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Launch of Policy Report on Social Media and Emergency Management Organisations

Over the past three years, my colleagues and I at Queensland University of Technology have partnered with Queensland Fire and Emergency Services (QFES) and the Eidos Institute to undertake an Australian Research Council Linkage project to analyse and evaluate how social media are used by emergency management authorities, media organisations and citizens during recent natural disasters events.

Report launchDuring this time we have worked closely with officers from several Australian emergency management organisations to better understand from their practical experience how social media are used in emergency communications, and to find out those areas that are working well as well as those where improvements can be made. As a result of our research and industry discussions, it became apparent that there is a need for a national policy framework that addresses the use of social media in crisis communication, particularly to support the development of effective social media communication strategies and the positioning, resourcing, and training of social media units and/or staff in emergency management agencies and local governments. The Social Media Policy Report Support Frameworks for the Use of Social Media by Emergency Management Organisations has been developed to address this need, and it was launched at Old Government House, Brisbane, by Teresa Gambaro MP on Friday 13 November 2015.

When Data Are Compromised by Politics

The next speaker at AoIR 2015 is Joanna Redden, another contributor to the Compromised Data: From Social Media to Big Data collection. She focusses especially on how data are being used by governments, and how this impacts particularly on issues of poverty and inequality. Her work is based on interviews with public servants and consultants in Canada, and builds a picture of how and where data are being used in the government.

From Worker-Generated Content in China to Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution

The AoIR 2015 keynote today is by Jack Linchuan Qiu, whose begins by highlighting the contributions Asian communication and Internet researchers and practitioners have made to their fields, from very early research publications to Korea. citizen journalism site OhmyNews, Chinese Internet giant Alibaba, and most recently the incomplete "umbrella revolution" in Hong Kong.

But Asia is also the industrial base of the global digital revolution, and in this it remains part of the global south. Here, classic 19th century-style industrial struggles take place using 21st-century communication technologies. The problems around Apple iPhone manufacturer Foxconn represent just the tip of the iceberg for these kinds of struggles.

To illustrate this, Jack discusses the picture of a handwritten protest poem which was posted to a tree in the manufacturing town Dongguan, and was shared virally using social media. Transmitted through social media, this is an expression of digital activism, similar to so many other campaigns around the world. But in Asia it also has a special meaning, as it represents workers armed with smart phones challenging the Chinese social and industrial model. The recent tidal wave of social media use amongst Chinese workers is just as important to study as the Arab Spring uprisings.

Spin as a Symptom of the Crisis of Liberal Democracy

Next up at CMPM2014 is Mark Triffitt, again via Skype, whose focus is on political spin. He suggests that the battle of spin versus substance has become increasingly complicated, and that the basic system of liberal democracy simplify can no longer function in the present environment as it was meant to do. Over the last twenty years the combination of globalisation and changing communication technologies mean that the functionality of political systems has been eroded, leading to other means being used for political contestation.

Political Marketing: The State of the Discipline

The next plenary speaker at CMPM2014 is Jennifer Lees-Marshment, who reflects on the development of political marketing and management. This field focusses on how political actors and their staff use management tools and concepts to achieve their goals. This is not just about seeking votes, but also about driving certain issues and agendas, developing a political profile and image, and it is about governing as well as campaigning.

The scholarship of political marketing no longer just researches what voters want, but also explores how they might be involved in political processes, how long-term relationships can be built, and how internal marketing to the party faithful should be conducted. There are also questions about long-term, mutual, interactive communication relationships, and an expansion of these questions from campaigning to policy delivery and leadership in government.

'Big Data' and Government Decision-Making

The next speaker at "Compromised Data" is Joanna Redden, whose interest is in government uses of 'big data', especially in Canada. There's a great deal of hype surrounding 'big data' in government at the moment, which needs to be explored from a critical perspective; the data rush has been compared to the gold rush, with similarly utopian claims - here especially around the ability for 'big data' to support decision-making and democratic engagement, and the contribution 'big data'-enabled industries can make to the GDP.

But how are 'big data' actually being used in government contexts? New tools and techniques for the analysis of 'big data' are of course being used in government, but how these affect policy decisions remains unclear. Social media analysis is similarly being used for public policy and service delivery; sentiment analysis is used for some decisions around law enforcement and service delivery, but adoption to date is slow.

Social Media in the Mexican Drug Wars

The next speaker in our AoIR 2013 panel on crisis communication is Andres Monroy-Hernandes, who focusses on emergency responses in the current Mexican drug war. Traditionally, emergency information has been disseminated by government officials and the media, but this is not necessarily the case in Mexico, due to the scale of civil disorder in the country: journalists and government organisations in northern Mexico are essentially operating under a self-imposed news blackout due to the pressure they feel from the druglords.

Instead, social media are increasingly adopted for information: citizens in lawless areas are warning each other of "risky situations" (shootings, bombs, etc.), with hashtags like #mtyfollow emerging as the mechanisms to collate such warnings. A kind of "narco language" is also emerging - for example for kidnappings, dead bodies, etc. - and the occurrence of such language is correlated with the murder rate in specific areas, and with the magnitude of specific events.

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.

Rethinking Democracy in the Current Political Context

From the excitement of a thoroughly inspiring AoIR 2012 conference, I've now made my way to Istanbul for this year's European Communications Conference, ECREA 2012. We open the conference with a keynote on e-democracy by Donatella dells Porta, considering the types of democracy which new social movements are envisaging.

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