Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information through Social Media

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Networked social media provide infrastructure that allows information
to flow far and wide. Politicians, celebrities, and corporations are
jumping in with the hopes that they can get their message out.
Sometimes messages do get widespread attention, but people complain
that these are the “wrong” messages – the inaccurate, the humiliating,
the saccharine. Understanding how information flows through networked
technologies requires moving away from the potential of the
infrastructure and focusing on the logic of the network itself. What
are people’s incentives for spreading information? How and why do
they distribute content? What social and structural barriers exist
that configure how information is disseminated? And how can we
understand the flows of content in the context of everyday practices?

Photo of danah boyd

danah boyd

Microsoft Research | Data & Society

danah boyd is the founder and president of Data & Society, a research institute focused on understanding the role of data-driven technologies in society, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research, and a visiting professor in NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. danah’s research focuses on the intersection of technology, society, and policy. She is currently doing work on questions related to bias in big data and artificial intelligence, how people negotiate privacy and publicity, and the social ramifications of using data in education, criminal justice, labor, and public life. For over a decade, she examined how American youth incorporate social media into their daily practices in light of different fears and anxieties that the public has about young people’s engagement with technologies like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and texting. She has researched a plethora of teen issues, ranging from privacy to bullying, racial inequality, and sexual identity. Her early findings were published in Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media. Her 2014 monograph, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, has received widespread praise from scholars, parents, and journalists and has been translated into seven languages. This work was funded by both the MacArthur Foundation and Microsoft Research. Her most recent collaborative book project, Participatory Culture in a Networked Era, with Mimi Ito and Henry Jenkins, reflects on how digital participation has shaped different parts of society. Her work has been profiled by numerous publications, including the New York Times, Fast Company, the Boston Globe, and Forbes, and published in a wide range of scholarly venues.

In 2010, danah won the CITASA Award for Public Sociology. The Financial Times dubbed her “the high priestess of internet friendship,” Fortune magazine identified her as the smartest academic in tech, and Technology Review named her one of 2010’s young innovators under 35. danah was a 2011 Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is a director of both Crisis Text Line and the Social Science Research Council and a trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian. She sits on advisory boards for Electronic Privacy Information Center, Brown University’s Department of Computer Science, and the School of Information at the University of Michigan. She was a commissioner on the 2008–2009 Knight Commission on Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy. From 2009 to 2013, danah served on the World Economic Forum’s Social Media Global Agenda Council. At the Berkman Center, she codirected the Internet Safety Technical Task Force in 2008 with John Palfrey and Dena Sacco to work with companies and nonprofits to identify potential technical solutions for keeping children safe online. More recently, she codirected the Youth Media and Policy Working Group with John Palfrey and Urs Gasse, funded by the MacArthur Foundation from 2009 to 2011. In 2012, she and John Palfrey also helped the Born This Way Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation develop a research strategy to help empower youth to address meanness and cruelty. She is one of the hosts of the annual Data & Civil Rights Conference. Since 2015, she has also served on the US Commerce Department’s Data Advisory Council. She also created and managed a large online community for V-Day, a nonprofit organization working to end violence against women and girls worldwide. She has advised numerous other companies, sits on corporate, education, conference, and nonprofit advisory boards, and regularly speaks at a wide variety of conferences and events. danah holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Brown University (under Andy van Dam), a master’s degree in sociable media from the MIT Media Lab (under Judith Donath), and a PhD in information from the University of California, Berkeley (under Peter Lyman and Mimi Ito). She has worked as an ethnographer and social media researcher for various corporations, including Intel,, Google, and Yahoo. She blogs at and tweets as @zephoria.

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Picture of Tim O'Brien
Tim O'Brien
11/30/2009 8:37am EST

Good presentation.

Picture of Alexandra Salomon
Alexandra Salomon
11/20/2009 7:54am EST

Really bright and insightful presentation. Thanks a million for the transcript!

Picture of John Vasko
John Vasko
11/19/2009 1:13pm EST

This was great content and I will learn much from the transcript that Danah posted.

Picture of Gustavo Sanchez
Gustavo Sanchez
11/18/2009 8:41pm EST

thanks for the script, it was great content!

Picture of Michael Turro
Michael Turro
11/18/2009 5:44am EST

danah posted a rough transcript on her site:

Picture of Shirley Bailes
Shirley Bailes
11/17/2009 11:04am EST

@jamin, we are trying to get the slides from danah. stay tuned.

Picture of Benjamin Ellis
Benjamin Ellis
11/17/2009 10:12am EST

It was a great talk, but very fast! Is there a transcript somewhere?

Picture of Mark J. Levitt
Mark J. Levitt
11/02/2009 3:49pm EST

this will be a great keynote, i trust. danah’s talks and essays are always insightful for anyone interested in the sociology underlying social media.

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