Archive for the 'Research' Category

Science-a-thon 2017

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Today is the first-ever Science-a-thon! Started by my graduate school pal Tracey Holloway, it’s a day to raise awareness of and funds for science. I copy her description here:

From Tracey Holloway:

Hi All –

You’ve probably heard about the study that over 80% of American’s can’t accurately name a living scientist — and my guess is that the numbers are similar when asking “what do scientists actually do?” Of course, we do lots of things – work in labs, go out in the field, teach classes, program computers – but the public doesn’t get to see this.

As a large-scale public outreach initiative, and the first major fundraiser for the Earth Science Women’s Network (ESWN), we’re launching Science-A-Thon. … an international “day of science” where participants share 12 photos over 12 hours of their day. From morning coffee through the ups and downs of a day in the life of a scientists (any scientist, any field of STEM, students, professionals – all are welcome).

We already have 100 scientists signed on – lots of earth scientists of course, but also cancer biologists, computer scientists, and more. Men and women, from 10 different countries so far. We’d love to have you! Just go to to sign up. (And you’ll get a great “I love science” t-shirt)

If you’re not up for showcasing your own day, you can support ESWN and Science-A-Thon by sponsoring your favorite scientists (like me!)

You can donate here, if you are so inclined, any amount is appreciated.

Even if you’re not interested in donating to the cause, I highly recommend checking out the #scienceathon hashtag on Twitter as it’s a great way to get a sense of what a scientist’s day looks like.

Below are my twelve images of the day.

Image 1/12

This is the main University of Zurich building that I passed with the tram this morning on my way to my office. (For those who’ve been reading CT for a while, yes, this is a change, I moved institutions and countries last year.)

Image 2/12

More here

Image 3/12

The occasional break is necessary to stay productive. My preferred quick distraction is Ingress. Fortunately, my office sits on a portal (or if I’m lucky, three) so it’s an easy quick break before diving back into work. (For those who speak Pokemon Go better, that translates to two Pokestops.)

Image 4/12

Research is rarely a solitary activity. Here I am meeting with one of my postdocs, Amanda Hunsaker, about researching older adults and Internet use. The beautiful plant in the corner is courtesy of a UZH program that includes someone coming and watering/dusting off/taking care of this marvel.

Image 5/12

I find that a good desktop setup is important for staying on task, this works well for me.

Image 6/12

Lots of research happens through group meetings, this one an advisory board meeting conference call for an important CDC-supported project.

Image 7/12

Touching base with my other postdoc, Marina Micheli, in preparation for a longer meeting tomorrow.

Image 8/12

Went for a walk in the office neighborhood. This piece is next to my building. From one side, it looks like an abandoned log, from the other you realize it’s public art. I’m not sure I would have ever noticed it were it not for the fact that it is a portal in Ingress.

Image 9/12

Science requires training future generations of researchers. Teaching courses, mentoring through research, and in this case grading their papers are ways I contribute to the cause.

Image 10/12

I’m old school when it comes to reading books, paper copies please.

Image 11/12

On my way home, I stopped at one of Zurich’s 1,200 fountains. That is, in fact, the number of fountains in the city. There are many that are quite beautiful. Zurich has the most fountains of any city in the world.

Image 12/12

As my last picture of the day, I share with you a picture of my screen with one of my Instagram accounts, the one with one sky photo a day. I started this photo project over a year ago (I’m on day 452 to be precise). Every day I take a photo of the sky. The sky can be so beautiful and so different. I thought it was worth a moment to pause and take it in every day.

A fresh look at the left and right political blogospheres

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

It’s exciting to see a paper about blogs across the political spectrum that goes beyond the by-now rather common practice of looking at who talks to whom among bloggers (e.g., whether there are any cross-ideological conversations going on). Yochai Benkler, Aaron Shaw and Victoria Stodden of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society have just released “A Tale of Two Blogospheres: Discursive Practices on the Left and Right” showing some significant differences in types of blog platforms used (with different affordances), co-authorships and levels of participation among blogs of different political persuasions. Here is one example of specific findings (based on analyses of 155 top political blogs):

Over 40% of blogs on the left adopt platforms with enhanced user participation features. Only about 13% of blogs on the right do so. While there is substantial overlap, and comments of some level of visibility are used in the vast majority of blogs on both sides of the political divide, the left adopts enabling technologies that make user-generated diaries and blogs more central to the site to a significantly greater degree than does the right. (p. 22.)

