9:00 AM to 10:30 AM
1. Civic Media Across World Contexts
Moderator: Evan Lieberman, MIT
Hande Uz Özcan, Baskent University, “Analysis of Polarization of Turkish News Media via Schmittian Political Theory”
This paper analyses the effect of rising authoritarianism of the AKP Government on Turkish news media. Since 2002, AKP is the ruling political party of Turkey. With the rule of AKP, that call itself ‘conservative Democrat,’ the structure of Turkish media ownership has concentrated tremendously in the hands of pro-AKP businesspeople. In the similar vein, the authoritarianism of the AKP government rose remarkably after the ‘Gezi Revolt’ in 2013, and it has reached its pick point after the ‘Military Coup Attempt’ in 2016. Furthermore, following 2016, the government enacted a ‘decree law’ to punish ‘so-called’ traitors. However, by this decree law lots of left-oriented news media, hundreds of left-wing academicians and journalists not only fired from their jobs but also most of them try to continue their lives behind bars where are the concrete examples of the ‘panopticon’s of the state. Hence the freedom of information, freedom of press and expression were severely diminished under the authoritarian rule of AKP. Additionally, media and media professionals that are critical of the AKP could not use their democratic rights in a political climate in which even the judiciary lost its independence. Another consequence of AKP politics in power was the polarization of both citizens and journalistic community as ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ AKP.’ Using Carl Schmitt’s political theory in the conceptualization of ‘friends and enemy,’ this paper aims to discuss the polarization in Turkish society and the concurrence of not only AKP-critical but also non-AKP media by using various means/methods.
Daniel Josephy-Hernández, Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica, Jorge Rivera-Marin with Ai Tomita “New Japanese Nationalism in Anime”
GATE (2015-), an anime directed by Takahiko Kyōgoku, is about an alternate timeline in which Japan that is invaded by a Medieval fantasy army from beyond a magical gate. In order to prevent future invasions, the Japanese government sends the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to establish a military base beyond the gate, thus the name of the series. The ongoing manga (2011-) was created by Yanai Takumi, a former member of the JSDF. The anime consists of 24 episodes, and started airing in 2015. This talk explores how GATE is used to inculcate themes of modern Japanese right-wing nationalism.
GATE is about crossing both literal and metaphorical gates, and it takes aim at several important tropes for Japanese nationalists, attacking both modern politics and historical memory. The series tries to exorcise the shame of Japan’s continued reliance on the United States’ nuclear umbrella by killing, in effigy, US military personnel. It also attempts to portray the critics of Japan’s past and future wartime behaviour as the result of the feminisation of Japanese politics, embodied by hysterical, anti-war female politicians. To drive home the achieved equality with US military prowess, and to demonstrate the soul- liberating properties of war, GATE remakes iconic scenes from US Vietnam War films into bloody celebrations of killing technology that is, ironically, mostly made in the US. This article analyses the relationship between GATE and the new wave of Japanese nationalism that began with the government of Shinzō Abe, and the use of anime to promote a specific military agenda.
Hamidreza Nassiri, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “The Other Side of Digital: Detrimental Effects of Digital Technologies on Global Democracy with A Focus on Iranian Cinema”
Claims that affordable and accessible digital technologies have democratized media production, exhibition, and consumption ignore the existing structures that enhance power imbalances. In this paper, I will argue that the dominance of digital technologies in film had detrimental impacts on global democracy. Global democracy refers to a system of equity among nations in the globalized world.
Using Iranian cinema as a case study, I will argue that the global discrepancy in economic capacities, the issue of technological adaptability in different environments, and the disparity in acquisition and flow of knowledge have created complications for low-income nations, pressured to follow the global digitalization trend. Institutions and corporations in high- income countries make the standards for digital hardware and software, and in a globalized film industry, other countries have no choice other than to follow those rules. This situation has hurt many national industries’ sovereignty by constantly forcing them to adapt to rules and norms dictated by a few countries.
Iranian cinema was forced to transition to digital in the early 2010s mainly due to the economic sanctions imposed on the country as well as its desire to remain relevant in international cinema. However, the shortage of national budget, the inadaptibility of some digital equipment in Iran, and the lack of communication between manufacturers and Iranian practitioners have caused a multitude of difficulties for Iran. Using trade press, interviews, and legal documents, I will explore Iranian cinema’s digitalization and what Iran’s trajectory tells us about the effect of new technologies on global democracy.
Evan Lieberman & Andrew Miller, MIT, “What Triggers Quotidian Ethnic Hostility in Divided Societies?: Categorization and Online Expressions of Animus in Nigeria”
Ethnic and racial cleavages manifest themselves online in many forms: inflammatory Facebook posts, racist tweets, and acerbic comments on news sites are familiar in the digital age. These expressions of animus divide already divided societies and can be particularly consequential in fragile democracies. This study investigates, what can expressions of ethnic animus tell us about the drivers of conflict? And, what can be done to reduce the animus? We analyze more than 306,000 comments posted to stories on the largest news website in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous democracy. This approach allows us to operationalize leading theories to identify triggers of expressions of ethnic animus. To date, the absence of high-quality, individual-level data has made it difficult to adjudicate among micro-foundational motivations for such behaviors.
Consistent with the minimal group paradigm in social identity theory, we find that the use of ethnic labels in the description and framing of events and social processes in article headlines strongly predicts expressions of animus by commenters, irrespective of article content. The findings suggest that journalists and news editors may be—presumably without intending it, in most cases—exacerbating ethnic and racial tensions by categorizing such groups explicitly in headlines. The findings also raise the potential for the media to play a role in reducing social tensions. If they craft headlines in a way that minimizes the salience of ethnicity and race, it could be a step toward reducing the tensions that manifest themselves so often in digital forums.
2. Digital Technologies, Value, and Labor
Moderator: Göran Bolin, Södertörn University
Jeremy Hunsinger, Wilfrid Laurier University, “All that is SOLID….: an analysis of the socio-political possibilities of Solid web technologies”
Web technologies are not new; even the new technologies are frequently remediations. If they are not remediation, then they are likely transformations and/or remixes of remediations. There is a dialectic between technological hope and technological progress. For a long time, the web was thought to be predominantly democratic, and then the rise of platforms recentralized and realized the web’s nature as bureaucratic constructs and its worst crowd mentalities of bullying, harassment, etc.
Solid is a new technological system built promoted by Tim Berners-Lee amongst others. It promises to transform the centralized web in which platforms and corporations have control of your data because you have to give it to them in order to use their systems. It does this by attaching all user data to the user through the use of unique identifiers and the encoding and use of the user’s data only with their permission. The transformation of this model is meant to be fundamental to the empowerment of users in the face of platform corporations. This idea of empowerment embodies the technological hope. This paper analyzes the technological hopes embodied in Solid and confronts them with the hopes of past technologies and the technological progress that they made. It attempts to show the assumptions of the hope are not realizable, much like democratic hopes were unrealizable on the internet in general. In showing these internal contradictions, I conclude with a path forward through the dialectic that may at least be a point of resistance, point of action
Janice Xu, Holy Family University, “Navigating Gender, Class, and Flexible Labor in China’s Companion-Hiring Apps”
Online companion-hiring businesses have become popular in China in recent years, with dozens of apps available in the market. Single people in urban areas could “rent” a temporary girlfriend, or less often, a boyfriend, during holidays to travel to their hometowns to impress their relatives at family gatherings. Digital startups make profits come from subscription fees and a cut from the dates-for-hire. As the hiring apps become a more regular tool of social networking and dating for those with risk-taking traits, such technology companies face challenges to gain consumer trust and avoid crackdowns from authorities over issues of financial scams and sex service. For instance, “Zuwome,” which positions itself as a part-time job broker and socializing site for “pretty women” and “skilled professionals,” has started to use features such as face recognition to build its brand identity as a leading player of the gig economy.
Through an examination of Chinese public discourses on these apps, including public relations materials, mainstream media reports, and government documents, this paper analyzes the gender and class dynamics of the activities in the context of China’s “beauty economy” and contested digital culture. The paper also discusses generational gaps and class formation in the age of materialism and consumerism, as online platforms promise to offer everybody a chance to harness the potential of the digital.
Song Sun, University of Science and Technology of China, “Paying for Knowledge Online in China：Is That an Effective Way to Improve Our Social Competitiveness?”
With the technology evolution of social media and electronic payment, a large number of communities consisting of middle class who are passionate about paying for knowledge-based content online have emerged in China. As a result of the acceleration of knowledge update and fierce competition caused by the rapid evolution of society, people are often prone to being anxious when facing mass media information, hoping to acquire information and skills quickly through knowledge payment and then improve social competitiveness. Nowadays it has become a business for different characters, which include content producers, platform operators and social media, to provide users with personalized knowledge services in many professional fields through collaboration in the forms of Q&A applications, podcasts, column subscriptions and online communities. While the industry is booming, it remains to be seen whether the quest for quick, efficient learning is actually working. Based on a survey of the overall development, we found that most of the knowledge refers to the experience and skills in the specialized field or the cross-border knowledge and methodology, which are relatively scarce in the traditional knowledge supply system. However, the content is usually condensed and easy to understand. For different online content, we studied the behavior of learners and the effectiveness of this kind of learning.
Göran Bolin, Södertörn University, “The reconfiguration of value in data capitalism”
Informational capitalism, as theorised by e.g. Castells, introduced information at the centre of the capitalist dynamics of value generation. As information today has increasingly taken the form of data, there is a profound need to understand the possible changes in this dynamic, and to theorize the reconfiguration of value and the power structures at the heart of data capitalism.
Data capitalism, manifested in the economic dynamics of its business models, arguably rests on three underlying sub-dynamics: an epistemological dynamic focused on increasingly sophisticated means of knowledge directed towards the social, in turn closely related to a technological dynamic tied to digitisation that is the basis on which knowledge is constructed and which facilitates economic transaction, both of which directed towards the social. This means that they are confronted with a social dynamic among those who ultimately generate data.
These dynamics are based in specific value orders, each centred on a specific value form (economic, social, technological, epistemological, etc.). But what happens to the basic values of the social world (eg. belonging), when it is colonised by intelligence- collecting technologies within the frameworks of business dynamics? This paper will discuss the interrelation between these dynamics and propose an analytical approach to empirically study data capitalism.
3. Media Power, Ethics, and Truthmaking
Moderator: Sun-ha Hong, Simon Fraser University
June Deery, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, “Political Simulation: Media Portrayals of Media in Politics”
I propose to focus on the relationship between journalists and politicians in post-Thatcher and post-Reagan film and television. While many narratives pit the authentic and modest journalist against egotistic and corrupt politicians, it is not always this Manichean. What we are signs of an increasing crisis in journalism and its public reputation but nevertheless a clear acknowledgement that (for better or worse) never has the media played so significant a role in the political sphere. Politicians are often satirized for playing to the camera and producing sham policies only in order to manage their media representation, to the extent that texts prompt questions such as: has politics imploded, reached simulation point, and become simply a form of media production?
