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Models for Facilitating Social Engagement through Online Media

The final speaker in this ECREA 2014 session is Nico Carpentier, whose interest is in how civil society uses online media to facilitate social engagement. This addresses the problems with much current debate, which is either outright utopian or speaks forever in potentialities. A solution to this is to focus on a discourse based on the diversity of possible models.

Online media, civil society, and social engagement are the defining concepts for this inquiry. The project began with a conceptual map, identified good practices in international and Belgian civil society organisations, and engaged with Belgian CSOs to gather what they thought was good practice. This resulted in some 176 possible concepts.

Political Action in Non-Political Online Fora

The next speakers at ECREA 2014 are Daniel Jackson and Todd Graham, who are interested in the use of online third spaces for political action. This is especially important at a time of austerity which tends to let citizens fend for themselves rather than providing government support. To what extent does political talk in these spaces lead to political action, then?

The study looked at the discussion fora of Money Saving Expert, Digital Spy, and Netmums to explore the presence of political talk in these otherwise non-political spaces and identify the presence of commitments or calls to further political action.

Commenting on UK News Organisations' Facebook Pages

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Iñaki Garcia-Blanco, whose focus is on discussing the news on social media, and specifically on Facebook. This is important given the perceived crisis of democracy, which requires greater levels of deliberation. Social media bring together access to the news and facilities for discussing it, and Facebook is increasingly important in this.

The research examined the news stories published by leading UK news sources on their official Facebook pages over the course of a single working week (some 1650 articles in total). Human interest and lifestyle stories were strongest in numbers, while commenting on international politics was disproportionately strong.

The Perceived Efficacy of Connective Action on Facebook

The next speaker in this ECREA 2014 panel is Cédric Courtois, whose interest is in individual action and collective efficacy on Facebook. Within Facebook, there are plenty of constraints, but we are nonetheless navigating these constraints to engage in connective action. What motivates people to do so, and what is their perception of the efficacy of such activities?

Possible explanations for engagement through liking, commenting, and content creation could be genuine involvement in an issue, and a perception that such involvement will effect change. Self-presentation as someone interested in specific issues may also play a role.

Patterns of News Sharing across Europe

The next panel on this marathon day at ECREA 2014 starts with Sascha Hölig, whose interest is in patterns of online political engagement in Europe. Democracy depends on structures that enable finding information, exchanging opinions, and negotiating decisions; the news is one key source of such information.

The Reuters Digital News Survey studies news consumption patterns across 10 European nations, drawing on surveys with some 19,000 users. There is a high interest in news, and frequent access to news, across Europe; more than 80% of users access the news at least once a day, especially from television.

The Ethical Dimensions of News Algorithms

The final speaker in this ECREA 2014 session is Katharina Hollnbuchner, whose focus is on the ethical dimension of algorithms. Such ethics sit at the intersection between media ethics and cyberethics, and a wide range of ethical issues are now being studied at this intersection. An interesting question in this is how algorithms should be understood: are they agents, or are they tools?

Which issues are raised concerning algorithmic selection and journalism, then? This is a question of design: what is the algorithm designed to do, and how clear is its intended mission?

The Impact of Algorithms on Public Opinion Formation

The next speaker in is ECREA 2014 session is Arjen van Dalen, whose interest is in the impact of algorithms on public opinion formation at the micro (individual), meso (discussion) and macro (social networks) level; his focus here is on the latter.

Algorithms transform such public opinion formation: some 30% of users read news on social media, and that number is likely to increase. The business strategies of news media are increasingly adjusted to this trend, and the number of social media engagements with news (likes, shares, etc.) are increasingly being used by journalists as an indicator of public opinion, too.

Algorithms and the Cybernetic Audience for Journalism

The next speaker in this ECREA 2014 panel is Chris Anderson, who directs our focus to the journalistic audience as a raw material for algorithms. Historically, audiences were first constructed as professionalised: they were insulated from journalistic practice. Later, a dialogue understanding of the audience saw it filtered through national issue forums (e.g. town halls), and became a discursive participant; finally, the audience was seen as an active in both politics and the media, especially with the arrival of Internet-based communication technologies.

Regulatory Approaches to Algorithmic Markets

The next ECREA 2014 speaker is Natascha Just, who highlights the high level of concentration to a handful of leading players in many markets where algorithms play a key role (e.g. search engines, social media, news aggregators); this also creates challenges for competition policy. Should law interfere in such fast-moving, innovative markets – for example in the search engine markets?

Market dominance alone is no reason to intervene in a market – only if the company exploits its position through anticompetitive behaviour a trigger for intervention emerges. The challenge, then, is to understand how these markets operate and where the focus of competition analysis should be.

Issues in Designing News Selection Algorithms

The post-lunch session at ECREA 2014 today starts with panel chair Michael Latzer, introduces the role of algorithms in shaping our reality and guiding our actions. There is now a range of algorithmic selection services which shape our consumption choices; these include search applications, aggregation, observation and surveillance, forecast and prognosis, filtering, recommendation, scoring and reputation, automated content production, and allocation (e.g. computational advertising) applications.

But the first speaker is Sean Munson, whose focus is on news algorithms. Back in 1970, some 50% of US adults watched the nighly news broadcasts; this percentage has dropped off, in favour of regional, ideological, fake, thematically specific, and other niche news services. A majority percentage of users now use news aggregator sites, and many also draw on social media for their news; this may have created the 'Daily Me', but may also lead to the development of disconnected filter bubbles.

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