The Emancipatory Potential of Tech Activism

The final speaker in this first AoIR 2013 plenary is Christina Dunbar-Hester, whose focus is on activist technical projects - such as micropower radio stations or community wifi networks. The activists describe such activities with the Amish term of barnraising, highlighting the community empowerment and self-sufficiency aspects of such initiatives. The hope is to demystify technology and generate political engagement through further hands-on knowledge sharing.

There is a big difference in this in how technical expertise is seen as empowering (through sharing) rather than disempowering (through the emergence of knowledge elites). But there remains a strong white middle-class basis to this - such sharing continues to speak largely to a male white addressee, and the involvement of women or minorities in these initiatives remains rare.

Online Racism Isn't Just a Glitch

Next up in this plenary at AoIR 2013 is Lisa Nakamura, whose interest is in racism online - an issue which is often downplayed as a minor problem or an irrelevant distraction. But what drives online racism - is it a product of the greater levels of anonymity online (and thus an inevitable, natural, normal effect of the Net)? Does this mean that humans are fundamentally, inherently driven to racism, which the Net enables us to live out? Does the Net enable us to indulge in glitchy behaviour, in other words?

But the machine of the Internet is not a separate, animate entity with its own agency, but is co-created with or by us. The idea that the Net has its own, separate nature is merely a convenient excuse - as in Ian Bogost's statement that it's not gamer culture that's racist, but the Internet itself. If online racism is seen as a glitch in the system, this places it alongside other (e.g. hacker) exploits of glitches - it legitimises and excuses racism as merely off-topic and a failure of protective mechanisms.

Participation and Exclusion on the Global Net

The first full day of AoIR 2013 is about to get underway - and it starts with a series of plenary talks. Jenna Burrell is the first speaker, taking an ethnographic angle. Her recent focus has been on youth in the Internet cafés or urban Ghana - a sign of the global reality of the contemporary Internet. But this global Internet does not eradicate personal identity, contrary to some of the cyberutopian claims of the early 1990s which have now become unfashionable - the Net's userbase is increasingly diverse, but in different ways than originally envisaged.

What motivates young Internet users in Ghana, then? As it turns out, a key driver of Internet café use (as of 2005) was to find penpals in other countries - at the time, mainly through Yahoo! chatrooms. Such penpals might be friends, peers, potential romantic interests, patrons, sponsors, business partners, or philanthropists - following previous mail-based practices, which were translated online and became a way to envisage what the Net was for.

Making Sense of Anonymous's Hacker Trickery

Back from my visit to Project EPIC in Boulder, and right to the opening keynote of the 2013 Association of Internet Researchers conference. The keynote speaker is Gabriella Coleman, whose focus is on cyberactivism. Computer hacking has taken an increasingly prominent role in society in recent years - hackers have engaged in disrupting communication through DDoS attacks as well as in increasing transparency through leaking information.

But what are hackers? Some programme software, some develop hardware; some promote transparency (e.g. through the free software movement), some operate from the anonymous underground. Put simply, hacking is where craft and craftiness converge, Gabriella says - often with a great deal of humour and subversion. Hackers are quintessential craftsmen (men, most often); they enjoy the performance of circumventing the rules by using the weapons of the geek.

Social Media Crisis Communication in Australia

My own presentation at the Project EPIC symposium was next, outlining the Australian perspective on the uses of social media in crisis communication. Powerpoint and audio below:

Social Media in Times of Crisis: The Australian Perspective from Axel Bruns

Mobile Technologies of Social Mediation

It's Wednesday, probably, and I've arrived in Colorado for the 2013 Association of Internet Researchers conference in Denver. Today, though, I've made my way to Boulder to meet with the fabulous Project EPIC research group around Leysia Palen, who have done a great deal of leading-edge research into the use of social media in crisis communication.

Some Recent and Upcoming Work

When this site goes quiet, it’s usually because work is exceptionally busy. My apologies for the long silence since the launch of our major collection A Companion to New Media Dynamics – a range of projects, variously relating to the uses of social media in crisis communication, of Twitter in a number of national elections, of social media as a second-screen backchannel to televised events, and of ‘big data’ in researching online issue publics, have kept me occupied for the past eight months or so.

Now, I’m about to head off to Denver for the annual Association of Internet Researchers conference and on to a number of other events, and you can expect the usual bout of live blogging from these conferences – but before I do so, here’s a quick update of some of the major publications and papers I’ve completed during the past few months. For some more frequent updates on the work of my colleagues and me, you can also follow our updates at Mapping Online Publics and the site of the QUT Social Media Research Group, of course. On the SMRG site, we’ve also posted a list of the presentations we’ll be making at AoIR and beyond – hope to see you there!

Introducing the Companion to New Media Dynamics

I’m delighted to announce the completion of another major project: Blackwell has just published A Companion to New Media Dynamics, edited by my CCI colleagues John Hartley, Jean Burgess, and me. The title of this substantial volume may seem a little strange at first – why not just “… to New Media”? –, but with this collection we aimed specifically to highlight new media as a set of dynamic, evolving, and sometimes elusive practices rather than a static, easily defined thing.

The volume brings together contributions from a long list of researchers in the field, and combines international research leaders with key emerging scholars who will drive the next generation of new media and Internet research. But don’t take my word for it – take Toby Miller’s: “We are fortunate indeed to have this tour d'horizon of young and middle-aged media across Europe, North America, and Asia. It features an array of established and emergent writers whose clear prose and thorough research mark out their work.”

My own chapter in the book provides a historical overview of the development of personal presence online: it charts the course of evolution from hand-coded homepages to social network profiles, taking in a few detours and possible dead ends (GeoCities, anyone?) along the way. My sense is that there’s a continuing struggle between experimentation and standardisation which has had us oscillating between these two extremes; at the moment, the relative rigidity of Facebook and Twitter profile templates places us closer towards the standardised, “one size fits all” end. Perhaps it’s time for the pendulum to swing back again soon?

Here’s a complete list of chapters:

A Final 2012 Publications Round-Up

As we’re hurtling down the last few hours towards 2013, it seems like a good idea to take stock of what was an incredibly busy 2012. Here, then, is a round-up of all (I think) of my publications and presentations for the year, organised into loose thematic categories. In all, and with my various collaborators from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation and beyond, I seem to have generated some 4 book chapters, 12 journal articles, 22 conference presentations and one major report – and that’s not counting various articles in The Guardian, The Conversation, and other media outlets. There’s also a few more articles still in the pipeline – but given today’s date, I suspect they’ll end up counting towards 2013 rather than 2012…


Social Media Research Methods

One major component of our Mapping Online Publics work for this year has been the further development of our social media research approaches, especially as far as Twitter research is concerned. A number of my publications have dealt with the practical aspects of this work:

Twitter, Big Data, and the Digital Humanities

From the excitement of AoIR and ECREA 2012, I’ve arrived back in Australia – and have gone on almost directly to another presentation, this time at the University of Queensland Digital Humanities Symposium, where this morning I presented our research on Twitter as an example of the more general push towards ‘digital humanities’ and ‘big data’ research. Here are my slides and audio from the event – many thanks to Kerry Kilner and Peta Mitchell for the invitation to speak.


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