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Some New Publications

It’s been some time since I last posted an update on my latest publications – though you may have seen that on the front page of this site, I’ve updated the banner of the most recent books I’ve been featured in, at last. There is quite a lot more work in the pipeline for the immediate future, including a major new collection which I’ve edited with colleagues in Norway and Sweden – more on that soon.

For now, though, you wouldn’t go wrong if you started by checking out the new journal Social Media + Society, which I’m delighted to be involved in as a member of the Editorial Board. We launched issue 1.1 with a collection of brief manifesto pieces that outline why the study of social media and their impacts on society is so important, featuring many leading researchers in this emerging field. And what’s more, the whole journal is open access! For what it’s worth, here’s my contribution:

Axel Bruns. “Making Sense of Society through Social Media.Social Media + Society 1.1 (2015). DOI: 10.1177/2056305115578679.

Along similar lines, my QUT Digital Media Research Centre colleagues and I have also continued our critical engagement with social media and ‘big data’ research methods and approaches, which has resulted in two new book chapters recently.

What If Google Bought Twitter? A Conversation and Some Further Thoughts

Twitter has been in the news recently, for all the wrong reasons. Business media report that Twitter shareholders are disappointed with the company’s latest results; and this follows recent turmoil in the company’s leadership which saw the departure of controversial CEO Dick Costolo and the (temporary) return of co-founder Jack Dorsey until a permanent replacement is found.

All this has served to feed rumours that Google, having recently called time on its own underperforming social network Google+, might be interested in acquiring Twitter. From one perspective, this would clearly make sense – social media are now a key driver of Web traffic and a potentially important advertising market, and Google will not want to remain disconnected from this space for long. On the other hand, though, given its chequered history with the now barely remembered Google Buzz as well as major effort Google+, Twitter users (and the third-party companies that serve this userbase) may well be concerned about what a Google acquisition of the platform may mean for them.

I had the opportunity to explore these questions in some detail in an extended interview with ABC Radio’s Tim Cox last week. In a wide-ranging discussion, we reviewed the issues troubling Google+ and Twitter, and the difficulties facing any player seeking to establish a new social media platform alongside global market leader Facebook. Here’s the audio:

Postdoc Position Available: Public Sphere Theory and Social Media Analytics

In addition to the PhD position I advertised last week, I am now also offering a two-year, full-time postdoc position on the same project at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia (international applicants are very welcome). If you’re interested and qualified for the position, please submit a detailed application through the QUT jobs Website, responding to the selection criteria. Full details for the job can be found there, and below I’m including the key details from the job description:

Position Purpose

This appointment supports an ARC Future Fellowship research project investigating intermedia information flows in the Australian online public sphere. The emergence of new media forms has led to a profound transformation of the Australian media environment: mainstream, niche, and social media intersect in many ways, online and offline. Increased access to large-scale data on public communication online enables an observation of how the nation responds to the news of the day, how themes and topics unfold, and how interest publics develop and decline over time. This project uses such observations to trace how information flows across media spaces, and to develop a new model of the online public sphere. It makes significant contributions to innovation in research methods in the digital humanities, and provides an important basis for policies aimed at closing digital and social divides. Research on the project commenced in April 2014.

The Postdoctoral Research Fellow will contribute to project management and undertake specific research tasks and will also be involved in the supervision of one of the PhD students associated with the project. The position will be based at QUT in Brisbane, and will support the timely analysis of public communication activities which relate to current debates. The presence of this full-time staff member will ensure the project’s agility in responding to unfolding events, and substantially enhance its ability to engage in and impact on public debate over the lifetime of the Future Fellowship.

Call for PhD Applications: Social Media and Public Communication

We’re now looking for the second PhD student associated with my current ARC Future Fellowship project. The PhD student will receive an annual stipend of A$25,849 over the three years of the PhD project. If you’re interested in and qualified for the PhD project, please contact me by 1 May 2015, directly at with your CV, names of two referees, and a detailed statement addressing the Eligibility Requirements below. We’ll select the candidate on this basis, and will then ask you to formally apply for the PhD place through the QUT Website.

Full details are below – please pay particularly close attention to the Eligibility Requirements.