There are lots of other interesting results in the paper so I highly recommend reading it [pdf].
It’s very clearly written and summarizes related literature well so in case this is not an area you’ve been following, this is a good piece with which to start to familiarize yourself with related debates. If it is an area that you’ve been following then this is a must-read to see some truly original contributions to the literature.

For more on this elsewhere, Ari Melber has an interview with Yochai Benkler on this research in The Nation.

Facebook and grades revisited aka peer-reviewed publication at record speed

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

Facebook thread illustrationFollowing up on my blog post from a few weeks ago, a couple of colleagues and I have published a formal response to the media frenzy covering the study that claimed a relationship between Facebook use and lower grades.

Back when the story broke, most media outlets ran with the claims made in the original press release or even took it to a next step by suggesting a causal relationship between Facebook use and lower grades. Only a few outlets took care in reporting, among them the Chronicle of Higher Education. In the last few days, the BBC has had a piece considering the various perspectives.

By the way, this is the quickest turn-around I’ve ever experienced with an academic publication. Below the fold is a bit more describing how it came about. Read the rest of this entry »

ZOMG! Facebook use and student grades

Monday, April 13th, 2009

It started last night: links showing up on Twitter and elsewhere to articles about how Facebook users do worse in school. It’s not hard for people then to jump quickly to the conclusion that Facebook use results in worse grades (e.g., Study: Facebook Hurts Grades). Unfortunately, I know of no data set out there that could help us answer that question. The few people who have relevant data sets could establish correlation at best. I myself have not found such a connection in my data, but let’s back up a bit.

Reading the press coverage about this recent study from a researcher at Ohio State and one at Ohio Dominican University, it’s difficult to get enough information to offer a careful critique. All we’re told is that the findings concern “219 U.S. undergraduates and graduates“, but no idea as to how they were sampled or how the survey was administered. Additionally, there is no detail given in these articles as to how either Facebook use or grades were measured. Is this good and responsible reporting? Hardly.

Doing a search on the AERA’s annual meeting Web site for study author Aryn Karpinski brings up the abstract of the paper “A Description of Facebook Use and Academic Performance Among Undergraduate and Graduate Students”. It’s reasonable to assume that this is the study upon which the press coverage is based as the articles mention AERA. The abstract for a poster to be presented this Thursday reveals a bit more information about the study than the press coverage: a survey was administered to 71 undergraduate and 43 graduate students. It’s not clear how that adds up to 219 respondents as per the press coverage. Perhaps this is the wrong abstract, but I don’t see anything else that would fit the description better. Perhaps the study has been updated since the abstract was initially submitted. Nonetheless, this doesn’t help with transparency about the project.

The abstract suggests that the study is comparing the GPA of users vs non-users without regard to amount of time spent online. Comments by Karpinski in the press coverage, however, suggest measures of amount of time spent on the site: “Our study shows people who spend more time on Facebook spend less time studying.” Of course, it wouldn’t be the first time a researcher gets misquoted in the press so not clear if the researcher really said this (or perhaps the abstract doesn’t include everything that’s covered in the piece). Alternatively, “more time” here is simply meant to refer to “any time at all”, not exactly how I’d talk about having “any use” data, but I guess technically any use is more than no use. Point being, we’re not any closer to understanding the study’s scope and the extent to which we should put much faith in its findings.

Having done related work, I didn’t recall any such relationship between Facebook use and grades so I went back to my data set this morning to check. Indeed, based on data about 1,060 first-year students at the University of Illinois, Chicago collected on a paper-pencil survey in Winter, 2007 (data set described in detail here), I find no relationship between whether someone uses Facebook and self-reported GPA (collected in categories, not in specific grade-point average terms). Additionally, I also have data on number of times the respondent used a social networking site the day before taking the survey and there is no correlation between that measure and grades either.

It is also worth noting that an important finding of my study was how Facebook use is not randomly distributed among participants (e.g., parental education, race, ethnicity predicted adoption) so it’s helpful to look at the relationship of various factors such as grades (or whatever else) to Facebook usage while controlling for other variables.

There are lots of reasons why one may or may not find a relationship between Facebook use and grades. I won’t get into that here, it could make for a very long essay. The point of this post is mainly to suggest a careful approach to what we see in the press and at conferences.

