Photo of Yoel Roth

Research & Writing

I received my PhD in Communication from the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. My research and teaching focused on how policy, governance, and code influence the types of communities that are able (or unable) to safely and securely form online.

A few of my publications and presentations:

2017

Y. Roth (2017), No fats, no femmes, no privacy? In P. Messaris & L. Humphreys (Eds.), Digital Media: Transformations in Human Communication (Second Edition). New York: Peter Lang. (PDF)

Racism, ageism, body shaming, and femmephobia are common tropes in user profiles on gay-targeted social networking sites. The blog Douchebags of Grindr is dedicated to the task of chronicling this perceived misbehavior, posting screenshots of offensive profiles for public view and ridicule. Do websites like Douchebags of Grindr breach the expected sociotechnical boundaries of gay social networking services, decontextualizing and resharing personal information without permission? Or do they serve a critical role in organically refining the boundaries of acceptable conduct within online gay communities? This chapter examines how personal data flows across networked platforms, suggesting that flows of personal information like Douchebags of Grindr play a critical part in allowing users to negotiate standards of behavior in networked environments. While I stress the social role played by these vernacular user practices, I offer specific sociotechnical solutions that may mitigate the reputational and privacy risks created by Douchebags of Grindr.

2016

Y. Roth (2016), Gay Data. Dissertation. University of Pennsylvania. (PDF)

Since its launch in 2009, the geosocial networking service Grindr has become an increasingly mainstream and prominent part of gay culture, both in the United States and globally. Mobile applications like Grindr give users the ability to quickly and easily share information about themselves (in the form of text, numbers, and pictures), and connect with each other in real time on the basis of geographic proximity. I argue that these services constitute an important site for examining how bodies, identities, and communities are translated into data, as well as how data becomes a tool for forming, understanding, and managing personal relationships. Throughout this work, I articulate a model of networked interactivity that conceptualizes self-expression as an act determined by three sometimes overlapping, sometimes conflicting sets of affordances and constraints: (1) technocommercial structures of software and business; (2) cultural and subcultural norms, mores, histories, and standards of acceptable and expected conduct; and (3) sociopolitical tendencies that appear to be (but in fact are not) fixed technocommercial structures. In these discussions, Grindr serves both as a model of processes that apply to social networking more generally, as well as a particular study into how networked interactivity is complicated by the histories and particularities of Western gay culture. Over the course of this dissertation, I suggest ways in which users, policymakers, and developers can productively recognize the liveness, vitality, and durability of personal information in the design, implementation, and use of gay-targeted social networking services. Specifically, I argue that through a focus on (1) open-ended structures of interface design, (2) clear and transparent articulations of service policies, and the rationales behind them, and (3) approaches to user information that promote data sovereignty, designers, developers, and advocates can work to make social networking services, including Grindr, safer and more representative of their users throughout their data’s lifecycle.

Y. Roth (2016), Zero Feet Away: The Digital Geography of Gay Social Media. J(3).

For this contribution to the “Cartographies” section of the special issue on “Mapping Queer Bioethics,” the author focuses on the terrains of digital media, geosocial networking, and sexually based social media in LGBT communities. Addressing the communal potentials and ethical complications of geosocial connections made possible by such sexually based social media, the author asks whether digital forms of cartography via applications such as Grindr and Scruff simplify, complicate, or merely expose historically longstanding notions of queer interconnectivity.

2015

Y. Roth (2015), “No Overly Suggestive Photos of Any Kind”: Content Management and the Policing of Self in Gay Digital Communities. Communication, Culture, & Critique 8(3). (PDF)

This article examines the policies and practices that manage user-submitted content on 3 gay-targeted social networking services. While managing user-generated content is a common practice across social networking services, the policies implemented on gay-targeted services tend to be distinctively restrictive in scope and highly specific in formulation. This analysis identifies the technical, legal, and social affordances that authorized the creation of these policies. Framing content management policies as derived from the technical rules of platforms such as Apple's App Store obscures normative judgments about proper self-presentation and community formation. Identifying the normative character of these policies requires an analysis rooted simultaneously in technology studies, media policy, and subcultural identity politics.

2014

Y. Roth (2014), Locating the "Scruff Guy": Theorizing body and space in gay geosocial media. International Journal of Communication 8. (PDF)

This article offers a critical examination of the smartphone application Scruff, a gay geosocial networking service targeted primarily at bears that boasts a user base of more than five million individuals in more than 180 countries. Using a case study of gay geosocial networking, the article argues for a theoretical reworking of the relationships among embodiment, space, and digital media. Geosocial services such as Scruff, by virtue of their emphasis on bodies and locations that can be accessed offline, complicate notions that online interactions are displaced, disembodied, and ethereal. By layering a virtual, but still spatialized network of users atop existing physical locations, Scruff straddles the online–offline divide and indicates how bodies, places, and identities are discursively constructed through the interplay of virtual and physical experience.