2020 Data Together Reading Group

Dec 30, 2020

Kelsey Breseman, Jonathan Victor, Dawn Walker, Brendan O'Brien, Lourdes Vera, Rico Gardaphe, RangerMauve, Stefan Morales, Matt Price, Data Together

What is the role of an individual in a system where we hold civic roles both in political and in digital contexts? What are the implications of one’s polity not aligning with one’s national or governmental state?



Algorithmic Racism & Environmental Data Justice

March 17

How do choices in technology design and implementation reflect and impact broader social structures? Let’s explore, starting with readings from environmental data justice and studies of algorithmic racism.


April 7

This topic covers factors that impact the content that we see. How do platforms balance freedom of expression versus consent to avoid offensive content, navigate algorithmic versus human moderation and curation, or incentivize different types of interaction? What are downstream effects of these choices?


  • Bijan Stephen for The Verge: “Something Awful’s Founder Thinks Youtube Sucks at Moderation” (2019) - strategies for moderation from Something Awful’s founder
  • Casey Newton for The Verge: “Bodies in Seats” (2019) - around outsourced content moderation & its impacts on the humans who have to view & judge the content. Would recommend:
    • From the beginning to “But for the first time, three former moderators for Facebook in North America agreed to break their nondisclosure agreements and discuss working conditions at the site on the record.”
    • NOT RECOMMENDED: the middle of the article for this group– it’s good reporting but needs a content warning for graphic descriptions (and the intro gets the points across)
  • Jussi Passanen: “Human centred design considered harmful” – how good design principles applied to business sense can be harmful for humans, especially in the context of a livable planet
  • Choose one of the following (their lengths vary):
  • Choose one of the following (their lengths vary):
    • Clint Pumphrey for HowStuffWorks: “How Do Advertisers Show Me Custom Ads?” (2012) – cookies and retargeting, notice tone
    • Cade Metz for the New York Times: “How Facebook’s Ad System Works” (2017) – targeting factors that Facebook uses for ads, the inception of ads into a content stream, some treatment of the Russia issue
    • Cole Nemeth for Sprout Social: “How the Twitter Algorithm Works in 2020” (2020) before “How to turn off the Twitter algorithm” – a really short one just highlighting the factors involved
    • Will Oremus for Slate: “Twitter’s New Order” (2017) – much more in depth (not just how but why and future directions) but pretty long
    • Josh Constine for TechCrunch: “How Facebook News Feed Works” (2016) before “An Updated List Of News Feed Algorithm Changes”

Optional bonus readings

  • Naomi Wu’s experience with media manipulation & being “content moderated” off of several funding platforms she had used to make a living: part 1 and part 2 – this is very interesting and topical but too long to include in the required reading
  • Flame Warriors, if you’d like a lighter take, is a tongue-in-cheek characterization of the various types of people moderators encounter
  • The end of the Casey Newton “Bodies in Seats” article, from “Last week, I visited the Tampa site with a photographer.” to the end, interesting additional perspective re trying to figure out how this stuff should be done

Data Monopolies

May 12

Most of our data and information is controlled by a handful of companies. How did this come to be, what are examples of responsible and irresponsible holding of this power, and how do we imagine we might slip the trap of data monopolies?

Readings: Anti competitiveness, and how did we get here?

What are the things we worry about with monopolies?

Data Monopolies in a COVID era?

Optional bits to play around with for discussion:

Trust (Cryptographic and Human)

June 9

New technologies attempt to free us from (data) monopolized spaces, but does cryptographic trust truly map onto or enable better human-to-human (or human-to-company or human-to-technology) trust?


Private Data & Policies

September 22

How have particular implementations of data privacy policies impacted humans, economics, and legal systems? What are appropriate expectations around data privacy, and who should inform, create, or enforce policies?



Attempted and proposed solutions

Other optional readings


November 3

Who are the groups of people to whom we are connected in systems of governance? To whom do we owe allegiance?


Other material: