Session 1
9:00 AM to 10:30 AM

1. Civic Media Across World Contexts
Classroom E25-117

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
Classroom 56-114

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
Classroom 56-154

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
Classroom 66-144 

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
Classroom 66-168 

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
Classroom 66-160

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
Classroom 66-154 

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

Plenary 1
11:00 AM to 12:30 PM

Plenary: Culture Industries
Weisner Building – E15
Bartos Theater

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

Session 2
1:30 PM to 3:00 PM

8. Case Studies in Global TV: Reality Television, Korean Web Drama, and Transcultural Telenovela
Classroom E25-117

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
Classroom 56-114


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
Classroom 56-154

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
Classroom 66-144

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
Classroom 66-168 

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.

13. Social Media, Power, and Democracy
Classroom 66-160

Moderator: Jing Wang, MIT
Matthew Wall & Yan Wu, Swansea University, “Safe Spaces?: The affordances of WhastApp and WeChat in relation to political discussion and digital activism”

Mobile messenger apps, also known as Chat apps (Barot and Oren, 2015), can be defined as mobile technology platforms of which the primary function is to allow users to send real-time messages (including text, graphics, video, audio, sticker, emoticons, etc.) to individuals or groups of contacts at no extra cost via the internet. With the growing dominance of smart phones and mobile applications in the digital market, chat apps are an increasingly important vector of online communication. It is estimated that up to October 2018, the top five global mobile messenger apps collectively reached more than 5 billion monthly active users (MAU). Among them are: WhatsApp 1.5 billion MAU; Facebook Messenger 1.3 billion MAU; WeChat 1.1billion MAU; QQ Mobile: 0.8 billion and Skype 0.3 billion1. Despite their popularity, chat apps are under-researched and their significance to political discussion and activism is little known. In this paper we aim to explore the affordances of chat apps in relation to civic participation by comparing the most popular two apps from the West and China, respectively: WhatsApp and WeChat. Drawing on evidence from focus group and social network analysis, we aim to investigate if chat apps create an extension of the public sphere where users can connect through strong offline ties, engage in political discussion, or even participate in contentious politics. We explore how these factors are conditioned by socio-cultural and political factors driven by the regimes within which they are embedded.

Ronojoy Sen, National University of Singapore, “Twitter Wars: The role of digital media in Indian elections”

The role of digital media and technology in the 2014 Indian national elections has been widely commented on. The extensive use of digital platforms by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014 was a game changer. The 2019 Indian national elections, the world’s biggest exercise in democracy, will see an even greater and more innovative use of these tools. Most political parties in India are using digital media extensively for campaigning and mobilization. India already has close to 900 million eligible voters and an estimated half-a-billion have access to the Internet. The country has 300 million Facebook users and 200 million on WhatsApp, which is more than any other democracy. In addition, millions in India use Twitter.
This paper seeks to analyse the ways in which the two major political parties in India, the governing BJP and the opposition Indian National Congress, have been using Twitter to reach out to and mobilise voters. It will do so by examining the Twitter accounts of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has nearly 45 million followers on Twitter, and the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi. The paper will seek to do three things. First, it will analyze the engagement with the tweets of Modi and Gandhi, both quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Second, it will examine the key topics and issues that both politicians tweet on. Third, it will draw conclusions on how the two major Indian political parties are using social media platforms for political outreach and to what effect.

Susana Salgado, University of Lisbon, Portugal, “‘Democracy Reloaded’ gone wrong? Exploring the meaning of democracy after social media”

This paper investigates the repositioning of the concept of democracy due to the influence of the use of social media in politics. Social media have been considered key tools for populism, propaganda, and fake news, and are thus believed to be further undermining trust in democratic institutions and in democratic processes. Democratic values such as freedom of speech, tolerance for diversity, grassroots participation are growingly being questioned due to customary, everyday practices of social media use in politics. Do we need to rethink and rearticulate the concept of democracy, its meaning and objectives in the face of social media use by politicians and citizens?

Focusing on three countries, this research examines whether social media are mainly a means for spreading populism, or if they are also being used to influence policy direction and policy decision-making processes in a substantive manner. It assesses empirically how different issues (Unemployment, Economy, European Union) are addressed on Twitter by different users (citizens, politicians, interest groups, news media outlets, etc.) in France, Portugal, and Spain. The rationale behind the choice of these three countries signals the intention of studying cases with different types of populist politicians and political parties, which have also different levels of electoral success. The methodological approach is based on a mixed methods approach that includes digital methods, content analysis (human and automated) of user-generated content and network analysis.

The empirical data and analysis inform the reflection and critical analysis about the presumed adjustments of the democratic values and about the meaning of the concept of democracy after social media.

Chau Tong, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “How Talking Politics with Different Others Stimulates Online Political Acts Among Authoritarian Individuals: Evidence from Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and the U.S”

In light of the rise of populism and recent trends in political participation worldwide, this proposal introduces our findings on the relationship between authoritarian preference for hard-line government, cross-cutting political discussion, and political participation in the United States and 3 Latin American countries i.e. Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, using cross-country survey data collected in late 2016.

Predilection for strong, military leadership has long been documented as a characteristic of authoritarianism and found among both left and right political ideology. The rise of populist figures such as Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro to presidency and power, the manipulation of digital technology among authoritarian forces to spread malign disinformation and the formation of insulated far-right online echo chambers suggest worrisome implications for democracies, young and old alike.

Our multi-country online survey findings indicate that preference for strong leadership fosters online political acts in all 4 countries and stimulates offline political participation in Brazil and the U.S. In particular, individuals with this authoritarian trait are more politically active online the more they interact with others who hold different political ideas from their own; but this tendency does not manifest offline.

These results are discussed in light of existing knowledge on the impact of authoritarianism, cross-cutting political talk and participatory democracy.


3:00 PM to 3:15 PM

Session 3
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
Classroom E25-117  

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
Classroom 56-114

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
Classroom 56-154

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
Classroom 66-144

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
Classroom 66-168

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 community and mobilize.
By examining fan activism’s history and assessing one current activist group, LGBT Fans Deserve Better, as a case study, I uncover how this movement incorporates older activist strategies with newer technological tools to lobby for the betterment of LGBT representation on television. Furthermore, I assess the creative labor behind television programs and offer a strategy to alleviate problematic portrayals of LGBT characters on screen through diversifying the creative labor which produces these portrayals.

Pilar Lacasa, Julián de la Fuente & Sara Cortés, University of Alcalá, “Participating and having fun: Social networks and civic imagination in young fan communities”

We will approach youth culture practices relating to fan communities (Booth, 2018), which encourage civic engagement in digital media and help to create community commitment. This study will explore how fan practices are interlinked with proposals from the industry, which often control youth practices from opacity or transparency.

We are inspired by the concept of civic imagination (Jenkins, Shresthova, Gamber-Thompson, Kligler-Vilenchik, & Zimmerman, 2016), that allows us to imagine innovative spaces and places, from the tension fan interactions create with those who seek to guide their practices. Relevant examples are the online and offline communities organised around video games or music celebrities, (Lacasa, Méndez, & de-la-Fuente, 2016).

To achieve the before mentioned objectives we analyse fan communities in Spain organised around the break-through television programme  using the traditional television network and broadcast through a , organised as a reality show created by Spanish television. This programme is markedly present on the social networks Instagram and Twitter, which contribute to the formation of fan communities around it. Our analysis combines “big data” (Kitchin, 2014) and “small data” (Boellstorff, 2012; Pink, Horst, Hjorth, Lewis, & Tacchi 2015). This combination enables account to be taken of the context and circumstances in which the practices to be observed, analysed and interpreted take place.

Some of the results obtained will be aimed at critical discussion of the concept of civic imagination. The following points are of note:1) Fans navigate in online and offline circumstances, and physical contact plays a relevant role when initiating new forms of relationship and establishing community commitments. 2) The mechanisms generated by the cultural industries, in terms of projecting certain different values – for example cultural or sexual diversity – contribute to the construction of the fan community. 3) Certain audiovisual products which teenagers generate in the network may be relevant in propagating civic commitment.
Sarah Christina Ganzon, Concordia University, “Growing the Otome Game Market: Fan Labor, Circulation and Otome Game Communities Online”

Otome games or maiden games is a category of games originated in Japan that are marketed specifically to women. Given its niche status and the very minimal commercial distribution for otome game titles, especially due to the lack of the media infrastructure that otome games have in its country of origin via the anime media mix, the distribution of otome games outside of Japan relies on its small but dedicated networked predominantly female fanbase—calling themselves the Otome Armada—to promote existing localized titles in blogs, forums and social networking sites.

This paper looks into the practices of fan blogging in the distribution of otome games outside of Japan. I explore motivations, norms and sets of ethics as discussed by fan bloggers and fan translators within the otome game community. Examining the practice of fan blogging can offer insights on the complex negotiations between fans and game industries to allow the entry of certain niche titles into global markets. While this essay focuses on the practice of fan blogging, this is also part of an ongoing study on otome games in English and otome game players outside Japan.

Results, from both interviews and participant observation, indicate that many fan bloggers perceive their activities as key not only to promoting the games and creating larger audiences for otome games, but also as a way of contributing the discourses and circulation surrounding otome games, especially given the fact many players deem otome games as one of the few games that allow them to enact fantasies that are usually coded as feminine. However
these conditions that allow these niche game communities to grow also reflect how postfeminist media culture influences how agency is uttered and negotiated.

19. Oscars’ So White to Black Panther: Race in a Datafied Era of Hollywood
Classroom 66-160

In the wake of a very Black Oscars and an active Me Too community, what is the state of race, gender, and class equity in Hollywood? Moreover what are the ways A.I, blockchain and new data technologies are impacting film distribution and development?

Key Questions:
Has anything changed after the success of Black Panther, Insecure, Empire, Crazy Rich Asians, etc? What is the status of the streaming race and what does it mean to have Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu starting to replace traditional TV networks and/or theatrical distribution?  Overall, what does it mean when algorithms are increasingly choosing what we watch?

Moderator: Sultan Sharrief, MIT
Moira Griffin, Executive Director of Production and Creative Labs for 21CF Global Inclusion
Tommy Oliver, Producer, Show Runner, Cinematographer for Sony Studios, OWN
Emily Best, Founder and CEO, Seed & Spark

20. Democracy Performed
Classroom 66-154 

What does democracy mean in the 21st century? What can democracy sound like? How can we avoid crude polarization to include more nuance and a richer variety of opinions? Four artists explore how democracy functions in the 21st century through a participatory immersive audio performance co-created with the audience using contributions recorded before and during the performance.

This presentation embodies concepts drawn from each of the artists/researchers methodologies that privilege a multiplicity of narratives, collaborative processes, non-linear forms and fragmentary language to arrive at new types of knowledge. They share an interest in disrupting well-worn storytelling and journalistic techniques that favor conflict and over-simplified narratives.

The panel includes Francesca Panetta, Executive Editor of VR at the Guardian, who is interested in how sound changes your perception of the world.  Multidisciplinary artist Rashin Fahandej creates poetic encounters to investigate social systems, utilizing public places and virtual spaces as a critical discourse. Sound artist and technologist Halsey Burgund has created the Roundware platform, a contributory geospatial platform to create soundtracks that connect listeners to their surroundings through audio augmented reality. Andrew Demirjian is an artist who develops sonic and poetic constraint systems to critique constraint systems. Together, this panel focuses on emerging practices for engaging communities with participatory projects that use sound and technology to collaboratively create works that have civic impact and to bring communities together.  

Taken collectively, the group asks “How can academic environments begin to change the way democracy is engaged with and performed?”


Francesca Panetta, Artist and journalist. The Guardian, Harvard.
Rashin Fahandej, Artist and Filmmaker, MIT Open Documentary Lab, Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Andrew Demirjian, Artist and professor. Film and Media Department, Hunter College.
Halsey Burgund, Sound artist and technologist, researcher at MIT Open Documentary Lab

4:45 PM to 5:00 PM

Session 4
5:00 PM to 6:30 PM

21. Pitfalls for Democracy in the Digital Age: Perspectives between Artificial Stupidity and Robot Ethics
Classroom E25-117

Moderator: Matthias Rath, Ludwigsburg University of Education
Matthias Rath, Ludwigsburg University of Education, “Are robots “moral actors”?”

Non-humans as actors are not unusual in applied ethics. Many business ethicists, for example, even regard companies as “moral actors” (cf. Enderle 1992; French 1995) who can be held morally responsible for their actions. This raises a meta-ethical problem: how to attribute responsibility to such “legal persons” when at the same time they must be denied two basic competences of moral accountability: an individual will and balancing decision-making capacity. Business ethicists solve this problem by referring to the micro level: these are the individual actors of companies. They formulate the institutionalized decision-making and action rules that apply in the companies and that all employees adhere to. Thus a “moral actor” on the meso- or macro-level is imitated.

However, this does not help us with non-human entities such as robots (or machine intelligences). A machine with defined, rule-based possibilities of communication and action (a “moral actor”) is understood in this paper as a representation of the natural persons who define their rules. Thus, we have to answer some meta-ethical (and ultimately Kantian) questions: Are such rules, which machines must follow, to be understood as action-guiding “rules” at all? What logic of responsibility underlies the actions resulting from such rules? In short: How do machines decide when they make rule-based decisions? What theories are we able to use to understand machine actions as the actions of a “moral actor”? And what does that have to do with ethics?

Netaya Lotze, University of Münster, “Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) in Public Discourse. On the linguistics of information structure in human-computer interaction (HCI)”

While the trans-humanist community, including scholars such as Kurzweil, claim that the development of a strong A.I. that can communicate and act independently depended on computing power, e.g. calculating capacity, big-data analysis or the number of connections in an artificial network, this paper will address the limits of this strictly quantitative approach from a linguistic perspective and discuss the inherent qualities of human-human- communication as sine-qua-non conditions of coherent meaningful interaction: topic continuity and common ground, creativity and interactive alignment, facework and relational work. The evidence for the argument will be provided by two mixed-methods studies on web- based human-computer interaction (HCI) with chatbots (Lotze 2016) and social bots.
These studies show how users interact with online bots in real life scenarios on different linguistic levels – lexis, syntax, information structure, dialogue structure and alignment in interaction – using a quantitative corpus-based approach as well as qualitative analyses based on conversation analysis (CA). We compared the users’ linguistic behavior towards different bots which vary in their complexity from a (micro-)diachronic perspective and the language used by two human interlocutors in computer-mediated communication (CMC) chats.
We found that HCI differs not only from CMC but also intrinsically from user to user and from system to system and also from dialogue sequence to dialogue sequence. Subsuming all these types of interaction under only one register, namely computer talk (Zoeppritz 1985),
may therefore be an overgeneralization, although it is still possible to describe certain general interactional patterns. These patterns in turn form the basis for a functional model of HCI specifically developed as part of this study, taking the constraints of the A.I. into account (e.g. lack of consciousness, lack of creativity, limited access to common ground).
The diachronic comparison showed that many modern users exhibit a more receptive stance in HCI, a passive reception attitude towards the system, and that this in turn is due to highly controllable (and controlled) scripted dialogue-designs. As a consequence, the bot sets the agenda and choses content, which has wide ranging implications for public discourse on the social web, for democratic information cultures and for democracy itself.

Hanna Höfer-Lück & Gudrun Marci-Boehncke, Technical University Dortmund, “Political opinion-making within digital echo-chambers”

Due to the Syrian civil war, the German Chancellor made it possible for a large number of refugees to enter Germany in 2015. More than a million people came in the first year, but the numbers have fallen sharply in more recent years. Since then, the constitutional right to asylum and the conditions for entering Germany have been the subject of public controversy in Germany.

The upcoming paper will examine the political dimensions of digital participation using the example of a petition to the German parliament calling for the restoration of and compliance with border controls as before 2015. The theoretical basis of the study is The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Habermas 1989[1962]) and the discussion of political communication as an “echo chamber” (Colleoni et al. 2014; Goldie et al. 2014; Barberá et al. 2015; Garrett 2017). The online commentaries on various digital platforms from YouTube to the German Parliament Channel will be analyzed using content analysis. The following questions should be clarified: Which political spectrum is reflected quantitatively and qualitatively in these comments? Does this correspond to the survey results on political opinion in Germany? What linguistic metaphors can be found in these commentaries and to what extent does this allow connections to historic-political discourses?

Theo Hug & Günther Pallaver, University of Innsbruck, “Robots’ right to vote? Considerations on legal and political consequences of granting citizenship to social humanoid robots”


In 2017, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia granted citizenship to the robot woman Sophia, a social humanoid robot equipped with humanoid artificial intelligence. Our thesis is that, if Saudi Arabia’s move is consistently pursued, it is impossible to avoid granting the new citizen the right to vote, especially since liberal pluralist democracies are based on the principle of equality and thus the participation of its citizens.

This in turn raises a number of questions of legal policy which are also discussed by the European Parliament and which in their scope are comparable to the time when Europe fought for universal and equal suffrage from the 19th century onwards. Starting from Stein Rokkan, who explains the proliferation of the right to vote in the causal connection with the i. Industrial Revolution and the ii. National Revolution, today the extension of the right to vote to bots can be explained with the iii. Digital Revolution.

In terms of normativity, it deals with questions of universal, equal, secret and direct suffrage, for example: Should there be a graduated voting right like in the past? How should the voting age be set? Are there reasons for exclusion? Are robots only entitled to vote or are they also entitled to stand as a candidate? Must their gender be determined, where there are women’s quotas? – Moreover, which findings of socialization and youth research regarding criteria of sanity and eligibility are relevant in this context? Which socio-psychological determinants such as ethnic or denominational minorities are to be considered? Would robots have to pass a “Kant test” (Leschke 2018) to be allowed to vote?

The contribution aims at discussing these questions as well as initial answers.

23. Twitter and Politics
Classroom 56-154

Moderator: Joseph Flores, University of New Mexico
Joseph Flores, University of New Mexico, ““Official Statements of the President”: Trump’s authoritarian tactics and the use of Twitter”

Since Donald Trump assumed his role as President of the United States, content posted to the Twitter account @realDonaldTrump has been presented in court as evidence while also being recognized as official statements on behalf of the president by the administration’s Department of Justice. As the president continuously makes policy and politically charged statements via his personal Twitter account, questions about the rise of authoritarian tactics, coupled with nationalistic messaging techniques, fore-fronts the continued need to understand the relationship between democracy and the use of social media platforms.
The ability to side-step traditional media outlets has provided Trump with a messaging precedent that aggravates authoritarian and populist tendencies. Here, however, I aim to further tease out these behaviors in specific ways using Trump’s tweets aimed specifically at Michael Cohen, the FBI and the Special Counsel’s ongoing investigation into the alleged Russian misinformation campaign. First, in examining these tweets, I will use a theoretical framework centering communicative capitalism thus emphasizing the role of communication in the structure of social relations and social power. Secondly, I provide a deliberate consideration of how distributed media, which emphasizes the social organization of media, and digital media, which emphasizes technological structures and relations, impacts political power. Ultimately, this paper considers the political tactic of authoritarianism that furthers the debate concerning new communication technologies and authoritarianist behaviors of political subjectivities in the context of the United States.

Dimitra Dimitrakopoulou & Bridgit Mendler, MIT Media Lab, “Conversation on Twitter: Studying Patterns at the Intersection of Politics and Celebrity”

A significant volume of political debate and interactions has moved to the virtual space of social media. Especially younger audiences who demonstrate weak bonds with political institutions, turn to popular social platforms as an engaging outlet for expressing political views and opinions. In many of their interactions, they connect not to official political actors but to popular public figures, such as celebrities to which they feel more related. Our project focuses on how millennials discuss politics and form opinions through their interactions with celebrities on Twitter. Because of the porousness of social media, celebrities have taken on a new role in the political conversation, free to actively chime in on their viewpoints and bring their fans into the discussion as well. Our aim is to explore the debate on political engagement and civic responsibility of young audiences by de- constructing the architecture of their conversations with celebrities within the Twitter community. For the purposes of our study, we select a sample of ten celebrities that are situated diversely along a matrix of popularity, longevity, and relatability and track their Twitter posts leading up to the 2018 midterm elections. Our methods are two-fold: a. we analyze the reply structure within each of their posts to gather quantitative metrics and high-level conversation dynamics and b. we host online focus groups with fans of each celebrity to understand their interactions on Twitter from a qualitative perspective. Between the high-level structural view for mapping conversations at scale on Twitter and the human-centered view gained through the online focus groups, we as- pire to achieve a rich understanding of Twitter conversation health that can lead to insight for future interventions.

Josh Cowls, Oxford Internet Institute & Katie Arthur, King’s College London, “From #MAGA to @AOC: Reflections on Radical Media in the Trump Era”

That social media both “giveth and taketh away” is not a new idea, but it is one that came to the fore in the tumultuous 2016. As the events of that year showed, while technological advances have afforded new space for radical media strategies —helping advance goals such as climate justice—so too have they created opportunities for political candidates from outside the mainstream to leverage populist resentment in the successful pursuit of political power. In this paper, we will explore how the use of civic media has evolved in the two years since our CMS Masters theses were submitted. While Donald Trump has, as President, consolidated his hold on mainstream media attention via his Twitter account, other voices have also emerged from the very different tradition of civic organising to share space on the “platform” of Twitter. Among the most prominent of these new voices is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose political experience as an organizer for the Bernie Sanders campaign and as a supporter of marginalised communities such as the residents of Standing Rock, helped propel her to the U.S. House of Representatives, as the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. In the paper we will explore Ocasio-Cortez’s rise, with a focus on her visibility on social media. As we will show, the rapid rise of “AOC” holds lessons for the prospects of both the “Green New Deal” policy she has trumpeted, and for whichever Democratic candidate is nominated to challenge Donald Trump in 2020.

Armin Mertens, Ayjeren Rozyjumayeva, Jens Wackerle & Franziska Pradel, University of Cologne, “Gender Bias in Digital Communication”


“Congresswoman Maxine Waters, an extraordinarily low IQ person, has become […] the face of the Democratic Party.”∗ These types of tweets reinvigorate the debates over gender discrimination and bias on social media platforms. Analyzing around 20 million tweets, we test whether there is systematic discrimination towards female candidates by two sets of actors: Guided by the assumptions of social identity theory, we first test if political actors themselves behave confirming to their gender identity when communicating online. Furthermore, we test whether voters communicate to female politicians differently than to male politicians online. We operationalize our hypothesis by introducing a new measure quantifying gender bias in digital communication on twitter. A ratio of personal- versus job-related words is constructed by using LIWC-dictionaries: For personal-related words, we used the “family”, “friends” and “leisure” dictionary tapping words such as “husband”, “children”. For job-related words we used the “work” dictionary tapping words such as “negotiation”. The resulting measure can identify whether a tweet is covering more private and personal or professional and job-related communication. Furthermore, we use a sentiment dictionary to measure sentimental differences of communication by political actors and their followers alike.

Our findings indicate that politicians tend to behave more according to party ideology rather than their gender identity. However, our research suggests that the digital communication at politicians on Twitter is mainly a function of the politicians’ gender. Namely, tweets at female politicians are covering more personal than job-related words compared to tweets directed at male politicians.

24. Journalism and News Across Cultures
Classroom 66-144

Moderator: Matthew Graydon, MIT
Fatima el Issawi, University of Essex, “Egyptian Journalists and the “Transition” in Practices and Values Post-Uprising: The Ambiguous Journalistic Agency between Change and Conformity”

The Egyptian media displayed a high level of diversity in content in the final years of the Mubarak regime before the 2011 uprising. This diversity extended considerably after the uprising when national media – including the strictly controlled state media – embodied expressions of dissent with unprecedented openness, in defiance of the entrenched identity of the journalist as the regime’s guard. This identity resurfaced after the military coup of July 2013, when the national media resumed its role as the favourite platform for excluding dissent in the name of the regime’s stability. This paper looks at the short-lived ‘revolts’ within Egyptian traditional newsrooms searching for new identities, investigating the challenges, hopes and trade-offs of a painful process of transformation in a troubled transition to democracy. The paper argues that the ambivalent journalistic agency gained unprecedented dynamism and helped supporting trends toward democratization in media and politics in the immediate aftermath of the uprising, while it also acted as powerful platform in “othering” opponents preparing the ground for the return of autocratic practices and ultimately the fall of the democratic experiment. The paper explores the agentic dynamics in the journalistic practice in uncertain times within a highly contested transition to democracy. It is rooted in ethnographic research with journalists and media stakeholders in Egypt from the 2011 uprisings until the phase immediately following the military takeover.

Kacper Andrychowski, Warsaw University, “How News Explain the World to Me. Crafting Voter Identity through Media”

Despite huge criticism from the European Union and controversial reforms which the now-governing Polish Law and Justice Party (PiS) introduced, endorsement for this party is very stable and still relatively high. A recent poll (January 2019) shows that more than 35% interviewees will vote for PiS.

In my presentation I would like to give a possible answer to this phenomenon. I dare say that Law and Justice Party is the first party in Polish government for years to cultivate so effectively its own fixed image and the sense of ideological unity with and within their voters. The party is able to do it not only because of its majority in the Parliament but mostly thanks to conservative national news programs and newspapers, and the language they use.

Starting from Kenneth Burke’s rhetorical principle of “identification” (Burke 1969) and Michael Calvin McGee’s theory of “the people” (McGee 1975) which is created through a certain kind of rhetoric, I will analyze some examples of news materials, the language of television and the language of the Law and Justice politics to show that they are rather similar, both trying to be the only rational source of knowledge. I will also prove that the terms such as “solidarity”, “sovereignty” and, recently, “hate speech”, which are often used in the conservative television and the press, could be seen as “ideographs” (McGee 1980), words in political discourse which have no specific referent, instead referring to some particular ideology and helping to keep this ideology strong.

Anirban Mukhopadhyay, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, “The shaping of the neoliberal logic of news: Historical shift in technology and the changing nature of news and information in India”

Production and distribution of news and information took a new turn in India at the beginning of the 1990s. With the coming of new media technologies and the satellite television, twenty-four- hour news channels began to proliferate, and this historical shift changed the ways of media production and distribution. Through an analysis of changing nature of headlines through the first half of 1990s in India’s two major English language newspapers “The Times of India” and “Hindustan Times”, I argue in this paper that with the Increasing advent of new media and convergence of technologies, the media industry in India materialized a neoliberal logic of production and distribution as well as labor. This happened not just because of the radical shifts in the modes of news production, but also through the changing nature of ownership in the media industries in India. The early 1990s saw the flow of global capital in the news industries in India, which radically shifted the nature of prioritization of the news production processes. The asymmetries of neoliberal global capital flow started to get reflected in how and what kind of news and information started to get preference in the public sphere. I am primarily using discourse analysis and postcolonial theoretical framework to analyze this historical shift in news and information production in India and arguing that the changing nature of news impacted not just the nature of news but at the same time influenced the nature of public sphere and polity in India.

Matthew Graydon, MIT, “Manufacturing Dissent: How RT (Russia Today) Blends News, Soft Power, and Propaganda in the Digital Age”


There is a growing body of evidence supporting claims that the Russian government led a multifaceted influence campaign to weaken public faith in the democratic process and harm Hillary Clinton’s electability during the 2016 US presidential election. The Russian government-funded news network RT (formerly Russia Today) has been singled out by the US intelligence community, among others, as being a key actor within this ecosystem of influence activities. Is RT a propaganda outlet working to undermine American democracy? Or, as its defenders claim, is RT simply a state-sponsored news network in the traditional soft power mold of Voice of America, providing a balance to Western viewpoints? My research attempts to evaluate both sides of this debate, looking at RT’s history, methodology, and efficacy. This final point, efficacy, is a key factor, and one that often seems to be overlooked in discussions of RT. In my paper, adapted from my thesis, I ask how successful, if at all, the network has actually been in effecting political and social change. I interrogate RT’s claims about its television viewership, web metrics, and social media following, and attempt to determine if these figures align with reality. I go on to ask if these figures, accurate or otherwise, are actually relevant in terms of the network’s actual impact on American audiences. Finally, I consider RT’s broader impact as part of an ecosystem of Russian influence activities, some of which have in fact been linked to demonstrable political effects.

25. Politics of Digital Places and Spaces
Classroom 66-168

Moderator: Eric Gordon, Emerson College/Engagement Lab
Dario Rodighiero, MIT and EPFL Labs, Alberto Romele, Lille Catholic University, “Digital Habitus: Personalization Without Individuation”

Most of the researches on Bourdieu and the digital concern the social and class distinctions in the use of technologies, presupposing a certain transparency of the technologies themselves – for an overview, see Ignatow and Robinson (2017). We propose to call this kind of attitude Bourdieu outside the digital.

In this presentation, we follow another perspective that we call Bourdieu inside the digital. The focus will be on the effects of some emerging digital technologies on social distinctions and discriminations – for a similar perspective, see the notion of “Übercapital” introduced in Fourcade and Healy (2016).

Our hypothesis is that algorithms of machine learning are habitus producers and reproducers. Although their results present a greater granularity than standard techniques of the past, these algorithms still reduce individuals to categories, general trends, classes, and behaviors. Such a reduction, we believe, has flattening effects on the individuals’ self-understanding, especially in terms of identity and interaction with the (social) world. This is precisely the phenomenon we describe as “personalization without individuation,” whose consequences are both existential and social-political.

This idea will be illustrated through a qualitative and comparative analysis between the visualizations used by Bourdieu in his writings – especially those related to the Multiple Correspondence Analysis (MCA) – and some of those that are performed today in big data analytics.

Hannah Tollefson, McGill University, “Digital prospecting & subsurface logistics”

This paper examines the forms of mediation enacted by Mineral Titles Online (MTO), British Columbia’s online subsurface mineral tenure staking system. Introduced in 2005, MTO remediates earlier prospecting practices of ground staking: by integrating GIS, GPS, and e-commerce, it enables users to stake claims to subsurface mineral rights remotely and at a low cost. It acts as a logistical infrastructure by recoding flows of geological and political information, automating the distribution and record keeping of mineral tenure rights, bringing greater supply chain transparency, and maximizing flows of capital into exploration and extraction. I suggest that this interface offers a key site for thinking about both the role of logistical media in extending and intensifying the frontiers of extractive capitalism, as well as the forms of subversion and contestation that emerge in response. While the rise of platform capitalism has seen the concept of extraction expanded to describe the mining of data as raw material, this paper considers how the materiality of what is correspondingly referred to as “literal” extraction (Mezzadra & Neilson 2017) is being mediated by digital geological mapping and software-enabled property registry. How is software- supported mineral prospecting affecting the interplay between technology, knowledge production, and finance? Drawing on industry journals, archival sources, and an analysis of the MTO interface itself, this paper interrogates the logistical politics of settler colonial territoriality that take shape through these infrastructural arrangements.

Tristan Thielmann, University of Siegen, “Foundations of digital place: A geography of smart devices”

Today, the quiddity of what can be called a “digital place” is interpreted by distributed software applications. This locational and situational understanding arises from how smart devices, above all smartphones, see the world based on their sensory perception. It corresponds to the classical understanding of place that was already described in 1977 by the influential geographer, Yi-Fu Tuan, who argued, “place is pause; each pause in movement makes it possible for location to be transformed into place.“ According to this, space allows movement, while meaning is given to places by resting, stopping and movement dropping off. This kind of understanding of place has become the focus of geomedia studies through the observation and description of mobile digital media practices, with the help of Augmented Reality, among other aids. It is based on the assumption that exertion of control during handling of, and entanglement with, locations is one of the central functions of mobile media. In such a digitally situated geography, we cannot assume that a person or an artefact (like a building) is actually really at the mapped location or has been there. We can only assume that there is a geographical reference, i.e., a relational connection to the location. In addition, this geographical reference is dependent on time, the environment and the digital device in use.
As this paper outlines, a digital situation is characterized by the circumstance a) that we are not dealing with a discrete location, but a multiplicity of locations that, together, form one place; b) that these locations are constantly changing based on sensory data; and c) that the conceptualization of locations migrates from one digital device to another, without this being transparent or visible to the user in any kind of form. As a consequence, we are dealing with a granulation of locations and situations as these become dependent on sensory data sources. All this underlines that, under the historic and contemporary conditions of geomedia, we have to understand that these kinds of media transform territories and maps into situated geographies.

Eric Gordon, Emerson College/Engagement Lab, Elizabeth Christoforetti, Supernormal, John Harlow, Emerson College, “Public Learning For Smart Urban Places”
Civic IDEA is a pedagogical framework for translating public learning to advocacy. IDEA stands for: ​Investigation​ of issues, ​Deliberation​ on the values framing those issues, ​Expression​ of alternative narratives, and ​Advocacy​ for change. It is the guiding principle of Beta Blocks, a smart city project in Boston that seeks to involve publics in imagining how technology can transform their places. Beta Blocks creates block-level experimentation zones that encourage publics to explore how technologies might improve their lives. The zones are anchored by the installation of a custom inflatable “Block” in public libraries. The Block hosts rotating technologies for publics to Investigate, Deliberate upon, Experiment with in the public realm, and Advocate (IDEA) for whether, when, and how those technologies manifest in their lives. Block activities include the display of the technology in question, a data exploration portal, invitation to reflect on the technology and data, and opportunities to think creatively about how the technology might provide public value. Interested publics will be invited to join compensated teams that conduct technology experiments in the public realm, and workshops on Data Literacy, Technology and Society, and Experimental Design will support the efforts of those teams. Observational, survey, interview, and focus group qualitative data will be collected from City of Boston staff, project partners, and Beta Blocks participants. This data will be analyzed to understand the civic imaginaries of each stakeholder group. Beta Blocks contributes an innovative method for democratizing the manifestation of technologies in the public realm.

26. Data, Democracy and the Public Interest: Approaches of Policy and Praxis
Classroom 66-160

Moderator: Minna Horowitz, University of Helsinki/St. John’s University
Hilde Van Den Bulck, Drexel University, “Datafication and Public Service Media: Third Party Tracking, Personalisation and the role of PSM as Trusted Institutions”

Public service media (PSM) operate in a media ecosystem in constant flux, resulting from technological, economic and socio-cultural developments. Technological innovations, especially relating to AI and ‘big data’, create opportunities and challenges. To stay relevant, PSM must invest in personalisation and customized services that allow for better provision of relevant content, answer audience expectations and, in cases of mixed financing, create additional revenue. However, these innovations pose challenges to some of PSM’s historical, core values like universality, inclusiveness and respect for the welfare of the audience-as-citizen, including privacy. These core values guarantee PSM’s continued (if contested) mandate and public financing and, most of all, audiences’ trust in the institution.

This contribution combines data (from documents, surveys and interviews) from a study into algorithmic and other personalisation strategies of 12 European PSM (Van den Bulck and Moe, 2018) and data from a longitudinal (8 months’) analysis of third-party server presence on 34 webpages of 26 European PSM (total of 994 third-party URLs) (Sørensen & Van den Bulck, 2018) to analyse the policies and reality of PSM dealing with issues of datafication in relationship to their core values of universality and privacy. It maps PSM institutions’ take on personalisation along three core axes (linear/analogue to digital/algorithmic, universality-vs-personalisation to universality-through-personalisation, technological optimism to technologically apprehension). It further discusses the overwhelming presence of commercial third-party servers on PSM webpages as a privacy problem in relation to GDPR and, consequently, as a wider trust issue. It concludes with a discussion of how PSM organizations can participate in the web ecology of user data exchange and utilization without infringing on its core values and, ultimately, the audience’s and political trust in the organisations.

Sørensen, J.K. & Van den Bulck, H. (2018) ‘Public Service Media Online, Advertising and the Third-Party User Data Business: A Trade versus Trust Dilemma?’, ​Convergence, The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies​, Online first: 1–25.
Van den Bulck, H. & Moe, M. (2018) ‘Universality and Personalisation Through Algorithms: Mapping Strategies and Exploring Dilemmas’, ​Media Culture and Society,​ 40(6): 875-892.

Minna Horowitz, University of Helsinki/St. John’s University, Marko Milosavljević, University of Ljubljana, “Universality at Stake: Datafication and Legacy Public Service Media”

The transition of PSB to its digital, multi-platform reiteration ​public service media​ (PSM) has evoked numerous analyses, latest of them addressing issues of artificial intelligence and user data. These show how PSM organisations are involved with algorithms as part of recommendation system dynamics, but also in developing their own systems, for more exposure and personalized services (e.g., Sørensen & Hutchinson 2018). They also indicate that PSM engage in implicit and explicit digital personalisation, yet vary in type of engagement and in response to personalisation as tool for strengthening or threatening universality (Van den Bulck & Moe 2018).

These studies suggest that datafication and personalisation have brought numerous challenges for PSM. For instance, do automated solutions create the kind of diversity that “manual” decisions in programming would (or should)? Does coding embody the ideals of minority and diversity voices or issues of public interest? Different policies focus on news creation but intertwined issues like filter bubbles and privacy that are involved in wider transformations due to datafication and personalisation extend to the entire range of PSM goals.

