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Katie Z. Gach, Ph.D

Research on Life & Death in the Digital Age

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I earned my Ph.D in Technology, Media, and Society at CU Boulder's College of Engineering and Applied Science. I specialize in interview methodology and incorporating analytical findings into product improvement. I also do personal digital legacy advance planning and post-mortem management.

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Peer-Reviewed Research

"Control Your Emotions, Potter" An Analysis of Grief Policing on Facebook in Response to Celebrity Death

Pop culture fans can have parasocial (one-sided, mediated) relationships with celebrities. Yet when fans of departed celebrities express their grief in public comment threads, conversations often result in disagreements about how to grieve. These disagreements consistently appear in response to the deaths of public figures, and have been broadly labeled "grief policing." We performed a thematic analysis of public Facebook comments responding to the deaths of Alan Rickman, David Bowie, and Prince. Our findings contribute to a broader understanding of how conflicting norms affect discourse in transient online spaces.

Getting Your Facebook Affairs in Order: User Expectations in Post-mortem Profile Management

We conducted 30 semi-structured interviews with adult Facebook account holders in the US who either configured their own settings or were chosen for future delegation by someone else. We found that account holders chose the Facebook Friend they felt closest to, and that selection was often reciprocated. Both account holders and legacy contacts felt confident that they had communicated (or could communicate) well about the legacy contact’s responsibilities, but their expectations did not align with the actual functionality of the Legacy Contact system. Our findings suggest that post-mortem management systems require a setup process that is fundamentally different from the quick-clickthrough standards of everyday interaction design.

Experiences of Trust in Postmortem Profile Management

To evaluate the experiences and challenges people face when caring for memorialized profiles, we conducted 28 qualitative interviews with people serving as legacy contacts for memorialized Facebook accounts. We report on who legacy contacts are and their practices and their expectations, and find that people were chosen to be a legacy contact for one major reason: trust. In our analysis, we find disconnects between how people understand trust in the context of interpersonal relationships and how trust is technically implemented. We conclude by discussing the persistent challenges of representing the ambiguity of interpersonal trust in impersonal, computational systems.

"Am I Never Going to Be Free of All This Crap?": Upsetting Encounters With Algorithmically Curated Content About Ex-Partners

Through 19 in-depth interviews, our empirical study examines instances of contextually insensitive content through the lens of people’s upsetting encounters with content about their ex-romantic partners on Facebook. We characterize the encounters our participants had with content about their exes, including where on Facebook it occurred, the types of social connections involved in the content, and participants’ perceptions of why the content appeared. Based on our findings, we describe the “social periphery”—the complex social networks and data that enable inferred connections around otherwise explicit relationships—and discuss the design challenges that the periphery presents designers.

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