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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.

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.


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