Powerful: The Case Reparations

I have not read The Atlantic article this interview describes, but it is so powerful, I have to share it. I t is moments like these, when radical ideas can be given a serious airing, that give me hope for America.

Digital Activism Research Methods: Using API’s for Social Media Research

I am currently at the International Communication Association (ICA) annual conference in Seattle.  I’ll be posting what I learn.

Facebook Graph API:

Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch,  U of Connecticut, USA

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  1. Create an app (use computer science expertise)
  2. Study participants visit study site and are linked to Facebook after disclosure message and consent about data collection
  3. On Facebook, participants grant permission for study app to access whatever information the researcher wants (example: friend lists, posts, post comments)
  4. You then get a dataset organized by users ID number
  5. You can then use that data as you wish, for example, to populate a survey where the user will explain or describe their Facebook activity.

NameGenWeb + Programming in Comm Research:

Nicole Ellison, Michigan State U, USA

Using  the NameGenWeb app to collect Facebook network data

  • NameGenWeb (image above) is a Facebook app that collects information about a user’s network
  • The app is slow in gathering this information, causing some people to quit the app prematurely
  • Like any other app, the user must give the app permission to access their account data on the Facebook platform

Thoughts on programming and communication research

  • The benefit is that you don’t need to rely on self-report – you have the user data
  • The problem is that it is a skill set many comm researchers don’t have
  • Comm grad students should learn programming
  • Relying on computer science students creates black box problem, they are unlikely to have substantive expertise in the research question
  • You are now at the mercy of the social media company (lack of control over data collection, plug can be pulled completely)

Getting data from Twitter

Deen Goodwin Freelon, American U, USA

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  • Data scraping: automating collection of digital data
  • Pro’s: powerful for speed and convenience, free, start immediately, usually pretty easy, good for class projects
  • Con’s: APIs limit availability, can only retrieve data within limited time windows, requires very high local system reliability (ie, internet outages means data collection shits off)
  • Tools to use: NodeXL is easiest but not available for PC, Deen showed a nice table of options which I’ll link to (here) when he posts it
  • Purchasing data is the best option if you can afford it
  • Twitter data vendors: Gnip, Datasift, Sysomos (give them a time period and keywords and they give you the data)
  • Trusting bought data: If you can’t validate an analysis, don’t use it (ie, identifying language or gender)
  • Data formats: csv, xml, JSON, MySQL (you need to learn how to use them)
  • Audit your data:  They might not have included everything that fit your query parameters (time, key words)
  • Comm needs computational methods and needs a “development core” (for now, apprentice yourself)

Computation and comm research

Jeff Hancock, Cornell, USA

  • Sending grad students to comp sci departments to take classes is not the solution, they come back frustrated, but without skills useful for comm.
  • This is because comm and comp sci have different priorities
  • programming languages: Java  is useless, Python is great
  • NSF is looking for collaboration between social science and computer science


ICA Pre-Conference Talk on Activism

Slides for a talk I’ll be giving tomorrow at the International Communication Association Pre-Conference on Qualitative Political Communication Research.

Contention Beyond Social Movements: Activism and its Benefits from Mary Joyce

Public Acts of Shameless Tenderness

Every man was once like this.

How many grown men will still allow themselves to engage in public acts of shameless  tenderness like this?

Why do they allow that part of the their spirits to be destroyed?

How much do we all suffer because of this loss?

image: Tumblr/zrinkacvitesic

How to Get Data from Twitter

This tutorial uses Tweepy software to use Python to get data from Twitter.  This tutorial was presented today at the Community Data Science Workshop @UW.  The first tutorial, an introduction to APIs, is here.

1) Get a a Twitter API key & access token

1) Then get a bunch of Python programs for Twitter

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 1.35.18 PM

2) Put the authentification information into a Python program

  • Download a text editor like Smultron
  • Open a new file and type your keys and tokens so it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 1.28.53 PM

  • Save the file as “twitter_authentication.py” to the file of Twitter programs you just downloaded from GitHub.  (Replace the existing file with this name.)

3) Get tweets from Twitter

  • In your terminal run the command “python twitter1.py”.
  • Tweets should appear.

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  • This means you successfully used the Twitter API in a basic way.
  • This Twitter data looks messy and that is something you need to get used to.

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  • 99% data science is using your brain to figure out what the data you are looking at means.
  • 1% of data science is using statistics to interpret the data (or so says Guy)
  • Then you use additional commands in Python to extract pieces of information (like time zone) that you may want to analyze.



