2017 #SMSociety Featured Panel: Women in Social Media – Safe and Unsafe Spaces

Saturday, July 29 • 14:00 – 15:00


Addressing the conference theme of “Social Media for Social Good or Evil”, this panel highlights work on and by women in the area of social media. Panel members address research about the experience of women online, but also – because women study more than themselves – research by women about the pros and cons of engagement online via social media. Themes address online engagement in political, gaming, and learning environments. Panel presentations address ‘social media for social good’ in the positive impact of efforts that relate to coming to know and jointly understand ‘the other’ across cultural and political differences. ‘Social media for evil’ is found in the negative treatment of women and marginalized communities online as demonstrated in online gaming and political environments. Acknowledging  the presence of both good and evil, the tensions this creates, and the hard work needed to form and reform social media spaces in the face of this duality, we hope to elicit a discussion in the service of better communication, dialogue and democratic process. As a whole, we see that the more social media dominates online interaction, the more important it is to address representation online. It is thus a ripe occasion to explore the role and extent that social media plays in creating both safe and unsafe spaces for interaction, learning, discussion, membership, and leadership in society.

The panel will be led and moderated by Caroline Haythornthwaite and Stephanie Teasley. We will present an introductory framing of the panel and the topic of Women in Social Media: Safe and Unsafe Spaces followed by short presentations by panel members Ingrid Erickson, Libby Hempfill, and Alyssa Wise. Stephanie Teasley will moderate a Q&A period consisting first of questions to panel members to address women’s experiences with social media as well as in academia or other work environments, and then opening up the Q&A session to the audience for further discussion.


Caroline Haythornthwaite is Professor, School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, with former academic positions at The University of British Columbia, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and an earlier career as a programmer and systems analyst. Her research focuses on how the Internet and information and communication technologies support work, learning and social interaction, including research on social media, e-learning and learning analytics, and online crowds and communities. https://haythorn.wordpress.com/

Stephanie Teasley is Research Professor and Director of the Learning, Education & Design Lab (LED), School of Information, University of Michigan. Her research has focuses on issues of collaboration and learning, looking specifically at how sociotechnical systems can be used to support effective collaborative processes and successful learning outcomes. As Director of the LED lab, she leads learning analytics-based research to investigate how instructional technologies and digital media are used to innovate teaching, learning, and collaboration.


Jennifer Stromer-Galley is Professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, and an affiliated faculty member with the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies, and with the Department of Political Science. She is currently President of the Association of Internet Researchers. She has been studying “social media” since before it was called that, addressing online interaction and influence in a variety of contexts, including political forums and online games.

Ingrid Erickson is Assistant Professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. She received her PhD from the Center for Work, Technology, and Organization in the Department of Management Science & Engineering at Stanford University. Her research centers on the way that mobile devices and ubiquitous digital infrastructures are influencing how we work and communicate with one another, navigate and inhabit spaces, and engage in new types of sociotechnical practices.

Libby Hemphill is Associate Professor of Communication and Information Studies and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Humanities, Illinois Institute of Technology. http://www.casmlab.org

Alyssa Friend Wise is Associate Professor of Educational Communication and Technology, in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University.

Short paper presentations include:

  • Creating Safety as a Form of Gendered Labor: The Case of Wikipedia

Ingrid Erickson

Wikipedia, like many other open, peer production systems, is largely a product of unpaid labor—famously open to all willing to contribute their time, skills, and knowledge irrespective of gender, nationality, or creed. Paradoxically, this ethos of openness and accessibility does not stand up in practice. This presentation reports on a set of interviews with women Wikipedians who report the existence of institutionalized bias and highly idealized and gender-normative expectations in the project to build the world’s largest encyclopedia. The resulting climate of ideological normativity forces women to respond by engaging in subtle forms of emotion work and affective labor. These additional layers of effort by women is a kind of unrecognized, gendered labor that women have to engage in to make Wikipedia a more safe and welcome place for their own participation.

  • Women in Gaming

Jennifer Stromer-Galley

Online gaming spaces are another environment where strong norms can develop about what is the right way to play, and what constitutes play in these semi-anonymous online worlds. This presentation reflects on the author’s experience in gamer gate, considering this against the background of online interaction norms, and the consequences for women of either adapting to or leaving these online spaces.

  • Segregation and Cohesion in Hyperlocal and Fan Communities

Libby Hemphill

In studying political and cultural commentary on social media, Libby Hemphill finds the both good and evil. Through her studies of social media use in highly geographically local networks and of more distributed fan communities, she finds social media provides a positive environment for rich conversations among queer fans about shows of great personal importance to them, as well as heated debates among geographical neighbors about the best future for their communities. These conversations demonstrate the good in social media as it brings together isolated souls, by publicly airing community concerns. Yet, the medium also includes plenty that supports the evil of social media: relentless, purposeful harassment of marginalized individuals and groups, and the segregation in online communities that results from white- and rich-first marketing and design strategies. Drawing on this work, Hemphill will discuss some of the good and evil encountered in social media use and lead us to collectively imagine how we may, together, tip the balance toward good, and how to build a feminist future for social media research.

  • Listening to Each Other, a Prerequisite for Understanding across Differences

Alyssa Wise

This presentation gives attention to the way social media have the potential to create and sustain space for broadening our perspectives, illustrated with results from the E-Listening learning research project. This work examined the generally invisible traces of how people attend to others comments’ in online discussion to identify sensitizing concepts such as informed breadth and reflective revisitation that are empirically linked to the ways people speak online in terms of responsiveness to others and providing support for the positions they take on an issue. Wise will discuss these relationships and the ways social media may be used and designed to enhance the possibilities for building understanding across differences.