Screenagers in the time of coronavirus

Teenager on her phone.
Teenager on her phone.
Photo: Rebecca Nelson/Getty Images

If you’re a parent trying to corral your children into attending “school” online, you’ve probably had the joy of witnessing a complete meltdown. Tantrums are no longer the domain of two-year-olds; 15-year-olds are also kicking and screaming. Needless to say, so are the fortysomethings. Children are begging to go outside. Teenagers desperately want to share physical space with their friends. And parents are begging their kids to go online so that they themselves can get some downtime. These are just some of the ways in which today’s reality seems upside down.

I cannot remember a period in my research when parents weren’t wringing their hands about kids’ use of screens. …

‘I benefited from the generosity of men who tolerated and, in effect, enabled unethical, immoral, and criminal men.’

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Courtesy of danah boyd

Last night, I was honored by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Alongside Oakland Privacy and William Gibson, I received a 2019 Barlow/Pioneer Award. I was asked to give a speech. As I reflected on what got me to this place, I realized I needed to reckon with how I have benefited from men whose actions have helped uphold a patriarchal system that has hurt so many people. I needed to face my past in order to find a way to create the space to move forward.

This is the speech I gave last night. I hope sharing it will help others who are struggling to make sense out of current events. …

On April 17, 2019, Data & Society Founder and President danah boyd gave a talk at the Digital Public Library of America conference (DPLAfest). This is the transcript of that talk.

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Illustration by Jim Cooke

I love the librarian community. You all are deeply committed to producing, curating, and enabling access to knowledge. Many of you embraced the internet with glee, recognizing the potential to help so many more people access critical information. Many of you also saw the democratic and civic potential of this new technology, not to mention the importance of an informed citizenry in a democratic world. …

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Editor’s note: On February 23, 2019, Data & Society Founder and President danah boyd gave a talk at the Knight Media Forum. This text is the written version of her talk, which you can watch here.

Good morning! I’m going to begin today with a little bit of a stretching exercise. Because I think it’s a moment to take the temperature of this room.

1. How many of you consume news every day? [All hands raise.]

Good! You’re in the right room. …

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This is a crib of a talk that Data & Society Founder and President danah boyd gave at the Online News Association conference in Austin, Texas on September 13, 2018. For a video of the talk, click here.

In early September 2018, Facebook and Twitter were accused during a Congressional hearing of having anti-conservative bias. This should sound familiar to many of you in this room as you too have been accused for political purposes of being the “liberal media.” …

Trust Issues

I want to believe in journalism. But my faith is waning.

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Illustrations by Jessica Siao

For the second time in a week, my phone buzzed with a New York Times alert, notifying me that another celebrity had died by suicide. My heart sank. I tuned into the Crisis Text Line Slack channel to see how many people were waiting for a counselor’s help. Volunteer crisis counselors were pouring in, but the queue kept growing.

Celebrity suicides trigger people who are already on edge to wonder whether or not they too should seek death. Since the Werther effect study, in 1974, countless studies have conclusively and repeatedly shown that how the news media reports on suicide matters. The World Health Organization has a detailed set of recommendations for journalists and news media organizations on how to responsibly report on suicide so as to not trigger copycats. Yet in the past few years, few news organizations have bothered to abide by them, even as recent data shows that the reporting on Robin Williams’ death triggered an additional 10 percent increase in suicide and a 32 percent increase in people copying his method of death. …

Last week, I had the honor of keynoting SXSW-Edu. I was asked to be provocative and stir debate. You can read a crib of my talk here or watch the video. In my talk, I asked the audience and educators more broadly to challenge their assumptions about media literacy. Over the last week, I’ve been wading through the various public and private responses that I’ve received before crafting a broader response. This is my attempt to do so.

Most of the criticism that I’ve received has come from those who are deeply invested in media literacy who were frustrated with my depiction of the field. I respect that I’m challenging a sacred cow, although I reject the criticism that I’m dismissing the values, goals, or ideals that are central to those who are working hard to find a way to education the next generation. I also stand by my finding that there are a lot of things that currently exist in everyday classrooms that are labeled “media literacy.” One if the weirdest parts of doing fieldwork across the country sampling for diverse communities and youth is that I’ve seen a lot of dynamics in schools that are unimaginable to my friends in education. I’ve seen kids smoking marijuana in class while the substitute teacher of the day desperately tries to gain control. I’ve walked in on kids having sex in the teacher’s lounge; they weren’t ashamed but mostly annoyed that I interrupted. I’ve watched a biology teacher integrate creationism into his lessons. And yes over and over and over again, I’ve heard teachers tell students not to use Wikipedia. Sadly, this isn’t an outdated finding. I truly wish it were. I also wish that I didn’t watch parents tell their kids that only Fox was a trustworthy news source. Or the inverse. This is part of the reality of this country, whether we like it or not. And I’m trying to grapple with the array of dynamics that happen in the over 125,000 schools in this country. Part of what is challenging about talking in an environment like SXSW-Edu is that it’s comprised of a self-selected group of educators. …

The below original text was the basis for Data & Society Founder and President danah boyd’s March 2018 SXSW Edu keynote,“What Hath We Wrought?” — Ed.

Growing up, I took certain truths to be self evident. Democracy is good. War is bad. And of course, all men are created equal.

My mother was a teacher who encouraged me to question everything. But I quickly learned that some questions were taboo. Is democracy inherently good? Is the military ethical? Does God exist?

I loved pushing people’s buttons with these philosophical questions, but they weren’t nearly as existentially destabilizing as the moments in my life in which my experiences didn’t line up with frames that were sacred cows in my community. Police were revered, so my boss didn’t believe me when I told him that cops were forcing me to give them free food, which is why there was food missing. Pastors were moral authorities and so our pastor’s infidelities were not to be discussed, at least not among us youth. Forgiveness is a beautiful thing, but hypocrisy is destabilizing. Nothing can radicalize someone more than feeling like you’re being lied to. …

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Flickr: Rosa Mendoza

A friend of mine worked for an online dating company whose audience was predominantly hetero 30-somethings. At some point, they realized that a large number of the “female” accounts were actually bait for porn sites and 1–900 numbers. I don’t remember if users complained or if they found it themselves, but they concluded that they needed to get rid of these fake profiles. So they did.

And then their numbers started dropping. And dropping. And dropping.

Trying to understand why, researchers were sent in. What they learned was that hot men were attracted to the site because there were women that they felt were out of their league. Most of these hot men didn’t really aim for these ultra-hot women, because they felt like they would be inaccessible, but they were happy to talk with women who they saw as being one rung down (as in actual hot women). These hot women, meanwhile, were excited to have these hot men (who they saw as equals) on the site. These also felt that, since there were women hotter than them, that this was a site for them. When they removed the fakes, the hot men felt the site was no longer for them. They disappeared. And then so did the hot women. Etc. The weirdest part? …

Here are two things you could do

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Flickr: Jan Hoffman

Ever since key Apple investors challenged the company to address kids’ phone addiction, I’ve gotten a stream of calls asking me to comment on the topic. Mostly, I want to scream. I wrote extensively about the unhelpful narrative of “addiction” in my book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens. At the time, the primary concern was social media. Today, it’s the phone, but the same story still stands: young people are using technology to communicate with their friends non-stop at a point in their life when everything is about sociality and understanding your place in the social world.

As much as I want to yell at all of the parents around me to chill out, I’m painfully and acutely aware of how ineffective this is. Parents don’t like to see that they’re part of the problem or that their efforts to protect and help their children might backfire. …


danah boyd

researcher of technology & society | Microsoft Research, Data & Society, NYU |

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