What’s an API and Why Should I Care as an Activism Researcher?

Notes and reflections from the Community Data Science Workshop, presented by Benjamin Mako Hill and friends today at the University of Washington, Dept. of Communication.


  • Introduction
  • Using sample APIs
  • Putting data in a format you can use


What is an API?

  • Term stands for Application Programming Interface
  • It is a standard (or protocol).  It’s not a piece of software.
  • It’s a way for one program to talk to another program.
  • It’s a way to get data from online platforms about what people are doing on that platform.

Why should I care as an activism researcher?

  • Sometimes people are using those platforms for activism.
  • You can learn something (not everything) about activism activity on the platform by looking at the traces of that activity that individuals leave in the form of tweets, follows, edits, and more.
  • These traces are the data that you access through the API

What can I do with an API?

  • ask for data (almost always asking a URL)
  • get data back (almost always in a file format called JSON)
  • build a dataset of content to study (using the data you got through the API)


  • When a platform changes its architecture, the structure of data can also change.
  • Different platforms have different APIs.  Though they have similar features, you will need to learn each platform’s API separately
  • The API structure and documentation will be better for platforms that make money off their API, like Twitter
  • For those that don’t care about how people access their data, the API will not be well-structured
  • However, for platforms whose data is commonly accessed via API (like Twitter), there will be existing Python modules that have been created to make your task easier.

Using Simple APIs

Use Python to go out onto the web, grab some data, and show it to you

  • Use Python, which is a program you probably already have in your computer and can access with your terminal (here’s how)
  • Python example code, which scrapes the HTML code from the website http://www.python.org

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  • In this example, the API is the standard that allows you to pull data (HTML or other) from a website by using the code above.

Put data from the web into a file on your computer

  • This code puts the html code from http://www.python.org into a file on your computer

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  • Now the file is on your computer (you can find it by searching your computer for a file named python.html)
  • Use the command os.chdir to set your directory, which is the place on your computer where the file is placed
  • The default directory is your personal directory on your computer.  For example, mine is called mjoyce.

Use a simple API that involves kittens

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  • And here’s what the file you created looks like on your computer

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 12.29.44 PM

  • In this example, the API is the standard that you can get an image of a kitten with certain dimensions by using a URL with the dimensions at the end of that URL

Putting Data in a Format You Can Use

Why should I care about JSON?

  • When you get data from a website using an API, it will most often be in JSON format.

What is JSON?

  • It is a language for structuring data.  It is a format used by programs for programs.
  • Here’s an example of what a JSON file looks like: http://json.org/example.html
  • Here’s a simpler example by Mako: http://mako.cc/cdsw.json
  • It has a very similar data format to Python

Interpreting a JSON file

    • This is an entry about a pet fish with a name, age, and favorite color

Screen Shot 2014-05-03 at 11.41.43 AM

Importing a JSON file into Python

  • This code displays a JSON file from the web in Python

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  • This imports a file for interpreting JSON into Python.

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  • This code names the json file “data” and displays the contents of the file in Python

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Putting data from a JSON file into a spreadsheet

  • This code puts certain data in the JSON file from the web into a .csv spreadsheet file so it is easier to work with.

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  • And this is what the .csv file you created looks like

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  • These are the basics of what you need to do to be a data scientist, either for the study of activism or any other activity carried out online.

Word of the Day: Misogynoir

From Gradient Lair via ethiopienne:

Misogynoir is a word used to describe how racism and anti-Blackness alter the experience of misogyny for Black women, specifically. It alludes to specifically Black women’s experiences with gender and how both racism and anti-Blackness alters that experience diametrically from White women… and differently from non-Black women of colour….

I recently saw a thread of false information and non-Black women of colour co-opting to erase Black womanhood, Black women’s experiences and Black women’s epistemology from the concept of misogynoir. Again, the origin is in Blackwomanhood and the term was coined by a queer Black woman, Moya Bailey.

Read more…

image: Moya Bailey (in green), from http://www.mediamakechange.org

The Problem with Change-Making and Privilege

Nothing much is going to change in this world so long as the change-makers are middle class white people like me living in high income countries.  For us world-changing is a career choice, an ethical vacation opportunity.  At worst it is pure narcissism, a form of moral masturbation.  It is not a daily struggle for dignity or survival.

For we the privileged change-making is a matter of preference, not a matter of necessity, and for that reason it can never go far enough.

