Social media HateFree revolution?

All of my previous posts were critical of social media and big multinational software companies. In some comments I got, I was criticized for being too negative and pessimistic and for not looking for a way out from this situation. That is why I have decided to devote my last post to the Czech campaign HateFree Culture. From my perspective, it is a good example of how social media could be used for a positive thing.  

The project was launched in 2014 as a reaction to increasing of hatred towards population groups with different ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion or handicap. It is granted by The Agency for Social Integration of Czech Republic. The motto of the campaign is following:

“We are an initiative of people who strive for a life free of violence and hatred. Although we are aware of the complexity of coexistence, tolerance, and respect, we are convinced of the existence of a rational, creative and innovative ways to improve them. Living in fear and hatred does not bring anything positive. HateFree Culture offers the opportunity to look at things from different angles, to find solutions with others and above all create and share what matters.”

The project’s main communication tools are their Facebook page with over 55 thousands of fans. But it also has its website, where it is successfully fighting with hoax, hatred, and stereotypes. The campaign has also created HateFree Zones – places where hatred is not tolerated. Over 260 pubs, caffés and even offices became part of the project.

Although I think the group is doing very good job, HateFree became a target of wide criticism, especially because of its financing from governmental funds and support of immigration. Some of the HateFree Zones were also vandalized by neo-Nazis.

I think it is a prove, that even a simple campaign with a limited budget of about 750 000 euros for 3 years can do a good job. And especially their hoax fighting program was crucial for the Czech social media environment.

They’re Talking. Are We Listening?

Development agencies and programs around the world are staffed with skilled Monitoring & Evaluation professionals, responsible for tracking a program’s progress against its goals through quantifiable results – think back to the days of creating SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, time-based) goals for your professional evaluations or science class hypotheses. The program I work on, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, measures our progress against twelve indicators, which include standard measurements such as number of people trained, number of transactions recorded to track tuna catch, and millions of dollars leveraged from the private sector. While all worthwhile measurements that seek to quantify the program’s impact, does this really capture the full program’s full accomplishments (or failures) in way that reflect beneficiaries personal gains and experiences?

With developments in technology, data collection, and increased use of social media in everyday life, the amount of data is ever increasing, along with professions to analyze and assess this data. How can development tap into this potential?

Development agencies and non-profits are increasingly pushing out information using social media. But, should we be spending more time listening?

In response to America’s current political landscape and reduced funding of government agencies, a recent article in the Boston Business Journal poses how urban social listening can help to determine the impact of aid and social programs. In the study, researchers, “…began by listening to the ‘digital crumbs’ generated by collective searches and postings to social media like Twitter.” Urban social listening offers a, “systematic, rigorous collection and analysis of [social media] ‘crumbs…’ offering useful insights into understanding the government’s role in addressing urban problems” (Hollander and Renski, The Boston Business Journal).

It has been shown that there is an evidenced correlation between positive sentiment and health indicators. In a 2015 study, Twitter sentiment was shown to be a better predictor of cardiovascular disease than any conventional indicator like smoking or socioeconomics. Hollander, author of the Journal article, applies urban listening techniques to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). While he wasn’t able to find significant improved sentiment in cities with CDBG funding, it seems that the community scale being analyzed is too large to yield highly correlated results.

In development, non-profits and government agencies alike are increasingly using social media to communicate with stakeholders and beneficiaries, but listening is a newer trend. Payal Arora and Nimmi Rangaswamy echo this in Digital Leisure for Development: Reframing New Media Practice in the Global South. “…Research is driven by development agendas with a strong historical bias towards towards the socio-economic focus. Data that does not directly address project-based outcomes is side-lined.”

Tracking sentiment through social media is not a new concept, used for years in consumer confidence and political opinion. While certainly more people are tweeting on popular political opinion topics, how can we the development world harness and tailor these listening practices to hear our beneficiaries, and through listening show that their voice counts.

References
Arora, Payal and Nimmi Rangaswamy. Digital Leisure for Development: Reframing New Media Practice in the Global South. Sage Journals. October 10, 2013.

Hollander, Justin. Viewpoint: As Ben Carson Hearings Get Under Way, Can Social Media Help Identify Hud Impact? The Boston Business Journal, 2 March 2017. http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/news/2017/03/02/viewpoint-as-ben-carson-hearings-get-under-way-can.html

Eichstaedt, Johannes, et al. Psychological Language on Twitter Predicts County-Level Heart Disease Mortality. Sage Journals. Volume: 26 issue. Pages 159-169. Published January 20, 2015. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614557867

Data show an increase in hate crimes

When, now President, Donald J. Trump was elected in the United States’ elections in November 8, 2016, it ‘whipped’ up a storm of emotions, reactions, and actions. Some were positive, some were negative, and some outright worrisome. In my previous posts I have written about social media engagement through #resist and how social media was used to organize activists and supporters for the Women’s March. Something that I have yet to cover is that many hate crimes and hate speeches have emerged as well.