This paper will briefly re-cap the history of the media’s role in politics since Teddy Roosevelt and categorize recent political narratives found in British and US media. I will indicate how fiction contributes to our understanding of media-politics and examine how gender, class, and race/ ethnicity are presented in both political and journalistic cultures.
Primary TV texts: Yes Minister/ Prime Minister, West Wing, House of Cards (UK and US), The Thick of it, Veep, Alpha House and A Very British Coup. Primary film texts: All The President’s Men, Tanner ’88, The Candidate, Wag the Dog, Bulworth, Primary Colors, Good Night and Good Luck, In the Loop, and The Post.
Sun-ha Hong, Simon Fraser University, “Smart machines, political disinformers, and emerging cultures of personal truthmaking”
This paper argues that both widely celebrated applications of new media (the rise of smart machines) and widely condemned ones (the rise of political disinformation) are part of a wider turn towards ‘personal truthmaking’: a valorisation of individual experience and judgment, often in militant opposition to bureacratic process and institutional expertise. In this telling, fake news emerges not only from populism and partisanship, but the decentralised architecture of the Internet and its unintended facilitation of cynical and individualistic truthmaking over the past decade.
The presentation will offer two contemporary cases. First, self-tracking technologies emblematise the ongoing enthusiasm for data-driven knowledge as more objective and empirical – the promise of ‘machines that know you better than you know yourself’. Second, I turn to Alex Jones and the Youtuber ‘The Golden One’ as examples of political disinformers. Here conspiracy is served as a dose of reason and reality, draped in a personal and thoroughly anti-institutional style. Their audience is subsequently monetised through dubious health products: fake news for fake pills.
Across both cases, personal truthmaking romanticises a transgressive, charismatic and individualistic kind of authenticity as the path to reason and truth. Yet the exhortation to know for yourself, whether through the latest smart gadget or by ‘redpilling’ against the lies of the deep state, becomes leveraged to establish a new generation of mediators both human and nonhuman. What is at stake is not only the spread of ‘alternative facts’, but changing social and technological thresholds of what counts as truth and trust online.
Damián Pedemonte, University, Argentina & National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET), “The death of a National Fiscal: A post media case running in platforms”
How relation between politics and media differ from one government to other, from a media-centric to a digital centric scenarios, is shown through the coverage of shocking media case in Argentina. Fiscal Alberto Nisman death in 2015, hours before he should appear in the Congress to make a complaint against the Government, was a political crisis for President Cristina Kirchner (2008-2015). She would been denounced for concealment in terrorist attack on AMIA, Jewish mutual, in 1994. Social Media were main actors in this case: a journalist personal twit announced Fiscal death, and President refer to the event only in Facebook. In a “platform capitalism” (Srnicek, 2016) and “hybrid media system” (Chadwick, 2013), Nisman story became a “post-media” case different from previous shocking media cases (Fernández Pedemonte, 2010, 2015). Now media don’t monopolize information any more: others actors fight to impose their agendas and frames. In the platforms run data and rumors, facts and fake news. And fiction activate public opinion (Mulligan 2012, 2013). ¿Commit Nisman suicide or was murder? Each interpretation inserted in wider series: an attempt of media to discredit government, or another “tale” of populist government. Two years later, new President, Mauricio Macri, keep Nisman in agenda. For instance, during 2017 midterm campaign, his Government counterattack negative information with news about Nisman. The different political use of social media for both Governments in Nisman case is an echo not only of the fast transformation of media context but also of confrontation of political communication strategies (Fernández Pedemonte, 2018).
Eric Opu, University of East Anglia United Kingdom, “Online Political Activism, Media Literacy and Public Manipulation: The Challenges of Balancing Public Order and Free Speech in the Age of Fake News. Insights from Cameroon”
Freedom of expression remains a much-touted hallmark of democratic societies and a human right. Today, more voices are being heard due in large part to the internet which has immensely democratized the production, dissemination and consumption of media content.
While free speech remains a principle which must be upheld, and the positive contributions of online activism in forging democratic processes be recognized (e.g the Arab Spring), the democratization of communication which the internet has engendered has also occasioned the dissemination of sometimes false or manipulated content aimed at promoting certain narratives, especially in periods of political crisis. The negative role Radio Mille Collines played in the Rwandan genocide is a stark reminder of the power manipulated media content can have, especially in places like Africa where media literacy levels remain low.
Against this backdrop, in light of government shut-down of the internet in English-speaking Cameroon in the context of the on-going Anglophone secessionist crisis, my paper examines the role of online activism in the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon. What discourses does the state employ to justify its restrictive interventions in online spaces? How can internet governance uphold free speech while preventing the potentially dangerous consequences for public order of fake news, in countries with low media literacy such as Cameroon? What sorts of legal, social or technological challenges does the state face in this process?
I examine these questions and the implications these have for internet governance and political participation in Cameroon.
4. Journalism, News, and Civic Participation
Moderator: Michael Epstein, Walking Cinema
Eleni Staiou, University of Athens, “Civic responsibility trends through digital solidarity: the case of Greece during the economic and social crisis”
During the economic crisis in Greece, a self-organized civil society started to flourish as a remedy to the deterioration of the living standards of the population and the insufficiency of the state authorities to meet basic social needs.
Through numerous and diversified civic solidarity initatives demonstrated across the country, citizens underlined the problems faced by the state, and in many cases did not hesitate to take action and provide immediate solutions, bypassing political discourses and discriminations, for the benefit of their fellow citizens and the society in general.
An ally in this effort was proven to be the internet and the social media, through which citizens’ initiatives were launched, either to find volunteers and donors, or to find citizens in need of help.
This paper presents the self-organized social solidarity initiatives (SoSS) that emerged in Greece of the crisis as a response to the problems that arose and could not be covered by the state. The main objective is to discuss how these initiatives have taken advantage of the online tools (website, email, facebook, twitter, youtube) in their quest, what difficulties they encountered when using online media, and if these tools ultimately helped them to achieve more quickly and easily their goals. Finally, using this experience and these data, ten basic principles are suggested regarding the use of digital tools from civic initiatives that lack resources (money or human) in order to organize a professional communication policy.
Michael Epstein, Walking Cinema & Laura Herman, Adobe, Inc, “Location-Based Journalism and Civic Participation”
This paper will examine the civic impact of location-based journalism. An emerging media form, location-based journalism uses the GPS, networking, and multimedia capabilities of mobile devices to deliver news stories that interact with audience surroundings. Media outlets such as the USA Today, KQED, and the BBC have produced location-based journalism applications to expand their crime, culture, and human interest stories. This paper exams the reported impact of several location-based journalism projects and then dives deeply into audience studies for the WALKING CINEMA: MUSEUM OF THE HIDDEN CITY. The project is a first-of-its-kind mobile audio and augmented reality app that explores the housing crisis in San Francisco. The project builds on research started at MIT in mobile storytelling (“Moving Story” panel at MiT 5) and work author Michael Epstein has done with Detour, PBS, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The paper will build on Eric Klopfer’s concept of “ubiquitous games” to promote engagement and learning (J. Perry and E. Klopfer, 2011.) Our data is based on the audience study model focusing on awareness, empathy, and action as set forth in the MIT Center for Civic Media’s AR project with the San Diego Zoo (Ho, P. H., Miller, G. A., Wang M. Y., Haleftiras, N., Zuckerman, E. 2017.) The paper will highlight audience perceptions of how location-based storytelling vs. online media influences their desire to take action on a current issue.
Aman Abhishek, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “Locating Open Source Culture at the Heart of Public Journalism: the case of Wikinews, WikiLeaks & Indymedia”
In this paper I argue that digitally enabled peer production cannot substitute the function of the traditional mass media. By analyzing Wikinews, WikiTribune, and Wikipedia, I develop a theoretical framework which delineates the structural incompatibility between peer production and journalistic process. This framework has the following features:
First, the institution of traditional mass media fulfills an important function of accreditation; it serves as a source of trustworthiness, stability, and accountability. Peer produced information fails to do that same.
Second, the central ingredient of wiki-platforms is the “neutral point of view” policy. Whereby competing claims of truths are presented side by side and the deliberation required to reach a consensus is not deemed worthy. In other words, the phenomenon of indexing and “he said she said” journalism is deeply embedded in these platforms, making their journalism toothless.
Third, peer production is suitable for projects that can be broken into smaller components which can be worked on independently and then assembled into a whole, which is not a quality that most journalistic reporting exhibits.
I then consider the case of WikiLeaks, and analyze the complete failure of “wiki” in Wiki- Leaks (users collectively analyzing and contextualizing documents, and peer producing investigative reports based on the leaks) using the framework developed. Even though WikiLeaks’ promise of peer production was significantly high because of the significance of primary documents available on it, what happened throughout its history was the traditional media reporting on the leaks instead of any peer production driven reporting.
Chris Wells, Boston University, Kjerstin Thorson, Michigan State University, & Emily Vraga, George Mason University, “Who gets the news now? Contingent information exposure, digital citizens and democracy”
The fragmentation of the public sphere is a major concern for observers of our phase of mediated democracy. To test propositions about citizens’ experiences of political information, we employed a method with two unique features: first, we used a rolling cross-sectional survey that collected responses from a representative sample of 100 American adults each day during the seven weeks preceding the 2016 election. Second, we measured respondents’ exposure to recent political information using a tool that displayed both textual and visual stimuli.
Our data allow us to explore how personal attributes, media experiences, and interpersonal and digital social network traits are associated with respondents’ awareness of information circulating either in liberal, or conservative media. Our results demonstrate that most citizens now sit at the confluence of multiple streams of political information, but that individuals’ personal media repertoires can vary widely—a phenomenon we have termed “curated flows.” In the aggregate, we find muted evidence for partisan “echo chambers.” However, information fragmentation is quite visible along lines of political interest. As is well known, the interested choose to consume flows rich in political content. Information sharing in social networking platforms does provide some awareness to the less interested, but the interested gain just as much from that domain, leaving a wide gap in political awareness. We conclude with a depiction of an online citizenry that is sharply divided between the less interested and unaware, and the highly interested, who are aware of discourses across the political spectrum but also highly polarized.
5. Media Infrastructures across Contexts
Moderator: James Schwoch, Northwestern University
Michele Ferris-Dobles, University of Costa Rica & University of Illinois at Chicago, “Central American migration and the ‘borderless’ mobile phone”
Mobile phones have become ubiquitous tools for Central American migrants as they transit from their home countries to the U.S-Mexican border. There is a growing body of academic work that analyses the uses of mobile phones during the processes of migration ranging from interpersonal communication, instant messaging, networking, and location through the use of GPS applications. There is a dearth of research on what are the infrastructural arrangements that allows Central American migrants to have Internet coverage and to use the same mobile phone and plan across national borders. Using a media archeology approach and applying Durham Peters (2009) theory of infrastructuralism, this research asks which are the major media infrastructural transitions that allows migrants nowadays to use the same mobile phone and plan and to have Internet coverage throughout their journey. I demonstrate that the implementation of free trade agreements between Central America and the U.S in the 1990’s and 2000’s provoked the reorganization of telecommunication infrastructures from public utilities to profitable commodities run by private transitional corporations, which allows mobile phones to operate and have Internet coverage freely across national borders at the same time that people do not have the same freedom of mobility. I conclude that these infrastructural shifts have not only enabled mobile phones to change the traditional migratory patterns, but they have also created a profitable business for the transnational telecommunications corporations who promote a perception of a “borderless” world through communication while migrants themselves still run the risk of being detained and prosecuted.