This contribution builds on the existing research and focuses on the views of the PSM organizations themselves by drawing on the personal semi-structured in-depth interviews with key practitioners at ARD (Germany), BBC (United Kingdom), Yle (Finland), and the European Broadcasting Union. It analyses concrete examples how digital technologies and datafication are used by public media in their engagement with audiences while researching their own perceptions of related challenges of legacy principles of public service broadcasting, with conceptual opposition between personalisation and universality.

Phillip M. Napoli, Duke University, “​User Data and the Public Resource Rationale”

Revelations about the misuse and insecurity of user data gathered by social media platforms have renewed discussions about how best to characterize user data and the entities that monetize it. Should user data be treated as private property? Should digital platforms be treated as “information fiduciaries?”

At the same time, revelations about the use and abuse of social media platforms to disseminate disinformation and hate speech have prompted debates over the need for government regulation to assure that these platforms serve the public interest. These debates often hinge on whether any of the established rationales for media regulation apply to social media platforms. The general consensus is that they do not.

This presentation argues that there is a connection between the concerns about user data and the concerns about platforms serving the public interest. Specifically, this presentation argues that the public resource rationalethat has been utilized in broadcasting and cable television regulation applies to the social media realm. The public resource rationale contends that, when a media industry utilizes a public resource – such as the broadcast spectrum, or public rights of way such as streets and sidewalks – the industry must, in exchange, abide by certain public

interest obligations. This paper argues that aggregate user data – like the broadcast spectrum – can be conceptualized as a public resource that triggers the application of a public interest regulatory framework to social media sites and other digital platforms that derive their revenue from the gathering and sharing of massive aggregations of user data.

Respondent: Kaarina Nikunen, University of Tampere

27. The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized
Classroom 66-154 

Moderator: Lisa Parks, MIT
Elizabeth Losh, William & Mary College, “Emoji Democracy: Digital Literacy and Political Communication”

This talk analyzes how emoji became a significant part of the political rhetoric of the Trump campaign and subsequent administration. Networks may devote hours in the cable news day to covering Trump’s rhetorical performances on Twitter and their ramifications for the rest of American politics and culture, and yet they are strangely silent about his emoji use, even when the @realDonaldTrump account adds emoji to previously unillustrated messages.

Given that only a small fraction of Trump’s tens of thousands of tweets include emoji, it is understandable why many might discount their significance. However, by looking at the focused set of several hundred online interactions deploying emoji, it might be possible to understand more about how Trump acquired his digital literacy from those who hailed him online, whom he emulated as models for online discourse, why emoji might be useful for political analytics, and how his election and the presidency that followed exploited the existing design affordances for affective computing on social media platforms. 

Dave Karpf, George Washington University, “Is the Pace of the Digital Revolution Slowing Down?”

One of the most remarkable aspects of the first quarter century of the “digital revolution” is the sheer pace of change in internet media. The internet of 2013 was, in some essential ways, different than the internet of 2008 or 2003, 1998 or 1993. As I have previously argued (Karpf 2012), this feature of “internet time” makes the medium unlike its historical mass media precursors. Television, radio, the telephone and the telegraph are all fairly static technologies, at least from the end-user’s perspective.  In this paper, I want to develop an observation that I made during my 2018 #WiredArchive project into a broader argument.* It appears to me that the rate of change in Internet media has substantially slowed. The internet of 2018 is quite a bit like the internet of 2013. The user experience is stabilizing, and the next wave of “revolutionary” new technologies (3-D printing, tablet computing, wearable computing, Internet of Things, blockchain, VR/MR/AR) have been more confined to niche social behavior than many have predicted. The pace of change in digital media seems demonstrably slower in the 2010s than it was in the previous two decades.  The paper will be divided into three sections. The first section will lay out the empirical evidence that the pace of online change has slowed down. The second section will posit explanatory hypotheses for what is contributing to the slowdown. The third section will discuss the policy and social implications of the slowdown. In particular, I will argue that many popular Internet-libertarian policy arguments of decades past are rendered less defensible as the pace of innovation slows. 

Ethan Zuckerman, Center for Civic Media, MIT, “Unreal”

There is a version of propaganda on the rise that isn’t interested in persuading you that something is true. Instead, it’s interested in persuading you that everything is untrue. Its goal is not to influence opinion, but to promulgate power. It doesn’t matter if Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin is right; each has the power to make millions of people agree with them, even when their statements are proveably false. Our growing ability to create customized realities is a naked display of power; power to shape the world we all live in.

What are the consequences of this attack on reality via the media we are surrounded by? Cooperation between political parties becomes impossible because party members live in different informational universes and share no common ground. Vast majorities of citizens feel civically disempowered because their leaders are literally a world away, occupying a reality that’s incomprehensible to them.

This paper explores the ways in which those already in power are the likely beneficiaries of these strategies designed to reduce confidence in consensus reality. Using recent work from Peter Pomerantsev and concepts introduced in Hannah Arendt’s work on totalitarian propaganda, this paper examines current phenomena like Pizzagate and #QAnon through the lens of unreality, considering this as a conscious – and deeply conservative – strategy to hold onto power.

Evening Reception
6:30 PM to 7:30 PM
WIEsner Building – E15
Upper and Lower Atriums

Saturday, May 18, 2019 (Day 2 of 2)

Registration & Coffee
8:30 AM to 9:00 AM
WIEsner Building Lower Atrium

Session 5
9:00 AM to 10:30 AM

28. Analyzing the Power of Facebook
Classroom E25-117

Moderator: Nancy Baym, Microsoft Research
Niall Docherty, University of Nottingham, “Facebook’s ideal user: Social capital and the politics of well-being online”

This paper will explore how Facebook fosters ‘good’ usage through the design of the platform, demonstrating how the ‘ideal user’ is configured within Facebook’s algorithmic architecture in relation to discourses of well-being. The politics of Facebook will be revealed in the modelling and subsequent algorithmic nudging of users’ relationships online. Through an empirical analysis of the psychological research funded by Facebook, and the public relations materials conveying their findings, this paper will demonstrate how prototypical Facebook usership relies upon a conceptualization of the social human subject constructed through theories of social capital. Human relationships, in this framework, have value insofar as they can provide substantive emotional or material support to the individuals involved. Here, well-being is associated with increased access to these resources. Engaged communication, it is said, increases well-being by facilitating the flow of social capital between social ties. Self-interested sociality – understood as good usership, therefore, emerges as the natural, rational ‘choice’ of Facebook users concerned with their own well-being. I will show how this model of the human subject is built into the design of the platform itself, and the paper will critique the political implications of this ordering. Specifically, this paper will present Facebook’s version of ‘chosen’ well-being as an extension of neoliberal economic rationality. Consequently, this paper will consider how technological apparatuses can facilitate, and modify, what it means to ‘live well’ as a social subject in the present age, questioning what forms of human well-being and relationships are ideally permitted questioning what forms of human well-being and relationships are ideally permitted through digital social networks.

Elisha Lim, University of Toronto, “From Identity Politics to Identity Economics: Facebook’s Protestant Epistemology”

As social anxiety, intolerance and violent extremism multiply worldwide, mainstream debates tackle the accountability of ​corporate social media platforms like Facebook and its subsidiaries​. Experts propose external moderators, neutral governance and transparent advertising. These solutions focus on bad actors, but my paper draws on critical algorithmic studies, political economics and theology to ground the problem in Facebook’s business model. This model generates revenue through identity politics, which I argue, descend from a Christian paradigm historically deployed to accumulate profit at the expense of polarization and intolerance.
As a business, Facebook seeks to nurture infinite target markets for unbeatable precision advertising. As social media becomes a ubiquitous public utility, much of our personal interactions are touched by Facebook’s logic of marketing and commercial promotion. Contemporary identity politics – which flourished as a community organizing principle in 1960s civil rights movements – are distorted by social media’s calculated environment. I call this a shift to identity economics, which are in fact a new mutation of a very old ontology. Following Sylvia Wynter’s analysis (2003), the economic measure of human worth is a colonial definition derived from Christian notions of original sin. Calvinist binaries of good and evil haunt neoliberal individuation – as Max Weber (1905) argued, Christianity is the spirit of capitalism.
My paper draws on political economics and religious sociology to combine an analysis of Facebook’s business model with a Christian genealogy of identity politics, as the driving cultural force behind Facebook’s lucrative business of anxiety and intolerance.

Nancy Baym, Christopher Persaud, Kelly Wagman, Microsoft Research, “Mindfully Scrolling: Rethinking Facebook after Time Deactivated”

Social media users are often accused of mindlessness. Caught up in habits or, worse yet, addiction, they scroll through their feeds unaware of their own practices, let alone concerns such as privacy, fake news, or polarization. What would it mean to use these technologies “consciously”? This paper describes how people who have deactivated Facebook then reactivated it with an intent to be more “conscious” about their use describe what such consciousness entails.

The data come from open-ended survey responses and interviews with samplings of participants in a large-scale experiment and follow-up survey in which people were paid to deactivate Facebook for either 24 hours or four weeks. In a dataset from approximately 1800 respondents, one of the most common themes was a new intent to approach Facebook mindfully.

We qualitatively identify the “disconnective practices” (Light, 2014) users report upon reactivation, practices they intend to keep, and barriers to disconnection they face. Newly aware of what they see as their own shortcomings, those of the platform, and possible harms from exposure to advertising and political and personal drama of the newsfeed, these users report seeking alternate news sources, logging in only to check responses, looking only at groups and avoiding the newsfeed, limiting where and on which devices they use the platform, and more. Users also report using mindlessness more mindfully as they now recognize the utility of the boredom-alleviating mindless scrolling of which they were previously unaware.
However, Facebook is designed to make its bonds difficult to cut (Karppi, 2018). Our respondents encounter disconnection challenges, including the use of captivation metrics (Seaver, 2018), needing their Facebook login to access games and apps, the calls of friends and family (Portwood-Stacer, 2013), and, perhaps most perniciously, their increased dependence on Facebook for earning income and doing their work. In sum, we point to understanding Facebook as comprised of varying practices with different implications for mindfulness, mindlessness, and possibilities of departure.

Kimberly Hall, Wofford College, “Social Media Scandal and the Moral Black Box”

In the April 2018 apology commercial released after the Cambridge Analytica scandal, social media giant Facebook suggests, without admitting fault, that the company somehow lost its way and promises to get back to the business of fostering closeness. Despite the persistent use of the first-person plural pronoun, the commercial obfuscates the question of responsibility, instead using pixelated imagery to subtly imply that it was the platform, rather than the humans responsible for its creation that “lost its way.” Such an abdication suggests that the increasing complexity of Facebook led to an overreliance on the machine logic underpinning it, resulting in a moral failure. The commercial highlights the complex rhetorical strategies that social media companies utilize to respond to revelations of ethical breaches such as surveillance, information manipulation, and the loss of privacy on their platforms. As these companies are increasingly expected to protect the public sphere through the moderation of content, the articulation of their ethics takes on even greater urgency and importance. This paper examines a series of public statements and advertisements released by social media platforms in the wake of scandals and argues that the rhetorical strategies of Othering the machine creates a moral black box that jeopardizes the development of a robust and transparent ethical code for the new public sphere.

Chuck Tryon, Fayetteville State University, “Media Literacy After Trump, or Why Progressives Need to Learn from AOC”

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency has ushered in a dramatic change in the way that we talk about democracy and political participation. These debates have included conversations about the failure of both traditional news outlets to adequately depict the dangers of the Trump presidency and, more crucially, the more widespread problem of media literacy, the idea that millions of Trump voters were “duped” into supporting him, whether that entailed putting on a red hat or simply involved pulling a lever in a voting booth. However, while there is enormous value in the lessons of a media literacy education, there is some evidence that traditional approaches to media literacy were weaponized by Trump supporters in order to cultivate even deeper skepticism toward national news sources other than self-branded conservative outlets such as Breitbart and Fox News, which tend to frame all progressive policies as existential threats to American national identity.

This paper will combine the lessons of scholars such as George Lakoff and media studies critiques of media literacy in order to argue that progressives need to radically rethink how to frame political arguments. As Lakoff has argued, engaging these arguments within the domain of logic and policy has not worked well for progressives. Instead, we should learn from first-year Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasiao-Cortez, who has offered a new model for framing arguments, in which political activity is grounded in part in her ability to craft an “authentic” persona, one that is linked to making involvement in the political process fun and exciting.

29. Media, Heritage, and Memory
Classroom 56-114 

Moderator: Marina Hassapopoulou, NYU
Yizhou Guo, University of California, Santa Cruz, “Saving Invalid Memory from Disappearing: The Making of the Online Memory Site of a Banned Film”

The Chinese sixth-generation director Lou Ye’s 2006 feature film Summer Palace has been banned in mainland China by its government for its explicit representation of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protest, a politically sensitive event which public memory has been prohibited and sterilized by the government persistently during the postsocialist era. Nonetheless, through various innovative tactics practiced in the online sphere, the Chinese postsocialist youth, or those young Chinese who came to age after the Protest and obtain little to no experience of it, have found effective methods to watch and discuss the film. More importantly, the online circulation and perception of the film among the youth have constructed an affective site to save, re-create, and commemorate the invalid memory of both the film and the historical event, which provides the youth a negotiated subjective position of remembering/preserving in relation to the authoritarian memory politics of forgetting/erasing. In detail, the article looks closely of the emergence, challenge, and transformation of one online memory sites of Summer Palace on douban.com, a major UGC website of film review and discussion in China that is predominated by the youth. It pays particular attention to how the youth negotiate their illicit desire for the film through piracy talk and how they transform such illicit desire to create an affectively-charged political space of dissent through a practice of “substitutive marking.” In general, the article examines in what ways, the Internet as a medium would promise us with radical potentials to resist the authoritarian power of disappearing.

Charisse L’Pree , Syracuse University, “The American Psychosocial Relationship with 20th Century Media”

This project is a psychological review of communication technology focusing on inventions adopted during the twentieth century to understand how behavioral and psychological patterns of the past 150 years anticipate the American psychosocial relationship with twentieth century media. Given the ever-accelerating pace of media innovation, public discourse struggles to connect current media trends with a long and detailed history of media technology even though the consumer relationships with earlier technologies provide insight into the uses and impact of current technologies.
The psychology of communication technology is a robust area of study, but the discussion is often restricted to the most current technologies (e.g., research into the psychology of radio experienced a sharp decline with the advent of television), and different media are rarely compared (e.g., radio vs. television, consumer market cameras vs. videotape).
The current project focuses on three clusters of technologies: (1) The Psychology of Shared Culture and Memory (theatrical film, recorded music, consumer market cameras), (2) Psychology of Broadcast and Synchronized Culture (radio, network television, cable television), and (3) Psychology of Immediacy and On Demand Culture (magnetic tape, video games, and the world wide web). Within each of these clusters, the evolution of American intra- and inter-personal communication strategies is explained alongside the psychological expectations and usage patterns that connect these twentieth century phenomena with current trends in twenty-first century communication, including but not limited to immersive technologies, wearable technologies, social media, fake news, interactive storytelling, and emerging intersectional social justice movements.

Sheenagh Pietrobruno, Saint Paul University/University of Ottawa, “The Diversity of Heritage Content on YouTube”

YouTube videos of intangible heritage uploaded by communities can counter the official heritage narratives of nations sanctioned by UNESCO. This community representation increases the diversity of cultural expressions resulting in an increased democratization of heritage content. Since 2009, UNESCO has uploaded YouTube videos of the global practices that are officially recognized under the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2003).

This potential for democratic representation specifically emerges through the visual content of videos. YouTube’s ranking algorithms are unable to conduct keyword searches based on the complexity of images in videos. Specific details in images perceptible to the human eye and invisible to algorithms offer an evasion of corporate surveillance whose algorithms may be reducing the diversity of heritage content. Google’s algorithms rank and privilege videos produced by official heritage institutions at the top of search engine result pages (SERP). Images that evade the indexing of search engines, may become part of the heritage narratives forged by audiences as they find meaning in the juxtaposition of images that can counter dominant heritage narratives. The dissemination of alternative perspectives is examined through images of the Mevlevi Sema ceremony featured within videos ranked at the top of SERPs. This Turkish Sufi ceremony known as the whirling dervish ceremony was recognized through UNESCO’s Convention in 2005. The methodology of this paper combines theoretical and historical research with actual ethnographies of heritage communities, interviews with UNESCO heritage practitioners, and investigations of YouTube heritage video SERPs

Marina Hassapopoulou, NYU, “The Limitations of ‘New Media’ Historiographies and Interactive Memorialization in Virtual Reality Documentary Games”  

Over a decade after the controversial docugames [documentary games] Super Columbine Massacre RPG! (Danny Ledonne, 2005) and JFK Reloaded (Traffic Games, 2004), ethical considerations regarding the representational potency and historicity of videogames not only persist, but have intensified with the launch of the first Virtual Reality (VR) docugames. This presentation explores the cultural politics at stake when impactful traumatic historical events such as 9/11 and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster become interactive and, now, virtually immersive experiences that are more reliant on spatial exploration rather than driven by temporal sequencing and goal-oriented gameplay. Instead of focusing on questions of historical authenticity, I argue that these docugames epistemologically employ interactive mechanisms of play to create malleable histories that affectively challenge monolithic understandings of the past and interrogate the cultural ideology and limits of memorialization. Focusing on immersive docugames and their relation to historicity, nationalism, and collective trauma offers additional insights into technologically influenced mnemonic processes, and complicates the much-hyped claims about VR being the ultimate empathy machine by historically connecting immersive spectacles to colonial and imperialist imperatives. The hybrid nature of docugames affords a unique interdisciplinary approach that enables the study of video games within a larger spectrum of networked practices of cultural memory and collective historiography beyond medium- specificity. As such, certain perceived distinctions between video games and other media productively collapse and pave the way towards a multisensory understanding of historicity and the global dynamics of cultural memory, as well as the fluctuating status of their subjects.

30. Surveillance, Policing, and Prison
Classroom 56-154

Moderator: Paula Albuquerque, University of Amsterdam/Gerrit Rietveld Academy
Josefina Buschmann, MIT, “Operational Atmospheres: Counter-mapping Chilean police media operations in Wallmapu’s state of exception”

This paper investigates the media operations employed by the Chilean police in the context of the so-called ‘Mapuche conflict’ since the return to democracy, a longstanding struggle between the Chilean state, settlers, and transnational companies with Mapuche communities looking for the restitution of their colonized lands. By conducting fieldwork and interviews, reviewing documents and developing a collective counter-mapping process, I examined how the Chilean state security apparatus is extending through the atmosphere a distributed network of media artifacts and infrastructures in order to expand their realm of the sensible and, as a consequence, expand their field of governance. From the use of multispectral surveillance cameras implanted in drones, helicopters, and airplanes, combined with machine vision and biometrics software, to the interception and geolocation of phone signals, mediation processes are central to the contemporary extension of the neoliberal state security apparatus. I am proposing the notion of Operational Atmospheres as a concept to think-with and account for a process of mediation that renders the aerial vertical field and electromagnetic spectrum operational to sustain political and economic hegemonies.

