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The Impact of Commenting Systems on Civility

After a swinging party last night, we are now starting the final day of AoIR 2016. This begins with a paper by Alfred Moore, Rolf Fredheim, and John Naughton, whose focus is on online commenting practices. More and more people are getting their news online, and especially through social media; this has been creating anxieties about how people are getting their information, but the dimension of online commenting has been less thematised in this context. The structure of commenting architectures has an important role to play here.

A Network Perspective on the Twitter Reaction to David Bowie's Death

The final presenters in this AoIR 2016 session are my colleagues Peta Mitchell and Felix Münch, who also focus on the Twitter reaction to David Bowie's death. Twitter as a platform can be useful for studying public responses to such events, but at the same time the focus on a hashtag only also limits the study to deliberately self-selecting tweets and users; a focus on 'Bowie' as a keyword provides a different perspective. This is also complicated by the one percent rate limit of the Twitter API, as 'Bowie' tweets spiked well above that limit.

Fan Reactions to David Bowie's Death on Twitter

The next paper in this AoIR 2016 session is by Hilde van den Bulck, which shifts our focus to the mourning of David Bowie after his death on 10 January 2016. Bowie had had a stellar and constantly shifting career, of course, but had also managed to keep his private life comparatively private, which is why his death came quite unexpectedly. Not least because of this there was a massive reaction to news of his death on Facebook and Twitter.

Post Mortem Digital Presences

I'm afraid I've missed most of today's AoIR 2016 conference because of meetings, but at least I've made it to the final session of the day, which starts with Paula Kiel. Her interest is in the emerging practices of the collective afterlife: Websites created for post mortem digital interaction. Such sites are usually created before death, and enable their users to actively configure how they want to be remembered online after they have died.

Who Does Rule the Internet, Then?

Tonight is the night of the AoIR 2016 public plenary, and while it's a panel discussion which I won't blog we are going to start with a few short statements from the panellists. We begin with Kate Crawford, who notes the contribution of so many AoIRists to our understanding of the Internet as more than a utopian cyberspace, and instead as a complex stack of network protocol, platform, infrastructural, connectivity, Internet of Things, and other Internet governance layers.

But we have a new problem: more and more artificial intelligence backend systems are being deployed now to ingest and process the data that we constantly generate. These are also moving beyond what we have traditionally called 'the Internet', operating in a wide range of institutions and influencing our perceptions of the world around us. The processes are not particularly intelligent, after all; the famous image of a naked girl fleeing napalm bombings in the Vietnam war was recently censored by Facebook, for instance, and while this image was reinstated this is only the tip of the iceberg of the many arbitrary and opaque decisions that are being made by such algorithms. But the decisions being made by humans are not necessarily all that better – there is overall an irrational confidence in the calculability of reality.

Better Approaches to Analysing Twitter Reply Chains

The final speaker in this session at AoIR 2016 is my DMRC colleague Brenda Moon. She points out that hashtag studies on Twitter are subject to significant limitations because they capture only those tweets that have been explicitly marked with those hashtags, but may not also examine the broader conversation that might unfold around those hashtagged tweets without being itself hashtagged. There is a need here to move beyond quantitative and computational analysis of these datasets as well – so the challenge here is to identify reply chains and to examine them more qualitatively.

Twitter Discussions about the Launch of Netflix in Italy

The second speaker in this AoIR 2016 session is Fabio Giglietto, who shifts our focus to Netflix. This was launched in Italy in October 2015, and has become especially popular with young adults in the 18-24 age range. There has been a growth in the practice of binge-watching TV series as part of this adoption process, too – and other online video providers have also become available in Italy, along with unauthorised sources.

Understanding the Dutch Twittersphere

The final session at AoIR 2016 today starts with a presentation from Daniela van Geenen. She begins by noting that much Twitter research has focussed on specific events, incidents, and groups rather than on longer-term, everyday uses. Is it possible instead to identify local publics on Twitter, based for instance on geographic co-location? Are such publics connected with national networks?

Accountability in Digital Humanitarianism

The final paper in this AoIR 2016 session is Mirca Madianou, who begins with a clip promoting the "I Sea" app that purports to take a crowdsourcing approach to scanning satellite images for migrant boats in the Mediterranean in order to spot and help boats in distress. However, that app was a scam; it showed static satellite images rather than live feeds.

Combatting Political Astroturfing

The next presenter at AoIR 2016 is Adrian Rauchfleisch, whose interest is in digital astroturfing in politics. There have been a number of documented cases of political candidates suddenly picking up substantial numbers of Twitter followers overnight, presumably both because they bought followers themselves and because their opponents created fake followers to embarrass them. There is also a Russian outfit called The Agency, posting pro-Putin comments on international news Websites that purport to be from ordinary users in the west, and similar pro-China astroturfing has also been observed. Such astroturfing is not the same as trolling: trolls are self-motivated, rather than acting as agents of defined political interests.

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