. The iconic pictures of a smiling Rabin, Arafat, and then-president Bill Clinton were facilitated by secret talks in Oslo, Norway, and the story of these negotiations are the subject of the new play Oslo, which is set to appear on Broadway next spring. As described in an article on The Voice of America, the talks were actually set in motion by sociologist Terje Rød-Larsen and his wife Mona Juul, a foreign-service officer. The play captures the unique story of these talks, where Rød-Larsen and Juul facilitated a new kind of negotiation. Rød-Larsen describes below:

“We did it in a way, exactly the opposite way of what it was done in Washington. We did not put proposals on the table. We said we would facilitate, bring the parties together, be go-between, assist them in any way, saying It’s your problem, you have to resolve it yourself. We don’t want to push anything on you.’ And number two, we set up the delegations, should never exceed three persons on each side, because trust is dependent on personal relationships and to build personal relationships. And then we also insisted that they should live in the same house. They should have all meals together; breakfast, lunch and dinner. When there were breaks they could go for walks together, etc. They had to live together.”

The play captures the intertwined nature of the personal and the political, while highlighting the effectiveness of such methods. Of course, the play isn’t some dry paper; the actors have described making the play as a “wild improvisation” and it’s being called a great thriller. Playwright J.T Rogers’ Oslo has sold out at the Lincoln Center, and is sure to be a hit on Broadway, meaning the story of this little sociological experiment is far from curtains.

Photo by Henry Burrows, Flickr CC
Photo by Henry Burrows, Flickr CC

A masked figure enters the bank, pulls out a gun and screams, “Everyone on the ground!” The tellers frantically scoop cash into a sack as the robber holds them at gunpoint, roaring instructions through a black ski mask while sirens blare in the distance. This is a scene most of us know well, as it is depicted in almost every cheesy heist flick ever made.

Now, here’s a question: as you played out this scene in your head, was the bank robber a man or a woman?

Chances are, you were thinking of a male bank robber. But this popular stereotype might be changing. An article in The Orlando Sentinel reports that the latest FBI Statistics show a surge in bank robberies committed by females. In 2005, about 6% of bank robberies were committed by women, but by 2015 that number had risen to 7.5%, representing a quarter increase in the number of female bank robbers. In the article, sociologists Darrell Steffensmeier and Rosemary Erickson explain how changes in strategy and motivation might contribute to the increased participation of women in bank robberies. 

Today’s bank robbers don’t always run in and cause a spectacle; they often blend in with other customers at the bank, standing in line or filing paperwork. The infamous “gun-slinger” bank robbery is becoming less common, and instead of using a firearm, more and more bank robbers quietly pass a note to a teller with their demands. Erickson explains this shift in strategy is in large part to the increased number of women committing these crimes, as women are less likely to commit violent crimes than are men.

Steffensmeier and Erickson point to the “feminization of poverty” as a major driver of this gender shift in bank robberies. Women have come to represent a disproportionate percentage of the world’s poor, and combined with a rise in single motherhood and homelessness among women, women have started to resort to crimes that were once committed mostly by men as they struggle to make ends meet. If the pattern observed in the data becomes a trend, we might be seeing more women taking charge of robberies and other crimes—and you can take that to the bank.

Photo by Denis Bocquet, Flickr CC
Photo by Denis Bocquet, Flickr CC

Online dating has grown substantially in both acceptability and use in the past few years. But because it is still relatively new, Tinder sociologist Jessica Carbino says the norms regarding online dating interactions are “very much still being negotiated.” What’s at the top of the list for women? Calling out the harassment they experience from many of their male suitors. 

Women are starting to speak out about their experiences of harassment from men on online dating sites. To combat these uncomfortable advances, some women are coming together to publicly shame men who harass them. Fast Company recently featured an article showcasing women’s attempts. One woman created an Instagram account called Bye Felipe; she compiled screenshots of online chats that captured uncomfortable messages women receive from men online. Many of the conversations include unwarranted aggression from men, especially after women ignore or reject their advances. Bye Felipe and similar blogs are not the only responses either. Another response is the creation of woman-friendly dating sites. Whitney Wolfe, former executive at Tinder, co-founded Bumble, which specifically lets women make the first move.

So why do men act this way on online dating? Carbino suggests that men’s aggressive advances and behavior may be connected to broader socializing patterns. “We do know that when individuals are removed from interactions where they’re in the presence of others, they may act differently — sometimes more boldly given the relative lack of social accountability,” says Carbino. However, as she’s quick to point out, the same has always been true in the offline world. Apps like Tinder, she notes, provide people with a way to “have a larger degree of contact” with that world.