Paula Albuquerque, University of Amsterdam/Gerrit Rietveld Academy, “Spectrality in CCTV and Drones: What the ghosts in Surveillance Media tell us about gender and race profiling”

Contemporary society considers CCTV and military drone footage as reliable evidence. The project this paper covers tackles the need to foreground visual surveillance’s shortcomings in representing reality, by making experimental films and installations with surveillance footage.

Analogue photography’s documentary limitations have since long been identified and studied. Easy to manipulate, they fostered nineteenth century Spirit Photography’s polemic practice of allegedly portraying ghosts. Criteria to ensure a faithful representation of material reality based on photography’s inherent capacity to embody an object’s trace (index or referent) were disregarded by the so-called digital revolution and the advent of the “immateriality” of digital data. However, demonstrations of digital materiality identify the presence of “digital referents”, which could be translated as “scars” left on digital platforms by the production and transmission of visual data.

This project stages experiments to look for digital referent-producing processes. What is more, I am (re)creating conditions for spectral imagery to occur. As an artistic researcher, firstly I perform experiments to find digital media’s documentary limitations and their capacity to produce visions (due to “malfunction”); secondly, inspired by writings on Hauntology and Spectrology and computer forensics, but also by Harun Farocki’s take on the Operative Image and Jonathan Beller’s conceptualisation of the Computational Capital, I reflect upon my artistic experiments to write about the manifestation of spectral imagery in new media and how it influences race and gender determining processes of subjectification.

Amy Gaeta, The University of Wisconsin-Madison, “Visualizing the Drone: The Affective, Bodily, and Spatial Ambivalence of Security”

Reports today covering the surveillance and terrorism management of drone strikes imply that the “war” drone is radically different from the passive commercial delivery drones and the cute drones marketed as “adult toys” (Amazon.com “Toy Department”). Debates about the moral and ethical dimensions of drone usage pay scant attention to other uses of drones for fun and service; the arbiter for moral use of drone technology hinges on the production of readily-visible physical and or psychological harm, i.e. disability. In this paper, I disrupt the media simplification of drone technology by asking how this distinction holds when we account for the pleasures, cuteness, and banality of these unmanned aerial vehicles.

In my feminist crip perspective, disability is the present absence lurking with and through the drone. This war drone/ commercial drone binary is one of geopolitical clarity that separates the Global North from the Global South based on normative feelings and images of vulnerability and proximity to death, i.e. disability. This project queers this geopolitical distinction and human over drone agency as defined by the absence of disability—a universal sign of insecurity. By building on Lisa Parks’ theory of vertical mediation, I consider how representations of drones uphold the biopolitical fantasy that safety can be geographically mapped and segregated from vulnerability. A crip feminist perspective on media and technology helps me to explain that fantasy of security is enabled the absence of disability, even within the everyday realm of banality and simple “cute” pleasures. My use of crip signals the desirability of disability, and thus pressures the potential of drone related pleasures. I argue that accounting for the drone’s agency and multitude of guises makes sensible alternative political spaces and collectives that help us to navigate beyond minoritizing discourses, normative constructions of vulnerability, and the ongoing unreliability of media in global and domestic circuits.

31. Youth Media and Politics
Classroom 66-144

Moderator: Mary Caulfield, MIT
Shenja van der Graaf, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, “Children and the right to the city in the ‘platform’ age”

This paper is about something called ‘the platform’ which is currently a powerful metaphor for the way contemporary society organizes and understands itself. With a recent focus to ‘smarten up’ our cities, the contemporary position of platforms and how platforms are implicated in the structures that shape everyday life in the city are explored. More specifically, it aims to produce insights into the ways cities growingly rely upon and push back against platform-based communication and practices characterized by market and nonmarket relations associated with terms like ‘platform dependency’ and ‘platform urbanism,’ increasingly underpinning what it means to live in cities. The discourse on ‘smart cities’ (or ‘urban intelligence’) can be said to focus on rankings of technological capability, and pays insufficient attention to alternative, minority and informal, or even more ‘human’ views.
In particular, sparse insights are available on children in this context, while rapid urbanization is increasingly characterized by families choosing to move into city-areas. It is estimated by the UN that 60 percent of the world’s children will live in cities by the year 2025. This is indicative of an ongoing urban transition where for millions of children the contours of their home, everyday life and experience will be shaped by urban environments. This paper, therefore, seeks to develop a critical account of the every-increasing role of media in cities and urban governance discourses for their inclusiveness of children’s living conditions and (shifting) social lives in cities.

The predominant provider’s perspective of ‘smart cities’ has tended to impose a rather narrow (top-down and techno-centric) view of ‘what’ and ‘who’ the city is for, and which is at the heart of power struggles. And now with the interest in and uptake of a seeming ‘platform urbanism’ it is time to ask Whose version is it? In other words, this paper makes systematically explicit that there is a need to understand the ‘reconfiguration’ of cities as a multi-stakeholder place through media (or, platforms); both in terms of the city’s governance and representation, on the one hand, and ‘the social’, i.e. its mediated practices of production, consumption and experience, on the other hand, thereby specifically focusing on children.

Ssu-Han Yu, London School of Economics and Political Science, “Mediating democracy: An intergenerational analysis”

Contemporary crisis of liberal democracy around the world might be self-evident, but the forms of antagonism embedded in the crises might differ from one country to another, as they are dependent on sociocultural contexts. This paper argues that generation offers important insights into the challenges faced by the established liberal democratic system in Taiwan.

The Sunflower generation received its name from the Sunflower Movement of 2014, which demanded to retract the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement by occupying the Legislative Yuan, and resulted in a prominent increase in the turnout rate of young voters in the 2014 municipal election, and bringing about a change to the long-existing two-party politics by voting the New Power Party as the third largest political party in the Legislative Yuan. The Sunflower generation is therefore said to be supportive of democracy and having stronger identification with Taiwan. Additionally, young people of this generation are described to be engaging in politics differently from older generations as their ways of participating in politics are citizen-based and digitally networked. Nevertheless, the 2018 election results call into question these stories about the young generation.

Drawing on Karl Mannheim’s generation theory and Göran Bolin’s notion of media generation, this paper attempts to critically examine the so-called Sunflower generation, and how it is different from and similar to its parent generation with respect to media use and understanding of democracy. Based on 30 group interviews with young people aged between 18 and 38 and 20 interviews with the parents, this paper explores the mythical effect of the media since certain stories about particular politicians of the authoritarian past and of the democratic present reoccurred. Likewise, those political events which are important to Taiwan’s democratisation are remembered and recited in certain ways. Additionally, this paper discusses how two generations deal with a commonly shared sense of distrust toward traditional news media in different ways.

P. Francis Wilson , Western Kentucky University, “When Youth Run for Office”

In today’s democracies, youth are not typically considered a force at the polls or in legislating. They, in many ways, are a minority in politics. Youth lack proper representation in government, and, until reaching the age of eighteen, cannot vote—cannot participate in the most fundamental exercises of democracy. However, youth frequently challenge political establishments and norms, giving bold, often radical, perspectives on policy and government. In recent history, there have been many influential youth-based political movements: the TianAnMen student protests, the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong, the Arab Spring, the gun reform movement re-born by the Parkland, Florida survivors, to name a few. Not all youth have the knack or desire for political work, but those who do begin at a young age to engage politics locally, involving themselves in campaign work, interning for government and non-government organizations, joining youth political parties, and sometimes even running for office themselves.There is much to be learned from young politicians, for they can give us perspective on where the world might be heading. ​Through interviewing 12+ American youth (ages 18-23) campaigning for local and state office positions (2010-2019), this project seeks to find trends in the campaign strategies and narratives youth candidates deploy on the campaign trail. To this day, there is no literature on the campaign strategies and/or narratives of youth candidates in American politics. This analysis pioneers literature on this niche topic of political communication studies.

Sanjay Asthana, Middle Tennessee State University, “Youth, ICTs, and ‘Violent Extremism’ A Non-Representational Approach”


The last decade has seen a burgeoning literature on violent extremism (commonly referred to as VE), sponsored and funded by governmental agencies, security apparatuses, academic institutions, and think tanks. Largely grounded in models motivated by causality, reductionism, and psychologism, the VE literature has deployed the word, ‘radicalization’ in problematic ways, further compounding the issue by prefixing ‘youth’ to it. The paper begins with a critique of the VE literature, policy studies, and governmental discourse on youth radicalization in relation to the rise of hate speech and violent extremism on the internet, and the essentialist and singular ways in which Silicon Valley technology companies have framed the issues. The principal aim of the paper is to argue for the centrality of non-representational social theories to interpret and understand the intersections and complex genealogies of youth life-worlds, new ICTs, digital media forms, and violent extremism. A non-representational approach will be salutary in making sense of our contemporary moment saturated with anxiety, fear, insecurity, suspicion, generated in/by the mainstream media and governmental discourse about acts of violence and terror against ordinary people, from the mass killings in Bali, Brussels, Istanbul, Madrid, Mumbai, Nairobi, Mogadishu, Paris, San Bernardino, etc., the recent wave of killings of young secular humanist (Muslim and Hindu) Bangladeshi bloggers, to the outbreak of gun violence and school shootings in the U.S. The paper will draw on several initiatives engaged in broadening the potential of media education, pedagogy, literacy, and learning to address the rising tide of violent extremism around the world, and in building, in Raymond Williams prescient phrase, ‘resources of hope’ for children and youth in these terrifying times.

32. Polarization, Participation and Perception in Politics
Classroom 66-168

Moderator: Andrew Phelps, Rochester Institute of Technology
Andrew Phelps, Rochester Institute of Technology & Mia Consalvo, Concordia University, “Development Streaming and Authenticity: Cultural Connections, Participatory Democracy and Potential Practices of Engagement”

Increasingly, the general population has a significant (and well earned) distrust of major commercial media, and particularly so in political and journalistic sources. At the same time the rise of ‘live streaming’ on Twitch and similar platforms is changing how younger people in particular consume entertainment as well as information. Platforms such as Twitch.tv now not only feature game play being live streamed, but also thousands of individuals engaged in creative activities including making art, sewing and knitting, and building digital games. Many of these streams contain elements of co-creative activity, and are generally inclusive and welcoming.2 Further, streamers attempting to build communities self-disclose vast amounts of personal information, and showcase themselves for multiple hours a day, in attempts to build trust between themselves and their viewers.

This paper explores the lessons learned in observations of very small streams of ‘development streamers’ from several vantage points including developers, artists, interface designers, etc., and focuses on how streamers and their audiences are engaged in this activity as a quest for empathy and ‘authenticity’ in their production and consumption of information. We argue this has potentially profound implications for the delivery of news and experience to the general population, particularly so as officials in government and policy seek celebrity on streaming platforms3, but without a deeper analysis of the motivations and objectives of those engaged in the community. Instead, we ask, what lessons can the perceived authenticity of streaming teach us that can be adapted to better engage citizens in participatory democracy?

Sara Lillo, Boston University, “Digital Images and Dual Realities”

We commonly assume that media images document the real world, even as we question the motive behind their use. When Donald Trump claimed record turnout at his inauguration, images of sparse attendance went viral. When a Washington Post reporter tweeted a picture to prove low turnout at a Trump event, he was called out for misleading the public: the picture was taken before the rally, falsely depicting attendance at the rally itself. We are becoming well- versed in pushing pictures as proof while questioning their use by others. Yet, even as we question the use of images and the claims made with them, we continue to accept the premise that photographs themselves are documentations of something real.
What role do photographs play in an era characterized by daily fights over truth? Using a qualitative content analysis of 40 images tweeted by American public figures, this study examines the dual realities of digital images and the events they depict. My analysis considers the visual content depicted, the on-the-ground reality of its subject, and the digital narrative it produces. In doing so, I demonstrate how images are wielded online as instruments of proof or myth, generating their own reality in the process. The pervasiveness of pictures on digital platforms makes us take for granted how they construct our sense of the real; and in this era of “fake news” and a daily battle over truth, understanding digital photography’s role in shaping our sense of reality is more important than ever.

Nello Barile, IULM University of Milan, Lo-fi politics. “Polarization, electoral fluidity and post-cosmetic image of the Italian populist leaders”

The affirmation of new populisms throughout Europe is characterized by a strengthening of the image of politicians, in a sort of universal leaderism, inversely proportional to the weak bond between leaders and electorates. Lo-fi communication comes from countercultural contexts, but recently it became a mainstream expression abused by populists politicians, generating DIY, imperfect and filtered communications typical of Instagram (Willim 2013).
The generalized process of polarization (Druckman et al.2013, Peterson at al. 2018) and the striking mutability of electorates reached its climax in the Italian elections of March 4 2018, which at the same time declined the traditional orbiting parties around the center (PD and Forza Italia), along with the affirmation of post-ideological forces: 5-Star-Movement and Lega. The alliance between them develops strong cohesion precisely from the lack of political common ground, determined by the sinking of middle classes. The new coalition was capable of transforming the opposite polarities into a complementary attraction (Flat Tax for northern entrepreneurs, basic income for the South). Using the netnography (Kozinets 2015), this paper analyzes the impressive fluidity of the electoral body during the elections of March 4, the new digital “permanent campaign” (Blumenthal 1980) made by populist politicians producing their selfbrand (Barile 2017) and exploiting the “participatory cultures” (Jenkins 2009). While opposing the “classic” political marketing strategies, new lo-fi hyperleaders adopt digital media as disintermediated environments capable to generate a post-cosmetic image (Lovink 2011) reinforcing an authentic/empathic bound with the electors. The connections between political polarization, lo-fi image, and electoral fluidity could redefine a new paradigm in the understanding of the post-democratic (Crouch 2004) transition.

Mariano Navarro, Universidad Panamericana, Mexico City, “The Narrative Logistics of Moral Perception”

In War and Cinema (1989) Paul Virilio inaugurated the examination of “logistics of Perception” showing how photographic and cinematic representations redefined warfare through the reconfiguration of perception. More recently John Durham Peters (2013) expanded the understanding of the role played by media in “logistical systems” by coordinating and orienting its users in space and time. According to Peters, logistical media as calendars and towers don’t necessarily have any content but clearly state political demarcation points for human agency. Taking “space” and “time” as structuring forms of perception, this articles aims to show the logistical role played by media in moral sense-making of current events. The focus is directed to journalistic practices of emotional story-telling as described by Karin Wahl-Jorgensen (2012, 2018), according to which journalists have a tendency to ‘outsource’ emotional labor drawing on emotions of their sources rather than on their own in order to both comply with professional standards and as a means of drawing the audience’s attention to complex topics. Other than pointing out trends in professional journalistic practices, this strategic ritual of emotionality also shows an underlying narrative logic in which emotions of protagonists are worth-telling since media stories are properly about those protagonists than about emotion-less facts. This displacement of media narrative focus implies a need on the audience to make moral sense of media discourse identifying narrative structures as heroes, villains, challenges, temptations, transformations and so on. Some examples involving Mexico and US politics are examined under these premises.

Karen Schrier, Marist College, “Can Making Games about Empathy Also Enhance Empathy?”

How can we use game design to support perspective-taking, empathy, civility, and inclusion? This past year, I have worked with the ADL’s Center for Technology & Society and the Global Game Jam to run a series of game jams (intensive weekend-long events where participants make games) at cities around the U.S., including Boston. As part of this, we conducted a research study to understand how participation in this game jam may affect one’s identity expression, one’s perspective-taking and empathetic concern, and one’s attitudes toward inclusion, anti-bias education, and being an ally for others. Our study included three different conditions: a control condition (participating in an identity game jam), a guide condition (all participants get a guide to support making games for empathy and identity), and a facilitator condition (all participants get a guide to support making games for empathy and identity AND a person to join their team who is trained in anti-bias education). Initial results of a pilot version of the study suggested that when participants made a game that more directly related to issues of anti-bias (including race, sexual identity, and gender identity), their perspective-taking and empathetic concern trended upward. However, those participants who were in the control condition and did not make this type of game had significantly lower perspective- taking and empathetic concern. As part of this paper, we will share our results of the game jam study (happening on October 20-21, 2018), make recommendations, and offer next steps for understanding this complex, emerging field.

33. Interrogating Caste, Democracy and Digitality in India
Classroom 66-160

Moderator: Dibya Roy,  Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Indore
Shivangi Soni, Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Indore, “Dalit Definitional Frictions: Media as discord or democracy?”

Media representations of Indian social activism are intrinsically connected with the history of the Dalit movement in India. Ranging from the memoirs of self-identified Dalit Activists like Daya Pawar to the academic output of prominent Dalit academicians like Gopal Guru and Sundar Sarrukai, these artefacts have played a key role in emphasizing the problems and achievements of those in this identity category. However, while these media representations provide evidence of a healthy dialogue between various stakeholders in the caste debate they lead to a fundamental complication: a lack of clarity in defining the term “Dalit.” Since Dalit is a political term that etymologically connotes broken, this obscurity is not unanticipated. Across these media artifacts, the definition of “Dalit” seems to oscillate widely: from the historical caste definition as derived from the Hindu scriptures to a Neo-Marxist understanding of any individual who is oppressed or marginalized.

This paper highlights the noteworthy differences, found in representative media discourses, which problematize an accepted history or definition of the term “Dalit.” These differences give caste discrimination in India, diverse faces and may potentially allow individuals facing it to have an opportunity to escape from said oppression. I argue, through juxtaposing an analysis of contemporary Dalit activist blogs—like the Ambedkar King Study Circle based out of California–with older Dalit media artefacts such as the Dalit Panthers Manifesto (1973) and the first Dalit autobiography, Baluta (1973), that definitional frictions are necessary for sustaining the democratic nature of Dalit Discourse.

