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ICA 2010

International Communication Association conference, Singapore, 22-26 June 2010.

The Orchestrated Moralist Slippage towards a Low Tolerance Society

The final speaker in this ICA 2010 closing plenary is Josephine Ho, who suggests that there is a developing new social sensibility, a low tolerance sensibility, that aims to create a morally induced responsiveness towards devious content. This goes beyond religious use, but generally turns censorship into a justfied and desired action.

Online, anonymity can release hostility and repression, Josephine suggests, and the ease of photo and video sharing makes a greater range of images shareable. The split between private and public behaviour has been blurred, and more and more private moments are being shared; these originate from private desired and distinctive tastes and tap into the immense diversity of feelings and values that lie beyond state-sanctioned content.

Hard and Soft Censorship Regimes in China and Hong Kong

The next speaker in this closing plenary at ICA 2010 is Joseph Chan, who focusses on the China and Hong Kong perspective. He notes that freedom of speech, press freedom, and freedom of assembly are guaranteed by many national constitutions around the world - but they are often only partically practiced; especially so in China and Hong Kong. China censors traditional media as well as new media: it persists and remain very effective.

For new media, the censorship system is based on that for traditional media, and orchestrated through state directives as well as direct intervention (mainly through phone calls to avoid leaving a paper trail). China has a government department for social stability which oversees these efforts, addressing any potentially damaging accusations against the central government; local governments make their own efforts as well. Online, there is more room for deviance or dissent, and this is significant.

Censorship Threats for the Internet

And we're in the closing plenary of ICA 2010, which (appropriately for a conference in Singapore, perhaps) deals with the impact of new media on censorship. Censorship approaches and technologies in the Asia-Pacific region vary widely, of course, as plenary chair Cherian George notes (from brute force to sophisticated social sanctioning).

Ang Peng Hwa is the first of the plenary speakers, and he begins by stating that the rise of Internet censorship in Asia was inevitable. Contrary to previous claims, the Internet can be censored - for example, by blocking particular IP addresses; further, the control of authoritative root services online is in the hands of ICANN, and ICANN itself is far from independent from government influence, but instead is subject to substantial US government control. As one example, Peng Hwa notes the arrest of the then holders of the .iq country-code top-level domain in December 2002, some months before the US operation Iraqi Freedom, leading to a change of control over .iq - hence, there is an urgent need to look more closely at Internet governance.

Effects of the Size and Diversity of Personal Networks on Civic Engagement

The final presenter in this session at ICA 2010 is Homero Gil de Zúñiga, whose interest is in civic engagement. How is this related to interpersonal and computer-mediated networks, and how does this play out differently for weak and strong ties in the networks? Is the effect of interpersonal and computer-mediated networks mediated by access to weak ties? Which setting is more predictive of civic engagement?

Past research in this area has shown connections between demographics and civic engagement; social orientations and civic engagement; and media use and civic engagement; the presence of citizen communication networks also has a positive effect. Finally, there are differences between strong and weak ties: being exposed to a wider range of connections through weak ties can variously have positive and negative effects - providing a greater diversity of information that may spark civic action, for example.

Motivations for Political Boycotting and Buycotting

The next ICA 2010 speaker is Mihye Seo, whose interest is in political consumerism. She notes the threatened collapse of participatory democracy through declining political engagement - but perhaps our definition of political engagement is too narrow. Political consumerism, for example, may be a new trend especially amongst younger people, who don't believe that institutional power will address the issues they care about; rather, they become more involved in other types of political engagement.

The Effect of Structural Pluralism in the Community on Political Participation

The next ICA 2010 speaker is Seungahn Nah, who highlights how community structures constrain individuals' communications and participatory behaviours. We need to develop an integrated theoretical model of civic engagement at the micro-macro linkage.

The degree of specialisation and differentiation in the community has been described as community structural pluralism - indicators for this are population, education, income, and employment, for example. Additionally, communication mediates between demographic and community contexts and civic engagement. At the community level, community structural pluralism is connected to civic engagement, political discussion, and media use; at the individual level, demographic and socioeconomic characteristics connect with the individual's media use to determine levels of political discussion and civic engagement. How do the community and individual levels intersect, though?

The Collective Individualism of Activist Bloggers in Singapore

We're moving rapidly towards the conclusion of this ICA 2010 conference. The next session I'm attending starts with a paper by Carol Soon, whose interest is in activist bloggers. She notes the rise of net-activisim and transnational social movements. While the genesis of blogging lies in personal gratification, blogs also have a transformative power and can lead to greater civic engagement, by disseminating information and facilitating information exchange.

Previous studies have examined both bloggers' uses and gratifications as well as the hyperlinking and network structure of blogs and blogging; Carol's study adds to this by exploring the collective identity of Singapore activist bloggers and its role in engendering social action. Is there a tension betwen the individual and the collective?

Uses of Twitter during Major Events

Finally in this ICA 2010 session we move to Yvette Wohn, talking about how people tweet about TV. When TV was first introduced, it was seen as a social medium, as families gathered around it to watch; later, it was seen as creating a social gap, as enabling people to disengage from reality, as increasing individualism, and (when multiple TVs in the same home became more commonplace) as fragmenting families.

Today, people watch more TV than ever - now also online, on mobiles, and on timeshift devices. At the same time, TV use may be becoming more social again - echoing some of the early commercial attempts to introduce greater immediate social dimensions for television by adding a (telephone, online, ...) social backchannel to the television set or media device: today, it is social media that are adding that backchannel.

Communication Styles on Twitter

The next speaker at ICA 2010 is Chih-Hui Lai, whose focus is on the Facebook newsfeed, the Twitter feed, and similar feeds as social awareness streams (SAS) - consisting of messages which are public or semi-public, short and consumed in streams, and transmitted through articulated networks that structure communication. Twitter is a typical example for this, and his is what the study focussed on.

Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds are quite similar in style, in fact - both offer a kind of phatic communion, a communicative means of opening communication and maintaining relationships. This is also shown in the inclusion of emoticons and other elements. At the same time, the strength of SAS also lies in their use for quick information sharing - and while most research focusses on the use of such SAS for special events (crises, political developments, etc.), the phatic elements are just as important.

Social Media Responses to the Virginia Tech Shooting

The next ICA 2010 speakers are Deanna and Timothy Sellnow, whose focus is on the use of social media in crisis events - here, the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. Such events are cosmology episodes, where understanding is lost, and people ask where am I, what happened, and who can help me understand what happened. They need to rebuild understanding through the process of sensemaking - and this moment of cosmology must be dissected to reduce uncertainty. Social media - especially Facebook - had a prominent role in this.


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