A caveat: I woke up this morning with a million immediate things to do and happy that I’d finally get to do them. Then I realized this story had kept spreading since last night and some people asked me to blog about it. I may have missed some relevant resources in my search for background material and others may show up after I post this. Feel free to post updates below with relevant information.

Random email of the week

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

I get contacted fairly often by students at other institutions to help them with their assignments. The message I received yesterday was unlike the usual request though:

Hello Eszter,
my name is [Firstname Lastname]
I’m a [nationality] student in [Country]
It will be really great if you could help me !
Im doing a work about your paper “Second Level Digital Differences in people’s online skills ”
I need to criticism your method of research and your conclusion and I really don’t know how to start..

Waiting for your answer , Thank you very much ….


Since I got this on April 1st, I wasn’t sure if it was a joke, but somehow I don’t think so. (BTW, the title of the paper is misquoted.)

Survey data on Internet uses

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

New Pew Internet & American Life site

The Pew Internet & American Life Project (PIP), a very important source on data about Americans’ Internet uses, has completely revamped its Web site. Among other things, it is now even easier to download their data than before. These are made available in SPSS format only. I use StatTransfer in such cases (for conversion to Stata), any other tools that have worked well for folks?

They also have a handy tool for searching their data base of questions. We’ve been working on something similar in my lab for a bunch of Internet-related surveys although stopped the process due to lack of funding. Pew was smart to work with the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at UCONN on this since they have so much experience in this domain. Perhaps worthy of note is the fact that a search on the same term on the Roper and the PIP sites does not yield the same results. While some Pew data seem to be available through the Roper site, these seem to originate from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and not from PIP. That’s something to keep in mind when looking for Internet-related data.

For those not interested in accessing the raw data directly, PIP’s full reports continue to be easily available by topic on the site as are some stand-alone figures from these. Overall, the amount of material PIP is making easily available is a wonderful resource so many thanks to the great folks there!

The real world

Friday, December 19th, 2008

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to go to DC and meet with some people on the Presidential Transition Team. I got to talk about my research on Internet uses and skills with people who seemed genuinely interested in what we know about this topic and how it might apply to future initiatives. It was an exciting experience.

It is great to see an administration again that cares about information technologies (see related comments in Obama’s weekly address from two weeks ago). However, it’s important to realize that achieving a knowledgeable Internet citizenry is not simply a technological problem and thus cannot be resolved by a solely technical solution. There is plenty of research now that shows how mere access to the Internet does not level the playing field when it comes to achieving universal Internet literacy. Rather, coupling technical access with education about uses is an important part of the puzzle. Of course, even if one accepts all this, solutions are far from obvious. I got lots of really good questions from the people in the room and was thrilled by the conversation.

Afterward, walking down the hall, I saw on the doors the names of lots of people who have been in the news recently. It’s wonderful and encouraging to see the number of smart and knowledgeable people on this team.

My department is hiring!

Monday, October 20th, 2008

My department has several positions and given the interdisciplinary nature of our program (hires from the past 5 years have PhDs representing 6-7 fields), it’s important that we distribute the ad widely so that we reach people from multiple disciplines. Thus the posting on EBlog (i.e., no, we can’t just advertise on a couple of standard academic mailing lists as we’d miss potentially relevant candidates). Although I’m on leave and so not involved with the day-to-day logistics of the search, I’m happy to answer questions about the program. (Related, see my post earlier this year on CVs for the academic job market.)

Tenure-Track & Open Rank Positions in Media, Technology, and Society
@ Northwestern University

The Department of Communication Studies at Northwestern University’s School of Communication seeks to hire three tenure-track appointments beginning September 1, 2009. Two positions will be at the level of assistant professor, and one will be open as to rank.

We are looking for candidates who can work in a strong interdisciplinary program and advance a vital area of research. Possible areas of expertise include but are not limited to: media industries, institutions, publics, and policy; digital media; media and social networks; technology, work, and organizations; computer-mediated communication, human-computer interaction, global media, information infrastructures, and history of communication and information technologies.

The Department of Communication Studies supports a popular undergraduate major and graduate programs in Media, Technology, and Society, Interaction and Social Influence, and Rhetoric and Public Culture. Scholarship includes leading work on new media, technology and society, social networks, and the cultural determination of the public sphere. Through special resources for research support and scholarly event programming, the department is able to offer rich opportunities for scholarly development.