James Schwoch, Northwestern University, “From the Telegraph to 5G:Wooden Utitility Poles, Woodpeckers, and Media Transition”
About 150 million wooden utility poles are in use in the USA. Poles are among the most common media/IT infrastructure objects seen in daily life. This paper explores trees, poles, woodpeckers, and current policy issues. A historical overview on chestnut trees before the chestnut blight, “problem trees” such as cottonwood, and efforts toward forest management are included herein. The paper discusses trees and poles from a woodpecker’s perspective, showing how pole routes interact with woodpecker activities such as surveillance by Pileated Woodpeckers. General circulation models indicate global warming will expand the northward range of Pileated Woodpeckers and their favorite trees and poles. Yet current trends in telecommunication and environmental policy augur an upheaval of the history of woodpecker—pole symbiosis. These include the drive for 5g Wi-Fi and installation of 5g networking equipment on extant wooden pole systems. The FCC push for “One Touch Make Ready” on utility poles risks undermining pole safety. Other new policies compromise the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Woodpeckers are protected by the 1918 Act, which prohibits destruction of protected birds without prior approval and waiver from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. New proposals for interpreting the 1918 Act now favor the ability to “remove” protected birds without a waiver if the birds interfere with economic development. Will One Touch Make Ready, 5g networks, and weakening the 1918 Act conjure a past world of 100+ years ago, when woodpeckers pecking on telegraph poles were routinely shot and killed?
Rory Solomon, New York University, “Meshing Well: A Model for Network Politics”
As ubiquitous as we take internet to be, there of course remain massive discrepancies in the quantity and quality of connectivity throughout the world. While countless corporate, governmental, and non-profit actors doggedly work toward the ever wider spread of the internet’s tendrils for a vastly divergent set of motivations, the terms of these commitments typically remain stuck in binary language of connected versus unconnected and the so-called “digital divide.” This paper traces an international community of technology activists working toward media transition not in terms of network presence or absence, but rather through careful attention to how networks are unfolded, through the development of a technology known as mesh networks: a class of communications infrastructure reticulated through direct, person-to- person links and routing protocols. Mesh networks appropriate wireless “last mile” technologies and repurpose them as community-centered backbones, embedding technopolitical values of localism and open source ideology. (Winner 1980, Coleman 2012, Kelty 2008) Mesh network activists engage in what I call a politics of connectivity, taking otherwise “wonkish” technical concerns and making them legible and meaningful to lay audiences. (Dunbar-Hester 2009)
Mapping results of ethnographic fieldwork at two sites–Guifi.net in Catalonia and NYC Mesh in New York–these cases initially present as politically divergent, with Guifi organized through strong policy commitments to a commons and NYC Mesh as an unstructured liberal association. I show however that mesh is an object that routes around such political blockages, offering a model of mediation for our transition to a more networked world.
Ayesha Omer, New York University, “The Digital New Silk Road: A Study of the Pak-China Fiber Optic Cable”
This paper follows an overland fiber optic cable from China’s Xinjiang region across the internationally disputed territories of Gilgit-Baltistan to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, as part of China’s global New Silk Road project. It charts the formation of this global digital media infrastructure on the ground of the glaciers and mountains of the Himalayas and the situated social histories of political self-determination in Gilgit- Baltistan. It analyzes its significance within the disputed territories of Gilgit-Baltistan that have been kept at the communication margins of the Pakistani state under draconian censorship and surveillance practices. This paper takes up the ground, not as an a priori condition, but as a political substrate that mediates the conditions of possibility for technological infrastructure and political sovereignty in Gilgit-Baltistan. Combining ethnographic and archival research, this paper draws on media studies (Galloway and Thacker 2007, Chun 2006, Starosielski 2015, Parks and Starosielski 2015) infrastructure studies (Anand 2017, von Schnitzler 2017, Larkin 2008), and theories of governmentality (Mbembe 2003, Appadurai 2006, Chatterjee 2008) to support its arguments.
6. Digital Technologies, Welfare, and Human Rights
Moderator: Mariel García-Montes, MIT
Mats Björkin, University of Gothenburg, “Computation and the Welfare State: The Development of Digital Public Service in Sweden 1950-1980”
The post-war welfare state combined humanism and strict procedures to organize public life in order to create equality, social stability, and economic progress. This paper addresses the changing organization of knowledge and skills in programming in the organization of public authorities, during the development of the Swedish welfare society from the 1950s to mid 1980s.
Computer science and psychological behaviorism opened up for new competences in both private and public organizations. Human resource specialists became ubiquitous in larger companies and government agencies. An increasing number of people working with computers had less and less knowledge of the consequences of the computer as the skills in software development increased. A separation gradually occurred between programming languages and the languages (discourses) with which computing systems were motivated. A (re)masculinization of programmers appeared, from a time when programmers had degrees in mathematics (with many female students) to degrees in numerical analysis or electronic engineering (with almost only male students).
The key questions are: How did different industry branches and public sectors adopt and/or develop computerization? How did social background (gender, education, age) and professional approach (creative, technical, mathematical) effect how the employees developed programs and programming languages in different industry sectors and public agencies? What can we learn from these early cultures of creativity within public sector software development to enhance our understanding of contemporary software cultures – between big industry and digital activism?
Marc Aidinoff, MIT, “Digitizing Welfare”
The material condition of poverty in the United States is mediated by the digital infrastructure of the welfare state. This paper offers a historical examination of how the Mississippi state government developed a media infrastructure to administer welfare and in doing so conceptualized and operationalized citizenship. By the end of the twentieth century, despite concerns about a digital divide between those with and without access to computers, a welfare recipient in Mississippi would have been very familiar with IBM 327X series equipment. He or she would have known the tap of keys on the display terminal, the click of the printer, the feeling of a caseworkers’ eyes moving from the screen, and the consequences of the state’s largest computer network. As political scientist Virginia Eubanks has suggested, the experience of poverty in the United States has just as often been marked by the ubiquity of technology as its absence. Before states used Internet-based systems, critical welfare programs, including the Aid to Families with Dependent Children Program, relied on massive networked systems. In Mississippi, the system known as MAVERICS would link counties together though a central computer to assure the validity of each welfare claim. The interlinked nodes of MAVERICS engendered a certain type of conceptual and operational policymaking work. Designers drew on fears of fraud, abuse, and overpayment to prioritize system features of enforcement. In its development and implementation, MAVERICS would demarcate the deserving from undeserving poor. The digitization of welfare set the parameters of who merited citizenship.
Rana Arafat, University of Lugano, “Re-thinking Democratic Divide and Digital Media Usage in Forced Migration Contexts: A Study on Arab Refugees in Switzerland”
Investigating the significant influence of technology, especially internet and digital media, on democracy has gained considerable attention by many scholars over the past decades (e.g., Evans, 2019; Zang et al., 2018; Pirannejad, 2017; Zaid, 2016). Considering internet as a double aged weapon that can either contribute to empowering or undermining democracy, Norris (2001) introduced the concept of democratic divide as a second-level divide indicating “the differences between those who do, and do not, use the panoply of digital resources to engage, mobilize, and participate in public life” (p.4). A more recent study by Min (2010) focused the concept on the individuals’ differential Internet usage for political purposes and demonstrated the importance of internet skills and political interest as strong predictors, along with demographic characteristics, for the internet political use among citizens.
The particularity of the case of refugees, who are not allowed to participate formally in the host country’s politics until naturalization while having high restrictions on their out-of-country voting in the homelands they fled, leads to a state of political marginalization that may last for decades. Therefore, a wider understanding of the democratic divide and the internet political usage by refugees still requires further research. Aiming to bridge the gap, the study employs a qualitative data analysis method to come up with deeper illustrations and explanations. 60 semi-structured interviews with Arab refugees in the three main language regions in Switzerland are conducted (20 in Lugano and Chiasso, 20 in Geneva and Neuchâtel and 20 in Zurich and Bern) to dig deeper in their internet and social media usage for political purposes.
The preliminary findings showed strong evidence for the existence of a democratic divide in political internet usage among long-settled Arab refugees in Switzerland. While the majority of the participants showed high digital literacy skills and a big interest in following political news about both their homelands and host countries, three key barriers contributed to creating a new form of democratic divide in the forced migration context including fear of state surveillance, political discouragement/despair and the Swiss citizenship and current residence status. In most of the cases, such factors prevented those interested in politics from expressing their political opinions online or engaging in any online political discussions. This widens the democratic divide between those who use digital media for politics and those who do not causing many refugees to be ‘twice marginalized’, once for not having political rights to participate in the formal state politics in their host countries offline and once for not being able to engage in digital politics online. This double marginalization adds a new aspect for understanding the democratic divide in a more critical situation, opening the door for raising questions about the future of these non-electronic voices that are marginalized from political participation in the age of rising e-governments.
J. Mauricio Gaona, McGill University, “Socio-technological redistribution of digital media: From AI-news and e-policy forums to human rights protection”
The future of digital media will be marked by a socio-technological redistribution of work. Accordingly, in less than a decade machines will report facts while humans will provide opinions based on those facts—this is a core finding of my research.
In my paper, I argue that Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) will correct public trust problems currently associated with social, public, and commercial media. Moreover, since evolutionary algorithms will gradually remove human bias from their source code, AGI will not merely provide greater objectivity but further eliminate natural (psychological) and unnatural (political) distorters of reality—particularly since machines can fact-check better the news they report. Eventually, society will benefit from sharing the same facts from which more intelligent discussions will finally emerge.
Neither commercial nor social media will disappear as this redistribution will push them to become e-policy and reaction forums mainly focused on discussing rather than reporting the news. Still, social media role will regenerate through specialized-emerging functions—this is another critical finding of my research. In fact, my paper shows traditionally neglected social groups using social media across the world to protect their human rights and fight against dissimilar forms of discrimination, oppression, and authoritarianism. This includes political opponents in Venezuela using YouTube to expose crimes against humanity, victims of conflict in Colombia using Facebook and Twitter as transitional justice e-forums, Central American, Syrians, and Rohingya refugees using social media as migration tool, and women in Honduras using Facebook as sociopolitical-accountability tool to stop gender violence and discrimination.
7. Fake News: Past and Present
Moderator: Lilia Kilburn, Harvard
Ryan Scheiding, Concordia University, Alternative Facts & Atomic Bomb Collective Memory: The Case of John Hersey’s Hiroshima”
When John Hersey’s Hiroshima (1946) was first published as a special issue of The New Yorker it shocked American audiences with its unbridled and haunting description of the effects of the first atomic bomb dropped on civilians. Due to its undermining of official narratives that attempted to veil many of the bomb’s negative effects, the work triggered a campaign among high-ranking officials to provide a less politically damaging narrative (Alperovitz 1995: Lifton and Mitchell 1995). One of the major outputs of this effort, Henry Stimson’s article for Harper’s magazine (1947), effectively altered popular opinion of the bomb through a false narrative based upon inflated casualty figures and deliberate misinformation. As a result, a new collective memory was created, and Hersey’s work faded in influence.
