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Factors in the Governance of Social Media Spaces

Now that the Berlin Symposium is properly underway (congratulations to all concerned!), I’ve made my way into the workshop session on social media governance. The featured speaker in this session is Niva Elkin-Koren, whose research is on governance structures within social media themselves. Social media participants in the first place constitute an unorganised crowd outside of traditional organisations – from open source development outside of companies to political action outside of traditional parties, as we have seen in various countries around the world over the past twelve months. This can lead to real political change, as well as to real violence, of course, which makes it even more important to study.

Research in this area has focussed variously on collaborative content creation, crowdsourcing, organisational processes (without organisations), etc. Niva’s interest is in challenging this idea of the unorganised crowd, then: what processes of governance, including emergent self-governance, apply in these cases? Who are the players, the actors, the individual users and collective groups participating here? Term being used widely here include ‘strangers’, ‘crowd’, as well as ‘community’ – but what do we mean by these terms, and what are the differences between them?

Forms of Deviance in Online Communities

Well, the final day or AoIR 2011 is upon us, and I’m starting it in a panel on politics. We begin with Fa Martin-Niemi, whose interest is in knowledge-sharing in virtual spaces. Such spaces are filled with social networks, and people act differently as they participate in different social networks – sometimes deviantly to a lesser or greater extent. What are the implications for organisational knowledge spaces in this?

Extreme deviance, of course, is damaging to online social networks; there is also positive deviance, however, which can be beneficial (whistleblowing is one example – such deviance is honourable and voluntary, and oriented to greater norms than just those of the immediate social space).

Fa pursued a three-month virtual ethnographic study of online software developers’ fora; she identified different levels of participation, and different roles played by individual participants. Each level of participation had associated deviances: interpersonal deviance, for example, where people acted ‘lawfully stupid’ by grandstanding, philosophising, acting rudely, or making grandiosely absolute statements; or in-crowd enforcement, where self-appointed group guardians try to enforce perceived group norms. (And these two forms of group deviants are also often picking fights with one another.)

Coordinating Online Resources for the Wisconsin Protests

OK, sadly I missed part of the Wisconsin protests AoIR 2011 panel, but I’m here at least to cover Matt Gaydos’s presentation. The history of Wisconsin’s protest and activist movements is strong, and the recent grassroots movement against the virtual outlawing of unions is an important new step in this; Matt recounts the story of himself and his fellow students becoming outraged enough to be persuaded to act.

Some of the organising took place through community-organised Defend Wisconsin Websites and Twitter accounts; these were useful, but only to people who were involved right from the start – they didn’t provide enough material for latecomers to begin to understand the issues, and to learn about how they might be able to help.

Introducing a Theory of Acute Events

The next session at AoIR 2011 is our own, fabulous panel on crisis communication. We begin with an overview paper by my CCI colleagues Jean Burgess and Kate Crawford, who introduce the idea of acute events. Kate begins by outlining the idea of media ecologies involving a wide range of different media platforms, and their specific performance during acute events (such as crises, but also a range of similar events).

Jean follows on by defining acute events as significant real-world events which are associated with intense bursts in media activity – from political elections to royal weddings, from celebrity deaths to natural disasters. We can identify acute events on the basis of their timeline: a sharp peak of high volume and identity (whether locally or globally); highly mediated, involving multiple actors and interests; on Twitter, coordinated around specific #hashtags; and producing controversies and other adjunctive conversations associated more broadly with the topic.

Examining Entitativity on Facebook

The final speaker in this session at AoIR 2011 is Anita Blanchard, whose interest is in entitativity on Facebook: the feeling of the ‘groupiness’ of specific groups. Such entitativity emerges from the presence of clear group boundaries, internal homogeneity between members, social interaction in the group, a clear group structure, and shared common goals held by all members. Such entitativity is a necessary precursor to key group processes and outcomes, such as a common group identity.

So, what is the level of entitativity on Facebook? How groupy can it be? There are a range of obvious groupings here: each member and their circle of friends, communicative groups as constituted in a fluid and ephemeral fashion through status updates, likes and comments, as well as formal interest and fan groups, of course.

Yelp as a Site for Political Consumption?

Kathleen Kuehn is the next speaker at AoIR 2011; her paper is inspired by protest events against the apparently racist attitudes of the operators a local swimming pool which were conducted with the help of the local services consumer review site Yelp. Yelp provides a space for user-created reviews ; how is such consumer-reviewing perceived by users?

This work uses Alvin Toffler’s prosumption concept; consumer reviewing of local products and services can be described as a form of prosumption (and echoing the alternative explanation of ‘prosumption’, participating users may also be thought of as professional consumers). Ideas of consumer-citizenship – consumption as an expression of political will – also come into play here, of course.

Information Filtering in Social Networks

OK, I walked in a little late to the first AoIR 2011 presentation this morning, by Michele Willson, whose focus is on information filtering. There are different approaches to such filtering: at the user or at the service end, initiated by users or by the system, cognitive or social filtering, and based on knowledge about the user’s interests which may be acquired through a range of different mechanisms.

Different stakeholders in the process, and in developing these processes, will have a range of different agendas and interests – developers have specific algorithms they may wish to explore, funding bodies and sources have specific commercial or other imperatives, users and their friends are interested in particular forms of online activity (content sharing, phatic communication, etc.), and the social network providers overall are interested in increasing participant numbers and boost the stickiness of the platform.

Multi-Level, Multi-Method Analysis of Communication Processes

The final speaker in this session at AoIR 2011 is Amoshaun Toft, who is looking at three cases of multilevel communication networks: action against homelessness, a direct action tent city for homeless people, and the building of a new jail which would be likely to hold many homeless locked up for minor misdemeanours.

Politics is the struggle over meaning, and such meaning is relational and contingent. People contest meaning through political action by connecting discourses. Issues organise social action, in specific discursive fields, in particular organisational fields, or through issue industries focussed on given issue areas.

How MoveOn-Style Advocacy Works

The next speaker at AoIR 2011 is Dave Karpf, examining the MoveOn effect. There are two robust findings around Internet politics in the U.S.: the idea of organising without organisations is well established, and the re-emergence of political elites in mass activities online. A third level which has been largely ignored, however, is the organisational level of politics: organising with different organisations.

The labour protests in Wisconsin provide an interesting example for this. What happened here was a rapid cooperation by Net-root organisations, from MoveOn through political blogs and fundraising sites to community Websites. All of them are Internet organisations, and different from legacy advocacy organisations. Three ideal types exist here: a hub-and-spokes model (like MoveOn, orchestrated by a small central staff), a neo-federated model (coordinating strong affiliate groups around the country), and online communities of interest (with an online membership coming together through the site itself).

Creating and Marketing Transmedia Stories

The first keynote at AoIR 2011 is by Mike Monello (who was also the producer of the Blair Witch Project). He begins by noting the importance of team collaboration, and says that Blair Witch emerged as a completely organic process involving its principal creators. The filmmakers wanted the dialogue to be completely improvised, and so created a deep mythology for the Blair Witch story; some of the (very realistic) clips recorded for the film were then broadcast on TV, and audiences were encouraged to go to the online community Split Screen to discuss whether what they’d seen was real.

The massive success of this online discussion then led to the setting-up of the Blair Witch Project Website, which contained the underlying mythology – fans speculated on the message boards and developed theories of what was going on, and the filmmakers themselves almost accidentally became involved in the story as filmmakers, therefore. While there was nothing on the site to identify the story as fiction, there was never any intention to mislead – and the site linked to information about the production process, too.


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