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Some Thoughts about Internet Research and Networked Publics

Also in connection with the AoIR 2017 conference last week, I answered a few questions about the field of Internet research, and the conference, for the University of Tartu magazine. Here is what I had to say:

What are the major challenges in Internet research?

The central challenge is the object of research itself. The nature of the platforms, content, communities, and practices that constitute 'the' Internet is constantly and rapidly in flux – we are dealing with platforms like Snapchat that didn't exist ten years ago, and with practices like 'fake news' that were nowhere near as prominent even two years ago as they are now. This necessarily means that research methods, approaches, frameworks, and concepts must change with them, and that the toolkits we used to understand a particular phenomenon a few years ago may no longer produce meaningful results today. But at the same time we must beware a sense of ahistoricity: 'fake news', for example, does have precedents that reach back to way before the digital age, and we can certainly still learn a lot from the research that studied propaganda and misinformation in past decades and centuries.

The Critical Media Theory of Byung-chul Han

The second speaker in this AoIR 2017 session is Wolfgang Suetzl, whose focus is on Byung-chul Han, an enormously prolific Korean philosopher working in Germany (he has five books coming out in 2017 alone). Han is influenced by Hegel and Heidegger, but also by Zen Buddhism; he has also drawn on Foucault, Baudrillard, Flusser, and Handke.

Towards e-Privacy by Design in European Union Legislation

The second keynote at AoIR 2017 is by Marju Lauristin, who is both a professor at the University of Tartu and the rapporteur on e-privacy at the European Parliament, where she also represents Estonia as an MEP; indeed she has been named one of the most influential Estonian women in the world. This week the Parliament voted on new EU privacy regulations which Marju has been instrumental in developing.

Her focus here is on the impact of algorithms on deliberative democracy, and the short summary of the situation is that algorithms will severely affect democracy if the companies that utilise them remain unchecked, and that they will prevented from doing so only if effective legislation is enacted to protect democratic processes.

Malcolm Turnbull's Twitter Conversations about the NBN

The final paper session at ANZCA 2017 starts with Caroline Fisher and Glen Fuller, whose focus is on Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's conversations about the National Broadband Network project on Twitter. Turnbull was a comparatively early adopter of social media, and one of the big challenges in becoming PM was whether he would continue to use Twitter in the way he had before, or would lapse into a more broadcast-oriented tweeting style.

Towards a New Globalisation under Chinese and Indian Hegemony

The final day of ANZCA 2017 begins with another set of keynotes. We start with Daya Thussu, whose focus is on the global media and communication environment. Globalisation is central to this, but the discourse of globalisation itself is now changing, and this forces us to rethink the whole notion of 'the global'. Daya focusses here on developments in China and India, in particular, as representatives of the wider group of BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), where these processes are especially apparent at this stage.

The Visual Representation of Real Estate

Next up at ANZCA 2017 is Chris Chesher, who begins by pointing out the increasing role of real estate agents as media producers. Agents selling homes produce public representations of private spaces, portraying the home to be sold as personal and family space, and offering it up for (mediated as well as in-person) inspection. In Australia this occurs mainly through one or both of the duopoly sites Domain and RealEstate.com.au.

Does e-Participation Generate More Positive Attitudes towards Democracy?

The second speaker in this ECREA 2016 speakers are Dennis Friess and Pablo Porten Cheé, who shift our attention to e-participation tools and platforms. They begin by noting that there is a democratic crisis which manifests itself in growing scepticism about representative policy-making. One response to this is a call for more opportunities for citizen participation, especially also through online platforms; but does such e-participation lead to more positive attitudes towards democratic processes?

Platform Power in Turbulent Times

The second keynote speaker at ECREA 2016 today is Rasmus Kleis Nielsen from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. He begins by noting the rise of platforms such as Google and Facebook as new digital intermediaries: these major global companies enable interactions between at least two different kinds of actors, host public information, organise access to it, and give rise to new information formats, and influence incentive structures around investment in public communication (including journalism).

Foregrounding the Implications of Technological Obsolescence through Ecomedia

There is another double-barrelled ECREA 2016 keynote session today, and it starts with Joanna Zylinska, whose interest is in technical obsolescence in media history. Media forms and devices emerge and decline again over time; Joanna is interested in a kind of shallow media geology that explores the various media pasts and futures at local, national, and global levels. This enables an exploration of the dynamics of the contemporary media ecology. In part this is also about the planned media obsolescence that is now designed into many devices.

The Impact of Commenting Systems on Civility

After a swinging party last night, we are now starting the final day of AoIR 2016. This begins with a paper by Alfred Moore, Rolf Fredheim, and John Naughton, whose focus is on online commenting practices. More and more people are getting their news online, and especially through social media; this has been creating anxieties about how people are getting their information, but the dimension of online commenting has been less thematised in this context. The structure of commenting architectures has an important role to play here.

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