Sreyan Chatterjee, Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Indore, “DICCI’s Demographics of Despair: The Invisibility of Dalit Entrepreneurship in Indian Media”

The Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) was established in 2005 with the objective of “fighting caste with capital” and aims to provide Dalit entrepreneurs with a platform: to source capital for their ventures as well as network with other industrialists.
However, mainstream media coverage of DICCI’s activities have been extremely limited in both news media outlets and popular publications. Such partisan media coverage—where the focus has largely been on its founder Dr. Milind Kamble and not on DICCI’s primary aim to “be Job givers-not job seekers”—has substantially limited DICCI’s outreach to a general audience. In fact, current media coverage attempts to bracket DICCI into a special interest group, while DICCI expressly highlights that it wants to run Entrepreneurship Development Programs “not exclusively for Dalits (to avoid ghettoization and expand their professional networks)”.
This paper examines whether DICCI’s absence from mainstream Indian media discourse should be attributed to the general apathy toward Dalit issues in India or the vague role of DICCI itself: as token representations of Dalit individuals in the Indian business landscape. Through a discourse analysis of print and digital media artifacts from 2005—when DICCI was established—till 2019, this paper will examine the changing trends in DICCI’s portrayal, since its establishment. Further, this paper will assess DICCI’s purported role in providing Dalit Social Activism an egalitarian space through supporting Dalit entrepreneurial ventures and interrogate if increasing DICCI’s presence in New Media can enhance democratic access for Dalit Activism.

Dibya Roy, Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Indore, “Games Dalits Play: The Invisibility of Subaltern Representations in Indian Web Series”
Beginning in 2016 the entry of Global Video-On-Demand (VoD) platforms—like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video—into the Indian market, alongside the rise of indigenous streaming apps like Hotstar and the ubiquity of YouTube as a site for hosting original local content have arguably revolutionized the Indian entertainment landscape. The rise of these new media platforms have introduced the phenomenon of web series: as alternative entertainment sources to Indian audiences who had thus far been fed on a steady diet of Bollywood (Hindi film industry) and regional cinema on traditional mediums. Unsurprisingly in a country like India where 65% of the population is below the age of 35, most of these web series are “youth-centric” in their appeals. However, the thematic concerns of a majority of these Indian web series is remarkably similar and reflects a bias toward issues that would largely interest a specific demographic: privileged upper middle class individuals who are immune to the intertwined hindrances of caste and class in India.
I demonstrate in this paper how the erasure of subaltern identities from the sphere of Indian web series—in a country where more than half the population (659 million people) survive on less than $3.20 per day— highlights that “cybercultures are extensions also of existing [unequal] social and cultural practices,” (Nayar 2014). Further, I analyze the popular web series Inside Edge on Amazon Prime, a fictionalized take on cricket teams in the Indian Premier League, as a notable exception that features a Dalit sportsman as one its primary protagonists. In foregrounding the exemplary status of this show, I illustrate how new media interventions can have both economic and pedagogical value, while potentially contributing to the democratization of the skewed Indian digital sphere.

34. Ads and Algorithms
Classroom 66-154

Moderator: Lisa Lynch, 
Lisa Lynch, Drew University, “‘Sponsored’ Debates: Native Advertising and Issue-Based Messaging From Corporations and Nonprofits”

This paper, drawn from my research on the emergence of native advertising in US, British, and European newsroom, explores how the growing phenomenon of issue-based native advertising shifts the conditions that dictate how news media inform the public and facilitate public debate.
In the wake of the challenges posed to the news industry by programmatic advertising that emphasizes marketing to demographics rather than leveraging the prestige of media institutions, advertising produced by in-house teams to resemble standard editorial content has served as a means of replacement revenue for news organizations. The mushrooming of such in-house native advertising bureaus at media outlets has upended the relationship between news outlets, advertisers, and advertising agencies. Though care has been given to establish journalistic standards at these bureaus while (largely) separating them from the editorial side, publishers and regulators have struggled to establish a common standard for native content that is both appealing to advertisers and transparent to consumers.
In this environment, issue-based native advertising is a particular area of
concern. Though arms-length sponsorship of issue-driven content has a long history in the broadcast world, the emergence of issue-based online and print campaigns has blurred the distinction between news reporting on issues and promoted content serving corporate interests. Even when native campaigns are sponsored by nonprofits, issues of transparency persist. Through an overview of the problem and a consideration of individual campaigns, I consider whether native advertising itself is a serious threat to civic discourse, or instead a symptom of the increasingly weak relationship between the institutional news media and the democratic project.

Michael Kaplan, Baruch College CUNY, “‘Amplifying the Asshole:’ Learning Democracy from Algorithms, Bots and Trolls”

In several recent publications and interviews, erstwhile techno-utopian Jaron Lanier has criticized social media for bringing out his—and our—“inner asshole” and algorithmically amplifying its voice. Less colorful versions of the same argument have proliferated both in academia and the public sphere, ably articulated by Whitney Phillips, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Kate Crawford, Evgeny Morozov, and numerous others. In this paper, I propose to take this expression seriously and to pursue its most far-reaching implications for democracy. Yet against the growing chorus of critics, I argue for the specifically democratic virtue of “amplifying the asshole.” In fact, I contend that precisely because social media are guilty of the crimes against democracy imputed to them, they compel us to rethink the meaning of democracy itself. To take seriously the “asshole amplification” technology in the form of algorithms, bots and trolls is not to rehearse the long-discredited claims about the digital public sphere; rather, it is to confront what Karen North aptly called the “unsolvable issue” of irreducible social antagonism that exceeds and conditions both partisanship and identity politics, and which democracy in its original, radical form thematizes. It is this possibility that the “ruined” democracy sought by critics of digital media occludes. This confrontation is not to be overcome, surpassed or resolved en route to a smoothly functioning system of self-rule; it is what sustains the possibility of democracy by precluding any system predicated on devising complete and fully legitimate representations of political identities and their amalgamation within a notional popular will.

Susannah R. Mandel, Prince Mohammed bin Fahd University, “‘We Care About You And The Memories You Share’: Parsing the Capitalist Uncanny in an Era of Branded Humans and Corporate Personas”

In 1970, Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori developed the notion of the “uncanny valley” to explore the existential unease provoked by entities that closely resemble, but are not, humans. It is linked to Sigmund Freud’s 1919 analysis of “das Unheimliche,” which considers the emotions provoked by the kind of “uncanny” entities conceivable by Freud in his time — e.g., corpses, waxworks, and fictional automata.

In recent decades, Mori’s “uncanny valley” has proved a vital tool for academics, critics, and consumers to assess the affective impact of technologies such as CG animation, video game design, and “virtual reality,” as these have accelerated their approach to approximating the human.

I apply Mori’s lens to a newer class of “un-visible” online entities: social media accounts that implicitly or explicitly claim personhood for purposes of marketing, “influencing,” propaganda, or deception. Among these, the Corporate Persona is a company-owned social media account that refers to itself in the first person plural, posts jokes and memes, and engages with “friends” (i.e. consumers) in a human-like “voice.” In a climate of increasing mistrust of claimed identities — linked to unease around data collection, targeted marketing, and the “undercover” social media operations of political bots and trolls — can Mori’s Valley help us parse our affective and existential relationships to these entities?

As we explore the Corporate, or Capitalist, Uncanny, the question expands to consider the American legal-political concept of corporate personhood, as well as the potential for the brand to swallow the human, as in the Corporate Persona’s inverted twin: the Social Media Influencer, which, beginning as a human being, increasingly approaches the existential hollowness of a brand.

Peter Walsh, Global Narratives, Inc., ““This Will Kill That: The Inevitable Political and Social Upheavals of Media Change”

Inspired by a chapter in Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame, often quoted by Frank Lloyd Wright, this paper will explore how and why a change in the dominant media creates a new cultural and
political context while permanently destroying the old one. Hugo’s chapter, an interlude in his novel’s narrative, describes how the invention and ultimate domination of the printing press ended the Age of the Gothic Cathedral and the unified Catholic church it symbolized. , Similarly, each major change in the media, sometimes unnoticed at the time, has upended the status quo. These changes are not only unexpected, they are not recognized as important until they are well under way or complete.

Each transition in media dominance— from the adoption of writing, the creation of the alphabet, the invention of the codex, and the production of wood pulp paper, to photography, radio, television, and now the Internet— has allowed new voices to be heard. At the same time, they have created new scotomata— disruptions in the cultural visual field— which means that parts the social environment are ignored or no longer seen while others remain clear. These changes, the paper explains, are inevitable, follow a repeated structure, and, though they are often the unintended consequences of technological advances, are irreversible.
Although the change cannot be contained, it can, to some extent, be predicted based on past episodes of media disruption. History does provide lessons. The paper will conclude with thoughts about where the present transition may be headed.

10:30 AM – 11:00 PM

Session 6
11:00 AM – 12:30 PM

35. Community Information and Storytelling Networks: Case Studies in a Transformed Media Landscape
Classroom E25-117

Moderator: Henry Jenkins, USC
Letrell Crittenden, Jefferson University, “A Tale of Two Media Ecosystems: Race and Inclusion in Pennsylvania”

This presentation will discuss findings from two separate studies in two Pennsylvania cities focused on issues of diversity and inclusion in news media. It has been 50 years since the Kerner Commission argued that legacy news media depicted communities of color “through white men’s eyes” and “with a white perspective.” While efforts to improve news coverage have been made, studies suggest the problem of stereotyping communities of color persists. In order to solve this dilemma, this effort will argue that researchers must take more nuanced, holistic approaches to understanding why these issues continue to persist in America. It will also argue that a one-size-fits-all solution does not exist in dealing with these issues. This presentation will note that in Philadelphia, a city with a vibrant African American community and nonprofit and advocacy media system, a variety of opportunities exist in changing the tide toward improving the overall coverage of communities of color. On the other side of the state, however, various issues embedded within both the media ecosystem of Pittsburgh, and the Pittsburgh community as a whole, make such an effort much more difficult. Despite its billing as “American’s most livable city,” the lack of diversity within both the city and newsrooms, lack of agency given to journalists of color, and lack of recognition of the persistence of racially-problematic news coverage make conditions for change much more bleak. As a result, solutions-oriented approaches need to be tied to the actually-existing racial conditions within each environment.

Kas Stohr, 99 antennas/Simon & Schuster, “Public Comment: Experiments in Making Public Meetings More Accessible to the Public”

Since 2017, 99 antennas has been working on a pilot approach to make it easier for citizens to keep tabs on public meetings. The project, called Public Comment, uses data science and natural language processing to create a more visible dialogue among the public, citizens wishing to affect change, the news media, and local government. The project aggregates the content of public meetings to make them easier to navigate, track, and share. Through a process of transcribing speech-to-text translation on video or audio from public meeting and then using natural language processing and machine learning tools to analyze the transcript, Public Comment aims to enable video search, offer data visualizations, and create shareable media. It will also allow users to receive mobile notifications and data-driven briefings of a public media feed, including creating podcasts from automated summaries. As part of our work, the 99 antennas team has tested the approach and design and conducted interviews with a range of people who would be likely to use this tool to understand their needs, interests, and challenges; etc. This reflection will share what we have learned thus far about the potential of this approach, how existing natural language processing and machine learning technologies apply to the endeavor, other relevant projects looking to tackle these challenges, and the various challenges that exist in trying to create a sustainable approach to making local meetings more accessible.

Andrea Wenzel, Temple University/Columbia Tow Center, “Reporting for or about: Report for America and local news capacity building models”

At the same time local news is grappling with a failing business model and mass layoffs, some are looking to local news to save journalism and rebuild trust with communities. This study looks at models attempting to strengthen the capacity of local news to report on and in U.S. communities that have largely been under-resourced and/or under-represented in local, regional, or national media. Using a communication infrastructure theory framework, the study looks at the news and information needs of two very different communities: a majority African American neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, and a rural county in Eastern Kentucky. Both areas are sites of intervention for the local news capacity building project, Report for America (RFA), which supports emerging journalists to report in collaboration with news outlets for one to two years. This panel study followed a total of 28 residents through four project start and four project end focus groups, examining whether and how local news capacity building interventions affect links between community stakeholders and local media. In addition, journalists were interviewed from RFA and other outlets in the community to offer insights into the challenges of operationalizing missions to connect with communities in the face of logistical and resource limitations, and illuminate possible alternative pathways or collaboration opportunities. The study engages both community members and journalists in reimagining what it would look like to have more trust-filled relationships—to offer access to both hyperlocal information, and to connect community narratives with larger city and statewide outlets.

Sam Ford, Columbia University Tow Center/MIT, “The Market Failure in Local Journalism: The Quest for Sustainable Journalism Models, from the Bluegrass to the Big Apple”


In rural Kentucky, the diminishment of locally owned retail, the death of the classified ad, the move toward digital advertising, and more recent challenges to the required public notices from local governments to be published in local newspapers are among the continuous stream of challenges being posed to the sustainability of the business models of local newsrooms. But, even as journalism jobs have increasingly concentrated to a few urban centers, that doesn’t mean the health of the local journalism ecosystem is stronger. In NYC, while the number of journalism jobs have been stable, those jobs are increasingly focused on national/ international audiences, rather than covering New York for New Yorkers. This presentation will look at work conducted by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University from 2017-2019, focused on the challenges of supporting and sustaining place-based journalism that truly engage a local public that may not see journalism as central to their lives or as a function that is part of their local community. This presentation will draw on research in Bowling Green and Ohio County, Ky.; on experiments conducted with Kentucky-based news partners The Ohio County Monitor and The Bowling Green Daily News; and on insights from a 2018 summit at Columbia among a variety of participants around the NYC local news community, which was organized with WNYC and the NYC Mayor’s office.

36. New Forms of Media Activism and Advocacy
Classroom 56-114

Moderator: Josh Braun, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Josh Braun & John Coakley, University of Massachusetts Amherst, “Ad Tech Activism: ‘Hyper-partisan news,’ digital advertising boycotts, and changing relationships between brands, activists, and publishers”

This paper examines the activist campaign—here referred to pseudonymously as Slumbering Behemoths (SB)—behind the novel digital advertising boycott of Breitbart News, Boulevard Voltaire, and other far-right “hyper-partisan news sites” publishing material that toes (and often crosses) the line into hate speech. Advertisers in the programmatic advertising marketplace have until recently not had to worry a great deal about consumer backlash due to controversial ad placements. The nature of behaviorally targeted ads ostensibly means that a brand’s ads only show up for willing visitors of a potentially controversial site, reducing the risk that the context will cause offense (Braun & Eklund, 2019). What SB has done is to take to social media to publicize the placement of ads on Breitbart News, Boulevard Voltaire, and other hyper-partisan sites, shaming brands into pulling their advertising from the offending publishers. This is a novel and straightforward intervention into an otherwise highly complex and opaque digital advertising ecosystem that is having marked results worthy of examination.
The paper combines interviews with the activists behind each of the major branches of this international campaign with analysis of coverage from the trade press and data from a parallel study of the ad tech industry’s approach to dealing with problematic content. We explore—and attempt to frame conceptually—1) what has made the SB more or less effective in starving formerly profitable publications of ad revenue, 2) the ethical and operational questions
raised by their strategy for publishers, advertisers, and ad tech firms, and 3) the lessons, limitations, and possible future of the activist strategies developed by SB.

Gino Canella, Emerson College, “Collaborative Documentary as Media Advocacy”

This paper explores the social processes of documentary filmmaking to understand how media production and distribution may connect media practitioners and grassroots community organizations fighting for social justice. Researchers have examined how community media workshops help youth find voice, become civically engaged, and challenge dominant cultural narratives, with much of this scholarship focusing on the production of multimedia at the expense of examining how the exhibition of film promotes political engagement. I worked with Youth Documentary Academy (YDA), a 7-week documentary workshop in Colorado Springs, as a video editor and instructor from 2015-2018. This paper is based on ethnographic research that includes 20 interviews with YDA filmmakers, staff, and allied community organizers. I reflect on how filmmaking is inherently a social practice with the potential to foster meaningful relationships between media makers and community organizers. Many YDA filmmakers did not enter the program seeking to advocate for a particular issue; rather, they had a personal story they wished to share, artistically, through film. The affective nature of YDA films, screened publicly in partnership with allied community organizations, however, engaged youth in meaningful community conversations about the issues raised in their films and helped them realize an advocacy role. Documentary production and film screenings, therefore, pose valuable opportunities for educators, researchers, and media practitioners to engage youth in critical media literacies that have the potential to elevate their political consciousness, script solidarity with marginalized and oppressed peoples, and foster meaningful dialogues with current and future allies.

Melissa Phruksachart, University of Michigan, “On Minority Discourse and the Left Digital Sphere”

This paper examines the post-Occupy (re)constitution of U.S. left-wing digital media spaces via online little magazines such as Jacobin and The Baffler; the popular podcast Chapo Trap House (and its attendant Reddit subforums); the blogs of left publishers such as Verso; and internet communities of the Democratic Socialists of America. I argue in support of the idea that a left partisan press is returning to simultaneously shape and confirm the views of its readers. Thinking through the question, “How are non-traditional sources of learning, knowledge production, and participation reshaping civic spheres?” I emphasize that a key element of the contemporary U.S. left digital partisan press is its intentional trolling of “identity politics,” or what Kandice Chuh and Karen Shimakawa term minority discourse. More simply put, the circa 1990 “race vs. class” wars are—dishearteningly—back, revised and expanded.

Situating the rise of this digital civic sphere in light of the Great Recession, the presidency of Barack Obama, the Black Lives Matter movement, the increase in trans visibility, the failed candidacy of Hillary Clinton, and the media panic around the browning racial demographics of the U.S., I examine why and how some facets of the U.S. left have mobilized digital spaces to promote an epistemology of ignorance around, and outright derision of, minority thought. I note the obvious danger and irony in attempting to build a democratic socialist movement that negates the intellectual contributions of the minoritized. I also look at attempts to speak back to the consolidation of left media as a white-dominant project through black, queer, feminist, and indigenous memes and Twitter accounts.

Priti Laishram, University of Delhi, “Rethinking Resistance: A study of circulation of songs of resistance” 

Manipur, a state in the northeastern region of India was an independent kingdom under British Paramountcy till 1947, underwent a momentous change with the establishment of a democratically elected government in 1948 with a constitution of its own. But, in 1949, Manipur was forcefully annexed to the Indian state, thereby ushering a cycle of violence that continues to this day. The day-to-day experiences of living under occupation, the armed movement against the Indian occupation, and the consequent oppression by the Indian state in the guise of countering insurgency and maintaining its territorial integrity, all these have left an indelible mark on the landscape of Manipur.