ETA (April 29): I should clarify that I do not believe that privileged people are the only change-makers.  I mean to say that privileged people have the greatest access to change-making resources, both in terms of financial resources from private donors and governments and access to technological resources, in terms of access to tools and ability to acquire the skills needed to use those tools effectively.

As long as the privileged absorb the majority of resources meant to empower and aid the less privileged, current inequalities will remain.

image: Flickr/mothersfightingforothers

Previous title: Something Else I Learned

Social Media for Nonprofits Conference: What I Learned

ETA (April 30): slide presentation links and video

Thanks to a shout-out from Beth Kanter and Stephanie Rudat, I am taking a break from thesis-writing and grad student work to attend the Social Media for Nonprofits conference in Seattle.  Here’s what I learned from:

Engaging Your Audience

Create media personas for your audiences: Give members of your target audiences names (Nora, Bob) and characteristics (hobbies, shopping habits) to make it easier to write for them. For example, a woman who adopts internationally is more likely to be an evangelist for a nonprofit that provides clean water to kids abroad. This can also help you choose platforms. Should we be on Pinterest? Yeah, Nora is probably on Pinterest and we want to reach her.

Avoid institution-speak: When you are not speaking to specific types of people, you end up using bland, impersonal institution-speak, “like one building talking to another building.” It doesn’t move anyone.  People want to engage with organizations that are “people-like.”

Identify influencers: See who is frequently retweeting or sharing your content. Reach out to them personally via email with content you are trying to promote. You can even call them Ambassadors. They feel special and you get amplification help.

Social proofing for credibility:  Have people outside the organization publicly approve of your cause, for example by a comment on your page that says “I love these people!” Tweets and blog promotions by allies can also achieve this.  This is the first step after you launch your campaign/page: ask your allies to comment and promote, so those who come later are more likely to believe in what you are doing.  Campaigns that are strong in the beginning tend to have success by the end.

Acquiring Resources

No silver bullet for fundraising… still: This is still the main pitch to management for using social media.  Yet fundraising through social media is really hard.  Pitching fundraising to managers are a way to get buy-in for social media work may seem like a good idea in the beginning, but you may be promising more than you can deliver.  Don’t start using social media to try to raise money.  Ask your allies for other kinds of help and support (promotion, volunteering), and build from there.

Successful crowdfunding:  You don’t need to ask for money, you can also ask for time or other in-kind resources.  On your crowdfunding page, write in “snackable” headlines.  (Go into more detail on your organization blog.)  Set your goal as 85% of what you think you can achieve, not what you want to achieve.  A good deadline is 45-60 days. Make tiers tied to explicit benefits ($10 buys a school supply set, $45 buys a school uniform).   Have a high tier that is really silly (for $10,000 the executive director dresses up in a chicken suit).  Photos are better than nothing and videos are better than photos.  45 seconds to a minute is an ideal length for a video.

Crowdfunding stages: Know that donations will slow in the middle of the campaign, and plan specific promotions for the middle.  In the beginning sell the vision.  In the end sell the finish line (we are almost there!).  Follow up by showing donors what they’ve achieved.  Then they become evangelists because they are part of your narrative. Use social proofing to establish credibility.

Use Linkedin: For donors and skilled volunteers.  Few NGOs use it, but they should.

Writing Tips

Email content: Social media increases expectations for small amounts of content.  People have tons of email to read in a day.  Write short messages.  Email newsletters have way too much content.  People are more and more likely to read it on a mobile device.  (This also is a reason to write shorter messages.)

Email subject lines: Write an engaging subject line.  You have two seconds with your subject line to convince a busy person to open your email.  Open rates are only one metric.  Better to ask what they did after they opened (ie, did they follow a link in the email, take an action).  Send any email to yourself before sending it to your list to catch errors.

Be human: Write to educate your media personas.  Write about what your organization is, who the staff members are – “share the people.”  Tell their favorite foods and movies.  Drive the “human-ness.”  Write about what you have access to and they don’t.  Always add a picture to your text.   A photo album (on Facebook) is even better.  (After an event, supporters will look for photos of themselves that the organization posts.)

Curate: You don’t need to create, you can curate.  Share information you receive from others (make sure to give credit.)   Repurpose and reuse content between platforms.  Use the same content “kernel” and write it up for Facebook, Twitter, the organization’s blog….

Schedule recurring topics: Have themes for every day of the week.  On Monday it’s a healthy recipe, Tuesday is a blog post by the director’s dog, Wednesday is a staff explanation of a policy issue.  This allows you to engage with different media personas in a systematic way and to be able to plan content so staff know what to expect.

