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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?

Black Twitter's Engagement with #Scandal

The final presentation for AoIR 2015 is by Dayna Chatman and Kevin Driscoll, whose focus is on the communities and modes of social TV engagement with specific television texts. Their focus here is especially also on "black Twitter", a particular subset of the US Twitter population that has emerged in recent years: black American users on Twitter have been identified as a distinct group.

But black Twitter is actually a discursive phenomenon that is driven predominantly but not exclusively by black users in the US. The existence of this black Twitter community was detected especially through Twitter's trending topics, whose underlying algorithms were by accident especially well suited to detect the themes emerging from black Twitter, while "white Twitter" topics were not as prominently features.

Television Co-Creation with Social Media Users: #7DaysLater

The next speaker in our AoIR 2015 panel is Jonathon Hutchinson, who zooms in to a specific transmedia programme screened by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, #7DaysLater. The premise of the show is to create comedy programming within seven days, and to incorporate social media engagement practices into the show.

Such viewing is more than just subsequent watercooler discussions – it's about viewer co-creation practices. The challenge is to break through the noise barrier on social media, and to find the techniques for encouraging audience participation, especially in the context of a public service broadcaster.

Developing More Advanced Television Engagement Metrics for Twitter

The final AoIR 2015 session is our panel on social television, and starts with a co-authored paper presented by Darryl Woodford (slides to follow soon below).

Darryl begins by noting that raw social media engagement numbers for television are useful only to an extent: they are usually not normalised to account for specific factors, and simply offer raw quantities.

Nielsen SocialGuide's Twitter engagement statistics for social media follow that pattern, for example, and obviously shows on major TV channels do better than those on niche cable channels. Beamly's social media rankings are skewed by the Twitter terms they track: any tweet containing the letters 'yr' is counted as engagement with The Young and the Restless, for example, which is obviously wrong.

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