Sourcing News Stories from Social Media

The final speaker in this ASMC14 session is Ansgard Heinrich, who explores the use of Twitter as a sourcing tool. Social media can be sources of information (and misinformation), a device for comments (and rants), a tool for organising social movements, and an instrument for civic groups to promote their messages. Which of these functions are affecting the journalism industry, then?

Ansgard focusses here on the Egyptian revolution, which was described by some commentators as a 'social media revolution'. While this may have been an overstatement, what role did social media play, especially in comparison to journalism? Activist networks use social media to promote their causes and organise protests, of course; journalists also utilise social media, especially to cover live and breaking news events.

Tweeting Along with Political Talkshows

The next speaker at ASMC14 is Evelien D'heer, whose focus is on the use of Twitter as a backchannel to a Flemish political TV talkshow, Terzake. The show has now appointed a 'conversation manager' to guide the Twitter discussion, following a public Twitter spat over the quality of the programme: after criticism of the show's quality by a user, a patronising tweet from the programme makers was widely criticised, and the conversation manager is meant to improve producer/audience relations again.

In this case, then, social media and journalistic logics co-define the programme and its meanings. Evelien's project investigated this process by conducting interviews with programme makers, newsroom observations, network analyses of the Twitter conversation, and interviews with tweeting audience members. This approach is able to compare stated expectations with observations of actual behaviour, on both sides.

Social Media and Journalism

The second day of ASMC14 has started, and I'm afraid I got here a little too late to catch all of Marcel Broersma and Todd Graham's paper. So, we're starting with Steve Paulussen, who explores Twitter's impact on journalism practices.

Social Media and the Value of Disconnection

The final speaker in this session at ASMC14 is Ben Light, whose interest is in disconnection in social media spaces. Social media sites are all about connectivity, of course – at least as far as their corporate rhetoric is concerned; disconnection tends to be less closely investigated in current research.

There are different forms of disconnective power, which are differently implemented in social media spaces. The simplest is actual disconnection functionality; the second is by limiting the scope of user decisionmaking; a third is to create the social environment where certain disconnections are enshrined without needing to be articulated. Such disconnective power may be affected by geographic or sociocultural contexts, or by technological frameworks and algorithms.

Sina Weibo and the Differentiated Construction of Local Chinese Identity

The next speaker in our ASMC14 session is Wilfred Wang, who shifts our interest to Sina Weibo – launched in 2009, and modelling itself to some extent on Twitter, the platform now has some 280 million users. It now plays an important role in Chinese public debate. Wilfred's study is especially on Weibo use in Guangzhou, particularly for constructing a local identity, separate from China itself, during the nationalist protests against Japan over the Diaoyu / Senkaku Islands dispute.

During this time, there were significant public protests, with some rioting and damage to Japanese restaurants and Japanese-made cars. People in Guangzhou in turn reacted against such riots, which damaged key local landmarks as well – and what emerged here was a sense of local ownership, separate from generic Chinese identity. This became a kind of counter-movement against nationalism, and there were even calls to boycott anti-Japanese protests. Wilfred collected the posts of a local opinion leader in this movement.

Social Media as Disruptive Forces

The next speaker in this ASMC14 session is Brian McNair, whose interest is in the impact of social media during crises. It is difficult, of course, to isolate the role of social media in such circumstances; we cannot know how social media have changed the world, and nor can we know what the world would be like without social media.

Brian notes Luhmann's view that boundary maintenance is system maintenance – so is the boundary dissolution that we see with social media the precursor for a form of collapse of whole systems of social, civic, or institutional governance? How do the different communicative affordances that new and especially social media provide affect who can speak and what can be said?

Twitter Hashtags: The Case of #agchatoz

The next ASMC14 session is by the QUT Social Media Research Group, and starts with my colleague Jean Burgess, whose focus is on the use of Twitter hashtags as a public forum. Hashtag studies tend to focus variously on specific events and issues (enabling the emergence of hashtag publics), develop hashtag typologies (praeter, ad, and post hoc hashtags, for example), or consider hashtags as agents in their own right. Hashtags, then, serve as hybrid fora, and are remarkably hybrid because they take place in such a complex, volatile media environment.

Thinking through Connective Networks

The next keynote at ASMC14 is by W. Lance Bennett, whose begins by highlighting the use of social media by NGOs. For them, the game has shifted in recent years – the emphasis now is less on continuing membership than on temporary calls to action. Other recent political movements – from the Spanish Indignados to the global Occupy movement – also appear to be crowd-based movements pursuing some form of collective action, and are moving away even further from conventional organisational models.

Conventional collective action in organisations has its problems – with free riders, for example –, and communication here simply reinforces the existing organisation. By contrast, in connective action there is more self-motivated networking well beyond the organisational setup: social technology enables sharing, using personal action frames, and thereby enlists a greater range of participants beyond the organisation itself.


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