This incident can be seen as an early example of “alternative facts” that dramatically changed American collective memory of the atomic bombs. Past research has examined the connection between official sources and the stifling of Hersey’s work in the period directly after the bombing (1946-1947). Yet, little work has been done that examines the continuing impact of Hersey’s work. This paper fills that research gap through a comparative study of the original New Yorker issue (1946), the mass market paperback version (1989) and the reproduction found on newyorker.com (2015). This brief case study examines not only what has changed (and not changed) in the different iterations of the work but also examines the influence of official sources on collective memory through the use of disinformation.
Jeffrey Blevins, University of Cincinnati, “Free Expression and Fake News: Does the ‘Marketplace of Ideas’ Metaphor Still Apply?”
This study applies Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky’s (1988) famous political economic critique of the U.S. news media to the current realm of fake news. As the subsequent political economic analysis presented here will show, the growth and distribution of fake news via bots on social media during the 2016 U.S. presidential cycle, along with doublespeak about what is considered “fake news” has had a detrimental impact on the institutional effectiveness of journalism, and exposed an epistemic flaw in the oft-cited “marketplace of ideas” metaphor used in First Amendment jurisprudence.
While the growth of fake news on social media has led some observers to suggest regulation of the problem; the First Amendment provides a broad right of free expression, and rather than trying to regulate false speech, U.S. jurisprudence has often relied on the “marketplace of ideas” metaphor. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said that the way to counter falsehood, fallacies and lies is with more speech. From a examination of Brandeis’ jurisprudence on free expression applied to the current realm of fake news, this analysis questions whether the marketplace of ideas metaphor has outlived its usefulness in the age of fake news, and suggests a revitalization of critical media literacy as potential solution the problem.
Lilia Kilburn, Harvard University, “Photoshop and the Visual Registers of ‘False News’ in Cameroon”
The administration of Cameroon’s President Paul Biya had used Photoshop overtly for years before the software became a topic of fierce public debate, and the object of domestic and international media scrutiny, in 2015. After the verbal hubbub died down, distinctive photo editing styles remained behind, allowing Cameroonians to index solidarity with or opposition to the central government through subtle shifts in form like the absence of a shadow or the presence of a blur. In this paper, I use both media theory and Africanist anthropology to develop a method for reading invocations of Photoshop, “false news,” hackers, and Donald Trump in Cameroon’s Photoshop debates, and to explain
why these debates took place when they did. Using techniques drawn from semiotic anthropology (Silverstein 2004, Agha 2005), I trace the dialectical emergence of three distinct visual registers of Photoshop use in this setting: first, a leave-no-trace approach to photo editing with historical ties to Euro-American skepticism of Photoshop on photography-as-truth grounds; second, the Cameroonian government’s visibly Photoshopped images, part of a long history of Biya’s tactics of mediation (Mbembe 2001); and third, the recent uptake of Photoshop by Anglophone separatists. Four years prior to the introduction of the secessionists’ cryptocurrency AmbaCoin, satires of government Photoshoppings helped to consolidate a secessionist counterpublic and fueled an emergent fantasy through which technological expertise might save a new Anglophone state—and only its citizens—from the crises faced by the bilingual one. I argue that Photoshopped images in Cameroon produced value through social differentiation, splitting constituencies that might have aligned against broader forms of exploitation, because they made benefits like foreign press attention available only through designations of relative goodness or competency, and suggested a zero-sum moral universe (Simone 2004).
Tom Pettitt, University of Southern Denmark, “The Renaissance of Rumor? Tracing Patterns in the Deep History of News Mediation”
The current crisis in our news ecology can usefully be approached via the deep history of media technology. In so doing, from a point of departure prior to the emergence of the printed newspaper, this contribution will characterize media systems in terms of the two basic patterns traced by their diffusion of news: circulation from person to person (trans-mission); radiation from a central source (broad-casting; dissemination) to multiple recipients.
In the pre-modern period ‘news’ meant circulated information, and ‘rumor’ was a synonym invoking the sound of the voices achieving its transmission. But information which would now qualify as news was radiated in the proclamations issued by the authorities.
Thanks largely to the affordances of print, this radiation of news was gradually usurped by newspapers, ‘news’ increasingly equated with authentic information, ‘rumor’ degenerating into unreliable information lacking the authority of a known source.
This distinction persisted into the era of radio and television news broadcasts, but recently the news ecology has experienced a ‘Renaissance of Rumor’. Radiated news was catastrophically devalued when digital technology and the internet enabled its achievement with little expertise or resources, while circulated news, emerging into prominence, continued to be appreciated and diffused on the basis of factors other than its veracity.
Identifying this closing of a ‘news parenthesis’ (with dire implications for democracy) may ultimately point to remedial action, but from a historian’s perspective the massively documented genesis of post-print rumor (say Pizzagate) may provide insights into the emergence of pre-print fake news (say Queen Elizabeth’s bastards).
10:30 AM to 11:00 AM
11:00 AM to 12:30 PM
Plenary: Culture Industries
Weisner Building – E15
Moderator: Ian Condry, MIT
Huma Yusuf, Wilson Center
David Hesmondhalgh, University of Leeds
Roberta Pearson, University of Nottingham
Philip M. Napoli, Duke University
12:30 PM to 1:30 PM
1:30 PM to 3:00 PM
8. Case Studies in Global TV: Reality Television, Korean Web Drama, and Transcultural Telenovela
Moderator: Tasha Oren, Tufts University
Iago Bojczuk, MIT, “From Rio de Janeiro to Marrakech: Spatial and Female Representations of the ‘Arab-Muslim’ in the Brazilian Telenovela O Clone”
In the evening that followed the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001,former president George W. Bush addressed millions of Americans on TV: “None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.” Four years prior to such deadly and inhumane attacks in the U.S., the New York Times issued a story titled: “Scientists Report First Cloning Ever of Adult Mammal.” Although Al-Qaeda and Dolly the sheep may have nothing in common at first, they both speak to the dramatic tensions materialized in O Clone (The Clone), a Brazilian telenovela aired a few weeks after 9/11 that swiftly became a world phenomenon. Produced by TV Globo, Latin America’s largest media conglomerate, O Clone offered a cross-cultural forum for understanding an ethnically diverse, culturally rich, and misconstrued part of the world that is frequently reduced to stories of terrorism, extremist ideologies and violent rhetoric by global news media. This paper addresses the televisual practices and epistemologies that O Clone (Monjardim, 2001) employed to mediate the Arab-Muslim world and its diverse peoples, cultures, and local practices. Based on the Newcomb and Hirshel’s Model of Television as a Cultural Forum (1983), I discuss how O Clone operated within the Brazilian imaginary during the post-9/11 period. Through close analysis of three specific moments in the drama, this paper sheds light on the role of transcultural productions in Global TV. Despite reoccurring issues of representation, I argue that it is through the pedagogical Orientalism-Occidentalism interchangeable interactions and negotiations of televisual epistemologies involving characters and places that the members of the audiences are forced to critique, reflect, and act upon their own biases and ethnocentric views of realities that are often dictated, distorted, and generalized by global news media.
Biswarup Sen, University of Oregon, “Against Community: Global Reality Television and the formation of an Anti-Public”
Reality television is one of the most significant forms of Global TV, and it is imperative that we understand its implications for democratic politics. This paper looks at Survivor, one of the most successful formats in television history that has aired in over 50 countries, to argue that its gamelogic results in the creation of an anti communitarian space that challenges the very notion of a public and democratic sphere. The show’s opening shots depict contestants arriving at the game venue as utter strangers exemplifying an embedded philosophy that sees the human subject as having no past. Unlike literary or cinematic texts, reality television refuses historicity; it is wholly constituted in an everrenewable “here and now.” Again, the commonplace ties of kinship, friendship, or romantic love that bind individuals together in traditional storytelling do not figure in any way in determining the relations between contestants in Survivor. Instead actors enter alliances determined by a calculative logic, where the end goal is to be the “last (wo)man standing.” Finally, the centrality of elimination – the remorseless process by which the original field of contestants is pared down to the ultimate winner – illustrates reality programming’s distance from humanism. In other words,the constitutive logic of Survivor (and that of many other reality shows) proposes a radical form of collectivity, one that is resolutely anti-public and post-democratic, and invites new and disturbing modes of politics that are nativist, populist and exclusionary.
HyeRyoung OK, University of Oregon, “From Mobile Drama to Web Drama: Media Convergence in South Korea”
This paper examines the aesthetics and the cultural implications of “web drama,” in Korea, through the analysis of examples serviced on NAVER TV Cast since 2013, focusing on their formal characteristics, mode of address, and industrial practice of production and distribution. By mapping a genre of web drama in the historical context of digital multimedia content production that started off since early 2000 in Korea, this paper traces how web drama as a genre demonstrates locally specific strategy of producing digital content and plays a key role in restructuring youth media consumption shifted toward the new media based platforms such as Web TV. “Web drama” is a common name for original serialized digital videos that are released primarily on online platforms such as YouTube and local social networking portals. These digital videos tend to run between six to ten episodes with a running time of five to 20 minutes per episode, representing a widely popular form of “digital shorts” in our networked screen environment. Riding on the popularity of web drama among youth in Korea as well as overseas, A-list production companies and major entertainment agencies have jumped into the business, making web drama a central genre to capitalize on the recent phenomenon of Korean Wave (the popularity of Korean pop culture including K-pop, K-drama, K- film overseas). I expect the closer analysis of Korean web drama will show how they continue the legacy of the various early generation of digital multimedia content such as mobile cinema, mobile drama that began with the pioneering 3G mobile multimedia content service since 2002 and succeeding mobile TV (DMB: Digital Multimedia Broadcasting service) in Korea. In this way, this study of Korean web drama will not only elaborate cultural significance of locally specific case of Web TV but also contribute to articulating further theoretical issues of convergent digital media practice in a global mediascape.
9. Television’s Transitions
Moderator: Heather Hendershot, MIT
Giulia Taurino, University of Bologna/University of Montreal, “Cultural Proximity, Technological Divide: a framework for understanding the expansion of non-linear television”
Netflix began expanding outside the US in 2010 and it is currently winning the race of over-the top streaming services, with more than 100 million subscribers in over 200 countries as of today. As shown by the last Netflix annual report, the number of Netflix international subscribers as of 2016 is overall higher than the number of US subscribers. This poses a series of questions on how Netflix, with its transnational presence, tackles the issue of cultural trade in an open economy and affects the television market worldwide. Taking into account such a media environment, this presentation will focus on the case of Netflix, by asking whether the notion of cultural proximity, as theorized by Joseph Straubhaar in 1991, can be a reliable proxy for evaluating Netflix actual penetration in media and cultural industries. We will also propose to think about other forms of proximity or divergence, such as technological divide, as relevant factors in the adoption of non-linear services. To do so, we will adopt a comparative approach among different markets, by considering specificities in local media industries in relation to a macroscopic perspective on cultural differences and similarities between EU and non-EU countries – notably the US, Canada and Latin America. The aim is to use the European context as a small-scale framework for evaluating the challenges that Netflix encountered in its conquest of the cultural-commercial triangle North America-Latin America-Europe.
