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Social Media as Newsbeats in the Czech Republic

The next speakers at ECREA 2014 are Vadim Hladík and Vaclav Štetka, whose interest is in the intersections of social media and journalism in the Czech Republic. What has emerged is a hybrid media system, impacting on organisational setups and routines; on the use of social media as sources (with distinct patterns during breaking news and everyday routine, respectively); and on intermedia agenda-setting processes.

Twitter, for example, has become a kind of newsbeat for journalism: a rich and easy resource for news content, and a tool that allows sources to maintain better control of their messages, as tweets are usually quoted in full. But current research focusses mainly on Western contexts, and on Twitter; the present study therefore explores social media more broadly for the Czech context.

Twitter-Based Interactions between Norwegian Journalists and Politicians

The next ECREA 2014 speaker is my Norwegian project partner Eli Skogerbø, whose interest is in the connections between journalists and politicians on Twitter. How do journalists connect with politicians on Twitter; how do politicians respond to being approached on Twitter?

The project focussed especially on the timeframe around the 2013 Norwegian election. During this time, journalists' activities varied widely; one political journalist was very highly active (producing some 9,000 tweets over the course of one year), while the average level of Twitter activity across journalists was a great deal lower.

Glimpsing the Social Life of News

The next ECREA 2014 session begins with Henrik Bødker, whose interest is in the sharing of news via social media. This is a process of social filtering, which has been seen variously as a positive filtering for relevance or a negative creation of filter bubbles. At any rate, such filtering happens through news talk or informal commentary, and this sharing is an integral part of making meaning from the news as it has happened through other interpersonal communication modes for a long time.

Such practices are pointing out worthwhile stories to read, and in doing so already suggest frames through which the texts should be read; often. More explicit comments are being added as well. This is a hybrid process between the oral and the textual, then (an immediate (oral-style) response to things that takes place in textual form), both informal and formal, both immediate and stored, crossing through various social spheres, and both vernacular and integrated into the communication all landscape of journalism.

Framing the Big Data Debate

The final speaker in this session at ECREA 2014 is Christian Pentzold, whose focus is on the discussions around the 2013 affair about the use of protesters' mobile phone data by police in Saxony. There is a discursive social construction of the term 'big data', and different frames of big data have emerged so far.

Transmedia discourse is combining a number of different conceptualisations, and this enables a number of different analytical perspectives and approaches; the speed of the dynamic reconfiguration of these different modes also affects how analysis may proceed.

Civilising the Discourse about Big Data

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Frederic Guerrero-Solé, whose focus is on big data on Twitter. Few people know at this point what 'big data' actually means; what discourse about big data are we constructing here? So is big data just a marketing concept? The uses of big data in social networks have largely shaped our understanding of the big data concept; is there therefore a common discourse about big data at least in a social network such as Twitter?

Frederic's project gathered some 400,000 tweets mentioning the term big data or the hashtag #bigdata, and explored the influence of users contained in that dataset; economic and technological newspapers and magazines emerged as the leading users from this, alongside leading hardware and software companies, and terms such as analytics or analysis were most common – the key theme now appears to be about how big data may help companies predict their markets. At the same time, a discussion of privacy issues and threats also emerged, but at a much lower level of volume.

The Emergence of Data Activism

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Stefania Milan, who begins by noting the social media response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, using Ushahidi Maps as a key tool for mapping the local situation. This is a positive example of how civil society can put big data to good use: what forms of massive data collection are possible here, and how can they be used for good?

There has been an industrial revolution of data, but citizens face a paradox, as moral codes are not yet aligned with social practices. Big data may mean big control, but also more opportunities; we need data activism to mobilise a critical stance towards massive data collection, emerging perhaps from hacker movements but also involving ordinary users, and enabled but also constrained by software capabilities.

The Construction of Audiences through Big Data Analytics

The first ECREA 2014 panel session is one that we have a paper in as well, but we start with Göran Bolin, whose interest is in the construction of audiences through big data-driven research. There is now a large discussion of what constitutes big data, of course, but Göran is bypassing this, focussing instead on the uses of such data to envisage media users.

Much such data are drawn from social media, but it seems that the social is getting further estranged through this; big data means an intensification of statistical and quantitative approaches, and to some extent constitutes a shift in the nature of scholarly enquiry, focussing on mapping networked accumulations. Such accumulations stem from the metrics produced by social media platforms, for example (such as like and friend counts); and interesting experiments are being conducted by taking away such metrics and thinking through how this changes the experience of such spaces.

Reconsidering New Media's Capacity for Empowerment

The second ECREA 2014 plenary speaker this morning is Tristan Mattelart, whose interest is in the transnationalisation of the news. He begins by noting the ambivalent nature of the notion of empowerment, which has been used in the past by disenfranchised groups to raise the social conscience in order to gain more power; but more recently it has been adopted by neoliberal groups, for whom it now simply means increasing the productivity of marginalised people.

Such changes can be seen in the characterisation of Web 2.0, which has also been described – by authors like Howard Rheingold – as an empowering technology. But to find examples of such notions, we could go back further, to a time when international radio broadcasts – for example into Eastern bloc countries – were seen as empowering local populations; ideology was one of the main pillars of authoritarian regimes, but it rested on very unstable foundations. Dissidents sought to establish independent spaces that allowed them to live within the truth, and international radio broadcasts contributed to the development of such spaces; they were the means to construct such spaces and to disseminate dissident information.

Recovering the Political Commons

Well, it's mid-November, so this must be Lisbon. I'm at the European Communication Conference (ECREA), which starts today with a double plenary session, followed by our QUT Social Media Research Group paper presenting the latest version of our map of the Australian Twittersphere (now based on 2.8 million known accounts).

But before we get to this, the first plenary speaker is Natalie Fenton. She begins by noting the need for scholarly work to have a tangible impact beyond the academy, especially in the current climate of austerity; how can we live decent academic lives that contribute to the flourishing of humanity, that enable a good political life? If Thomas Piketty's analysis of contemporary capitalism is correct, and wealth is increasingly concentrated amongst a small and shrinking elite, how do we address that astounding, damaging inequality?

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