See other ways women are calling out online dating harassment here.

Photo from the 2013 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC, by Ryan Somma via flickr.com
Photo from the 2013 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC, by Ryan Somma via flickr.com

Over the course of the primary season and the beginnings of the general election, there has been a lot of inflammatory rhetoric surrounding Islam in America, mostly propelled by politicians on the political Right such as Donald Trump. Such shifts in political discussion can often have a ripple effect, and as described in an article by Vox, even the narratives and language used by politicians on the left begin moving in this direction. With help from sociology professors of Erik Love of Dickinson College, Charles Kurzman of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Neda Maghbouleh of University of Toronto, we get an inside look at how discussion surrounding American Muslims takes on problematic features.

As Islamophobic arguments move through the airways, it changes the dominant ideas about judging the “line” in political discussions. For example, alongside more extreme comments made by politicians like Newt Gingrich, Hillary Clinton’s discussion of “peace-loving Muslims” becomes a more acceptable norm. However, these narratives still function at the core by suggesting that Muslim and American identity are incompatible, or that American Muslims are unduly obligated to earn their right to respect and safety. Consider research described in the article below:

“[F]ocus groups with Muslim American communities show that Clinton’s comments also “resonate poorly,” Charles Kurzman, a University of North Carolina sociology professor, said.

“When [Clinton] frames the choices this way, it means that for Muslims to be ‘good’ and worthy cultural and political citizens of America, they have to pledge fealty to the same law enforcement, media, and politicians that have been surveilling, jailing, and abusing them based on their names, their faith, and their physical appearances.”

The Vox article is quick to point out that Hillary Clinton hasn’t always made problematic statements regarding Islam, nor is this shift in rhetoric limited to her or to this presidential race. Rather, it seems likely that as inflammatory rhetoric targeted at Muslims continues, it simply normalizes problematic, unfair characterizations and opens the door to exclusionary attitudes.

https://flic.kr/p/C1sEq2
Al Sharpton speaks outside the Supreme Court as it hears arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas Austin. Photo by Jordan Uhl, Flickr CC.

After a series of decisions and appeals, Abigail Fisher’s infamous case against UT Austin (dating as far back as 2008) concluded with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision that the school’s admission policies were constitutional. Fisher had made the case that her rejected application was due to her race, as minority applicants who were supposedly less deserving had taken spots from her. This case is one in a long line of litigation by white women against affirmative action, as discussed in an article on Vox; ironically, however, white women are among affirmative action’s primary beneficiaries.

As detailed in the article, research shows how affirmative action for women translated into job advances: as benchmarks for gender enrollment are met, representation for white women has increased dramatically in certain sectors. Often, opponents of affirmative action state that race shouldn’t play a factor in application decisions, but research from sociologists Thomas J. Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford shows how this works against Asian-Americans, who are three times less likely than whites to be admitted to selective schools even with the exact same scores. Furthermore, affirmative action has also enabled the existence of legacy application processes, meaning people whose parents went to a certain school are more likely to be accepted there—a system that disproportionally helps whites. It seems affirmative action is safe for the time being, but the details may still need an overhaul.

Photo by Michael_swan via flickr.com CC
Photo by Michael_swan via flickr.com CC

The “traditional family,” many would have us believe, is imperiled by everything from women in the workplace and same-sex couples in the bedroom. What these “traditionalists” fail to name among the various threats is income inequality. As described in research published in the American Sociological Review and discussed on Fortune.com, observed increases in the rate of couples having children before marriage can be explained by changing social landscapes.

It’s no surprise to anyone that the middle-class is shrinking or that finding a job can be a tough gig. Andrew Cherlin, David C. Ribar, and Suzumi Yasutake’s research shows people are more likely to postpone marriage, but not parenting, if they can’t get a job. So, with a distinct shortage of available living-wage jobs and growing income inequality, more and more American families are comprised of unmarried couples with children. As the class system becomes even more polarized, it seems marriage boosters might want to consider a different means to their favored end: reducing inequality.

Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com
Photo by @Saigon via flickr.com

Some believe Asian-Americans face a “gentler” sort of racism than other minority groups—that they are even treated with admiration as a “model minority” group. That said, the “model minority” stereotype doesn’t have negative consequences. In an Atlantic article, sociologist Adia Harvey Wingfield discusses the multiple ways Asian identities are subject to subtle but impactful experiences in everyday life.

