Gabriel Kim Undergraduate Thesis Portfolio

Kim, Gabriel, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Laugelli, Benjamin, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Morrison, Briana, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia

The focus of my capstone was on developing a social media framework for mitigating online incivility, whereas the focus of my STS research was on explaining the public reception of the atomic bomb. The two works are rather dissimilar; however, they do share a concern for how individuals’ perception of a given technology affects how they interact with it. In my capstone, this concern surfaced late in the project when I realized that how users perceived my framework would impact the success of any social media platforms developed using my methodologies. Due to time constraints, I was unable to fully explore this issue, which is why I took it up in my STS research via a study of a controversial piece of technology: the atomic bomb.

To give some more background, the focus of my capstone was the development of a framework consisting of three major components: (1) a user reporting system, (2) an incivility detection module, and (3) a democratic distributed moderator hierarchy. The purpose of the reporting system was to identify and fine uncivil parties to dissuade such individuals from disrespectful behavior. The incivility detection module I included in my design to avoid the formation of echo chambers and biased moderator selection. The last element of my design was aimed at democratizing the role of moderatorships as well as restricting their power. At the time, I thought that each of these elements had the potential to greatly mitigate online incivility; however, perhaps a bit too late, I realized that public perception towards my framework would be crucial to its adoption. After all, most users I realized would probably be uncomfortable with the idea of fining disrespectful online behavior. They would have to be convinced of the idea.

While I was unable to explore this part of my project further in my report, I did get a chance to revisit it in my STS work. There I focused on analyzing the American public’s response to the atomic strikes conducted on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Since the goal of my research was to deepen my understanding of public responses to technology, I ended up using Martijntje Smits’ monster theory to frame my analysis so that I could study the ways in which individuals’ reactions to a given technology are shaped by their expectations of what that technology should be like given the cultural categories it seems to inhabit. In applying this mode of analysis, I came to the conclusion that the polarized response to the atomic bomb was, in part, due to the technology’s unique fusion of the cultural categories of “culture” and “nature.”

Through this conclusion, I was able to finally see the core issue with my design: a violation of the concepts of authoritarianism and democracy. To elaborate, the structures employed in my design function towards promoting free speech and democracy. At the same time, though, these heavy policing and fining mechanisms lend a rather authoritarian or controlling feeling to the framework, one which stands in opposition to the design’s intended purpose of facilitating civil discourse. The framework then is in tension with itself, just like the atomic bomb with its mixing of “culture” and “nature.” Now, this observation by itself is not a solution to this design problem; however, I think it will in time lead to one since I now know what is problematic about my framework. I would have never discovered this though if I had not done my STS work in tandem with my technical work, nor would I have taken up the STS work that I did if my capstone had not exposed to me the significance of public perception. Hence, it was extremely valuable for me to work on these two projects side by side.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Social Media, Online Incivility, Atomic Bomb
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