Kim Hebben, Ruhr University of Bochum (Germany), “Television’s Figuration(s): Playful Media Practices Between Autonomy and Control”
Television is best described as always already new. Streaming services, smartphones, and social media as distributors of transmedia storytelling are results of perpetual alternations caused by technological innovations. They rely on modes of participation that require using various forms of hardware and media so that texts can be expanded, explored and manipulated – or in other words: be played with.
This paper argues that media transitions, as well as changes in concepts of participation, can be best understood via theories of play. Play is defined as free and yet bound by rules; it exists in between ambivalences of autonomy and control. Most recent transmedia phenomena, such as interactive features and playable stories are very fruitful examples as they are directly connected to gaming. The interactive film Black Mirror: Bandersnatch refers to such issues as loss of control and gamification while inviting the audience to engage with a playable format, in which one cannot be sure if the viewer is fully aware that she is part of a higher game. Using game mechanisms, the viewer becomes a player that iterates her decisions – but the outcome is ultimately out of her hands, questioning her autonomy and if democracy concerning digital media practices is enabled.
This mode of experimenting, or playing, is also used in transmedia contexts and allows the recipients to practice their interaction with constantly changing media forms. But simultaneously they are being played and stuck in media algorithms and structures.
Ivy Roberts, Virginia Commonwealth University, “Tinker Culture: Democracy of the Waves in 1920s Radio and Television”
Before the battle of the waves and the standardization of broadcasting channels, a vibrant culture thrived in early radio and television. Focusing on what broadcasters were programming, popular science magazines were publishing, and amateurs were tinkering with, this presentation probes the democratic process of the early period of media in transition. Popular publications provided a forum for radio and television discourse. Magazines (i.e. Television, Radio News, Radio Age, Wireless World, Science and Invention, Experimenter, On the Air, and Radio in the Home) published correspondence, active in responding to readers as well as supporting a democratic discourse. From the first call signs at universities across the country, the waves became the imaginary community of experimentation for both programming and listening culture.
This presentation will focus on the correspondence between audience and publisher. It will use sources from popular science magazines and archival documents from early broadcasters and tinkerers in order to discover the democratic potential of early media in transition. This presentation will raise significant questions regarding the democracy of early radio and television culture:
• How did the culture of innovation feed a sense of democracy and freedom in early radio and television experimentation?
• What aspects of 1920s popular science facilitated the democratic culture of early radio and television?
• How does the unregulated culture of early radio and television compare to that of the broadcasting era?
• What effects did regulation and standardization have on early radio and television culture?
• How did the imposition of regulations affect programming?
The presentation will conclude with the consequences of regulation and standardization on the early culture of experimentation and innovation. The battle of the waves stifled the organic democratic culture that evolved out of the early period of media in transition.
Fabian Prieto-Nanez, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, “Community Television in Colombia. From illegal consumers to legal producers of community”
Big satellite dishes cover the roof of several community centers in city neighborhoods and towns in contemporary Colombia. Their visibility is a monument to a moment in history in which the building of community satellite earth stations accelerated the access to international media content, years before the consolidation of subscription television in Colombia. As satellite dishes spread all around the country, political and economic changes since the 1990’s made these informal community antenna television project, an object for transforming the informal into the formal. While during, licensed subscription television companies bought some of these infrastructures, others, turned into what the government started to call “community television”, a model developed to encourage local media production.
In this presentation, I explore the transition from an informal to a formal infrastructure as a process that promoted the participation of publics in the sustainability of these infrastructures. While these projects are covered by democratic values, Community Television has been also pushed into competition through a set of rules that restrict their operation. More importantly, to keep their legal status, Community Television must produce a specific number of hours to prove their community outreach. In focusing on how Community Television have handle this requirements, I consider the affective labor of maintenance, which involve technical aspects on maintaining obsolete technologies, but also multiple legal strategies to sustain them.
10. Digital Media and Creative Democracy in Popular Music Culture
Moderator: Ian Condry, MIT
Haekyung Um, University of Liverpool, “Aesthetic and Political Values of Pop in the Age of Digital Media: The Polemics of Entertainment and Political Representation of BTS and Diverse Roles of Audience Participation”
BTS, the 7-member K-pop boy band, is arguably the most successful South Korean act enjoying unprecedented international popularity with numerous awards, sold-out world tours and high record sales. BTS’s strong digital media presence, with 18 million Twitter followers and dedicated global ‘ARMY’ fandom, is not afraid of addressing sensitive issues including, mental illness, drug problems and social inequality in South Korea. In addition to the aesthetic and entertainment values which made BTS successful, their conscientious messages, including ‘Love Myself’, an anti-violence campaign with UNICEF and their 2018 UN speech, have greatly enhanced their social and political profiles and associated values.
The recent controversies over the T-shirt with an atomic bomb image and the ‘Nazi-inspired’ hat worn by BTS members precipitated an outbreak of public anger and criticism, especially from Japanese and Jewish groups. These furores led BTS’s agency Big Hit Entertainment to make public apologies.
These controversies also produced numerous responses on various social media platforms. These online talks, by domestic and international audiences/fans, range from strong criticisms to ardent defenses of BTS, underlining the diverse public engagement and audience participation in the public sphere of digital media.
While political controversies are not new for the K-pop industry, the BTS cases draw our attention to different values of popular music (aesthetic, entertainment, social and political) for different participants, be it artists, producers or audiences. Habermas’s idea of music as part of a system of political participation in which talk is a key (Street 2012) helps us better understand these cases.
Zhang Qian, MIT/ Communication University of China, “Digital Fandom as a Democratic Utopia in China: Can online voting and chart beating be a participatory culture?”
Henry Jenkins influential argument about “participatory cultures”, introduced in the pre- digital era, emphasized fans’ resistance, creativity and civic engagement and drove fandom studies against the trajectory of Adorno’s passive audience and regressive listener. After entering the digital era, the dilemmas between participatory culture and commercial exploitation has been more and more noticed, and the emerging concept of “free labor” has weakened claims about fans’ subjective autonomy.
Based on the case of Chinese digital fandom, my presentation will contextualize and historicize the complicities of participatory culture within the political economy of China. My paper will consider synergetic developments between the idol industry, TV talent show, digital sales of albums or singles, streaming media and data produced in charts operated by digital platforms. It will discuss fan engagement and show how this becomes an important reference for industries of film production, fashion, luxury goods and impacts on product endorsement and business decisions. I will consider how fans work collectively to engage in chart beating and strategically control comments on social media. On the surface, the action of chart beating or voting online has similarities with real political movements, and creates a connectedness of community, a sense of collective activism, and empowerment. Chinese digital fandom, as a democratic utopia under the radar of commercialized industry, provides fans with an alternative space or vacuum to practice political participation and civic engagement. However, whether this alternative space can influence and create real change in Chinese society is an open question.
Keith Negus, Goldsmiths, University of London, “Musicians, creativity and monitory democracy in an age of digital abundance”
This paper addresses two ways that the idea of democracy has been articulated in relation to the creative practices of popular musicians. The first question concerns whether media practices offer access to potentially diverse and egalitarian forms of creative expression and public dialogue: Do digital technologies and streaming platforms allow wider democratic participation in music making by broadening both access and the criteria by which a musician is recognised? The second question concerns the impact of media on democracy, and whether popular arts can contribute to a type of ‘monitory democracy’: Has digitalisation and the streaming of music allowed more people to participate in monitoring and influencing democratic processes? In broader terms the paper asks what it means to think about popular music creativity and democracy in an age of digital abundance. Is the increasing ability of any creator to put their music into the digital realm in itself a democratic achievement (even if nobody will ever listen to it beyond immediate friends and family)? Are ‘democratic’ expressions of dissent and digitally mediated political critique a valid part of the democratic process even if few will hear these voices or register their impact?
Ian Condry, MIT, “Sound, Learning and Democracy: Spatial Mixes, Mobile Speakers, and Sonic Collectivities in Tokyo, Boston, Berlin”
As the old power structures of the recording industry continue to dissolve, new experiments in music and sound are offering a chance to compare and evaluate different approaches to livelihoods, creativity, and communication between musicians and fans. Which approaches offer the most promising directions for a more progressive, post-capitalist, and democratic future? This paper explores ethnographically several recent examples from Tokyo, Boston, and Berlin. In Tokyo, pop idols and the underground techno scene offer bifurcated visions of the future: idols merchandise sociality, while underground techno communities value dialogue and sound over monetization. In Boston, Mobile Protest Disco transforms spaces of protest into playful dance floors, and crowd-funding suggests paths towards post-capitalist sustainability. In Berlin, new platforms for experiencing spatial mixes may allow listeners to participate in sonic worlds that include more voices and more agency. Taken together, these examples will be used to suggest that music offers a way of transforming social theory by brining attention to the curvature of social-economic spacetime.
11. Emergent Forms of Educational Media
Moderator: Mary Caulfield, MIT
Isabel Castellanos, University of Massachusetts Amherst, “Maker Culture, Literacies and Identities: Insights from an Afterschool Makerspace”
Participation, experimentation, hands-on and do-it-yourself ideas are showing up more and more in the nation’s education discourse. The maker movement in particular has captured the nation’s imagination as to what is possible when tools, technology, hands-on learning and an ethos of shared learning are centered as a pathway for a more democratic nation. But while the word “make” explicitly foregrounds a hands-on, manual, physical nature, very little research has examined the phenomenon of making or makerspaces from an embodied or movement perspective. In this paper, I draw from an ethnographic study I conducted at an afterschool technology-driven course or makerspace for 7th and 8th graders. I theorize about phenomena that concern the body, affect and play in the context of a makerspace and media-making curriculum. I consider “making” as an “in-the-process” and embodied force for student learning and literacy which may lead to the possibility of new knowledge. I focus on the way students handled, touched and moved with digital and electronic objects to experiment, explore or mess around. I draw from the idea that to engage in play, is to engage in activities that are uncertain in outcome and unproductive (Callois, 2001[translation]) and that play may be linked to values of freedom, experimentation, and process (Jenkins, 2011).
Dan Ehrenfeld, Stockton University, “Public-Engaged Pedagogy and the Fifth ‘Position’ on Digital Democracy”
To what extent are institutions of higher education preparing students to engage in the forms of networked democratic writing that characterize today’s public sphere? Through a survey of public-engaged pedagogies, this talk demonstrates that American educators have by and large aligned themselves with the four ‘positions’ on digital democracy outlined by Lincoln Dahlberg—liberal-individualist, deliberative, counter-publics, and autonomist Marxist. While these archetypes have served as the basis for important pedagogical work, I argue that our reliance upon them has led us to neglect a set of emerging practices that constitute a fifth ‘position’—what I term networked mass persuasion. Historically the province of marketing professionals, political parties, and information operations specialists, practices of networked mass persuasion are characterized by two tendencies: 1) a tendency to privilege strategic messaging, amplification, and coordination over deliberative dialogue and contestation, and 2) a tendency to compose texts that circulate via the algorithmic, data-driven infrastructures of the social web. Though practices of “crowd swarming,” “targeted messaging,” and “memetic warfare” may appear at odds with ethical commitments to democracy, I demonstrate—via the voices of activists of color and modern rhetorical theorists—that these practices are increasingly central to social justice writing in the 21st century. This talk ends with a pedagogical proposition: I argue that by asking students to engage in the tactical manipulation of information flows, educators can encourage them to think beyond the citizen/public dichotomy that has characterized public-engaged pedagogies and instead reflect about the ethical possibilities of radically collective, synergistic approaches to democratic writing.