Northwestern University is an equal opportunity, affirmative action educator and employer. Women and minorities are encouraged to apply. Hiring is contingent on eligibility to work in the United States.

Applications should be sent to Professor Noshir Contractor, Chair, MTS Search Committee, Department of Communication Studies, Northwestern University, 2240 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208-3545. Applications should include a CV, evidence of teaching effectiveness, and three letters of recommendation.

Initial review of applications will begin on October 31, 2008, with continual reviews of subsequently-received applications until all positions are filled or a final review deadline of December 31, 2008 is reached.

At Berkman

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

I’m on leave this year as a Fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Berkman is an amazing community of people working on important and exciting projects concerning the social and policy aspects of the Internet. In just three weeks of affiliation, I’ve already participated in countless wonderful conversations with people who share my passion for studying digital media and have learned lots about related issues. My main goal for the year is to write a book on Internet use and social inequality. My biggest challenge will be staying focused on that task instead of starting up numerous collaborations with my colleagues given the many areas of overlap in our interests.

Berkman sponsors some great events that are open to the public. This Tuesday evening will be one such event: a talk and reception celebrating the recent release of the book Born Digital by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser. I’m still working on a separate post about the book, but wanted to post a note now given the date of the event. This will be a great opportunity to meet lots of people affiliated with the Digital Natives project upon which the book is based.

Using Facebook vs MySpace

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

My most recent research article looks at predictors of social network site (SNS) usage among a group of first-year college students. First, I look at whether respondents use any social network sites and then examine predictors by specific site usage (focusing on Facebook, MySpace, Xanga and Friendster based on popularity). Before asking about usage, I asked about having heard of these sites and all but one person reported knowledge of at least one SNS so lack of familiarity of these services does not explain non-adoption. The analyses are based on a representative sample of 1,060 first-year students at the University of Illinois, Chicago surveyed earlier this year. This is an especially diverse campus concerning ethnic diversity. (See the paper for more details about the data and methods.)

Methodologically speaking, I find that it is worth disaggregating the general concept of social network site usage, because analyses looking at usage on the aggregate mask predictors of specific site use.

Of particular interest seem to be Facebook and MySpace since they are the most popular with this group. About three quarters of students use the former and over half use the latter in the sample.

I find statistically significant differences by race, ethnicity, parental education (a proxy for socioeconomic status) and living situation (whether a student lives with his or her parents or not) concerning the adoption of Facebook and MySpace. No point in reprinting the entire findings section here, so just quickly a few results: (1) Hispanic students are considerably more likely to be MySpace users and less likely to be Facebook users than others; (2) Asian and Asian American students are more likely to be Xanga and Friendster users and less likely to spend time on MySpace than others; (3) students whose parents have less than a high school education are more likely to be MySpace users, students whose parents have a graduate degree are considerably less likely to be MySpace users and students whose parents have a college education are more likely to be Facebook users than others; (4) students who live with their parents are considerably less likely to be Facebook users (no such difference for the other sites) than those in other living situations; (5) students who have Internet access at a friend of family member’s house – a measure of autonomy of use – are more likely to be users of both Facebook and MySpace than those who don’t. These findings hold when controlling for other factors such as age, gender and amount of time spent online (see Table 6). The results reinforce observations made by danah boyd over the summer based on her qualitative studies of high school students’ SNS uses.

Some people’s first reaction to all this is to figure out what it is about the aesthetic differences between these sites that might attract different types of people to them. Such an approach to the issue seems to me to be misplaced. While Facebook, MySpace and other SNSs may be different in looks, they are structurally different and I suspect that has a lot to do with who chooses to use which one.

Consider the history of Facebook and the restrictions it put on who could join during the first couple of years of the service. Initially, it was only open to Harvard undergraduates. Then it expanded to college students at a few select schools eventually including numerous higher educational institutions. Next came high schoolers and then some corporate networks. Finally, at the end of 2006 anyone could join. In contrast, MySpace was much more open to people from different backgrounds and thus social networks.

