Social Media Collective

The mission of the SMC is first and foremost to bring critical and analytical lenses to contemporary sociotechnical systems, particularly around media, expertise, labor, and publics. We aim to contribute to the academic fields concerned with the sociological dimensions of new media and new forms of work. We also aim to insist that these questions be part of the broader research agenda of MSR and the efforts of the company. But our mission is also in mentorship: we continue to train academic researchers in how to ask pointed but subtle questions about the contemporary sociotechnical environment. Studying the dynamics of power in a contemporary social media environment requires asking critical questions about the world as it is organized by powerful Silicon Valley actors; but those questions are more effective with a deep, ethnographic understanding of how industry actors actually work. Conducting our kind of research inside of an industrial research environment (one with academic freedom and a commitment to hard questions), strengthens not only our own scholarship, but that of the interns and postdocs who leave here with a more nuanced understanding of how certain assumptions and ideologies take root among complex, institutional endeavors.

The three permanent members of the SMC in MSR New England — Nancy Baym, Mary Gray, and Tarleton Gillespie — share disciplinary foundations, methodological orientations, and an underlying set of critical questions. We are fundamentally concerned with the way that people’s sociality, communication, and flourishing are deeply and unavoidably mediated by sociotechnical systems not of their own making. Our work focuses on three dimensions of these problems. Nancy Baym, with her study of musicians and fans, online communities, and the changing dynamics of remote work, focuses on the way that personal relationships and professional collaborations are mediated by sociotechnical systems. Mary Gray, in her work on crowd labor, queer activism, and the ethics of data research, focuses on the way power dynamics are mediated by sociotechnical systems. Tarleton Gillespie, in his work on algorithmic media, platform governance, and content moderation, focuses on the way public discourse is mediated by sociotechnical systems.