Sarah Wolter, Gustavus Adolphus College, “Teacher Training in Critical Media Education”
The purpose of this paper is to present an interdisciplinary critical media literacy education framework for training K-20 teachers. Educators are at the forefront of educating students about media, yet there is no standardized curriculum and little funding for training in media literacy in the U.S. (Bulger & Davison, 2018; Ranieri & Bruni, 2018). The framework is rooted in critical media literacy with a goal of transformative learning, disrupting power structures and advocating for social justice (Donnelly, 2016; Kellner & Share, 2007, Luke, 2012; Stoddard, 2014).
The concentric framework covers four areas, though each interconnect. The innermost circle is semiotic analysis of text (audience, message, meaning, context) and visuals (how production elements create meaning) (Center for Media Literacy, n.d.; Hobbs & Moore, 2013). The second circle is platform, the means by which people consume messages. In social media, interactivity enables users to be media producers, though they’re influenced by cognitive and behavioral factors (Callahan, 2019), algorithms, infrastructure, and privacy (Andrejevic, 2009). The third circle is media systems, the relationship between regulation, economy, media, and technology companies. In the U.S. media system, political economy analysis reveals shifting power from oligopolistic media conglomerates distributing information to technology companies facilitating sharing of information with varying degrees of responsibility for content and effects. The fourth circle is political systems, the relationship between citizens, government, and information. In the U.S., citizens require access to information influenced by the other areas to participate in democracy (McChesney, 2013).
These four areas represent the most influential aspects of the contemporary media landscape (Garcia, Seglem, & Share, 2013) and should be required knowledge for comprehensive critical media education for teachers. Critical media literacy pedagogy empowers teachers to train citizens to engage in democracy amidst constantly evolving technologies (Butler & Ladd, 2016; Funk, Kellner, & Share, 2016; Mason, 2014).
Peter Kaufman, MIT , “Toward a Benign Ecosphere for Education”
Imagine a fundamentally benign ecosphere for education – what would it look like? Perhaps in our more intuitive moments we already know. It would have no Amazon – where so much of the media we produce is being stored. No Google – which we depend on but which can produce a profoundly skewed results for knowledge and understanding (Google/Alphabet is a data company – and an advertising company – after all.). No YouTube – where we actually now distribute so much of our media. No Facebook. No Twitter. No Microsoft. No Apple. No elements of surveillance capitalism, as they rightfully call it, with trackers everywhere. No Adobe – no other privately funded / privately owned / commercially structured learning management platforms. It would be, in a word, a largely not-for-profit ecosystem, an ecosphere free of many of these commercial dependencies, dependencies that inherently are or can be pretty dangerous. (See, for example, the Internet!) This paper will outline a vision for a noncommercial system built upon noncommercial networks and platforms and with noncommercial partners and suppliers – a vegan vision presented to a world of often unwitting meat-eaters. It will also put forward a vision of noncommercial production and publication of educational and scholarly work and knowledge – one built mainly on free and open licenses.
Felipe Prado, Dante Castillo-Canales, Ismael Tabilo & Agustín Wolff, SUMMA, “Using Social Media to Strengthen Regional Collaborative Ecosystems: The Case of CO+INCIDE. A Latin American Platform for Educational Improvement through Collaboration”.
Problem: Latin America’s countries face critical educational challenges: low levels of learning, poor quality education and a serious lack of educational equity and inclusion. To address these challenges, international organizations have proposed to build networks for sharing global public goods and developing effective collaborative capacities to use them. However, evidence shows a sharp lack of collaboration among stakeholders at the regional level.
Purpose: SUMMA – Laboratory of Education Research and Innovation for Latin America and the Caribbean-, seeks to promote the development of a collaborative ecosystem among public, private and civil society sectors, capable of accelerating regional educational improvement.
Methodology: To do this, SUMMA created CO+INCIDE, a social media platform that gathers, showcases and articulates educational actors and institutions across Latin America. Along with the digital infrastructure, a sociocultural animation strategy, based on the Network Action Research methodology, was implemented. This seeks to build a wide community of researchers, innovators, and educational leaders to facilitate joint work, knowledge mobilization and the diffusion of best practices among stakeholders.
Results: After one year of implementation, CO+INCIDE connects more than 200 institutions and 600 key actors from 19 countries. Various activation strategies for virtual collaboration have proven to be effective: reflection webinars, working groups, and local ecosystems articulators.
Conclusions: CO+INCIDE represents a promising case to effectively strengthen regional collaboration by combining customized social media with sociocultural animation strategies. Discussion: The platform needs to identify and underpin the mechanisms to influence the multilevel decision-making processes in order to better impact on regional educational ecosystems.
12. Counter Publics, Performance, and Media Activism
Moderator: Tony Tran, Boston College
Tony Tran, Boston College, “Asian American Media Activism Gone Global”
Chan playing Ngoc Minh Quan, a Vietnamese British man seeking revenge after his daughter is killed by terrorists in London. The trailer produced a strong response from Asian American media activists on Twitter, with many taking exception to Chan, who is Chinese, playing a Vietnamese refugee. While the initial response on Twitter was limited, these tweets were amplified into mainstream discourses by being featured in articles on “traditional” online mass media networks, such as Buzzfeed and NBC News. On a local level, these tweets are common concerns of media activists involving representations and “authentic” casting of Asian American diasporic bodies. However, on a global level, these discourses became unruly in many ways, raising questions of how Asian American media activism translates to global contexts. This flashpoint of attention on Chan’s casting and issues related to Asian diasporic identities on Twitter and mainstream media provides a distinctive opportunity to analyze social media activism across varied and transnational cultural terrains. As this paper illustrates, while their criticism can be validated within Asian America, these discourses by Asian American activists on Twitter simultaneously work as regulatory forces that inhibit our understandings of global diasporic cultures. With mainstream visibility of Asian American media becoming increasingly global—for instance, Crazy Rich Asians mostly takes place in Singapore—it is imperative to interrogate how online discourses of Asian American media activism trend globally.
Vincente Perez, UC Berkeley, “Blackness: The Embodiment of Politics as a Representational Performance”
In the age neoliberalism, self-branding and individual identities are all the craze. Although America loves to portray its melting pot sense of diversity and colorblindness there has been a new focus on focusing on what exact mixtures are going in the pot. From DNA tests to biracial music artists, it seems there’s been a new wave of racial awareness that is teetering towards essentialist interpretations of race. This is especially salient for those racialized as Black. However, Black identity as a subjective manifestation of Blackness doesn’t look, act, feel, sound, or move the same across time and space. How then, can Blackness retain any semblance of coherence and urgency with enough power to energize any sort of international challenge to global antiblackness? To address this question, I will be in conversation with Black authors and poets who concerned with how to define, operate, and theorize Blackness and the people that are held in its wake. In this paper, I will explore how Blackness provides a unique opportunity to (re)consider questions of agency, representation, embodiment, materiality, liveness/death, and more. I argue that Blackness provides a critical challenge to normative understandings of race, power, and agency which opens opportunities for resistance and survival in a global omnicidal white supremacist world.
Ionna Ferra, University of Leeds, “Digital Media and the Greek Crisis: Cyberconflict, Networks and Discourse”
This project examines the influence of digital media on the contentious politics in Greece, as well as, the political economic sphere’s impact on the formation of the digital mediascape. The research concentrated on the parallel evolution of the (debt) crisis and the digital communications in Greece, by examining four different online media platforms and covering a seven-years period (2008; 2011-12; 2015). The research employed cyberconflict theory to situate online mediated conflict in a geosociopolitical and historical context, indicating the dynamic relation between the online media and the offline world. This research suggests the use of online data for the examination of cyberconflict and updates the framework, so to efficiently support the study of social media platforms.
The research reflected the evolution of the sociopolitical debates, and the political transformations emerged in the Greek crisis context (anti-/pro- austerity debate to the euro- vs-drachma/or grexit discussion, the anti-/pro-governmental debate, and the anti-/pro- European discourse). The pre-crisis era and discourse online, had already indicate the debates, which later, shaped the crisis discourse online and offline. Then, the SYRIZA network rides the mobilization wave of Aganaktismenoi, offering a platform and promising representation of all the included actors. During the referendum. polarization helped to the formation of less fluid identities online and offline, which further developed focusing on the division between the political Us and Them. In the crisis context, the internet used a magnifying glass, pointing out conflict, opposition and supporting polarization.
Sriram Mohan, University of Michigan, “Region as Nation?: Hashtag Counterpublics and Subnationalism in South India”
The demand for a separate Dravida Nadu (Dravidian country) featuring the states of southern India was dropped by political parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravidian Progress Federation) in 1963, when the government of India outlawed secessionism. Yet, in March 2018, when the leader of the same party suggested that there was once again momentum for such a demand, he was simply considered to be joining a growing chorus of voices responding to the neglect of the southern states by the Hindu nationalist central government. Users on social media platforms in India and amidst the Indian diaspora worldwide responded by engaging in volatile debates about the politics, poetics, and pragmatics of a Dravida Nadu, while a range of commentators dismissed the idea as mere rhetoric or as pipe dreams in print and online news media outlets.
This paper seeks to critically evaluate the counterpublics of #DravidaNadu to comprehend the discursive framing of a stated opposition to a religiolinguistic (Hindu – Hindi) nationalist hegemony. Through analysis of media practices and narratives of online actors coalescing around #DravidaNadu on Twitter, the paper charts the possibilities and contradictions animating the digital mediation of such subnationalist projects. It also foregrounds the intermediality that shapes the circulation of these narratives by analyzing television news coverage of #DravidaNadu and situating it in relation to longstanding debates about democracy, self- determination and sedition. Thus, it demonstrates how a focus on contentious politics around regional belonging can nuance our understanding of media landscapes in democracies in South Asia and beyond.