Obviously, the participants in my study are all at a university so would’ve been eligible to join Facebok even if the restrictions on college student status had been kept. However, some of the friends in their networks may not have had this option a year earlier. Research has shown that people use Facebook especially to keep in touch with their existing networks rather than to meet new people. This makes sense since the site – another structural feature – organizes people and one’s connections according to one’s existing offline networks. Again, especially in the beginning, what mattered most was a user’s school affiliation. If your friends who graduated from high school a year or two ago didn’t go to college then they probably didn’t join Facebook so if you want to keep in touch with them, that’s not the network where you’ll be able to do it best.

Of course, this doesn’t explain all issues. For example, why the differences in MySpace use? Perhaps it has to do with the number of social network sites any one person cares to use actively. I am working on another paper where I look at intensity of SNS use and I classify people as various types depending on sites used and frequency of use. I’m not far enough along in that project to comment yet, however.

My main point in this post is that the issues are likely more related to the composition of people’s offline networks and the structure of these sites rather than people’s aesthetic preferences. If anyone knows of research on the latter especially concerning Web site use or SNS use in particular, I’d be curious to hear details.

Why does any of this matter? It relates to discussions about the Internet’s potential to create opportunities for people. If people’s online networks mirror their offline networks and constraints placed on people in their everyday lives are reflected in their online interactions then that means that there is a limit – for some more than others – to what different people can get out of their online activities and interactions.

My paper appears in a special theme section of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication edited by danah boyd and Nicole Ellison on SNS. It includes several other related pieces including a helpful introduction on Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship by the editors.

Video of talk at the Berkman Center

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

As I mentioned earlier, I gave a talk at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society the other day. The folks at Berkman have kindly posted a video of the talk and discussion. Some interesting issues came up in the Q&A leading to an engaging conversation so I recommend that part in particular. (The talk itself was relatively short, less than 25 minutes, followed by over half an hour of discussion.)

Talk at Berkman

Monday, October 29th, 2007

I’m speaking in the Berkman Center Luncheon Series this Tuesday. (The Berkman Center for Internet & Society is based at Harvard Law School and is home to several exciting projects on IT and policy.) I will present recent findings from survey data on young adults’ digital media uses. The event will be webcast, which may be of interest to those who’d like to hear the talk, but are not in the Boston area.

Upcoming travel

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

I’ll be on the road in the next few weeks, let me know if our paths might cross:

* Vancouver, BC – Association of Internet Researchers annual meeting
* Milwaukee, WI – Research Symposium on Mobility and Social Networks in Information Behavior (sponsored by SIG USE of ASIST)
* Ann Arbor, MI – Talk in the Communication Studies Department at the University of Michigan
* Cambridge, MA – Talk at the Berkman Center, Harvard Law School

Once all that is over, things might even pick up around here.

Hiring, again

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

Work around here is expanding and so I’m hiring again, this time with my colleague Peter Miller. See ad below. Please forward to people who may be interested. Thanks!

Job Opportunity
Research Associate, Youth Digital Media Use Survey Project
Northwestern University

The Youth Digital Media Use Survey Project at Northwestern University is looking for a Research Associate for a project funded by the MacArthur Foundation. The Research Associate will work closely with Professors Eszter Hargittai and Peter Miller to collect and archive information on surveys of youth digital media use. In addition, the Associate will organize and document several in-person and on-line meetings of youth digital media researchers. The end product of the project, which the Research Associate will help to draft, is a report making recommendations to the MacArthur Foundation on survey design options for the study of youth digital media use.

*Responsibilities: Collect and archive published and “grey” literature on youth digital media use; collect and archive information on survey projects that have been or could be employed for the study of youth digital media use; work with the principal investigators, organize and document several meetings of researchers in this field; help to synthesize the information from these various sources for a project report. Depending on skills and interests, serve as a co-author on scholarly articles resulting from the project.

*Qualifications: Master’s degree in social science (e.g., communication, sociology, political science, economics, psychology, human development, learning sciences, library and information science); 1-3 years of work experience; strong organizational skills; strong written and verbal communication skills; excellent interpersonal skills; strong problem solving and analytical skills; ability to work in a professional manner as both a self-starter and a team member; intermediate-advanced skills in Microsoft Office (particularly Word and Excel); and intermediate-advanced skills in using Web interfaces.

