You are here

Politics

The Impact of Algorithms on Public Opinion Formation

The next speaker in is ECREA 2014 session is Arjen van Dalen, whose interest is in the impact of algorithms on public opinion formation at the micro (individual), meso (discussion) and macro (social networks) level; his focus here is on the latter.

Algorithms transform such public opinion formation: some 30% of users read news on social media, and that number is likely to increase. The business strategies of news media are increasingly adjusted to this trend, and the number of social media engagements with news (likes, shares, etc.) are increasingly being used by journalists as an indicator of public opinion, too.

Regulatory Approaches to Algorithmic Markets

The next ECREA 2014 speaker is Natascha Just, who highlights the high level of concentration to a handful of leading players in many markets where algorithms play a key role (e.g. search engines, social media, news aggregators); this also creates challenges for competition policy. Should law interfere in such fast-moving, innovative markets – for example in the search engine markets?

Market dominance alone is no reason to intervene in a market – only if the company exploits its position through anticompetitive behaviour a trigger for intervention emerges. The challenge, then, is to understand how these markets operate and where the focus of competition analysis should be.

Democracy versus Transparency?

The second plenary speaker at ECREA 2014 today is Diogo Pires de Aurélio, whose interest is in the status of state secrets in the current media and communication context. A tacit agreement between governments and media to protect state secrets which – despite occasional leaks – has held for centuries is now increasingly being challenged; while leading mainstream media may still hold to it, the idea that there may be state secrets that the public has no access to has become increasingly comprehensible to the public.

BP's Nasty Strategies for Silencing Criticism Online and Offline

The final paper in this ECREA 2014 session is by Julie Uldam, whose focus is on the silencing of critical voices in the online public sphere; this is an argument for an agonistic perspective of the public sphere. Antagonism tends to be anticipated and silenced by corporations monitoring social media, often using user profiling strategies.

Her example here is the UK climate justice movement, which reacted to BP's unlikely role as a 'sustainability partner' in the 2012 London Olympics; one of its protests was the Reclaim Shakespeare Company, which riffed off BP's sponsorship of the Royal Shakespeare Company during the Olympics festivities, invading the stage before the official performance and circulating the footage via social media. Leaked emails from BP show the company's tracking of protestors and anticipation of further actions.

Activist Facebook Pages as a Fifth Estate in Finland

The next ECREA 2014 speaker is Niina Niskala, whose interest is in Finnish uses of Facebook. Are there communicative power groups that can be seen as examples of social and political movements or even as a 'fifth estate': a network of online individuals able to collaborate to an extent that it challenges the other estates and creates real-world power shifts?

The project gathered data from those of the most popular Finnish Facebook pages that support specific causes or missions or engage in political protest or support. These were analysed for a number of key attributes, and later analysis focussed on the six largest and six smallest of the groups.

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-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.

Reconsidering New Media's Capacity for Empowerment

The second ECREA 2014 plenary speaker this morning is Tristan Mattelart, whose interest is in the transnationalisation of the news. He begins by noting the ambivalent nature of the notion of empowerment, which has been used in the past by disenfranchised groups to raise the social conscience in order to gain more power; but more recently it has been adopted by neoliberal groups, for whom it now simply means increasing the productivity of marginalised people.

Such changes can be seen in the characterisation of Web 2.0, which has also been described – by authors like Howard Rheingold – as an empowering technology. But to find examples of such notions, we could go back further, to a time when international radio broadcasts – for example into Eastern bloc countries – were seen as empowering local populations; ideology was one of the main pillars of authoritarian regimes, but it rested on very unstable foundations. Dissidents sought to establish independent spaces that allowed them to live within the truth, and international radio broadcasts contributed to the development of such spaces; they were the means to construct such spaces and to disseminate dissident information.

Recovering the Political Commons

Well, it's mid-November, so this must be Lisbon. I'm at the European Communication Conference (ECREA), which starts today with a double plenary session, followed by our QUT Social Media Research Group paper presenting the latest version of our map of the Australian Twittersphere (now based on 2.8 million known accounts).

But before we get to this, the first plenary speaker is Natalie Fenton. She begins by noting the need for scholarly work to have a tangible impact beyond the academy, especially in the current climate of austerity; how can we live decent academic lives that contribute to the flourishing of humanity, that enable a good political life? If Thomas Piketty's analysis of contemporary capitalism is correct, and wealth is increasingly concentrated amongst a small and shrinking elite, how do we address that astounding, damaging inequality?

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Politics