3:00 PM to 3:15 PM
3:15 PM to 4:45 PM
14. Media Industries in the Age of Platforms: New Forms of Publicness, New Challenges for the Public Interest
Moderator: Miranda Banks, Emerson College
Elena Maris, Microsoft Research New England, “Activist Audience groups and Tactical Publicness on Facebook”
This paper examines two audience groups that organize online to influence media industries and content: the heavily LGBTQ and feminist fan group ‘Xena Movie Campaign’ (XMC), and the Christian-conservative activist group ‘One Million Moms’ (OMM). Both groups use social media platforms, primarily Facebook, to build community and engage in acts of publicness to influence media industries to act toward their goals. Despite their clear ideological differences and (often) opposite goals, XMC and OMM understand the media industries in surprisingly similar ways and engage in similar activist tactics as a response. These tactics are described under the themes: ‘power recognizes power,’ ‘learn the game,’ ‘educate,’ ‘negotiate delicately,’ ‘speak with our dollars,’ and ‘court controversy.’ The forms of publicness provided by the Facebook platform play a central role in these tactics, by, for example, allowing audiences to access and leverage powerful allies (like Netflix for XMC, and Christian influencers for OMM), working as a platform for the groups to ‘educate’ the public, and providing affordances for controlling intra-group and public discourse (as in Facebook Group moderator settings). The paper also discusses the complications for the public interest that emerge in these forms of publicness, such as, for example, the platform’s apparent propensity for driving the audience groups toward industrial market logics and metrics of success, normalizing extreme views in public domains, and providing skewed understandings of marginalization.
Victor Pickard, University of Pennsylvania, “Can Journalism Survive the Age of Platform Monopolies?”
News media industries—particularly newspapers and digital print news outlets— are facing an existential threat by structural shifts in digital economics, especially the collapse of their advertising revenue model. Much of the blame for journalism’s recent decline has focused on the role of platforms such as Facebook and Google, which devour the lion’s share of digital advertising revenue. Journalism in general, and local news in particular, is increasingly threatened by this duopoly, which takes a combined 85 percent of all new U.S. digital advertising revenue growth, leaving only scraps for news publishers. According to one study, these two companies now control 73 percent of the total online advertising market. Meanwhile, institutions that provide quality news and information—the same struggling news organizations that are expected to help fact check fake news—are further weakened. While many argue that Facebook should be treated as a media company and held to relevant legal ramifications—as well as norms of social responsibility—Mark Zuckerberg has long refused to even acknowledge that Facebook is anything more than a technology company. This problem deserves close public scrutiny, but history shows us that expecting good corporate behavior simply by shaming information monopolies is a dubious proposition at best. My analysis will move beyond the critique of monopoly power to consider systemic solutions for sustaining digital journalism, including public alternatives. I will conclude by discussing proposals that range from platforms being compelled to fund a journalism trust to reinventing a new public media system for the digital age.
Kaarina Nikunen, Tampere University, “Desperately Seeking the Public Interest in the Platform Era”
This paper explores the challenges of pursuing public interest and public service values such as equality, universal access and social solidarity in the data-driven media environment. It focuses on so-called ‘platformization’ (Helmond 2015; Gillespie 2010) from the point of European public service media (PSM). Transformation of the media environment has proven to be challenging for legacy media for various reasons. It has meant increased competition, new business models and production logics based on user-data and algorithms. For PSM this has meant adoption of production cultures that serve the contrary demands of the public interest and commercial logics, including via social media infrastructures. In the platform environment PSM have chosen to share and develop content on Facebook and Youtube and at the same time submit to the power of technology giants, infiltrated in the everyday uses of social media in forms of surveillance and ownership of user-data. This has led to serious compromises of the public interest. After a series of scandals related to leakages of user data on social media and circulation of fake news, and pressures from European Union legislation to enhance privacy (GDPR), PSM, particularly in the UK, Netherlands and Finland, have been compelled to reconsider their strategies. They have initiated projects on alternative public platforms with fair data, in cooperation with other public institutions such as museums and libraries. This paper, based on research within the Finnish PSM company YLE, critically explores these attempts to work within a platformized media environment in support of the public interest.
David Hesmondhalgh, University of Leeds, “Musical Production and Consumption in the Age of Streaming”
With the growth and spread of digital communication technologies and the world wide web in the late 20th and early 21st century, many commentators, including musicians, predicted a more democratic future for music. The problems faced by major record companies, and the easy availability of copying were often presented as evidence of this. In the period of radical transformation and uncertainty that followed in the wake of economic, cultural and technological change, it was difficult to assess such claims. But more recently, the production and consumption of music have begun to assume a certain degree of stability, allowing us to examine the degree to which such democratisation has taken place. In particular, music streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer, and also the long-popular YouTube, have become the basis of new eco-systems of music in many countries. We have seen the increasing power of streaming services as ‘gatekeepers’ to music, and as shapers of taste. This has included an increasing importance for playlists, many of them mood-driven, and the use of algorithms to organise user ‘discovery’; and also the increasing penetration of giant tech corporations and start-ups into the realm of music, alongside the now shrinking oligopoly of corporate record companies and a struggling sector of independents. These new eco-systems are founded on new business models based on data collection and analysis, with serious implications for user privacy and questions of transparency. At the same time, supposedly “grassroots” platforms such as SoundCloud and Bandcamp have emerged, and more music is available than ever before – at least for educated and relatively wealthy audiences in the global north. This paper seeks to address questions emerging from this new set of musical eco-systems. What new dynamics of musical participation and community are emerging and which are being closed down? What might streaming mean for the future of musical production and distribution?
15. Censorship and Digital Media Across Contexts
Moderator: Ece Gurleyik, Pratt Institute
Celine Liao, University of California, Berkeley, Siqi Feng, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Kimo Lei, University of Sydney, “Activist Potential of Popular Literature? Gender Politics, State Censorship and Online Literature Audience in China”
Online literature in China is an important contested site on which clashes between the centralized state, flows of capital, desires, and mobilizing communities take place. Currently, there are approximately 377,740,000 Internet users consume online literature in China (CNNIC 2017). New media/communication technologies have made popular literature consumption to be active and participatory, accordingly enhancing the interdependence between popular culture and other arenas of social life, particularly civil participation. In this study, we are interested in how the production and consumption of various genres of online literature interact and negotiate with gender and sexual politics as well as state censorship.
Previous scholarship on popular literature often focuses on interpretation of specific texts or genres that lacked consideration of content creators’ agency and cross-genre comparison. To bridge and fill in this gap, we will conduct (i) a survey to examine how different levels and types of online literature readership and authorship affect attitudes and practices on gender & sexual politics, market, and state censorship, (ii) in-depth interviews and ethnographic fieldwork to investigate how participants engage or/and disengage within and beyond their local production/consumption under the pressure of capital appropriation, social discrimination and state regulation. This project will be the first comparative, cross-genre study on Chinese popular literature. It serves as an effort to further understand the characteristics of culture-producing industries in China, the patterns of interactions between the popular culture, civil society, and the state, the diversification of civil participation and social control in the Information Age.
Irina Kalinka, Brown University, “Censorship & Personalization: Two Models of Digital Public Speech”
Following Agre’s work on “Surveillance and Capture: Two Models of Privacy”1 my project argues that the proliferation of certain cultural ideas around two models of public political speech in online settings is especially significant in the current political moment:
(1) The censorship model builds upon visual metaphors of dark and light, where truth is intentionally distorted or suppressed,i.e. kept away from the light of public scrutiny. It is associated with powerful and malevolent state or corporate actors actively attempting to manipulate public opinion on and offline to avoid the consequences of exposure.
(2) The personalization model has more recently gained prominence in relation to individualized online information filtering and is associated with algorithmic optimization and disinterested curation for personal relevancy. It is related to spatial metaphors of shaping order out of chaos, as well as proximity. Relevancy is determined by the close and/or appropriateness of information to the individual in their particularity and in the face of massive information availability.
My project proposes that imaginaries of personalization actively obscure the governing power held by privately owned platforms over digital spaces of appearance: the power to format, feature, or ban, for instance – examples of what Rancière calls the “power of the police:” being able to “partition the sensible.”2 The logic of optimized communication further disables moments of the political to emerge by foreclosing the possibility of confrontation with as of yet unintelligible difference, openings for another “possible world” to emerge across different subject positions.
Ece Gurleyik, Pratt Institute, “Facebook Governs: Censoring Kurds in the Age of Content”
Through examining the content moderation policies of Facebook, I investigate how the historically complex conflict of the “Kurdish Question” in Turkey is negotiated through this platform. Under the section of Facebook’s content moderation guidelines titled “IP Blocks and International Compliance,” most entries directly or indirectly target content on or authored by the Kurdish people and their insurgency, particularly by those residing within Turkey. Over the past century, throughout various ruling parties, Turkish national identity has been cemented in opposition to the Kurdish insurgency, and the Turkish state continues to link violent acts by first the Kurdish insurgents, and later by the PKK militia, with the general Kurdish insurgency and culture. In 2011, the ongoing conflict escalated to a violent and divisive level with the government’s oppressive and discriminatory attitude towards Kurds and with violent PKK attacks. Facebook did not delete photos of the beheaded bodies of PKK militia killed by Turkish soldiers, despite the fact that these photos obviously “promoted violence,” violating Facebook’s “community standards.”
I compare the foundational, historical connections between Turkey’s public and anti-terrorism policy, its mass media and rhetoric in elementary school books to Facebook’s compliance policies, mapping similarities in language and categorization among these two actors, as well as differences in the modalities of the censorship they enforce. The fact that Turkey and the US consider the PKK to be a “terrorist organization” legitimizes this particular policing and silencing of the Kurdish population active on Facebook. Similarly, I argue that when foreign policy debates manifest themselves on Facebook, the platform’s moderation policy has the power to frame and limit the conversation around informed public opinion and “terrorism,” itself a category of violence that is defined and created within these mediated debates, rather than a priori to them. I denaturalize the constant and misinformed symbiotic linkage between “terrorism” and the Kurdish insurgency by demonstrating the arbitrariness underlying Facebook’s effective “moderation” of the Kurdish Question in Turkey.
Jun Liu, University of Copenhagen, “Multimedia censorship deletion in social media – The case of Chinese Weibo”
This study advances the current understanding of censorship in Chinese social media by addressing its understudied multimedia dimension beyond current text-dominated approach. It argues that extant literature remains dominated by text-based extraction and analysis of online censorship and hence ignored the political significance of the multi-media characteristics of Computer-mediated communication and the censorship against it. By taking the Occupy Central Movement in Hong Kong as an example, we extract and compare censored and surviving tweets on Chinese social media Weibo. The analysis first demonstrates a changing trajectory of the intensity of censorship deletion that is different from most studies about censorship that offer a static view of the censorship at a point in time. Second, we show that non-textual elements such as images suffer more intensive censorship that textual elements. We further suggest that the multimedia censorship deletion mechanism would be carried out by manned monitoring of politically sensitive events. Looking beyond textual content in the discussion on censorship hence offers a significant complement to the dominant textual-centered approach in censorship studies.
16. Platforms, Publics, and Populisms
Moderator: M.Z. van Drunen, University of Amsterdam
Macy Dunklin, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, “Defining the U.S. Policy Issues Webpage with a Contrastive Analysis”
In recent years, government genres have been largely under-studied within linguistic and rhetorical studies. However, due to their impact, it is imperative that online political genres receive attention. This study aims to add to the conversation of genre analyses of political web pages that are created by governments, by investigating what comprises the genre of the Policy Issues Webpage within two governments’ websites: The United States’ Department of State and Germany’s Auswärtiges Amt. Using the Swalesian (1990) genre model supplemented by its updated version applicable to digital genres developed by Askehave and Nielsen’s (2005), this study defines and describes the Policy Issues Webpage genre by determining the communicative purpose realized by moves realized by rhetorical strategies from a sample of policy issues topic pages retrieved from both government websites. To better understand the variation of design between languages/cultures, a contrastive analysis supported by Bax’s (2011) heuristic is used to unveil the similarities and differences between the two governments. Results show that the greatest differences between these webpages are related to how their use of multimodal features and the new affordances of the internet may affect transparency and viewer interest. Further, the contrastive analysis shows that what the American and German governments finds most useful for their citizens can be determined by looking at the use of various media technologies and how they function within the respective government websites. Through these features, the United States’ Department of State and Germany’s Auswärtiges Amt demonstrate varying focuses on nationalism, commitment, and polarization.
