Values, Power, and Politics in Digital Infrastructures Minitrack

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This minitrack will explore the themes of values, power, and politics in relation to the infrastructures that support digital data, documents, and interactions. By considering how infrastructures – the underlying material properties, policy decisions, and mechanisms of interoperability that support digital platforms – are designed, maintained, and dismantled, the work presented in this mini-track will contribute to debates about sociotechnical aspects of digital and social media, with a focus on data, knowledge production, and information access. This session will focus on research that employs techniques such as infrastructural inversion, trace ethnography or design research (among other methods) to explore factors that influence the development of infrastructures and their use in practice.

We welcome papers considering topics such as (but not limited to):

  • Politics and ethics in digital platforms and infrastructures
  • Values of stakeholders in digital infrastructures
  • Materiality of values, power, or politics in digital infrastructures
  • Tensions between commercial infrastructures and the needs of communities of practice
  • Maintenance, repair, deletion, decay of digital and social media infrastructures
  • Resistance, adoption and adaptation of digital infrastructures
  • Alternative perspectives on what comprises infrastructures

Minitrack Co-Chairs:

Katie Shilton (Primary Contact)
University of Maryland, College Park

Jaime Snyder
University of Washington, Seattle

Matthew J. Bietz
University of California, Irvine


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 6 of 6
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    The Dark History of HathiTrust
    ( 2017-01-04) Centivany, Alissa
    This research explores the ways values, power, and politics shape and are shaped by digital infrastructure development through an in-depth study of HathiTrust’s “dark history,” the period of years leading up to its public launch. This research identifies and traces the emerging and iterative ways that values were surfaced and negotiated, decision-making approaches were strategically modified, and relationships were strengthened, reconfigured, and sometimes abandoning through the process of generating a viable, robust and sustainable collaborative digital infrastructure. Through this history, we gain deeper understandings and appreciations of the various and sometimes surprising ways that values, power, and politics are implicated in digital infrastructure development. Shedding light on this history enables us to better contextualize and understand the affordances, limitations, and challenges of the HathiTrust we know today, better envision its range of possible futures, and develop richer appreciations for digital infrastructure development more broadly.
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    Safe Spaces & Free Speech: Effects of Moderation Policy on Structures of Online Forum Discussions
    ( 2017-01-04) Gibson, Anna
    Moderation policies of “free speech” and “safe space” have often been equated to low- and high-censorship levels. However, this paper proposes that moderation policies of “safe space” and “free speech” can also be thought of as a design choice that establishes norms of how individuals should treat each other in that discussion space. Analysis of word usage in matched Reddit communities provides evidence that safe spaces do have higher levels of censorship than free speech zones, and, furthermore, moderation also guides standards of politeness, which can be tracked through word frequency analysis.
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    Risky Business: Social Trust and Community in the Practice of Cybersecurity for Internet Infrastructure
    ( 2017-01-04) Mathew, Ashwin ; Cheshire, Coye
    The security of computer networks and systems on the Internet is a growing and ongoing set of concerns for nation states, corporations, and individuals. Although substantial and valuable work is in progress to secure the hardware and software technologies of the Internet, less attention has been paid to the everyday practices of the people involved in maintaining this infrastructure. In this paper, we focus on issues in cybersecurity as they apply to computer networks, to show how effective practices of network security are premised upon social relationships of trust formed within communities of cybersecurity professionals, and enacted in the practice of cybersecurity. We describe three key cybersecurity problems that involve Internet infrastructural technologies: IP address hijacking, email spam, and DNS spoofing. Through our analysis of these three problems, we argue that social trust between people – not just assurances built into the underlying technologies – must be emphasized as a central aspect of securing Internet infrastructure.
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    Resisting the Censorship Infrastructure in China
    ( 2017-01-04) Kou, Yubo ; Kow, Yong Ming ; Gui, Xinning
    China’s censorship infrastructure is widely recognized as sophisticated, strict, and comprehensive. We conducted a qualitative study to understand Chinese citizens’ practices to navigate the censored Chinese Internet. We found that participants’ practices were closely related to their understanding of and resistance to the censorship infrastructure. Participants switched between public and private channels based on the information they desired to seek. They communicated in ways that were considered less vulnerable to censorship examination. They broadened their information search to mitigate the impact of censored content consumption. Through these practices, participants reportedly coped with the censorship infrastructure in an effective manner. We discuss how this case of resistance to censorship in China may further our understanding of such infrastructure.
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    How Do You Turn a Mobile Device into a Political Tool?
    ( 2017-01-04) Acker, Amelia ; Beaton, Brian
    This paper reports on findings from an ongoing study of recent software applications that attempt to turn mobile ICT’s into political tools. The software in question endeavors to make new types of political behavior expressible for ICT users. Two troubling trends were found. The first involves incommensurability between backend databases and the data traces generated by users. The second involves the production of data and metadata vulnerabilities. As part of discussing these trends, the authors introduce the idea of “minor apps” and argue for their importance within discussions of sociotechnical aspects of digital infrastructure.
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    Introduction to Values, Power, and Politics in Digital Infrastructures Minitrack
    ( 2017-01-04) Shilton, Katie ; Snyder, Jaime ; Bietz, Matthew