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Online Media in the Italian Presidential Election

The second speaker in this ASMC14 session is Edoardo Novelli, whose interest is in the online activities around the recent election of the Italian President. While the President was elected by members of parliament, a great deal of alternative direct democracy activities took place online, driven especially by the Cinque Stelle movement of Beppe Grillo.

Edoardo conducted an analysis of social as well as mainstream media activities around the election, gathering data from newspapers and television, Internet and social media. During the election, the Net was used by various actors for official and unofficial forms of communication. This caused a change in the traditional flows of information and diffusion across a hybrid news system, impacted on traditional political communication practices, and allowed for the emergence of grassroots voices.

Largely, the Net has been used by parties and politicians for official and political communications. Cinque Stelle ran an online poll of its members as an alternative election to that of the President; important political meetings were broadcast live, and thereby turned into performances; Twitter was used very widely to convene demonstrations; social media were used to comment on events during the election process; political leaders were taking directly to social media to bypass conventional communication channels; party Websites and politican blogs also played a role.

Understanding the Norwegian Twitter Elite

The next session at ASMC14 starts with Eirik Vatnøy, who takes a rhetorical perspective in his approach to Twitter. Social media are an arena for political debate, but how do they change the norms and praxis of political rhetoric? Eirik interviewed Twitter users who engaged in continuous political debate on the platform.

Rhetorics considers the public sphere as a reticulate public sphere (made up of many smaller spheres), and this applies to Twitter as well. Actors recognise the discursive and social norms which uphold such spheres, and a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis of communicative activities can help to explore these norms. However, this is a complex challenge, as different users may use the various affordances of Twitter as a platform in different ways.

Eirik interviewed 18 users, chosen through snowball selection; they included active politicians, editors, journalists, bloggers, communication workers, lawyers, etc. Interviews were structured around key themes including perceived affordances, toles and relations, discursive norms, and social norms.

Social Media and Public Service Media

The final keynote at ASMC14 is by the fabulous Hallvard Moe, whose focus is on the intersections between social media and public service broadcasting. How can media researchers contribute to rethinking public service broadcasting? Defining PSB is difficult, but there is often a belief that policy makers know it when they see it; PSB is an inherently contested concept, coined a very long time ago in a very different context – even in Europe alone, how PSBs are positioned and organised is very different across different countries.

What such institutions have in common, though, is the general aim that PSBs should provide vital information and contribute to the public good; they are a policy tool to provide journalism and bring citizens together as a public. PSB institutions around the world do not necessarily always achieve such an ideal – they now exist in almost constant turmoil, due to a range of contextual factors. They can only survive by externalising their internal challenges; these challenges are always present, and in recent years especially associated with the rise of digital media and the media practices such media enable and promote.

The Passion in New Journalistic Models

The final speakers in the ASMC14 session is by Tamara Witschge and Mark Deuze. Tamara begins by noting her skepticism about the current state of journalism, and highlights the fact that many journalists are highly reluctant to work as freelancers outside of the conventional newsroom – yet those journalists who do work as freelancers often say that they would not go back to an institutional setting.

This is a question relating to the social dimension of news production, of course. New models challenge the conceptualisation of what is news, who produces it, and what it is for; new news startups show remarkable passion and innovation in rethinking the idea of news, and do not necessarily work with conventional conceptualisations of journalism. Tamara's and Mark's project aims to gain insight into such new organisations.

The Individualism of Online Social Movements

The third speaker at this ASMC14 session is Paolo Gerbaudo, whose interest is in the organisational processes of informal collaboration in social media activism. In order to understand these processes it is not enough to study the large datasets of their outputs, but to also ask the people behind such activities why and how they do this work.

Across the various cases of social media activism in recent years there has been a clear power distribution – a handful of leading accounts have been driving protests such as Occupy, Indignados, or the Arab Spring. These accounts have attracted a large number of followers and serve as movement leaders and organisers. Who is behind these accounts; who is working to keep such feeds going, and how?

Wikipedia's Role as a Gatekeeper

The next ASMC14 speaker is Heather Ford, who shifts our focus to Wikipedia. In its early days, the site was seen as an underdog challenging existing publishing models – this includes news publishers, and Wikipedia was seen as a challenger to the conventional gatekeepers. It was also shown that the quality of its content was not necessarily any worse than that of traditional encyclopaedias, even though it had been collaboratively compiled. Nonetheless, a persistent view of its inaccuracy due to this collaborative model remains.

Wikipedia itself offers a range of self-definitions, which inter alia point out that Wikipedia is not a social network (or even a dating service), so personal profiles should be kept short; not a soap box from which to promote personal views or original research. Wikipedia also defines reliable sources which should be used as evidence for its articles, and in doing so for the most part explicitly rules out self-published media (blogs, etc.) as unreliable.

Journalists' Reluctance to Engage with New Media

The final day at ASMC14 starts with Chris Anderson, who begins with noting the strange, halting, and unexpected adoption of new digital tools in journalism; there has been treat reluctance to engage with some technologies, while others have been adopted much more quickly. For example, the New York Times has one of the best data journalism operations in the business, but on the other hand only began to hyperlink to other sites about a year ago – why this strange imbalance?

This likely has something to do with professional culture and attitudes in journalism, deeply embedded with journalists' own understanding of how they maintain their cultural authority. Journalism arises from the valorisation of a socially odd form of work, and from a particular vision of the public. This interacts in complex ways with the organisational routines in journalistic practice. The current crisis of news, then, is one of management, economics, and technology, but also of culture, authority and professional identity.

Entering the Age of the Generative Algorithm

The final keynote at ASMC14 for today is by Bernhard Rieder from the Digital Methods Initiative, who stepped in at short notice for Tarleton Gillespie who could not be here. He begins by noting the role of algorithms in our experience of information and media; they select what information is considered most relevant to us, and are now a crucial part of our participation in public life. This raises a number of questions – and starting with search engines, such algorithms have been considered increasingly by researchers.

One way to approach algorithms is by considering the question of knowing: what style of reasoning do algorithms implement, and how do they connect this to forms of performativity. Bernhard has been one of the chief developers of the Digital Methods Initiative, and in this role works closely with as well as thinks critically through algorithms; this is also a process of opening the black box of the algorithms which shape our online experiences.

Social Media Use by BBC World Service and Russia Today during the Sochi Games

The final speaker in this ASMC14 session is Marie Gillespie, whose interest is in the tweeting of global events – she focusses here especially on the controversial Sochi Olympics in early 2014, which were also affected by the unfolding political crisis in Ukraine.

One player in the media environment around the Olympics is the Russian state broadcaster Russia Today, whose mission is to present a Russian perspective on world news. It receives $300m per annum, at the same time that comparable public diplomacy broadcasters like BBC World Service or the Australia Network are being downsized or discontinued.

Social Media as a Backchannel to Television in Palestine

The next speaker in this ASMC14 session is Rhiannon Were, whose focus is on the use of social media alongside public broadcasting in the Palestinian Territories. People there feel very powerless towards their leaders, given the lack of effective governance and accountability frameworks, and two political talk shows with ancillary multiplatform elements, conducted in part in collaboration with BBC Arabic, have been created to address this problem. The shows reach an audience of some 500,000 viewers, and research is underway to inform programming, evaluate the project, and generate evidence of impact.

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