Tiziano Bonini, University of Siena, “Public Service Media (PSM) in the age of platform society: from PSM to ‘ convivial’ Public Service Platforms”
The aim of this paper is to analyse contemporary public service media (PSM) under the frame of critical political economy of the media and discuss the future of PSM in the age of digital platforms. I will start analysing the evolution of the debate on public service media values, paying particular attention to the paradigm change envisioned by Bardoel & Lowe in 2007. In the age of platformization of culture (Nieborg & Poell, 2018) and broader process of platformization of society (van Dijck et al 2018), PSMs are facing a new turn in their history and a further semantic extension of the boundaries of their meaning is needed: from Public Service Media to Public Service Platforms (PSP). Building on the definitions of media provided by JD Peters (2015), I propose to extend the definition of media to digital platforms as well. If platforms are media, then public service media can be platforms, too.
In the last section, I try to sketch the distinctions between profit-oriented and public service platforms and how the latter must be designed to embody the traditional public values of the PSMs. To answer this question, I go back to the work of the controversial Austrian scholar Ivan Illich, arguing that the design of PSP should incorporate the dimension of “conviviality” (Illich 1973): public service platforms should work as ‘convivial tools’. I conclude by trying to envision how the concept of conviviality could be embedded in the practical design of new Public service digital platforms and I propose five principles that could inspire the contemporary design of ‘convivial’ platforms: symmetry of power, hackability, openess, decentralization and independence.
Joaquín Serpe, Concordia University, “The Work of the Public Intellectual in the Age of Digital Populism”
The advance of a global populist right-wing has brought under scrutiny the role played by both digital media platforms and the intellectual movement behind it. The rise of political figures like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro has been expedited by the ideological and pedagogical work of conservative thinkers like Steve Bannon and Olavo de Carvalho, who pair their skills as speakers with keen social media-savvy. Speaking from news portals such as Breitbart, or social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook, Bannon and Cavalho informed users’ opinions by providing them with fake news and media content that would gradually naturalize right-wing views. In this context, the left found itself interested in this new mediated way of consolidating political power.
I will thus examine the (counter-) hegemonic potentialities of social media, from both a North- and South American perspective, by analysing the online cultures formed around left- wing philosophers Slavoj Žižek and Argentine Darío Sztajnszrajber. Both intellectuals have established themselves as popular pedagogues through their work in cinema and television, all of which is profusely circulated online. By using Thomas Lamarre’s notion of platformativity – “a kind of performativity via platforms” (2017), I analyse users’ interactions such as video and image reposts, and meme-sharing to elucidate the relationship between platform and human I argue that this relationship, based on repetitive and simple operations, generates an affective connection between users and technology, that also fosters a sense of closeness – even intimacy – between the philosophers and their followers, ultimately consolidating an online populist left-wing community.
M.Z. van Drunen, University of Amsterdam, “Who will decide what rises to the top of the newsfeed? Cooperative responsibility for the organisation of content on platforms in EU media law”
EU media law is carving out a new regulatory space for platforms. The new audiovisual media services directive (AVMSD) recognises platforms neither act as neutral hosting organisations, nor as publishers with full editorial control. Rather, editorial control on platforms is distributed between users, producers, and the platform itself. In response, the AVMSD puts forward a new governance model in which not only the platform itself, but also users and producers are expected to assume responsibilities with regard to speech that is hateful, criminal, or harmful to minors.
This paper asks how these responsibilities ought to be concretised and divided between the different parties that exercise editorial control on platforms. It first returns to the fundamentals by analysing the function editorial control has in assigning responsibility under media law, and outlining how the various elements of editorial control are shared on platforms. It argues that the shared exercise of editorial control on platforms should give rise to a model of cooperative responsibility, where platforms provide the infrastructure necessary for users to be able to easily assume responsibility. It then turns to the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights to determine which safeguards for fundamental rights, in particular the freedom of expression and right to privacy, must be put in place when obligations regarding the distribution of speech are imposed on platforms. Finally, building on the measures proposed in the AVMSD and the distribution of editorial control, it explores how cooperative editorial responsibility can best be concretised.
17. Brazil and Elections, 1988-2018
Moderator: Mary Caulfield, MIT
Eduardo Campos Pellanda, André Fagundes Pase & Mágda Rodrigues da Cunha, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS), “Whatsapp as a backchannel for the contemporary Brazilian city”
Mobile phones became platforms for a constant torrent of apps with new features and dynamics. In Brazil, a large country with an interesting base of more than 200 million active smartphones, one app defies this context. WhatsApp, used to share messages and media files from person to person or to groups of users, became a synonym for quick and mobile contact, replacing Short Message Service (SMS) and e-mail. Instead of advertising the telephone number as way to talk, it is common to see companies suggesting contact through this application.
During the strike of truck drivers in last May, WhatsApp was used to spread information about gasoline and food, a practice that drives from the everyday usage as a board of messages for neighborhoods. The phenomena received global attention in the presidential election in Brazil, in October, because its network were used to spread political information, most of them fake news. The app became a backchannel for the contemporary Brazilian city. The practices indicated by Rheingold (2002) not only became part of the culture, but in a way that rises interesting questions.The living memory of the city discussed by Casalegno (2006) is vanishing just when citizens have the tools to record, publish and perpetuate its ordinary, but important, life.
The purpose of this descriptive research is to analyze the use of whatsapp like this parallel channel in Brazilian cities in a moment of crisis. Credibility was associated not with traditional media, but with family and friends who advertised gas stations with fuel for sale, bus lines running and other alternatives.
David Nemer, University of Virginia, “More digital citizens for a better democracy? The Case of Brazil’s Election and Bolsonaro Supporters in WhatsApp Groups”
Jair Bolsonaro is more known for his controversial speeches than his own presidential plan. He is a far-right firebrand who has celebrated dictatorship and torture, and verbally threatened Brazil’s women, black, and LGBTQ people. However, none of this seems to have an impact on Bolsonaro’s popularity as he has been the favorite to win the elections from the beginning. Running a campaign based on the idea that his presidency is the only hope to end violence and corruption in Brazil, his base voters call him “The Legend” and expect him to reinstate law and order in the country. Whereas Trump and Brexit supporters turned to Facebook for political and electoral information, Bolsonaro’s base relies on WhatsApp. To understand their motivations, hopes, fears, and desires, I joined 4 pro-Bolsonaro’s WhatsApp groups, where I spent five months, May to October of 2018, receiving an average of 4000 messages per day. Following a participant observation approach, I analyzed the group members’ interactions and behavior, as well as the media and messages posted by them. This content was daily analyzed and grouped in thematic clusters, and based on the preliminary findings, I have identified three clusters of members across the groups: the ordinary Brazilians, Bolsominions, and the influencers. These findings reveal the role of each cluster and the power dynamics between them. By focusing on their information practices, it was also possible to reveal how and when they produce and share misinformation in order to maintain Bolsonaro’s popularity and their anger against the left.
Gustavo Santos, Catholic University of Pernambuco, “Social media and regulation of the electoral process in the 1988 Brazilian elections”
The presidential elections of 2018 in Brazil were marked by a massive use of disinformation, with the spread of a large volume of false news, especially through WhatsApp. Elections in Brazil are organized and regulated by the Judiciary. There is a branch of the judiciary specializing in elections, which registers voters, organizes the electoral process and declares who has been elected. At the top of your organization, there is a Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). Before the elections, the TSE knew the risks that the voter process ran because it was already well-known experiences of the 2016 US elections and the 2016 Brexit referendum. The Court created a commission to advise him on the subject, but was ineffective in creating concrete actions to combat the proliferation of lies. In this work, we study the performance of Brazilian electoral justice system in the 2016 electoral process against the use of false news. We concluded that a Laissez-faire approach in the electoral process is a threat to democracy because it allows for all kinds of cheating. The democratic decision needs to be well informed. Voters need a minimum of security regarding the information they receive about competitors. The institutions responsible for guaranteeing the electoral process need to constrain the various competitors to adopt a reliable behavior. For this, it is necessary to have punishment to parties and candidates directly benefited by the dissemination of false news.
18. The Power of Fandom
Moderator: Amy Carleton, MIT
Simone Driessen, Erasmus University Rotterdam, “‘For the greater good’ – Vigilantism in online pop culture fandoms”
Fandoms have been considered to offer a blueprint for understanding democracy.
Fans form a very devoted audience, but if the tide turns they also might become the
most vocal critics. This study focuses on those ‘critics’- who express themselves
vocally and visibly online, colloquially referred to as ‘toxic’ fans. But are they ‘toxic’
fans, or are they vigilantes fighting ‘for the greater good’?
This study explores fans’ online expressions of discontent through the lens of digital
vigilantism, to be interpreted as the process where citizens collectively take (online)
action against others they are offended by. Therewith this study brings the fields of
surveillance- and fan studies together. Moreover, it illustrates how modes and
practices of vigilantism are empirically manifest in online pop culture fandoms.
It does so through scrutinizing the Harry Potter spin-off series Fantastic Beasts
and its fans. A content analysis of Tweets and news articles related to developments
in the franchise and the release of the movie(s) reveals how these fans denounced
and shamed ‘domestic abuser’ Johnny Depp’s involvement in the movies. Likewise,
producers David Yates and J.K. Rowling were publicly called out for not taking
position against Depp.
Although the fans’ actions did not lead to bullying an actor offline (which happened to
Star Wars’ Kelly Marie Tran) – or preventing future involvement in the series (e.g.
Kevin Spacey’s case), these opposing views might offer a valuable point of departure
to understand challenges and issues like polarization in today’s society.
Reut Odinak, Boston University, “LGBT Fans Deserve Better: Fan Activism in the Digital Age”
While producers occupy more powerful positions within the commercial infrastructure of
the television industry, the internet along with new social media has begun to democratize the relationship between producer and fans. Fans can (and frequently do) exercise their power to enact change. Indeed, fandoms have taken on the mantle of activism, especially in regards to problematic portrayals of minority groups.
In this paper, I weave together analysis of salient LGBT representation, historical censorship documents such as the Production Code and the Television Code and past LGBT activism to understand contemporary representations of LGBT characters as well as fans’ activist responses. I argue that historical industry codes and wider cultural norms rooted in systemic structures of homophobia have facilitated troubling treatment of contemporary LGBT characters. I hone in on the industrial factors in television’s commercial infrastructure that have perpetuated negative portrayals of LGBT representation on television as well as assess the ways fans from all over the world employ social media to foster