Protest songs play an important medium of resistance in Manipur. It captures the experiences of the people and also helps shape their understanding of the place they inhabit. Through their songs, musicians question the power excesses of both the armed forces and insurgents, and its effect on the larger Manipuri society. Social media plays a major role in circulation of songs of resistance in Manipur. It helped form an imagined community which Anderson (Anderson, 1983) talks about. This paper will attempt to understand the relationship between social media, circulation and also formation of a community. Andy Bennett (Bennett, 2015) states how internet helps to form new ways of understanding the relationship between music, self and community. The presence of fan pages of the musicians creates a community which fosters a sense of collective and solidarity. To not look at this space to understand resistance and politics will be largely inadequate in any study of resistance in Manipur.


36. Virtual Realities
Classroom 56-154

Moderator: Rachel Ball, University of California, Santa Barbara
Rachel Ball, University of California, Santa Barbara, “Against Nature: Special Effects Bodies and the Re-membered Animal”

This project seeks to expand the growing field of special effects studies by taking up the ethical implications in the hyperpresence of animal biomateriality in both analogue and digital effects work which figures humanoid bodies. In the animal offal simulating human organs and flesh, in bones and all other manner of biological byproducts, practical special effects work has long relied upon the stuff of animal bodies to simulate the interiors of the human and monstrous body in scenes of nonindexical bodily violence and gore. Digital special effects bodies are “ghostwritten” by animal bodies, through the scanning of gestures or remixing of captured vocalizations. Cinema has always already been an animal product, relying on gelatin in celluloid until as recently as the last fifty years. In a very real sense, animal becomes cinema becomes animal in the realm of biological materiality. Taking as my starting point the mixing of nonindexical violence visited upon humans with indexical violence worked upon animals in the Italian cannibal film genre of the 1970’s, I interrogate the corporeal materiality of both the cinematic animal and the hybrid figures of biology and technics that is the special effects body. At the intersections of media studies, ecocriticism, queer critique, and science and technology studies, the persistence of the stuff of animal bodies in bodily special effects work forces us to consider violence, death, and decay as it relates to biological and technological structures, and the ethical and practical questions raised by the lives and deaths of effects-produced beings.

Carles Sora, Pompeu Fabra University, “Is the ‘Virtual’ the new ‘Real’?”

During the establishment of the first techniques and theoretical frameworks of the first virtual reality wave – during the eights and nineties – the ‘Real’ and the ‘Virtual’ were two concepts used as confronted binary models of representation. The virtual represented all the characteristics that the real does not have: “I use the term virtual in its traditional sense, an opposite of real” (Nelson). Contrary to this previous conception of what virtual reality was, still present in our digital mindset, the new wave of virtual reality documentaries is offering new challenges for revisiting the relations between the ‘Real’ and the ‘Virtual’. Immersive journalism (De la Peña) is creating a shift in the way the virtual was understood, by placing the audience inside real stories. This kind of virtual representations are no longer fantasies or fictional representations externals to our daily realities – as described in the nineties – but simulations of realities. This new phenomenon is questioning the way we conceive and build our sense of presence in ‘reality’, in physiological and cultural ways never present before. Relocating immersive technologies as a cultural tool and constructor and representation of reality generates a series of new challenges that needing to be addressed. This paper proposes an approach to this challenge, analyzing its implications using a cultural & sociological approach (Couldry & Hepp), a cinematic and philosophical perspective (Pierce), and also bringing into play new physiological implications of VR embodiment (Slater).
Jeremy Sarachan, St. John Fisher College, “Movie or Mobile: The Necessary Future of Interactive and VR Documentaries”

In terms of ‘going out to the movies,’ apart from a few exceptions (e.g., the films of Michael Moore) linear documentaries have been relegated to art house theaters.  Now, streaming, cable television, and YouTube offer increased access to these films at home. Very brief documentaries (under two minutes) have found a place on social media, often in the form of partisan political pieces.  And niche social media sites like the now defunct Vine offer a throwback to nineteenth century films viewed through kinetoscopes.

Included in that media ecosystem are interactive documentaries that may offer a more comprehensive view of a subject and virtual reality experiences of real events, with the two on opposite points of the spectrum in terms of how long a viewer must engage for a complete experience.

Traditional ‘linear’ documentaries require directorial choices, and interactive documentaries require similar artistic decisions about the content included and the degree and means of control given to users, using different technologies and applying different expectations of what it means to be an audience.

This paper will consider the affordances of different documentary formats while calling for a broader definition of ‘documentarian’.  It will also address the struggles for wider success of interactive documentaries in terms of user experience (e.g., ease of use, mobile-friendliness) and finding an audience.  Finally, the paper will consider the importance of all documentaries, and interactive documentary in particular, as a necessary tool for the dissemination of views in a democracy.

Zhongbei Wang & Zhou Rongting, University of Science and Technology of China, “Reviving Chinese Opera through Augmented Reality Reviving Chinese Opera through Augmented Reality”
In the time of social and political unrest, cultural identity and heritage usually get compromised. The same trend can be observed in the case of ‘Chinese Opera’ during the time of Chinese Cultural Revolution. Specifically, in the first half of the 20th century. During the lack of its resilient nature, cultural flux, and core competency shift in its economy, it’s still struggling to grab attention of masses (youth). However, macro level initiatives can be seen where government and third-parties are actively playing their role in attract youngsters towards Chinese Opera (with maximum media richness).
The purpose of this study is to highlight the strategic plan to maximize the social participatory culture among youth in the above scenario. To achieve healthy cultural communication and for the revival of Chinese Opera, an AR based media rich platform is suggested which can provide the blend of traditional and contemporary media to synergized together.
The platform comprised variety of Chinese Opera as creative content which evolves around the live performance of artists, the system records smart details i.e. performers’ actions, voices and clothing and generate game-based design for viewers to experience media-rich opera culture with the support of cloud- technology. Presently, the prototype testing is under the pipeline in five Chinese universities, to examine viewer’s response through observations and interviews. The ongoing results show that the interaction of the platform is of great help to enhance students’ interest in opera, and it is obviously effective as a marketing tool to attract young people.

38. Analyzing #MeToo
Classroom 66-144

Moderator: Anne Ciecko, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Joyojeet Pall, Drupa Charles, Anmol Panda, Microsoft Research India, “Evaluating the relationship between extreme political hashtags and gender-based trolling on Indian Twitter post-#metoo”

Evaluating the relationship between extreme political hashtags and gender-based trolling on Indian Twitter post- #metoo
In this quantitative study, we analyze trolling patterns of Twitter users in India to examine the relationship between extreme speech in the political tweets of people associated with mainstream parties and responses to messages related to the #metoo movement. Building on past evidence of misogynist tropes for political gains (First Post, 2017), (Times of India, 2014), this work aims to understand the relationship of patriarchy with political extremism.
We use a database of tweets from over 7000 Indian politicians on Twitter who are elected or standing for public office at the national and state levels, built using a machine-language classifier. From the hashtags used by them, we shortlist extreme hashtags used in political discourse in India and classify these based on a typology of othering (Gonawela et al., 2018) that seeks to delegitimize arguments and individuals through the use of insults and labels. We use manual coding to classify gendered elements of the language of attack in these messages and collect users that tweet using extreme hashtags and split them into groups based on which category of hashtags they disproportionately use.
Concurrently, we collect tweets of hashtags that are commonly used along with the #metooindia tag to fetch tweets relevant to the MeToo movement in India. We annotate this list based on the use of language and descriptive metaphor to understand the ways in which opposition is framed. We then study the extreme political speech tweets against the metoo-related tweets, with the broader goal of understanding the political capital of misogyny and it’s use in Twitter discourse.

Christina Blankenship, University of New Mexico, “Tattoos and #MeToo: A subcultural construction of sexual harassment narratives in online spaces and community discussion via social media”

Tattooing is traditionally a male dominated subculture in the United States. Social media platforms (Instagram, Pintrest, etc) have elevated body modification’s popularity, placing tattooing in a strange position that shifts its ‘purposefully outsider’ role. Such positionality allowed the subculture to avoid dominant cultural conversations such as #MeToo until December 2017; Alex Boyko, an artist from Belleville, Canada, was charged with sexual assault against his female customers. In response to the charges, different artists around the world formed the Instagram page WatchDogTattoos, regularly posting information about artists with criminal backgrounds to create customer awareness. The page was eventually flagged for doxing-like behavior and halted its updates; however, its impact sent ripples across the tattoo industry. Broader conversations concerning assault on female tattoo customers continued on a comment feed in a 2017 Jezebel.com article. Survivors shared their experiences during tattoo appointments, tips on reducing chances of harassment, and artists that provide safer environments across the world. This study utilizes discourse analysis to codify the comment thread of the Jezebel.com article, examining the relationship between subcultural boundaries and mediated advice spaces. This research fills gaps within subculture literature by examining the intricacies between a male-oriented profession and their increasingly female customer base. In considering the #MeToo movement and its impact in media, this research argues that subcultures must also respond to larger cultural conversations. The resistant ‘misunderstood punk’ in the #MeToo era is pushed to become aware of harassment and held accountable for industry standards with clients.

Lisa Paul Streitfeld, The European Graduate School, “Web 3.0 and the (R)evolution of Desire: The Quantum Leap from #MeToo to #WeToo”

#MeToo shaking up entrenched power structures and collapsing the hierarchies of celebrity cults in government, the academy and the entertainment industry is viewed from a quantum Web 3.0 perspective freeing desire from the oppression of the Web 2.0 “Like.” Producing the phenomenology of a media firestorm surrounding a Web 3.0 initiative to deconstruct the hidden power structures surrounding Critical Theory celebrity cults in the American academy, this paper utilizes hermeneutics as apparatus to investigate the historical nature of cult and its relation to the occult as the alternative to the patriarchal literary canon. Dr. Streitfeld’s philosophical archeology of #MeToo investigates institutional control over feminine desire against the contemporary mythology of a Reality TV twittering Oval Office bypassing governmental hierarchies to demonstrate a transparency of power transcending Clinton’s scandalous affair in the literal seat of power under the similar circumstances of a government shutdown. From the cultural upheaval, the emergence of a universal 21st century icon of gender balance is apprehended by means of tracing the hermeneutics of desire and its contemporary mythology in the academy — from the academic repression following the landmark 1992 Jane Gallop sexual harassment case up to the 2018 #MeToo disclosure of the gender- bending digital phenomenology of institutionalized erotic coercion in Reitman vs. Ronell debated endlessly through social media. This paper is the outcome of the author’s twelve-year social media experiment — from the psychological domination of Eros via the Web 2.0 “Like” into the liberating quantum leap of the Web 3.0 #WeToo collaboration across the social network.

Anne Ciecko, University of Massachusetts Amherst, “Re-Fashioning and Democratizing Feminist Sartorial Activism and Judicial Iconicity: Digital Cultural Mediations of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s ‘Dissent Collar’”


The proposed presentation will address mediated, convergent, and (apparently) contradictory discourses of feminism, fashion, consumer culture, and participatory democracy. Specifically, my research analyzes iconicity in the contemporary image economy through an investigation of representations and reception of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as heroic cultural figure/ author function/public personality/fan favorite/unlikely fashion icon across media platforms and phenomena: tributes and memes on social media, blogs, documentary, filmic biopic, televised interviews, fashion magazines, online news forums, consumer sites, Kickstarter-funded action figure, etc. This project focuses especially on the decoding, replicating, recontextualizing, referencing, and aggregating of images of the curated and taxonomized decorative neckwear Ginsburg has worn with her uniform of black judicial robes. Of particular interest is her so-called “dissent collar” bib necklace and socially-mediated discussions of its meaning(s); its provenance as (reportedly) gift bag swag; its limited edition, wait-listed reissue from Banana Republic; knockoffs and various remediations.
This interdisciplinary project dialogically engages with ongoing theoretical debates and relevant research questions explored in scholarship across media studies, critical fashion studies, and cultural studies: Has digital media made fashion more democratic? Is fashion — or visible adornment — an effective tool for dissent and mediated cultural intervention, particularly in terms of women’s rights and gender equality? I build upon my previous work on online discourse of celebrity sartorial protest at awards shows in the #MeToo/#Time’sUp era, as well as feminist slogan T- shirts and commodification of old/new iterations by contemporary designers and fast fashion companies, informed by intertwined historiographies of fashion and media.

39. Authoritarianism, Information Warfare, and Social Media
Classroom 66-168

Moderator: Marlyn Tadros, Southern New Hampshire University
Marlyn Tadros, Southern New Hampshire University, “Disruptive vs Subversive: the power and disempowerment of new media in authoritarian countries, the case of Egypt and Saudi Arabia”

It has been approximately two decades since we began touting new media, especially the internet and social media, as potentially democratizing forces. Today, this utopian ideal has had countless setbacks that come naturally with any disruptive media. Authoritarian governments, and those with repressive tendencies around the world, have used and abused it, to further their agendas and subvert democratic movements and processes through disinformation campaigns and propaganda, creating social, cultural and political divisions in their own communities, as well as garnering support for their own policies. These tactics have additionally been enforced by localized legislation and the creation of internet monitoring offices and task forces. Surveillance technologies, mostly provided by Western, democratic countries, have also been used to undermine and arrest members of the opposition, journalists doing their jobs, and even ordinary people expressing a contrarian opinion, under the guise of fighting terrorism and/or spreading false information. Despite crackdowns, censorship, arrests, harassment and blocking, new media continue to be powerful sources of free speech and accountability in authoritarian countries. New media have significantly changed the public sphere and public discourses and have created their own set of rules and unspoken codes of ethics and conduct. They have also created spaces for collaboration, fact-checking, and countering state propaganda.

This paper will analyze recent cases from Saudi Arabia and Egypt and will discuss Western involvement in those cases, for better or for worse. From Saudi Arabia, the paper will discuss journalist Khashoggi’s murder case, and 18-year-old Rahaf Al Qunon’s asylum case, as well as campaigns for the release of political prisoners. From Egypt, the paper will discuss Italian student Guilio Regini’s murder case, two internet-related cases where their authors were accused of spreading false information, and the Egyptian elections of 2018. In light of those cases, the paper will offer recommendations regarding the future of new media, accountability, and democratic movements
Ahmad Alshehab, Arizona State University, “Free Speech and Defamation in a world of Internet and social media: The case of Kuwait and the United States of America”

The current era of Internet and information technology makes it easier for almost anyone to produce and share any type of content he/she desires. A lack of basic reporting skills and basic knowledge of media laws and free speech limitations has led to many individuals being subjected to defamation charges both inside and outside of their countries. At the same time, these advanced technologies have resulted in powerful surveillance tools for governments and institutions to track anything people say or write, which threatens individuals’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression.

This study aims to explore how two different political and legal systems, such as the Kuwaiti system (hierarchical with Islamic background) and the U.S. system (liberal), achieve balance with individuals’ reputational rights and freedom of speech and the press in a world of social media prevalence. The law-in-context method and the Theory of Legal Formants were applied to achieve the study objectives. To survive the 21st century and cope with a world of publication without borders, Kuwait and the governments of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) must reform their defamation laws to allow more freedom of speech and of the press. The first step in reforming laws in Kuwait is to remove the vagueness and breadth in some articles that provide unnecessary governmental control over speech. The study contributes to the process of constructing a universally legal understanding that better supports information and media exchange among societies.
Nathaniel Greenberg, George Mason University, “Information Warfare and the Struggle for Democracy: WikiLeaks and the Arab Spring Revisited”

On the eve of January 28, 2011, WikiLeaks releases documents from a cache of U.S. State Department cables stolen the previous year. Proclaiming evidence of “Secret US Backing for Egyptian rebels,” the effect of the revelations (which appear in Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper the following day) is immediate. The Western-backed cyber-dissidence campaign that helped spark the uprising just two days prior appears dead in its tracks. The pro-democracy movement in Egypt unravels. Flash forward five years: Russian-backed information operatives have hacked the American election. Among the thousands of trolls working to influence public discourse in the United States are a handful of users whose names appeared in conjunction with the January 27 leak. Drawing on first-hand experience of the opening eighteen days of protest in Egypt, recent interviews with high-level U.S. officials and unique access to the archives of the U.S. Government’s Open Source Center, this article (drawn from a recent book) examines the role of timing and other methods of strategic communication in the effective execution of mass media persuasion campaigns. From a historical and qualitative position, I discuss the existence of parallel communications strategies within Russian, U.S. and Arab intelligence bodies, and make the case that the preservation of a functional democratic sphere in an age of misinformation will require coequal investment in the algorithms of digital-detection technology and the ‘aesthetics of communication’ to quote Fred Forest; a renewed sense of awareness in the power of art and rhetoric to shape the way we see the world.

Evika Karamagioli, Dimitris Gouscos, Eleni Staiou, University of Athens, “Social media platforms and Participatory constitutional design: From
the Islandic case to the French ‘yellow vest’ movement and beyond” 

Having as a starting point the Yellow Vests movement in France, the proposed paper discusses if and how digital participatory platforms and processes can go against rule-driven bureaucratic approaches to political participation and public deliberation, trying to defy strict procedural norms in favor of more flexible formats for citizen mobilization, political co-thinking and sustained social innovation in the area of constitutional building.
Towards this effort, cases from more than 15 countries all around the world in transitional, post-conflict but also democratic regimes are analyzed. From Africa (Uganda, Kenya and Somalia) to Arab Spring (Tunisia, Morocco), Latin America and last but not least Europe (Iceland, Ireland, Romania, Italy, Greece) they represent efforts to establish flexible, counter-bureaucratic instruments of national political dialogue and public consultation.
Considered as flexible and easy to use crowdsourcing methods and tools social media platforms even if they were not designed for such a political and civic purpose have been used to collect input from citizens on a variety of areas, such as legal drafting, legal reform, policy-making and civic advocacy bypassing the limitations experienced by the traditional forms of civic participation.
Or such configurations affect different groups in different ways and to different degrees at the different stages to be used. Their use should therefore respect legal, ethical, social and cultural norms in each country, city in question. They are simply another tool to reach a wider audience, potentially at lower cost and in less time than other traditional methods and they need to be framed as such.