*Desired Qualifications: Terminal degree (Ph.D., Ed.D., J.D.) in quantitative social science with experience in survey research; project management experience; archival experience; advanced skills in Microsoft Office (particularly Word and Excel); experience with analysis of quantitative data, especially in the use of Stata.

*Salary: $3,125 per month for 30 hours/week.

*The position starts immediately and will last eight months.

*Northwestern University is an EEO/AA employer.

*Please send cover letter, resume and reference contact information to

Jason Gallo, Project Coordinator (Web Use Project) at

Funny with a serious twist

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

Chris Uggen posted this video a few days ago:

I added a link to it on my daily links list where Liz Losh saw it and then included it in a blog post “Just Say Know” discussing all sorts of parody videos and sites related to drug use including the artist-created fictional drug Web site Havidol, and this video:

These are some great parodies. Work in the field of health communication looks at the effects of health campaigns, but tends to focus on serious ones. I wonder what type of work may be going on in the domain of parody viral videos online for similar purposes.

Speaking at Wiki Wednesday this evening

Wednesday, July 11th, 2007

For those in the Bay Area, I thought I’d mention that I’ll be giving a talk at Wiki Wednesday this evening at 6pm. The topic is digital media use by youth. Feel free to come by. Also, feel free to join the group at other times in the future, these meetings are held every month.

Something’s phishy? There may be more than money at stake…

Saturday, July 7th, 2007

The term “phishing” refers to the malicious practice of trying to extract sensitive information (such as passwords) from users. Compared to numerous other Internet-related terms, “phishing” is one of the least understood ones among users. I have found this in my work as have others in theirs. Of course, it may be that people understand the concept of phishing without knowing it is called as such. It is difficult to do large-scale data collection using more elaborate methods, but I implemented some related questions on a survey recently taken by over one hundred students who were randomly sampled from a diverse group. (See the end of this post for details about the data set.)

In the context of a larger study, I showed participants three hypothetical emails and offered several options for how they might proceed (respondents could check off several actions such as “delete it”, “ignore it”, “forward to tech support with a question”, etc.). When shown an email that looked very much like the one that comes from the IT department of the university (one that would not be hard to replicate by someone with malicious intent) over half of respondents said they would “follow the instructions outlined in the email”, which included going to a Web site and entering their username and password. Even more students said that they would “click on the links in the message and follow the instructions on those pages”. Less than 15 percent checked off the option of contacting tech support with a question or reporting the email as abuse. And in the open-ended field where respondents could explain what else they might do, only one student described actions that suggested the potential problem with the email. This among the generation that is supposedly savvy about digital media. See my forthcoming paper on The Role of Expertise in Navigating Links of Influence for more on this (especially pp. 12-19.).

When I talk to my students (at a different school than where the above study was conducted) about online privacy and security issues, and ask them about the potential implications, the usual response is about financial concerns: credit card numbers stolen, money lost. However, as I try to remind them several times throughout the course, financial issues are not the only ones at stake when managing one’s identity and actions online. For example, in the realm of health and politics one can easily come up with examples of cases where third parties should not have access to our information.

And then there is reputation. I have noticed some troubling incidents on Flickr recently and wanted to write a post about these experiences to remind people about the importance of being vigilant. Don’t stop reading just because you are not a Flickr user, by the way. These same issues could occur on lots of other sites as well.

Flickr is a photo-sharing community site where people post photos and often comment on others’ images. These comments sometimes include cute little awards that let you add your photo to an invitation-only group or whatnot. Recently, I received such a comment on one of my photos and clicked on the link included within it. This led me to a login screen seemingly still within Flickr. The people behind that site did a very good job replicating Flickr. You had to be very conscious of your actions not to proceed and follow what you were being instructed to do, namely, enter your Yahoo!/Flickr username and password.

Lucky for me, I did realize that there was something phishy going on here. I was already logged into Flickr so this login request did not make sense to me. I checked the location bar of the browser, and as expected, it did not say Then I did a search for phishing on Flickr groups and confirmed that this was not something I wanted to pursue. Others had encountered similar issues and had already reported them so hopefully the admins were aware.

So what could one do with the username and password of Flickr users who were not as cautious or who simply did not realize what might be going on? First, one’s Flickr username and password is the same as one’s Yahoo! ID and password so it allows access to one’s email account and all other associated services, none of which is desirable. Within Flickr itself, it allows the malicious user to post comments on others’ photos using the account.