Be guided by principles: Follow principles like those of the Red Cross, whose writers must create content that is accurate, relevant, considerate, transparent (if you screw up), human, and compassionate.  Know why are you are telling a story.  If you don’t know why, you probably shouldn’t do it.  Identifying why will help you write the story better.

How often to post:  3-5 times a week on social media is the lower limit.  To really grow you need daily activity.  If you use automated tools, use slightly different language on different platforms.  For email, no more than monthly contact.  It’s okay to send less.  Sending more is not okay (people don’t like to feel bombarded).

When to post: Test different times and see what time of the day and week get more opens or comments.  Posting Tuesday to Thursday is best.  Monday is a stressful time.  On Friday people are already thinking of the weekend, and don’t want to engage in new work.  Also auto-post on weekends.

Organizational Strategy

Remember to plan:  Start from the end date (for example, the date of an event) and then plan backwards to the first action (for example, sending the first invite).  Plan what content you will produce at what time for what audience.  Create a spreadsheet where each column is a week and each row is a type of content.   Then the entire staff knows what work they will need to do and you won’t have a burst of activity at the launch and panic at the end.  You can build support or participation throughout the period of the campaign.

Use Google tools to coordinate staff: Using a Google spreadsheet means all staff will be able to see it.  Google calendars can be useful for scheduling content.  For example, you could create a blog post calendar that all staff can see, so everyone will know who is posting what blog post on what day on what topic.

Use case studies and data: Data are important to communication managers, but case studies convince, both externally and to a board or organizational leadership. Also, you will have case studies before you have data, so start where you can.  Simplymeasured.com has great free reports.

Employees on social media: Have employees that will be tweeting for you create a brand-specific online identity (example: @HootKemp). This allows employees to help with amplification while also dividing their personal and professional social media profiles. Also provide them training, for example, not accidentally posting to an official profile with a personal message. HooteSuite calls their training program HooteSuite University.

Org leaders on social media: Executive Directors may want to farm out their social media comments, but they can gain more attention (and inspire staff) more if they do it themselves.

General Conference Take-Aways

Adoption is slow: Not much has changed nonprofit social media adoption since before I started grad school a couple of years ago.  When a speaker says that nonprofits need to target specific audiences, not the general public, pens start writing.  Best practices have not changed that much (engagement, fundraising, content creation).

There is still institutional push-back: Communications staff are still often not getting understanding and support from management on the use of social media. Managers are still not trusting their employees to engage in social media on behalf of the organization.

Still fuzzy on measurement:  There’s some appreciation for social media metrics (follows, likes, shares), but not much toward connecting these to offline impacts, beyond fundraising goals.

Incremental gains:  Small insights are accruing (social proofing, media personas) and some organizations are using new tools (Vine, Instagram, mobile phones rather than laptops), though social media use among nonprofits is not so different than it was a few years ago.

Slide quality is soaring: Presentations at the conference (like this this and this) had top-shelf graphic design. Two included professionally-made videos.  One is below.)  Slide presentations are becoming an increasingly important means of professional communication. Complex animation is not important. Professional and high-resolution photography and a small amount of clear text are.  This is probably the greatest change I’ve seen in the past few years.

Fuck yeah, Clippers players!

Has the (long overdue) revolution of athletes against their owners begun?  That would be awesome.

Los Angeles Clippers players are standing up to the overt racism of the team’s owner, Donald Sterling by warming up without their jerseys today.

The Internet has also been responding in exquisite fashion since the celebrity news site TMZ released a recording of Sterling making racist statements to his mixed-race girlfriend two days ago.


image source: http://concrete-apathy.tumblr.com/

source: http://doubleclutch.tumblr.com/

source: http://isolomon12y.tumblr.com/ (Sterling is on the right)

And celebrity responses are being shared widely on Tumblr:

source: http://northgang.com

Unfiltered celebrity responses, including an early response from Snoop Dogg, below, were key in immediately framing Sterling’s recorded racist statements as an outrage.  There is no way Snoop could have made this kind of contemptuous and unequivocal denunciation of racism on television.  And it is hard to imagine Lil Wayne getting airtime to express his views either.

Source: http://instagram.com/snoopdogg

Users took these self-broadcast celebrity statements and gif-ed them and shared them across platforms, from Vine and Youtube to Tumblr, perhaps further encouraging players to respond with defiance.  With self-publication and mass peer-to-peer sharing, an alternative, ad hoc broadcast network seems to be forming.

Read More:

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