40. Sounding Publics: Infrastructures of Politicized Listening
Classroom 66-160 

Moderator: Lilia Kilburn, Harvard University
Burç Köstem, McGill University, “‘We Are Muffled Voices, Dear Lord, Don’t Let Our Minarets Fall Silent’: The Islamic Call to Prayer and the Politics of Disruption in Turkey” 

Critical accounts of media infrastructures tend to privilege moments of failure, interruption and disruption as revealing material assemblages that modern technology has otherwise confined to the background or aesthetic qualities that had otherwise been latent (Larkin 2008, 2018). When infrastructures become a site of disruption, so the argument goes, a politics begins to gather around them. In this paper, I propose an alternative account of disruption and media infrastructure through an analysis of the use of loudspeakers in the broadcasting of the call to prayer (adhan) in Turkey. To do so I present a cultural and intellectual genealogy of the anxieties around the audibility of the adhan and potential disruptions to its transmission, through the conceptual framework presented by Deleuze and Guattari. Drawing on news stories and architectural journals between 1930-1980, I demonstrate that far from rationalizing the adhan’s transmission or removing sources of friction, loudspeakers only helped intensify material and political sources of disruption. So much so that for conservative thinkers and poets in Turkey, the persistent concern around the audibility of the adhan became one of the issues that crystallized their critique of modernity and capitalism. In other words, even as the loudspeakers concretized, the fear and anxiety around their audibility persisted. I then turn to how the ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) has overcoded, aggregated, deployed and at other times assuaged this anxiety around the adhan. Focusing on the July 15th coup attempt in which the adhan was broadcast throughout mosques in Ankara and İstanbul to rally popular support for the regime, I demonstrate how a binary logic of signal disruption versus transmission falls short of capturing the political complexities of the adhan’s broadcast during the coup attempt and its immediate aftermath (Siegert 2013). 

Sadie Couture, Concordia University, “Loud and Proud: Affirmative Resonances and Alt-Right Podcasts” 

In the context of the steady growth of podcast listenership, as well as a far-right resurgence in American politics, the demographics of both these groups are markedly similar. In this paper I analyze a point of overlap in these movements, a sample of alt-right podcasts. Building on Neil Verma’s (2012) argument for analysis of sonic media according to form, I pay specific attention to what these shows sound like, what parts they are constituted by, and how the aesthetics of these works shape and influence the listening publics they address. Banned from many popular hosting sites and aggregators, these podcasts migrate, die, and are reborn anew. In this paper, I track down a number of these mobile and fragmented shows, and identify a few significant components which they share: loudness, copiousness, referentiality, and mobilization of temporality. I discuss these features in relation to Michael Heller’s (2015) concept of imagined loudness as a key producer of sonic affect, to Susan Douglas’ (1999) insights about the popular genre of political talk radio and its commitment to aurality and a vision of citizenship, and to Carolyn Birdsall’s (2012) work on the sonic practices of Nazi-era Germany. I argue that these podcasts are examples of Birdsall’s notion of affirmative resonances, building the types of imagined listening communities she theorizes. As podcasts are lauded in many popular and academic discourses for their participatory, democratizing potential, this paper offers different terms on which to discuss podcast technologies and the listening publics they produce, maintain and envision. 

Hang Wu, McGill University, “Technologies of Sounds, Waves, and Socialist Sovereignty: Listening to Enemy Radio in Mao’s China” 

This paper attends to the clandestine listening practice and cross-border circulation of sounds in the context of Chinese socialism to address how multiple listening positions problematized national borders and Chinese imagined listening communities. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the Chinese state severely criminalized listening to radio stations controlled by the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, Taiwan, and Vietnam and deemed these radio broadcastings as “enemy radio” (ditai). The intangibility of radio waves endowed radio broadcasting with the ability to transgress political borders during wartime. In this paper, I turn to the uneven distribution of national radio broadcast infrastructures in the Chinese border areas. I argue that it allowed for the reengineering of radio frequencies, clandestine rearrangement of sounds, and multiple lines of listening that the state believed must be strictly controlled. Through an examination of how the uneven distribution of electromagnetic waves and sounds facilitated illicit listening to enemy radio stations, this paper shows that while radio broadcasting functioned as one of the favorite tools in China’s nation-building project, it also introduced technological and infrastructural roadblocks to the formation of a well-delineated national community and its exercise of sovereign power. Moreover, the clandestine listening also presaged shifts in Chinese power formations and new logics of state governing after the start of its economic reform, entry into the global market, and adoption of neoliberal policies in the early 1980s.

Andy Stuhl, McGill University, “The Emergency Alert System’s Acoustic Infrastructure”

The Emergency Alert System (EAS) interweaves radio in the United States as an anticipatory, acoustic infrastructure. At its highest level, which has never been used, the EAS forms a channel for the president to address the nation amid national crisis. In place of this actual activation, periodic test signals—that stations must air to ensure their equipment’s proper maintenance— make the system audible to its listening public. This paper reads the EAS in the political context of media deregulation and ownership consolidation, which have produced a state of ineffectiveness in this system that blurs the divide between infrastructural states of smooth operation and of breakdown. Where Susan Leigh Star (1999) called attention to infrastructures’ characteristic of becoming visible upon breakdown, the EAS inverts this logic in the sense that it becomes audible in anticipation and silent in failure. This treatment proceeds through an analysis of EAS test signals as auditory and political entities, examining how they perform emergency at acoustic and infrastructural registers. In doing so, it brings sound studies into further conversation with recent considerations of media and materiality. The EAS reveals an “infrastructural imaginary” (Parks 2015) that speaks itself into material existence through radio; at the same time that it gives up its present efficacy to the pressures of deregulation and automation, it orients a listening public toward the suspended threat of national crisis that it solidifies through sound.


41. Collective Wisdom — A Field Study:  Co-Creating Media Within Communities, Across Disciplines, and with Algorithms
Classroom 66-154

Trump and Brexit have signaled a sharp turn in the cult of the individual.   But we’re also in a remarkable time of collective creation. Take for instance, The Panama Papers: a global collective of investigative journalists from 107 news organizations joined forces in 2016 to interpret the largest data leak in history. It brought down governments, presidents, and it marked the biggest effort ever in journalism to collaborate rather than compete. Now more than ever, we need these forms of co-creation to get beyond the limits of singular authorship and single authority. Co-creation involves a constellation of media production methods, frameworks, and feedback systems in which projects emerge from a process, and evolve from within communities and with people, rather than being made for or about them.  The panel will offer a ‘sneak peek’ into a major forthcoming field study based on interviews with over 160 people involved in co-creation in media and the arts.  The study was supported by the MacArthur and Ford Foundations, is forthcoming from the MIT Press, and will also be available shortly on the Press’s PubPub platform

Moderator: William Uricchio, MIT
Kat Cizek, MIT/Ryerson
Sarah Wolozin, MIT
Rashin Fahandej, MIT/ Massachusetts College of Art and Design
Leila Kinney, MIT


Session 7
1:30 PM to 3:00 PM

42. Lessons from Social Media
Classroom E25-117

Moderator: Elyse Graham, Stony Brook University
Elyse Graham, Stony Brook University, “Boundary Maintenance and the Origins of Trolling”

This paper presents a new social framework for understanding the origins of trolling and its expansion from an obscure practice, limited to a handful of internet newsgroups, to a pervasive component of internet culture. Drawing on early events in the history of trolling that have been overlooked in more recent, nearly definitive accounts of the practice, I argue that trolling originated as a form of boundary maintenance that served to distinguish communities of self-identified online insiders from others beyond the boundaries of their community and to drive outsiders away from their spaces. This framework can help us to better understand the transformations that trolling has undergone in the decades since its inception, as well as the persistence of misogyny and prejudice throughout the history of the practice. 

Daniel Dugand, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, “HashtagGuacIsBack: Creativity in the Age of Automatic Societies” 

This paper explores the mediation of the creative act by the algorithms that
allow a homeostatic politics today. At once, it intends to develop an understanding of neo- liberalism as a completely automatic agency, and explores the role of the subject as a rhetor: a participant, and an actant in such a system. The focal point of the essay is a project brought to fruition by Venezuelan immigrant Manuel Oliver after deciding to turn towards activism when he lost his son, Juaquín Oliver, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida last year. Called #GuacIsBack, this project consists of a full-sized 3D print of Juaquín, AKA “Guac,” placed at Time Square in New York City, and a highly curated divulgation of said artefact and exhibition on social media. The paper thus frames this project as a creative act to reveal how the technological interpretation and reinterpretation of phenomena constitutes an aesthetic paradigm that always pre-codes tragedy and crisis for the benefit of its continued existence even when it itself is the cause of them and, this essay further portends, has the power to render democratic participation fallacious. The essay carries this analysis out by exploring the roles of form, as information, as the medium through which action and activity happen so to admit deeper understanding of how creative autonomy may happen within democracy as it is today, a system that favors stasis over any other state. 


Seth Lewis, University of Oregon, Logan Molyneux, Temple University, “Social media, journalism, and faulty assumptions: Lessons from a decade of research” 

This presentation takes up a key question for digital media and public life: What can we learn about the first decade of social media and journalism (2008-2018) that might inform how we think about the next decade to come? Our analysis of the literature on social media in relation to journalism suggests that scholars (and other stakeholders) need a more particular accounting of the assumptions, biases, and blind spots that have crept into this line of research (indeed, even in our own work). We start by outlining three faulty assumptions—mostly implicit but no less influential—that have been overlooked in the rapid take-up of social media as a key phenomenon for journalism studies: (1) that social media would be a net positive (e.g., that relationships between journalists and audiences would necessarily be improved through greater online interactions, transparency, and reciprocity); (2) that social media reflects reality (i.e., that “real life” can be meaningfully assessed through social media); and (3) that social media matters over and above other factors (i.e., that its influence is uniquely and singularly powerful). We then offer a series of recommendations that could serve to guide both the next 10 years of scholarly research on social media as well as the journalistic use of such platforms. In particular, we present these findings and the future opportunities they imply in light of a broader reckoning going on in many disciplines regarding the role of social media and networked technologies in public life. 


Keith Clavin, MIT, “Island of Conspiracy: Cuba, Social Networks, and Narrative in the Information Age”

As the world becomes ever more connected via digitized information networks, global political relationships are being bent into new and complex shapes. One of the results of these changes to media is that previously accepted geopolitical narratives are being revised. While these technological developments have added speed and efficiency to communicative processes, they have also prompted the dispersal of misinformation and made terms like “deep state” and “fake news” commonplace. 

This presentation would offer an examination of Cuba’s representation in the changing informational landscape as a case study in contemporary digital narrative practices, particularly as they react to geopolitical circumstances. Long interpreted as a socioeconomic other to the United States’ capitalism, the information age has offered several examples of a “warming” of the Soviet-Castro era Cold War. However, a recent event involving potential “sonic attacks” on the US embassy in Havana is a prominent reminder of the barriers that persist. Moreover, this unverified event serves a paradigm for the type of uncertainty and open-ended narrative structures that trouble our current historical moment’s discourse. Ironically, this (alleged) attack and a series of other incidents have employed digital media to revert to an older generation’s ideology regarding the function of Cuba in American popular culture and news media. I believe this conference to be an appropriate platform for the assessment of Cuba’s digital identity at this juncture, and whether its future will be represented as either a continuation of the conspiratorial notions of history or will be revised to form a distinct Cuba in Western media consciousness.

Mitchel Sutika Sipus, Tulco Labs, “Designing the Global Discourse on Nuclear Threats via Experimental Socio-Technical Systems“

In the last thirty years, The US Department of State has built multiple initiatives to inform civic participation on the identification and communication of global nuclear threats. These efforts have included the creation of campaigns, competitions, research grants, and academic partnerships in hope that non-state actors will generate arguments in alignment with State policy, establishing 3rd party verification on decisions and action.  However, given the shifting landscape of truth and reliability, government offices have struggled to shape the message or empower citizens in the conversation. Current experiments to apply trends in sophisticated technologies to this problem are not promising and may do more to increase complexity.

A salient recent effort has been a collaboration with private sector policy specialists to build geospatial analysis tools for the creative crowdsourcing of information on known nuclear sites in nations such as North Korea and Russia.  The goal of these tools is to mine intelligence through discourse, later integrating machine learning applications that triangulate and maximize human observations of seemingly low insight. However, this initiative has proven a significant challenge for all stakeholders who may be familiar with global politics but lack expertise in socio-technical systems design.

By analysis of the existing vehicles for public engagement between the US Department of State and current experiments on the injection of crowdsourcing platforms and machine learning, new threats for the public and the state can be identified.  The integrity and flow of information concerning nuclear arms in the coming decade is at risk, and by consequence, so is humanity. 


43. Games and Civic Engagement
Classroom 56-114

Moderator: Libby Falck, MIT
Tonguc Sezen, Rhine-Waal University of Applied Sciences, Diğdem Sezen, Istanbul University, “Current Event Games​ Today: A Comparative Evaluation of Two Cases”

Since mid-2000’s game scholars have been discussing the use of video games as tools for expressing timely political reactions to world events. Yet, throughout the last decade, in comparison to social media, their role in the formation of political discourse has been limited. Nevertheless, around the world there are still periods of political and social unrest during which the production of politically motivated video games peak.
In June 2013, during the occupation of Gezi Park in Istanbul, a group of indie game developers had organized a game jam to support the goals of the protesters. While most of the games produced in this jam were based on the conflict between the protesters and the security forces; their political motivation and arguments regarding the causes and possible goals of the protests were also visible in their design. In 2016, another crisis, the July 15th failed coup attempt too motivated developers to release games protesting alleged groups behind it. While games produced during the Gezi Park protests and after the July 15th coup attempt had similarities in their design and even production cycles; the construction of their political discourses and the political environment in which they were produced were quite different. In this paper we will provide a comparative evaluation of these recent uses of video games as a means of political discussion and expression. We will provide an overview of individual games and their design, the historical and political contexts shaping their meaning, and in selected cases use let’s play videos and quotes from comment sections to glimpse into their perception by players. We will finally discuss the relevance of concept of ​current event games ​within contemporary global media landscape.

Libby Falck, MIT, “Game Design Thinking for Civic Engagement”

We live in a moment of declining civic engagement and flourishing participatory culture. The question this session will explore is: How might digital platforms better enable individuals to connect with – and contribute to – the social movements that are working to achieve goals that matter to them?

The session will begin with an overview of my thesis research on the tools and practices used by activists and social movement organizations in rural and suburban Wisconsin. I’ll focus on the following three takeaways:
There is a lack of transparency and access to local information about movement goals, candidates, and political opportunities at the municipal and county levels.
There is a lack of collaboration between social movement organizations, even within the same issue areas.
There is a lack of creativity, personalization, and diversity in the calls to action made by many social movement and political organizations.

I’ll then share how we’re using game design thinking with local organizers in Wisconsin to co-design a new civic engagement platform that addresses these challenges. We’ll conclude by collectively brainstorming ideas that leverage game design thinking to increase participation in social movements.

Angela Catalano, University of New Orleans, “We’re Going to Play a New Game”

Due to the proliferation of digital and GPS technologies over the past twenty years, new forms of surveillance have become accessible to the general public. At present, users can use apps to track their spending habits, check in to public and private spaces, and see where friends and family are at any given moment, eliminating personal privacy for the sake of convenience. In the months prior to the release of the Apple’s first iPhone and the App Store containing these surveillance-enabled applications, industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails launched Year Zero, an alternate reality game and fifth studio album that created a dystopian world of extensive governmental surveillance and authoritarian rule that featured many characteristics of the Bush-era politics in the U.S. My paper will examine the sophisticated gameplay as evidence of expanding surveillance literacy in the late aughts.

The game approached surveillance literacy twofold, first by calling attention to the pervasiveness of surveillance in our daily lives with a keen focus on the degradation of privacy in the name of security, and by also encouraging critical thinking and engagement with every-day surveillance. In this moment just prior to the proliferation of smartphones, Year Zero asked players to challenge their level of comfort with surveillance measures by asking them to partake in similar tactics. The shift between being watched and watching in the gameplay demonstrates the complicated power dynamics of surveillance usage in post-USA PATRIOT Act America and marks a transitional moment in our cultural awareness and behaviors.

Tanya Gibbs, Karel Janecek, Jan Oresky, Institute for Democracy 21, Prague, “Utilizing online election-based games to build bridges for consensus: The Prezident 21 example in the Czech Republic”

Prezident 21 (P21), an online pseudo election game, conducted during the 2018 Presidential election in the Czech Republic, not only boosted participation and engagement, but also showed promise as a means to build consensual voting among a polarized electorate. Some 330,000 participants voted for presidential candidates via a real time voting application using the Janeček Method (JM), an alternative voting method allowing voters to cast three plus and one minus votes. A non-partisan platform, P21 not only aggregated and reported the voting results in real time but also provided game participants with independent, comprehensive and condensed information on all candidates and also offered an opportunity to communicate with presidential candidates directly via comments. Unlike the actual election campaign, P21 data demonstrated voters’ tendency to cast additional votes for candidates from opposite political spectrums, while not using minus votes in retaliatory fashion. These positive tendencies appeared to be linked to voters’ values rather than political affiliations.

44. Digital Publics
Classroom 56-154

Moderator: Gabrielle Linnell, Folger Shakespeare Library
Sadia Khan, University of South Carolina, “Negotiating (Dis)Trust to Advance Media and Information Literacy”

Recent reports by Pew (2016 and 2017) and the Edelman Trust Barometer (2018) indicate changes in the level of trust in governing institutions and media worldwide. The high levels of trust typically found in advanced democracies like the United States have declined while typically low levels of institutional trust in non-democratic countries have risen. The reversal of perceptions suggests a correlation between beliefs about media and trust in institutions, but to what part of modern media transitions is the shift responding? What does it say about the state of media and information literacy (MIL)?
Balanced against the American study of declining trust in crucially democratic institutions, the paper will explore media and institutional trust in a non-democratic African country. The paper will examine the strength of the relationship between institutional trust and information and communication technologies in that country with the purpose of investigating whether the shifting perceptions in developing countries offer an opportunity to exploit new beliefs.
Taking trust as a fluid and transactional relationship that may function according to its situation, the paper will consider how trust may be leveraged by NGOs working with local agencies to promote new institutions to protect civil liberties, and how long-held citizen distrust of institutions can be repurposed as a tool for encouraging discernment about credibility as part of global MIL initiatives. This to meet the challenge of Vertical Mediation (Parks). Conceived to work horizontally and vertically among actors, fluid trust and distrust can be negotiated vertically in mediated situations through existing policies such as UNESCO’s country-specific enterprises which negotiate for global media and information literacy.