And that is precisely what I experienced this morning. Click here for a screen shot of a picture I posted and the comment that followed immediately after. Note that this comment came from someone who is not on my contacts list and whose account I had never seen as far as I recall. The comment on my photo of a Dublin door reads:


Someone at RAMCON said you sell nude images of children on flickr(loldee etc..) and i was just wondering(if this is true) then how much do you charge and what payment methods you accept?


There is very minimal chance that someone from a paid account would leave such a message publicly on a photo.

Searching on Flickr, I see that others are experiencing the same issue with the exact same message, but using different people’s accounts. This can be really damaging to the person whose account is used for such messages especially if this person does not realize or does not understand what is going on. Already several people have reported the person participating in that discussion thread accusing him of having left at least three such messages.

So I thought a reminder was in order: before entering your username and password anywhere, be sure to check that you are on the Web site you think you are on, look at the address of the Web site in the browser and if it is not the one you expected then beware.

[*] Details about the data set: In February-March, we administered a paper-pencil survey to students in the one class at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) that is required of all students thus posing no selection bias as to who was in the sampling frame from the university. UIC is one of the most ethnically diverse research university campuses in the US. We have a 98% response rate of the 85 course sections, and an 82% response rate of all students enrolled in the class. The survey data about understanding the term “phishing” represents the responses of 1,236 participants. We used stratified sampling (on gender and user skill) for the follow-up observational study (March-May, 2007) that also included a short additional survey. We achieved a 58% response rate on that portion of the study with 103 students participating.

Thanks to the MacArthur Foundation for supporting this work.

If I’d only known…

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

I am working on the Introduction to an edited volume on the nitty-gritty behind-the-scenes work involved in empirical social science research (to be published by The University of Michigan Press in 2008). While each chapter in the book gets into considerable detail about how to approach various types of projects (from sampling online populations to interviewing hard-to-access groups, from collecting biomarkers to compiling cross-national quantitative data sets), I want to address more general issues in the introductory chapter.

One of the topics I would like to discuss concerns larger-level lessons learned after conducting such projects. The motivation behind the entire volume is that unprecedented things happen no matter the quality and detail of preparation, but even issues that can be anticipated are rarely passed along to researchers new to a type of method. The volume tries to rectify this.

I am curious, what are your biggest lessons learned? If you had to pick one or two (or three or four) things you really wish you had known before you had embarked on a project, what are they? I am happy to hear about any type of issue from learning more about a collaborator’s qualifications or interests, to leaving more time for cleaning data, from type of back-up method to unprecedented issues with respondents. If you don’t feel comfortable posting here, please email me off-blog. Thanks!

Do you have email filters set up for some friends?

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

John Tierney has a piece in the NYTimes about Dan Ryan‘s work concerning the sociology of notification and information dissemination among friends and acquaintances (based on Dan’s recent article in Sociological Theory).

I saw Dan give a talk on this recently and it’s a really fun and interesting topic. His work makes you think about things like why/when it is and is not appropriate to use cc vs bcc on emails, the proper order in which we should notify various people in our networks about certain types of updates, what medium is suitable for what types of material, etc.

The NYTimes piece specifically mentions the idea of setting up email filters for some friends. I must admit that I have filters set up for all sorts of people. I tend to do it by type of person (as in type of network) more so than by specific individual, although the latter idea isn’t foreign to me either.

As someone who studies savvy with IT, I consider the thoughtful use of email filters an important part of skill in how we interact with IT. Email filters are increasingly important for being able to manage the amount of material that comes our way via that particular medium.

[Thanks to Steve Mintz for alerting me to this piece.]

UPDATE: I forgot to post a link to Dan’s blog about the Sociology of Information. Check it out for more goodies.

Social aspects of search engines

Friday, May 18th, 2007

For your weekend reading pleasure: the special theme section of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication I edited on The Social, Political, Economic, and Cultural Dimensions of Search Engines is out. The Introduction gives you the motivation for this collection and a summary of the pieces. From the Abstract:

Search engines are some of the most popular destinations on the Web—understandably so, given the vast amounts of information available to users and the need for help in sifting through online content. While the results of significant technical achievements, search engines are also embedded in social processes and institutions that influence how they function and how they are used. This special theme section of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication explores these non-technical aspects of search engines and their uses.