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Post Mortem Digital Presences

I'm afraid I've missed most of today's AoIR 2016 conference because of meetings, but at least I've made it to the final session of the day, which starts with Paula Kiel. Her interest is in the emerging practices of the collective afterlife: Websites created for post mortem digital interaction. Such sites are usually created before death, and enable their users to actively configure how they want to be remembered online after they have died.

Who Does Rule the Internet, Then?

Tonight is the night of the AoIR 2016 public plenary, and while it's a panel discussion which I won't blog we are going to start with a few short statements from the panellists. We begin with Kate Crawford, who notes the contribution of so many AoIRists to our understanding of the Internet as more than a utopian cyberspace, and instead as a complex stack of network protocol, platform, infrastructural, connectivity, Internet of Things, and other Internet governance layers.

But we have a new problem: more and more artificial intelligence backend systems are being deployed now to ingest and process the data that we constantly generate. These are also moving beyond what we have traditionally called 'the Internet', operating in a wide range of institutions and influencing our perceptions of the world around us. The processes are not particularly intelligent, after all; the famous image of a naked girl fleeing napalm bombings in the Vietnam war was recently censored by Facebook, for instance, and while this image was reinstated this is only the tip of the iceberg of the many arbitrary and opaque decisions that are being made by such algorithms. But the decisions being made by humans are not necessarily all that better – there is overall an irrational confidence in the calculability of reality.

Better Approaches to Analysing Twitter Reply Chains

The final speaker in this session at AoIR 2016 is my DMRC colleague Brenda Moon. She points out that hashtag studies on Twitter are subject to significant limitations because they capture only those tweets that have been explicitly marked with those hashtags, but may not also examine the broader conversation that might unfold around those hashtagged tweets without being itself hashtagged. There is a need here to move beyond quantitative and computational analysis of these datasets as well – so the challenge here is to identify reply chains and to examine them more qualitatively.

Twitter Discussions about the Launch of Netflix in Italy

The second speaker in this AoIR 2016 session is Fabio Giglietto, who shifts our focus to Netflix. This was launched in Italy in October 2015, and has become especially popular with young adults in the 18-24 age range. There has been a growth in the practice of binge-watching TV series as part of this adoption process, too – and other online video providers have also become available in Italy, along with unauthorised sources.

Understanding the Dutch Twittersphere

The final session at AoIR 2016 today starts with a presentation from Daniela van Geenen. She begins by noting that much Twitter research has focussed on specific events, incidents, and groups rather than on longer-term, everyday uses. Is it possible instead to identify local publics on Twitter, based for instance on geographic co-location? Are such publics connected with national networks?

Combatting Political Astroturfing

The next presenter at AoIR 2016 is Adrian Rauchfleisch, whose interest is in digital astroturfing in politics. There have been a number of documented cases of political candidates suddenly picking up substantial numbers of Twitter followers overnight, presumably both because they bought followers themselves and because their opponents created fake followers to embarrass them. There is also a Russian outfit called The Agency, posting pro-Putin comments on international news Websites that purport to be from ordinary users in the west, and similar pro-China astroturfing has also been observed. Such astroturfing is not the same as trolling: trolls are self-motivated, rather than acting as agents of defined political interests.

Social Media Use in US Political Campaigning

We start the second session this morning at AoIR 2016 with a paper by Jennifer Stromer-Galley and Patricia Rossini, whose interest is in the social media posts of presidential candidates in the U.S. election campaign in 2016. On their live tracker they are capturing the social media activities of both Clinton and Trump, and these have also been coded by content.

Twitter and the Bill Cosby Scandal

The final speaker in this AoIR 2016 session is Karen Assmann, whose interest is in the social media coverage of the Bill Cosby scandal. Allegations about Cosby's behaviour had been circulating since the mid-2000s, but these were not widely investigated by journalists at the time (and the court material at the time was sealed after an out-of-court settlement); some journalists have questioned whether they have failed in pursuing this story.

The story blew up again in 2015 after a video discussing the allegations went viral on Twitter, and was picked up on Buzzfeed; eventually the UK's Daily Mail covered the story in some more detail and in October and November 2015 more substantial coverage both online and offline, and both in traditional and new news media finally emerged. Journalists reflected at the time that social media, as well as non-traditional news sites such as Buzzfeed, played an important role in finally generating attention to this story.

Newssharing on Twitter

The first proper day of AoIR 2016 begins with a paper that I'm involved in, along with a host of colleagues from Australia, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. We cover patterns in newssharing across these countries, and I'll add the slides for our presentation below as soon as I can the slides for our presentation are below now.

 

Towards the Platform Society

After an exciting workshop day, we're now starting AoIR 2016 proper with the opening keynote by José van Dijck from the University of Amsterdam. She begins by noting the work of Tarleton Gillespie on the politics of online platforms, which has been very influential in Internet studies in recent years. Internet platforms are now intricately interwoven in a technical, commercial, and social ecosystem, with a number of leading platforms serving as the major gateways to that ecosystem.

But new platforms are constantly emerging, to systematically connect people to things, ideas, and money. These platforms penetrate all aspects of our public and private lives; in any major area these platforms are important gateways to information and connectivity. A platform in this context is an online site that deploys automated technologies and business models to organise data streams, economic interactions, and social exchanges between users of the Internet, José suggests. They are therefore not simple facilitators, or stand-alone objects, but are intricately connected to each other.

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