After the US elections in 2016, Ushahidi, a crowdsourcing tool, converted their USA Election Monitoring platform to start monitoring post election hate speech, harassment, violence, threats, and protests. By November 18, 2016, the crowdsourcing data collection had received over 800 reports (though some were duplicates). Ushahidi “was developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election violence in 2008.” The tech organization, headquartered in Nairobi, has since then been used by thousands to raise their voice.

Another, US based organization, Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) project Hatewatch in collaboration with ProPublica had by February 7, 2017, registered 1,372 post-election bias incidents. The data was collected through their #ReportHate intake page and from news reports. SPLC has partnered with ProPublica in order to better document, verify, and investigate these incidents. The New York police reported that between 2015 to 2016 hate crimes had increased by 31.5%, up from 250 to 328. Hate crimes targeting Muslims are up from 12  to 25, and hate crimes targeting Jews are up from 102 to 111. Overall, according to SPLC’s data, anti-immigrant incidents remain the most reported. Below is a chart of the highest motivational factors for the hate incidents:

Snapshot of data of Southern Poverty Law Center and ProPublica data collection of Hate Incident Motivation post-election in the United States, 2016: https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/02/10/post-election-bias-incidents-1372-new-collaboration-propublica   

The authors Read, Taithe, and Mac Ginty examines technological innovation, primarily digital technology, and the promise it shows for improving humanitarian responses (Read, Taithe, & Mac 2016: 7f). The data technologies used by the three forementioned organizations create awareness, and it could be argued that they are empowering. There have been multiple cases of where crowdsourcing of data on violence which have had somewhat different outcomes. For example, the Libya Crisis Map, has involved the coordination and vertical transmission of knowledge of urgent situations to national and international actors and audiences. In another example, in Kenya, the knowledge took a horizontal form, used by locals to alert each other of unfolding situations (Read, Taithe, & Mac 2016: 11).

So how does it work? Ushahidi collects data by using custom surveys as well as crowdsourcing tools. The organization’s tools are not only used for monitoring elections, but also for crisis response, as well as advocacy and human rights. The sources stem from surveys, and third party emails,Twitter, Twillio, Nexmo, and SMS connected with an SMS gateway or SMSsync, amongst others. If subscribed, organizations and users can receive important alerts and notifications while deployed. What is interesting with Ushahidi is that it is not an organization from the global North and thus challenging not only the norm of what a humanitarian tech organization looks like and where it comes from, but that they also become a stakeholder in the power of knowledge (Read, Taithe, & Mac 2016: 12f). Below, is an example from Ushahidi’s site: a Muslim NYC Transit worker who was pushed down flights of stairs and called terrorist.

Snapshot of Ushahidi’s platform to monitor USA post election hate crimes. https://usaelectionmonitor.ushahidi.io/views/map

However, Read, Taithe, and Mac suggests that while collecting data by and for domestic and international development may have several advantages, it also comes with responsibilities and risks. The authors write that the evidence thus far suggests that the information gathering capabilities of some humanitarian actors outstrip their capacity to deal with the information.

Ultimately we conclude that the new aspiration towards hubristic big data processing is just another step in the same modernist process of the production of statistical truth. Where it holds a particularly seductive power is in the promise that it may, somehow, become autonomous of human intervention, magnified in legitimacy and relevance by the new processing technologies (Read, Taithe, & Mac 2016: 13).

The unfolding situation in the United States hits home as my father is Muslim, and my father’s side of the family are too, yet the minority Muslim community is just one of many targeted minority groups in the country; the communities of African-Americans, LGBTQs, refugees, immigrants, and women all over the United States are targeted too. This hits home because I have Muslim friends, immigrant friends, African-American friends, LGBTQ friends, and jewish friends, many of whom are women, myself included. This hits home because the misconceptions, stereotypes, and convictions, of these minority groups are so strong that it will lead to violence, threats, and harassment.

References – imbedded in the text and:

Read, R., Taithe, B., and Mac Ginty, R. 2016: Data hubris? Humanitarian information systems and the mirage of technology, Third World Quarterly, forthcoming.

Socializing towards loneliness

Socializing towards loneliness

In my last week’s post I focused on the world of Facebook and the way data provided by its users can be misused for marketing activities. But it is not the only reason, why social networks are in the center of a controversy. The study which was published last week shows they might be causing a social isolation to their users.

There are dozens of social media channels being used today and the number of users is constantly growing. It is estimated there would be nearly 3 billions of people in this digital spider web by 2020.[1] “While still relatively young and certainly imperfect, our social media networks are beginning to form a new nervous system for our planet, capturing the pulse of our societies, and yes, crises, in real time.” describes Patrick Meier in the book Digital Humanitarians.

