Exploration 3: Hack your Digital Sphere

The purpose of this assignment is to find a creative way to feel out the limits of your own social networks and to imagine how those limits might be shifted or transcended. What structures your experience, whether obviously or in ways you don’t usually see? How could you change your experience, and what might you learn from making such a change?

Create an experiment for yourself, carry it out, and report the results.

This might mean experimenting with what happens to the algorithms that control your feeds when you change your behavior; it might mean uncovering the history and origin of platforms, communities, or practices in which you are embedded; it might mean spending time on a site that you don’t typically use; it might mean researching the way your devices, software, or social networks are constructed. Here are some examples to inspire you:

Matt Honan, “I liked everything I saw on Facebook for two days. Here’s what it did to me.”
B.J. May, “How 26 Tweets Broke My Filter Bubble

Your report must include text and screenshots; if you like, you can use video or audio recording (include a transcript) as well.

Project requirements:

Your project should be structured by the following questions:

Question. What is your experiment going to find out?

Method. What are you going to do and how are you going to do it?

Hypothesis. What do you think is going to happen?

Documentation. How will you explain and describe your process and results?

Ethics. How will you make sure that no one is harmed and everyone’s privacy is maintained?

For our in-class workshop on April 26, you must come prepared with rough (one sentence is fine) answers to all these questions.

Expectations for final version: The explanation and documentation of your project and process should be at least 800-1000 words (3 pages) long. Make sure you explain each of the categories above. I also expect you to include visual documentation of what you have done in the form of screenshots or videos. Include at least 4 images.


Privacy and ethical concerns

Doing a class project on social media brings up a special set of issues. If you carry out your experiment on your own social network, you will be interacting with real people who have feelings and concerns of their own. You must take these seriously! Scholars who carry out social science research must go through Institutional Research Boards for approval of any work with human subjects. You will not be doing that, so it’s your responsibility to think carefully about ethical and privacy concerns on your own. Use the following guidelines to help think this through:

• Think ahead of time about whether anything you do for class is likely to impact the people you interact with on social media. Will that impact be mitigated if people know ahead of time that you are doing an exercise for class and your behavior might change? Remember that you can use your final submission to write about an idea you thought of but decided not to do because you thought it might be harmful.

• If you want to include any images of or direct quotations from others’ non-public accounts in your post or presentation for class, consider getting permission. If you decide to do that, ask the person you are going to quote whether they would like to use their name, a pseudonym, or be anonymous. If they say no, you can reference what they did or said in very general terms – including their preference not to be included – but you cannot name them or use their words or images directly.

• Consider your own privacy too. While you can make your final submission blog post private, you will have to share the basis of your project with the class on workshop day. If you choose a more personal topic, think about what you can do to make sure you don’t share more than you are comfortable with.

• Class input: What other ethical and privacy concerns might come up?

This project is due on the blog on Monday April 30.