I’ve seen multiple posts on social media this week from faculty members struggling with the question: when is it OK to say no to a request for my time? It’s a central challenge of an academic job.

College professors get asked to do lots of things. Consider this list of real requests I’ve gotten recently:

  1. Meet with a student in my class to help them with their course project.
  2. Meet with a student in my class to help them with the startup they’re working on in their spare time with a friend.
  3. Be interviewed by a student from another university…


Fifteen years ago, I bought a shower radio. I thought it would be nice to listen to music in the shower. It got terrible reception, and I was forever adjusting the antenna and trying to tune it better to the station I wanted. The suction cups that were supposed to hold it to the wall didn’t work well, so it was always falling down. And the final insult: it grew black mildew on the back. It wasn’t long before I threw it out.

If you had asked me what I wanted to replace that radio, I don’t think I could…


In the first meeting of my class “Computing, Society, and Professionalism” each fall, I ask my students to consider The Stop Sign. You are driving in the desert. You can see as far as the horizon in all directions. You haven’t seen another car in hours. You come to an intersection. The intersection has a stop sign. Do you stop?

I try to ask my students hard questions — ones where you can credibly argue multiple perspectives. Students take a wide variety of positions on the stop sign. Usually someone raises their hand and asks, “Can I do a… rolling…


What I’ve learned from three years of building software to help combat human trafficking

I never set out to design software for police. But a few years ago, there was a smart grad student working on software to combat human trafficking, and she needed a new PhD advisor. I said I’d advise her. Sex trafficking generates terabytes of data — prostitution ads and sex worker reviews. Our project uses big data and information visualization techniques to help identify women who are participating involuntarily — finding the trafficking victims among legions of voluntary sex workers. …


I’ve always admired people who ask big questions. Who don’t just see the world with received wisdom, but interrogate it. The internet is helping people ask big questions by connecting them with others who question, who wonder. Is our water really safe to drink? Do kids from different ethnic and economic backgrounds really have a chance to succeed economically? Is our education system teaching people the right things? How is corporate control over high-end content production shaping our culture? How are changes in the ecosystem of journalism reshaping what we collectively believe? …


This past week, there was an altercation at a gym. A woman began loudly criticizing a man because of his political views. She recognized him as a public figure, and exercised her free speech rights to let him know what she thinks about his views. I admire that. We have all been called upon to exercise our free speech rights more lately, and that’s a good thing.

But what happened next is weird: the gym revoked the man’s membership. Does that make sense to you? It doesn’t to me. He was just working out, and not causing any fuss. The…

Amy Bruckman

I do research on social media, including online collaboration, social movements, and online moderation and harassment.

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