Theoretical Approaches to News Sharing through Social Media

The next speaker in this morning session at AoIR 2015 is Jakob Linaa Jensen, whose focus is on the social sharing of news. The landscape of news is changing, of course, and the question is whether the nature of news itself is changing. To some extent, our practices remain, and only our devices have changed – but at the same time, recent changes have also afforded us greater access to the production of news, as well as to new modes and a greater diversity in consuming news.

Perhaps the most important change is to how the news is being shared, as the borderline between production and consumption. Several studies have explored the processes of sharing the news through social media, in particular; Jakob is calling Facebook a meta-medium which incorporates multiple other media within its content, for example.

The Relevance of Devices in Divergent Tweeting Practices

The first presenters on this second day at AoIR 2015 are Bernhard Rieder and Carolin Gerlitz, whose interest is in using data from Twitter's 'spritzer' firehose! which delivers a random 1% or all current tweets. How can this be used to identify individual types of activity in relation of the wider platform ecology? In particular, for the purposes of this paper, what light does it shed on the use of different devices for tweeting?

The project collected some 32 million tweets from the spritzer firehose over the course of one week, and key tools for tweeting were especially iPhone and Android devices. This may also be combined with the tweet contents themselves, to see which devices contribute especially strongly to specific hashtags, for example.

Local Specificities in Chinese Internet Activities

The final speaker in this AoIR 2015 session is my QUT colleague Wilfred Wang, whose focus is on the Chinese platform Weibo. His interest is in geography online – how do we understand local geography through our online activities?

Weibo is a Chinese microblogging platform, launched by Sina in 2009 and now featuring some 280 million accounts. Like Twitter, it works with 140-character messages, but given that these use Chinese characters they enable substantially longer texts. Weibo also incorporates more extended functionality than Twitter.

Social Media Engagement with Italian TV

The next AoIR 2015 speaker is Fabio Giglietto, whose interest is in social television practices in Italy, around political talkshow Servizio Pubblico and reality TV contest X-Factor. What moments of these broadcasts trigger audience engagement? What similarities or differences are there in communication styles?

Fabio's project gathered relevant tweets from the shows' hashtags, and generated a number of key volumetric statistics on user activity; X-Factor audiences were considerably more active. They then algorithmically identified the major peaks in each of the shows' episodes, and explored the key dynamics for each peak.

Understanding the Cultural Intermediary

The next session at AoIR 2015 starts with CCI graduate Jonathon Hutchinson, whose work is on the integration of user participation into the activities of public service media. User participation is not new, but in fact some form of user participation may just be interaction – there is a need to also make sure that participation is relevant, to both users and organisations.

A useful concept to use in this context is the idea of co-creation, bringing together users and organisations as mutual stakeholders in the participatory process. This may also result in a clash of heterarchical community and hierarchical organisational structures – and the organisational staff charged with managing institutional online communities are the ones to negotiate that clash. These community managers serve as cultural intermediaries between the two sides.

The Challenges of Developing Successful Algorithms

The final speaker in this AoIR 2015 session is Anja Bechmann, whose focus is on algorithms from the designer's point of view. Often, users are portrayed as the victims of victorious algorithms – but algorithms are only powerful if they have the right data to process.

We assume that algorithms are streamlining and simplifying activities and are sensitive to our wants and needs, and to do so most effectively they need to interact and interoperate with each other; algorithmic identity thus rests not on an essentialist but on a constructivist approach as identity is enacted when databases meet databases through algorithms.

Anja demonstrates this through the example of the Danish algorithm project Det Sociale Bibliotek (The Social Library), which draws on Facebook users' newsfeeds to present them with relevant library materials. It does not draw simply on their own posts, as the newsfeed also represents the interests of users' friends, and thus of their social environment.

The Metaphors of Algorithmic Agency

The next speaker in this AoIR 2015 session is Annette Markham, who begins by asking about the voice of nonhuman agency. Nonhuman agency has long been recognised in Internet studies, but what is its voice: what are the hidden discourses of algorithmic structures; how do we give voice to technology; how may we represent it?

The key focus here is the rhetorical function of algorithms. Current discourse on algorithm is a theoretical, abstract levels, while it is also important to consider the level of everyday talk and put this into interaction with the theory. This doesn't just operate at the surface level of discourse, in fact, but also at a deep structural level explores the creation of new metaphors and meanings.

An Actor/Structure Perspective on Algorithms

The next speaker at AoIR 2015 is Jakob Linaa Jensen, whose approach is to examine algorithms from an actor/structure perspective. In this, we need to avoid the twin fallacies of techno-optimism as well as techno-pessimism, and move beyond such extreme positions. Algorithms are both good and bad, and a perspective which examines the interplay between actors and structures is useful to shed more light on them.

Actors and structures are ultimately inseparable and inherently intertwined. There are three useful perspectives that may be brought to bear here: Goffman on algorithms and socialisation; Foucault on algorithms and knowledge and biopolitics; and Deleuze and Guattari on algorithms and politics.

How Algorithms Enforce Personal Roles

For the post-lunch session at AoIR 2015, I'm in a session on algorithms, which begins with a paper by Dylan Wittkower. He suggests that social media experience is influenced by algorithms of display and access on both user and system side.

The most important system algorithm is the newsfeed algorithm that determines what posts from their friends and followers a user engages with. This is based often on social presence - on the recency and frequency of interaction between with specific followers - and thus helps to generate stronger ties between specific users, as well as potentially leading to dominant groupthink. This is because we tend to share things that we have a positive affect towards, and that we think our friends will like – even if we are sharing negative things, we share them in the expectation that our friends will agree with our views.

The Evolution of Transmedia Fiction

The next speaker in this AoIR 2015 session is Linda Kronman, whose interest is in transmedia storytelling. She organised the Re:Dakar Art Festival, which emerged from a scam invitation to an "art festival" in Dakar – Linda and colleagues created fake characters who corresponded to the fake characters created by the scammers, and the interaction between them became a form of transmedia storytelling in its own right. Linda and colleagues created fake Facebook pages for their characters, as well as artworks which incorporated the material created by the interactions.

Transmedia storytelling itself emerged over the past decade or two, driven especially also by a number of major movies and other events; but the definitions of such approaches are still varying widely. Some of it links back to hypertext storytelling and digital fiction research from one perspective, hypertext fiction evolved into hypermedia fiction, cybertext fiction, and finally social media fiction. Recent social media fiction projects include The Big Plot and Grace, Wit & Charm, for example.


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