If his comparison is true, we should be prepared for a serious nervous breakdown of the virtual body. As American Journal of Preventive Medicine study shows, people who spent the most time on social media had twice the odds of having greater perceived social isolation.

The study of 1787 U.S. adults aged 19-32 assessed relation between social media use (SMU) and perceived social isolation (PSI). The researchers focused on users of 11 social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, Vine, Snapchat, and Reddit. “…social isolation, [is] a state in which an individual lacks a sense of social belonging, true engagement with others, and fulfilling relationships, is associated with increased morbidity and mortality.” the study states[2].  Social isolation could be also associated with obesity, unnatural increases in cortisol patterns, which can disrupt sleep, immune function, and cognition, vascular and mental health – researchers found out.

Researchers agree the social media are a great tool for connecting people and certain groups of the population can truly benefit from the usage. But for other groups (see the table below) there are more cons than pros, which can make people feel excluded from the society: “Instead of accurately representing reality, social media feeds are in fact highly curated by their owners. Exposure to such highly idealized representations of peers’ lives may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives, which may increase PSI,” the study explains. Researchers suggest the people who feel isolated by the social media should be identified and should be connected to in-person networks.

I am personally not a big supporter of any kind of such a big interventions, but I can imagine a situation when timely action can save life — or even lives. The way, how social media feed is constructed means, it is showing the user what the algorithm thinks they might like. And when users focus too much on this virtual construct, they can start feeling lonely and unsuccessful. What is the way out? I am afraid the problem is not on social networks, but in our society. And there is no simple solution. Maybe the social networks should be subject for the next communication for development activities.

References:

[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/278414/number-of-worldwide-social-network-users/

[2] http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(17)30016-8/fulltext

#RESIST – How a hashtag united people over social media and beyond

 

When President Donald J. Trump was elected President of the United States, it was met with a bundle of mixed feelings. Some thought they finally had a representative in the white house that would look out for them, whilst others wept, rallied, and organized themselves. Out of the latter a new hashtag was born on social media: Resist.

#Resist has been used by several different individuals, groups, and organizations. Its spread and representation goes from social media into real life. Whilst empirical studies are surprisingly few, we do know that with Facebook’s over 1.5 billion users it has altered the social fabric as we know it, and on a societal level social media has created unprecedented opportunities for information flow, affective expression, social influence, and even democratic revolution (Lewis, Gray, and Meierhenrich 2014:1).

The meaning behind the hashtag ‘Resist’ may vary from person to person, and the way people use it come in variations. Founders and executive directors of groups around the United States explain what #Resist really mean to them, listing some of the same core values, yet with personal take as well. According to them ‘Resist’ means to stand up, to fight, to not give in, to not become complacent or accept, to be be informed, to welcome diversity and differences, to join the masses, to protect their country’s gains and advances, and to move forward not backward. The resistance has taken centre stage as well. Recently, celebrities have made political anti-Trump statements through speeches, songs, and performances during both the Grammys as well as the Oscars. Katy Perry was seen wearing an armband with the word Resist on it during her performance at the Grammys.

The website meetup.com have created a space as well as encouraged individuals to join or start meetup groups for those who care about what’s happening to democracy, human rights, social justice, equality, sustainability, and other issues in their area. These groups can primarily be found all around the United States, but also in Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.

On January 25, 2017, seven activists for Greenpeace, the environmental advocacy organization, climbed a crane near the White House in Washington DC and unfolded a banner with the word “Resist” on it. In Donald J. Trump’s first week in office he had taken steps to freeze grants through the Environmental Protection Agency and has resurrected the Keystone and Dakota Pipeline projects, something former President Barack Obama had put a stop to after months of protests by environmental activists. Travis Nichols, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said the protesters were there “to resist the environmental, economic and racial injustice that Trump and his administration have already laid out and put into practice.”

In my searches online it has been difficult to find any tallies of how often #resist has been used and any researches as to see the impact it has had on the wider community. Guo and Saxton writes that out of 53 advocacy groups in the United States most used social media to facilitate civic engagement and collective action. The authors continue writing that scholars have yet to delve deeper into the ‘statuses’ and ‘updates’ on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter which brings us to the fact that in reality we know little about advocacy organizations’ social media presence (Guo and Saxton 2014:60f).

On an everyday basis, Mr. Boyan shares a recent experience: “I was on the phone arranging a [carpool] to violin practice and I said: ‘All right, I’ll be there in 20 minutes. Bye.’ And the mom said, ‘Resist,’” he continues, “When people say goodbye to each other, they are saying, ‘Resist.’” It appears that the hashtag resist is much more than just a ‘thing’ on the internet, it has become a representation of something much bigger that resonates with many.

References – imbedded in the text and:

Guo, C., Saxton, G.D. 2014- Tweeting Social Change- How Social Media Are Changing Nonprofit Advocacy, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly.

Lewis, K., Gray, K., & Meierhenrich, J. 2014- The Structure of Online Activism, Sociological Science.

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