The Project

We are seeking a highly motivated candidate to participate in an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship project which draws on several ‘big data’ sources on Australian online public communication.

This PhD project provides an unprecedented opportunity to investigate the flow of information across the Australian online public sphere at large scale and in close to real time, within a world-class research environment. With an ERA ranking of 5 (well above world standing), Creative Industries at QUT is the leading institution for Media and Communication research in Australia, and ARC Future Fellow Professor Axel Bruns is an international research leader in the area of Internet studies.

Crowdsourced Images in the Boston Marathon Attack

The next speaker at ECREA 2014 is Anssi Männistö, who shifts our focus to the Boston Marathon bomb attack. Mobile social media played an important role in covering this attact: tweets and mobile media were no longer just sources of information, but also tools to very facts and photos and to identify potential suspects, through image recognition software and other facilities.

In Boston, journalists rapidly discovered the first reports and images of the attack from Twitter, and soon came to use them in their own coverage. Such material was then used in official investigations, unofficial hunts for the culprits, and in the media coverage. These each drew on a massive amount of mobile photos; on the real-time publishing of such content in social media; and on crowdsourcing of activities through social media.

Patterns of Discussion on Twitter around the German NSA Surveillance Scandal

Next up at ECREA 2014 is Sanja Kapidzic, whose interest is in how the NSA scandal was communicated in Germany via Twitter. The public sphere is seen here as having a triadic structure, between journalists, official spokespeople, and citizens. Traditionally, this has been dominated by the mass media, but shifts toward online communication have changed this balance; direct bidirectional communication is now possible between all three points of the triad.

This is especially notable in social media environments such as Twitter; however, new hierarchies and elites may also emerge here. What are the new structures of influence in this context, then?

Twitter Rumours at the 'Pre-News' Phase

The final speaker in this ECREA 2014 session is Scott Eldridge, whose interest is in the role of rumour and gossip as 'pre-news'. Rumour is institutionally unfounded, and is not part of the discourse of journalistic products – but it is a kind of reality-testing especially when insufficient verified facts are available.

Rumour is the intervention of the unauthorised voice within the flow of information, then. It is a perishable commodity, and historically the development of formal news reporting is a process of sequestering rumour to a handful of defined categories (letters to the editor, comments, vox pops) that are clearly distinct from 'proper' news.

Celebrity Tweets as a Way of Managing News Coverage

The next presenter at ECREA 2014 is Marcel Broersma, who begins by flagging Robbie Williams's recent livetweeting of the birth of his child: such tweets were also used widely by the mainstream news media, of course. This demonstrates the emerging role of Twitter as a newsbeat for journalists, who now frequently quote from tweets in their articles.

This is especially prominent for celebrity tweets, and in a sense empowers these celebrities to manage their public personae without losing control of their privates lives. For journalists and news organisations this is interesting as celebrit sells papers, but it also changes the journalist/source relationship.

Social Media as Newsbeats in the Czech Republic

The next speakers at ECREA 2014 are Vadim Hladík and Vaclav Štetka, whose interest is in the intersections of social media and journalism in the Czech Republic. What has emerged is a hybrid media system, impacting on organisational setups and routines; on the use of social media as sources (with distinct patterns during breaking news and everyday routine, respectively); and on intermedia agenda-setting processes.

Twitter, for example, has become a kind of newsbeat for journalism: a rich and easy resource for news content, and a tool that allows sources to maintain better control of their messages, as tweets are usually quoted in full. But current research focusses mainly on Western contexts, and on Twitter; the present study therefore explores social media more broadly for the Czech context.

Twitter-Based Interactions between Norwegian Journalists and Politicians

The next ECREA 2014 speaker is my Norwegian project partner Eli Skogerbø, whose interest is in the connections between journalists and politicians on Twitter. How do journalists connect with politicians on Twitter; how do politicians respond to being approached on Twitter?

The project focussed especially on the timeframe around the 2013 Norwegian election. During this time, journalists' activities varied widely; one political journalist was very highly active (producing some 9,000 tweets over the course of one year), while the average level of Twitter activity across journalists was a great deal lower.


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