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Tech Talent Tuesday - danah boyd

Elana Hershman Oct 16, 2023

From small-town Pennsylvania to leading roles at Microsoft, founding the Data & Society Research Institute, and teaching at Georgetown and NYU, danah boyd (yes, she prefers it lowercase) is a trailblazer in technology and social media scholarship. Her central focus lies in illuminating the nuanced relationship between society and technology, particularly in matters of bias and inequality.

Early Life and Online Discoveries 

Growing up queer in Altoona and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, danah struggled to find her place in her conservative and religious surroundings. Despite her initial reservations about computers, she ultimately found solace and community in online forums, reveling in their ability to connect people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. This early exposure to online interactions would go on to shape her academic and professional trajectory.

Despite her social challenges in high school, danah excelled academically, eventually attending Brown University and delving into computer science. Her fascination with technology deepened during her master's studies at MIT, where she dissected social media dynamics in the Sociable Media Group. 

danah’s Influential Research

In 2008, she earned her Ph.D. from U.C. Berkeley, specializing in the social dynamics of American teenagers on major networking sites. During her graduate studies, she embarked on a three-year ethnographic project, employing multiple research methods to explore youths' use of technologies. This research yielded influential publications, including her seminal article: "Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites" and the co-authored book, Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media.

During that time, danah also published ground-breaking research uncovering distinct demographic patterns in youth's use of Facebook and MySpace in "Race After the Internet." Her findings unveiled Facebook's predominant use by white, middle-to-upper class teenagers, while MySpace attracted lower-class black teenagers. danah also examined the concept of "white flight" in the digital space, where privileged teens migrated from MySpace to Facebook due to parental concerns. She highlighted how these trends reinforced social hierarchies, shaping the platforms' reputations over time. By January 2009, she had joined Microsoft Research New England as a Social Media Researcher.

Shaping the Discourse on the Intersections of Technology and Society

In 2013, danah founded the Data & Society Research Institute, dedicated to navigating the social, ethical, legal, technical, and policy issues arising from data-centric technology. Serving as president until 2022, she now provides advisory expertise, shaping the discourse on technology's societal implications.

danah has also authored numerous acclaimed publications, including her Ph.D. dissertation, "Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics", her 2014 book: It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, and her co-authored 2015 book: Participatory Culture in a Networked Era. These publications reflect her dedication to exploring the intricate relationship between technology and society, particularly for young individuals in the digital age.

Today, she is a Partner Researcher at Microsoft Research and a visiting professor at Georgetown University and NYU. Her work underscores the importance of nuanced conversations around equity and bias in the digital age. 

Impact and Advocacy Beyond Academia

danah’s insights into youth, technology, and identity have earned her accolades from Forbes, Fast Company, the American Sociological Association, and the World Economic Forum, to name a few. Notably, she was named the smartest academic in the technology field by Fortune in 2010 and hailed as “the reigning expert on how young people use the Internet.”

However, danah’s impact resonates not only in research but also in the lives she touches through her advocacy and mentorship. She plays a pivotal role as a founding board member of Crisis Text Line, offering crucial support to those in need. She is also a former Trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian and a past Director of the Social Science Research Council. Additionally, for half a decade, she dedicated her efforts to V-Day, a global organization combating violence against women and girls. 

In an ever-evolving digital landscape, danah boyd remains at the forefront, challenging norms and advancing our understanding of technology's profound impact on society.  

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