For example, consider the “model minority” stereotype, especially as it pertains to how Asians are supposed to excel at school. What this can mean, however, is that Asian-American high school students can feel deterred from seeking help when they need it, which can lead to peer isolation, among other problems, as in research by UW Madison’s Stacy Lee. Furthermore, Asian Americans are more likely to downplay racism that they face due to the implicit understanding that Asians are stereotyped in “good ways”, as descried by the Georgia State University sociologist Rosalind Chou.

That second dynamic is a part of The Racial Middle by Eileen O’Brien of Saint Leo University, a book that tackles some arguments that non-white, non-black racial identities will be subsumed into black and white, though these groups, like Latinos and Asians, are made up of sub-groups with unique histories and challenges. Consider that Asian Americans do not have a long history of organized struggle or civic action, which may reinforce the caricature of Asian groups as passive and well behaved. Collective action may raise racial consciousness in more ways than one.

To read more about Asian Americans and the Model Minority myth, see Jennifer Lee’s TSP special features “From Unassimilable to Exceptional” and “Asian American Exceptionalism and “Stereotype Promise.‘”

tinder-app-logo

Every “single” person in the world enjoys traveling to exotic locations, eating at new restaurants, and generally trying new things according to Tinder. The dating app shows users a dating profile that takes seconds to view and is mostly photographs. However, Tinder analyst and sociologist Jessica Carbino explains that there’s a lot more nuance involved in Tinder swiping.

The app has a simple premise: it shows the user a photograph and short biography of a potential partner. The user can swipe right or swipe left. If both the user and the person whose profile is shown swipe right, a match is made and the users have a chance to exchange messages.

While the app is streamlined, the behavior of the users is quite complex. Los Angeles Magazine interviewed the UCLA PhD about her role as a sociologist for Tinder and her role in deciphering what leads to matches between users. Carbino explains “I think Tinder is far more complex than simply physical attractiveness… With photos, people are not simply looking at whether someone has a nice smile or a nice face per se.”

Through coding Tinder profiles, running focus groups, and creating surveys for people who do and do not use Tinder, Carbino has found a lot of sociology imbedded in the process. She proposes that many sociological factors, like socioeconomic status, contribute to a successful match. Simply dividing users as ‘hot and not hot’ is too simplistic and does not provide a useful or nuanced definition of what other users are looking for. Whether or not users are consciously making these distinctions Carbino notes that men with softer jawlines are perceived as kinder, women wearing make up get more matches, and that a group photo is never a good choice for a user’s first picture.

Another interesting find of Carbino’s is what users are trying to get out of the app. She found that about 80% of Tinder users are looking for long-term relationships. Given the speed of the first step of the dating process on Tinder, this high percentage seems surprising on the surface. However, finding the reasons why is precisely what Carbino is trying to figure out by casting a sociological lens over Tinder data. With a glance at a smart phone and a swipe of the thumb, the 21st century relationship is just getting started.

Click to visit Hoaxmap.
Click to visit Hoaxmap.

Over a million migrants and refugees entered Europe in 2015, leading many to dub this mass migration a “crisis.” Many are seeking asylum, especially those from countries experiencing considerable violence like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Many Europeans have reacted to the influx with fear, spreading stories that associate refugees and migrants with crime (something social scientists like to call “crimmigration”). In response, two German women created Hoaxmap to track and dispel rumors about refugees in Germany (a country that has been particularly welcoming to immigrants, per its Chancellor Angela Merkel’s directives). Of the 40 types of rumors tracked on Hoaxmap, most pertain to theft or sexual assault.

The discrepancy between documented and rumored crimes may reflect the way rumors spread and their connections to real events that people believe are plausible. Sociologist Gary Alan Fine, recently featured in an Atlantic article, agrees: “Once you have a plausible story then the criteria for information you need in order to believe [a new story] is much lower, because you would say ‘this is like what happened elsewhere.’” In fact, almost half of the rumors about sexual assault and rape associated with the contemporary immigrants cropped up in the two months following reported New Year’s Eve assaults on women in Cologne. Sociologist Mar Warr concurs that “even a small increase in apparent risk (like a locally reported rape or rapes) can generate substantial and widespread fear.” In reality, most crime in destination locations appears to have been directed at asylum seekers, rather than perpetrated by them.