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'Big Data'

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.

Accountability in Digital Humanitarianism

The final paper in this AoIR 2016 session is Mirca Madianou, who begins with a clip promoting the "I Sea" app that purports to take a crowdsourcing approach to scanning satellite images for migrant boats in the Mediterranean in order to spot and help boats in distress. However, that app was a scam; it showed static satellite images rather than live feeds.

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.

Situating Digital Methods

Our Digital Methods pre-conference workshop at AoIR 2016, combining presenters from the Digital Methods Initiative at the University of Amsterdam and the Digital Media Research Centre at Queensland University of Technology starts with a presentation by Richard Rogers on the recent history of digital methods. He points out the gradual transition from a conceptualisation of the Internet and the Web as cyberspace or as a virtual space to an understanding of the Web as inherently linked with the 'real' world: online rather than offline becomes the baseline, and there is an increasing sense of online groundedness.

Some Talks in Oslo ahead of AoIR 2016 in Berlin

I’m on my way to Berlin for this year’s Association of Internet Researchers conference, which will be one of our biggest yet – but on my way I’ve also swung by Oslo to visit my colleagues in the Social Media and Agenda-Setting in Election Campaigns (SAC) project which is now coming to its conclusion. While there I gave a couple of invited talks on my recent research – and the slides from those presentations are now available here.

First, I visited Anders Larsson at Westerdals Oslo School of Arts, Communication and Technology, where I outlined my thoughts on what I’ve started to call the second wave of citizen journalism, now taking place through social media. This essentially provides an overview of the key themes in Gatewatching Revisited – the update to my 2005 Gatewatching book which I’m currently writing:

Axel Bruns. “How the Person in the Street Became a Journalist: Social Media and the Second Wave of Citizen Journalism.” Invited presentation at Westerdals Oslo School of Arts, Communication and Technology, Oslo, 27 Sep. 2016.

Intersections between Follower and @mention Networks in the Australian Twittersphere

The next paper in this Social Media and Society session is by my QUT colleague Brenda Moon and me. Our work-in-progress presentation explores how we can connect our long-term data on the structures of follower networks in the Australian Twittersphere with shorter-term comprehensive information on actual posting activity; we are interested how follower networks and @mention networks cross-influence each other. What emerges already from our preliminary work is that different communities of Australian Twitter users appear to exhibit some very different activity patterns, and that some appear more likely to break out of their follower/followee network clusters than others. One of the newer Twitter communities in Australia, teen users, seem to tweet particularly differently from the others.

Slides are below:

One Day in the Life of a National Twittersphere from Axel Bruns

The Emotional Dimension of Data Visualisation

It's the final day at Social Media and Society, and today's keynote is by Helen Kennedy. She's beginning with the question of how data make us feel: and it is a question that reflects the power of data, of metrics, in an environment where such data have become ordinary and everyday. As data mining becomes more commonplace, new data relations emerge, and these are increasingly characterised by emotion as much as by rationality. This represents a desire for numbers, and points to some of the contradictions that include a hunger for as well as a criticism of numbers. How we get through the visualisation of numbers also plays an important role.

Social media data form part of a larger ecosystem of connective data in this context. Social media data mining has also become ordinary – and should such ordinary forms of social media data mining concern us in the same way that more exceptional data (such as the Snowden leaks) should concern us? Helen has examined this in close engagement with social media data generators and users, and this has also uncovered the visceral reactions that people have when they encounter a data visualisation. Such responses to 'seeing data' also deserve further research: how do we live with data from the bottom up?

Affective Publics around the European Refugee Crisis and Paris Attacks

The final speaker in this Social Media and Society session is Moses Boudourides, who presents a study of the affective publics on Twitter surrounding the European refugee crisis and the Paris terrorist attacks. The project tracked some twenty keywords and hashtags relating to the refugee crisis, capturing a substantial volume of tweets that were further processed using Python.


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