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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.

Democracy versus Transparency?

The second plenary speaker at ECREA 2014 today is Diogo Pires de Aurélio, whose interest is in the status of state secrets in the current media and communication context. A tacit agreement between governments and media to protect state secrets which – despite occasional leaks – has held for centuries is now increasingly being challenged; while leading mainstream media may still hold to it, the idea that there may be state secrets that the public has no access to has become increasingly comprehensible to the public.

Media and Communication Research in the Current European Context

Today's plenary session at ECREA 2014 starts with Kirsten Drotner, whose interest is in research policy for media and communication studies in Europe. There are plenty of interesting current debates about media and communication studies directions, and research policy and research organisations serve as the infrastructures to facilitate such research.

This is also related to the hybridisation of media and communication research, with infusions from related disciplines, challenges from new methodological trends, and the emergence of new digital media technologies and resources, including 'big data' and their commodification. In some ways, there is an organisational and educational diffusion and dispersal of media and communication research across a range of related contexts, then, but such research remains a significant success story in its own right, too.

BP's Nasty Strategies for Silencing Criticism Online and Offline

The final paper in this ECREA 2014 session is by Julie Uldam, whose focus is on the silencing of critical voices in the online public sphere; this is an argument for an agonistic perspective of the public sphere. Antagonism tends to be anticipated and silenced by corporations monitoring social media, often using user profiling strategies.

Her example here is the UK climate justice movement, which reacted to BP's unlikely role as a 'sustainability partner' in the 2012 London Olympics; one of its protests was the Reclaim Shakespeare Company, which riffed off BP's sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company during the Olympics festivities, invading the stage before the official performance and circulating the footage via social media. Leaked emails from BP show the company's tracking of protestors and anticipation of further actions.

Activist Facebook Pages as a Fifth Estate in Finland

The next ECREA 2014 speaker is Niina Niskala, whose interest is in Finnish uses of Facebook. Are there communicative power groups that can be seen as examples of social and political movements or even as a 'fifth estate': a network of online individuals able to collaborate to an extent that it challenges the other estates and creates real-world power shifts?

The project gathered data from those of the most popular Finnish Facebook pages that support specific causes or missions or engage in political protest or support. These were analysed for a number of key attributes, and later analysis focussed on the six largest and six smallest of the groups.

Patterns of Discussion on Twitter around the German NSA Surveillance Scandal

Next up at ECREA 2014 is Sanja Kapidzic, whose interest is in how the NSA scandal was communicated in Germany via Twitter. The public sphere is seen here as having a triadic structure, between journalists, official spokespeople, and citizens. Traditionally, this has been dominated by the mass media, but shifts toward online communication have changed this balance; direct bidirectional communication is now possible between all three points of the triad.

This is especially notable in social media environments such as Twitter; however, new hierarchies and elites may also emerge here. What are the new structures of influence in this context, then?

Four Models of Media Pluralism

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Daniëlle Raeijmakers; her interest is in media pluralism. The concept itself is widely supported, but tends to be poorly defined; there are a number of different conceptions that may be used to understand it.

The first of these is a liberal model: democracy functions through social heterogeneity, and media are expected to cover such differences authentically. The second, deliberative model expects that media do not just contribute to a politician consensus, but provide the public debate to construct the consensus, serving as a public forum. The third, agonistic model positions media as sites of struggle, which should cultivate political debate but do not necessarily produce a concensus.

The Three Phases of WikiLeaks

The second day at ECREA 2014 starts with a paper by Christian Christensen, on WikiLeaks. He's interested in the implications of WikiLeaks for the wider media reform movement: WikiLeaks and Anonymous are an expression of the disenchantment with mainstream commercial media, even in spite of such media's occasional ability to engage in impactful investigative journalism.

The Impact of Trust on News Selection on Social Media

Finally, Kristin van Damme is back with another ECREA 2014 paper, on the role of trust in news selection through social media. Social media platforms now play a role as news aggregators where users as well as the platforms are sharing the news; Kristin surveyed Flemish news users on their use of news and social media to explore these issues.

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