Steve Wexler, California State University, Northridge, “The Alethization Problem and Our Transformative Digital Publics”

Luciano Floridi’s fifth open problem for the philosophy of information—“How can meaningful data acquire their truth values?”—would seem to be our most pressing. Yet one might make the case that facticity is determined daily and dialectically by our ever-transformative digital public sphere. Global “inforgs” regularly engage in political, economic, and cultural debate through counterfactual reasoning across social media. Alethic modality or the necessity and (im)possibility attribution of a claim’s normative status transcends geographical-biographical borders when “truth” is diachronically and reciprocally formed in digital real-time and amplified in online inferential relations. Counterfactuality or modality in code makes digital publics radical since inforgs come to a better understanding of what they could have been had past contingencies that stood as reasons (per Robert Brandom, causes masquerading as reasons) been otherwise. As Floridi suggests, one might find a helpful analogue to this digital counterfactual logic in Aristotelean anagnorisis, where a character’s new understanding of past events brings new meaning to her life story while leaving the story’s events (facts) as they were, as they are. So digital publics not only put unacquainted capitalist subjects in conversation, as Marx famously predicted, but they reveal daily life in complex causal, material, and social terms; the inforg recognizes her relation to history and a larger social totality. This essay addresses the alethization problem with succinct analysis of U.S., Chinese, Indian, and European digital publics over the last twenty years, particularly in the context of neoliberal globalization.

Gabrielle Linnell, Folger Shakespeare Library, “We Might Be Wrong About That: Digital Platforms and Cultural Knowledge in a Time of Change”

Cultural institutions play a critical and trusted role in a democracy through memory-making and future-building, helping citizens understand a past they did not witness in order to create a future they may not see. As digital tools become increasingly critical to the transmission of knowledge for these institutions, both technical and philosophical challenges emerge. User expectations for digital content delivery are increasingly shaped by intuitive commercial sites like Netflix, Amazon, and Google, expectations that cultural institutions will need to meet without the same financial resources. And questions about interface design, professional terminology, and decades-old data become existential ones: if we meet traditional standards, but our content remains virtually unreadable and unfindable by the general public, we must ask ourselves what it means to get it right. We need to maintain as profound a commitment to intelligible interfaces and data as we do to the accuracy of the information we share. Both are required to execute our role in memory-making and future-building, as is transparency in our process. In this talk, I will draw on the theoretical framings of information and interfaces by Luciano Floridi and others, and then analyze examples of cultural institution digital platforms that address the challenges at hand.

Vitoria Folletto Faccin, Iowa State University, “The Connected Generation: Changes in the New Media Environment as Challenges to Traditional Concepts of Mass Communication Theory”


The quick popularization of social media and its numerous effects on the public have highlighted the need to revisit traditional mass communication theories as see how they apply to new media technologies. Even though these theories are still applicable and relevant, the change in the new media environment raises questions regarding how exactly these theories apply in the current context. Although many see the positive impacts of new technologies and embrace them with enthusiasm, social media have also enabled the rise of fake news and trolling. Even pioneers and creators of these new technologies are being questioned by authorities, signaling issues with this new environment. New technologies enable real-time interactivity, decentralization of content production and consumption, and collection of personal data for strategic marketing purposes, which raises questions of how these changes affect people and whether these changes be forecasted. The new generation spends much of their time online, which is also indicative of the changes in behavior and the need to understand how a revision in media theories may bring a new outlook into the effects of new media. This paper argues that looking into social media through the lenses of Third Person Effect and Cultivation Theory gives a starting point to discuss how new technologies affect society and also helps understand recent phenomena and perhaps jumpstart the development of new media theory.

45. Algorithmic Cultures
Classroom 66-144

Moderator: Iris van der Tuin, Utrecht University
Gerrit Boehncke, Ruhr-University Bochum, “‘In Bot We Trust!’ What do Millenials and Generation Z users think of bot recommendations – and what can we expect for Generation R?”

Due to the Syrian civil war, the German Chancellor made it possible for a large number of refugees to enter Germany in 2015. More than a million people came in the first year, but the numbers have fallen sharply in more recent years. Since then, the constitutional right to asylum and the conditions for entering Germany have been the subject of public controversy in Germany.
The upcoming paper will examine the political dimensions of digital participation using the example of a petition to the German parliament calling for the restoration of and compliance with border controls as before 2015. The theoretical basis of the study is The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Habermas 1989[1962]) and the discussion of political communication as an “echo chamber” (Colleoni et al. 2014; Goldie et al. 2014; Barberá et al. 2015; Garrett 2017). The online commentaries on various digital platforms from YouTube to the German Parliament Channel will be analyzed using content analysis. The following questions should be clarified: Which political spectrum is reflected quantitatively and qualitatively in these comments? Does this correspond to the survey results on political opinion in Germany? What linguistic metaphors can be found in these commentaries and to what extent does this allow connections to historic-political discourses?

Oren Soffer, Open University of Israel, “Algorithmic Personalization: Assessment through the Historical-Theoretical Lens of the Two-Step Flow of Communication”

This study examines the relevance of traditional mass communication’s two-step flow-of-communication theory with regard to algorithmic personalization. The innovation of the two-step flow-of-communication traditional theory (Katz and Lazerfelf, 1957), lies in its highlighting the role of interpersonal relations in the mediation of mass communication outlets. The theory assumes that most people get their information not directly from the media but instead through personal sources, thus emphasizing the role of social groups and opinion leaders in this mediation process.

This study argues that algorithmic personalization imitates the interpersonal recommendation process in the second step of communication flow. While attempts to examine the role of the two-step flow theory in the digital media environment have so far focused mainly on the socio-political role opinion leaders play in social networks, I will argue that the mediation of opinion leaders is often replaced by automated, computational two-step flow mediatization. This algorithmic mediatization imposes grouping clusters onto individuals based on data calculations. Thus, the group has not disappeared in the algorithms’ mediatization; but it is changed. Following Zygmunt Bauman (2000), the calculated peer group whose digital behavior is used to personalize the results is much more liquid in its nature (see Table 1). This analysis clarifies the important social and political role of algorithms in the current communication flow, along with its risks. Algorithms as instruments can be manipulated: they can be used against the interests of those who created and own them and benefit those who stand behind the manipulation.

Michel Erler, Southern California Institute of Architecture, “Constant Counting: Producing and Consuming Media in the Age of Attention Quantification”

The mundane acts of counting, reviewing and verifying traditionally seem to sit in the field of accountants, administrators and analysts. Yet as we monitor web traffic on Google Analytics, maintain a dopamine rush through real-time likes and comments during a Facebook livestream, or time the posting of an Instagram story to reach a maximum amount of viewers, the quantification of attention has entered mainstream culture. The new players in the rapidly developing crossover field of technology and entertainment (e.g. Spotify, Netflix, Snapchat, Niantic etc.) have mastered the art of data analysis and build their products around the idea of being able to rapidly adapt content offerings to audience behaviors and preferences. In the pursuit of maintaining an audience’s attention that is used to constant stimulation, the extent of data analysis reaches new scales and depths, directly influencing (if not dictating) the writers room. A common issue is the emergence of filter bubbles; a phenomena of algorithmic recommendation feedback loops. On the other side, we saw a rise in production of media aimed at niche or non-mainstream audiences. Games and filmed content for mobile thrives thanks to the possibility to quickly test new features and analyse players’ reaction in real-time, or compare different features by dividing players into different territories or groups as part of A/B testing.
Means of attention quantification have altered the production and consumption of popular media and will continue to do so. What does it mean when data analysts take over the writers room? What are the hidden opportunities now that techniques of measuring audiences, attention and behaviours are available to everyone? With the rise of token economies and new incentive systems (e.g. micro donations), can we make the relationship between content, consumption and analysis more transparent?

Iris van der Tuin & Nanna Verhoeff, Utrecht University, “Interfaces (For) Diffracting Publics: A Science-Humanities Perspective for the Algorithmic Condition”
The algorithms used by NPO Start (a video-on-demand service in the Netherlands) are said to be oppositionally different from those used by Netflix and similar platforms. Simply put, the suggestions offered algorithmically to Netflix users are similar in form and content to what was previously watched, whereas suggestions based upon the procedures followed by the algorithms of the Dutch public broadcasting company are diametrically different in content from one’s previous choices. With this binary logic as selection principle NPO Start wants to serve democratic deliberation by facilitating viewers’ easy access to opposing views: having watched a talk show representing a specific opinion, one is offered to watch a show discussing the views found on the other end of the political spectrum (NRC Handelsblad, October 7, 2018). In spite of NPO’s self-representation, we argue in this paper that the binary opposition between sameness and difference is non-exhaustive. Combining interface theory (Drucker, Hookway, Verhoeff) with diffractive reading (Minh-ha, Haraway, Barad, Van der Tuin), we intend to make Drucker’s performative materialist interface theory precise for the algorithmic condition (Colman et al. 2018). Moreover, we will use our interdisciplinary perspective to develop an understanding of how publics are simultaneously created by and co-creating algorithmic media by bringing the perspective of diffractive reading to these media with the help of interface theory. Diffraction as a concept allows us to become precise about the “shift from an entity-based to an event-based conception of media [intended to] demonstrate the radically constitutive, co-dependent relations of complexity we overlook when we take a web of contingencies for a static, fixed, object of intellectual thought” (Drucker 2013: ¶30).

46. Creativity & Attention in Games and Social Media
Classroom 66-168

Moderator: Eric Freedman, Columbia College Chicago
Mehitabel Glenhaber , MIT, “The Xkit Guy: Social Media Modding as Co-Creativity, Exploited Labor, or Radical Protest?”

As social media platforms, and digital services in general, increasingly rely on “user created content,” the ethics and economics of co-creativity has become a more important question than ever. Some scholars (Brown and Quan-Haase, 2008, and Fuchs, 2014) see user created content as exploited, unpayed labor, whereas others (Banks and Humphreys, 2008, Taylor, 2006) are more optimistic and see it as an opportunity for users to exercise creative control, democratically shaping platforms and communities. In this paper, I focus on the specific case of the Tumblr Xkit extension. Created by a single unpayed developer, this unlicensed browser extension both made Tumblr more functional and allowed users to exert political control over their experience of the platform. Drawing on previous research on video game modding (Taylor, 2006, and DeZwart & Humphreys, 2014), as well as recent writing on protest, social media, and social justice (Gillespie, 2018, and Tufecki, 2017), I argue that Xkit perfectly walks the line between exploited labor and radical protest, and reveals how hard these two sides of user created content are to disentangle. I conclude that while exploited co-creative user labor is a real issue, the solution to it may not be as simple as compensating users for this labor, since the unpayed nature of it makes it a powerful tool for users to leverage in political struggles against social media corporations.

Lorena Lamin, Portuguesa Catholic University, “Gamified narratives for social change in a digital world”

In a world where « being connected » – to the internet, to social networks, to online video games, and so on – seems to define more and more who we are and how we interact with others, in a world in which individuals are in constant display on multiple screens, digital games play an important role in our everyday lives.

And, although games have been a part of human life since the beginning of times, in the past, scholars have mostly seen these digital games as presenting potential risks for « the construction and self-construction of this digital generation » (Buckingham & Willett, 2006). But as games ascertain their presence in our lives, and as new strategies such as gamification (Deterding, Dixon, Khaled, & Nacke, 2011) and transmedia storytelling (Jenkins, 2008) are put in place in many domains, including civic engagement and participation, it is essential to understand the amazing potential of games for creating communities of people who are engaged in making this world a better one.

The purpose of the proposed research paper, based on a multiple case study approach and relying on qualitative interpretative methods, is to better understand how games using transmedia strategies can actually trigger social change, not only through using social media to voice opinions, but also by teaching its users the rules of given situations that call for action, how to play by them and how to become more socially aware.

Jessie Marchessault, Bart Simon, Concordia University, “Indie Game Studios and the Attention Economy: On route to actually participatory media?”

Is discoverability just marketing by another name? In a creative economy dominated by the condition of precarity, artists and cultural producers are finding that the savvy creation of content is not enough as they are forced to compete for what is perceived as the limited attention of audiences and consumers. While Nancy Baym has charted this transformation in the work of musicians, we will tackle the problem in the context of independent video game developers. By drawing on interviews with indie developers in Montreal, this paper reflects on how the considerations of the players’ role in game design now melds with concerns over how those players will discover the game in the first place. While discoverability discourse is often reducible to dominant forms of online product and self-marketing practices through social media, the case of games suggests that some interesting countervalent tendencies become evident. In reference to Baym’s work we observe that game developers do not have the same cultural disposition to the relational labour of self-marketing that musicians typically do, yet at the same time the medium of games necessitates the active participation of an audience beyond acts of consumption or even fandom. Citing James Ash’s discussion of the attention economy as both a finite, exchangeable commodity and a necessary relation that offers access to others in the world, we explore how developers integrate affective and participatory design practices. This aligns game design with practices of community moderation in ways that are not reducible to social media marketing, impacting how games are conceived, created and played.

Eric Freedman, Columbia College Chicago, “Industries at Play: Materiality, Mixed Reality and Mediated Environments”

Game engines are a site of aggressive entrepreneurship, changing the landscape of contemporary visual culture, broadening the strategic investments of integrated media industries and challenging more traditional forms of knowledge production. This study is focused on emerging engine-driven extended reality environments, with particular attention to the cross-industrial applications of the Unreal Engine. Game engines have stimulated applied innovation across film and television, journalism, game and interaction design, and across genres, while tying these distinct media forms to a unified techno-fetishistic impulse.

The enterprise application of extended reality depends on the progress of its engines, which continue to be developed (in education, business, news, leisure) in the singular pursuit of (hyper)realism. This had led to a visual economy in which even the most banal subjects are treated with graphical overkill. Working with The Future Group, a company that specializes in interactive mixed reality, in 2018 The Weather Channel began building out the various elements to make extreme weather events feel like they were happening in-studio. In this instance, the tactics of immersion have worked to make meteorology more knowable—translating datacentric metrics (windspeed, storm surge) into more readily recognizable and quantifiable visual assets (large scale objects mapped in relation to the human body).

Channeled through the code-based mechanics of engine-driven extended reality, the studio, the landscape of television, and the world at large have been tethered together as machine-readable sites. This new (media) economy of oversaturated effects is recontouring technoscientific knowledge, and binding algorithmic culture to the logic of visual spectacle. 

Ilan Tamir, Ariel University, “Whatsappsport: Using Whatsapp while Viewing Sports Events”

47. Gaming, Community, and Inclusion
Classroom 66-160

Moderator: James Bowie-Wilson, MIT
Johanna Brewer, Neta Snook Research & Design Studio, “Inclusive Streamers: Live Broadcasting Safe Spaces”

Gaming is a historically toxic environment for women, people of color, disabled and LGBTQ+ folks. But on Twitch, minority streamers and their allies are creating safe spaces for their communities and keeping the trolls at bay. The proliferation of these groups, which have managed to effectively moderate their communities and monetize their game play, while maintaining the values of integrity and inclusivity that are at the core of their identities, represents an intriguing new cultural phenomenon which has not yet been examined in detail.
In this paper we present findings from an ongoing ethnographic study seeking to understand the origin, and influence, of the growing inclusivity movement on Twitch. First, we introduce the different ways in which inclusive communities form around marginalized streamers. Secondly, we detail the shared values and standards of behavior that these communities are developing. Finally, we explore how the affective labor of stream communities is transforming the economic values and governmental structure of the service. By critically analyzing the emergent governance and economy of the inclusive Twitch community, our goal is to shed light on the powerful, co-creative, role this labor force plays on the platform that supports it.

Nic Watson, Concordia University, “Minecraft modding practices: The rationalization of a digital participatory culture”

The indie blockbuster videogame Minecraft has been hailed as a game-changer by both the popular press and academics, with much attention given to the co-creative character of its early-access development, in which player feedback was explicitly part of the development cycle. Additionally, much has been made of its vibrant modding scene, in which fans transform the game by altering parts of the software. While early-access gaming, audience participation, and modding have upended the political economy of game development, scholarship on Minecraft modding—as on game modding more generally—has focused largely on the relationship between modding communities and industry, neglecting close examination of the practices and technologies of modding itself. Through participant observation, interviews, and discourse analysis, this study reveals how modders develop standards, consensus, and software infrastructure around modding practice. Using de Certeau’s concepts of tactics and strategies, coupled with Wardrip- Fruin’s notion of operational logics, I show how Minecraft modding has evolved from opportunistic, ad-hoc tactical negotiation of the game’s code, to a system of highly rationalized, yet contested, strategies for developing mods in a top-down manner reminiscent of the software industries—often with once-crucial tactical practices becoming disavowed along the way. Through these discussions, this paper provides a clearer picture of the processes by which modders have been able to achieve the ongoing transformation of the videogame mediascape.

Scott Mitchell, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, “Playing Citizen, Playing God: Ludogogical frameworks of citizenship, mortality, and human-technology relations in Detroit: Become Human”

In May 2018, developer Quantic Dream released their highly anticipated title, Detroit: Become Human, introducing players to a video game like no other. Set in a Detroit from the not-so-distant future where technological advancement has brought the presence of service humanoid robots. With human likeness, the storyline pits players on three interconnected storylines where they are engrossed in a civic struggle as these service droids develop sentience with an eye toward revolution. While Detroit: Become Human’s base narrative has been visited before in representations of film and video games alike, the tasks placed upon players uniquely challenges them to consider the role, rights, and ramifications of a budding technological revolution.       

This project examines how players engage in a unique experience because of the ludological mechanics embedded in the game. Framed in a similar vein to a ‘choose your own adventure’ narrative, the character’s storyline can turn along many different paths as the omniscient and omnipotent player determines right versus wrong, who belongs and who doesn’t, and in some cases, those who live or die. Borrowing from Bogost, Juul, and Hess, I focus on the gameplay mechanics and theories of ludology as influential forces of narration. In turn, I argue that Detroit: Become Human serves as one of an oncoming deluge of new media that speak to the power of user interaction toward concerns of democratic participation, morality, and relationships between humans and technology as a whole.  

James Bowie-Wilson, MIT, “Unlucky Roles: Identity in Dungeons and Dragons”


Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) is a monumental game franchise. Readers familiar with Henry Jenkins’ interventions know popular culture merits analysis. These days, games are especially popular culture. According to Digi-Capital in 2018, the games industry generated over 165 billion dollars of revenue. 97% of American teens play games, and still, the average player is 34. We should study games. Among games, Dungeons of Dragons is a particularly influential titan. Entire game genres – notably, role playing games (RPGs) – stem directly from D&D. Beyond those direct descendants, all games leveraging health (or hit) points, or experience points, owe D&D. Understanding D&D is a critical task.

On closer inspection, 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons’ models of Race prove worthy of productive critique. In D&D, a character’s Attributes, or quantified qualities – Intelligence, Strength, and the like – are dramatically modified by that character’s (mythic) Race. Most of D&D’s mythic Races seriously stereotype at least one of the game’s six Attributes. Humans, as the unmarked category, avoid involving a seriously stereotyped Attribute, but the vast majority of their mythic counterparts do not. By default, a character’s Attributes fall within a (minimally deformed) random distribution. For any seriously stereotyped Attribute, Race modifies the value between 10% and 40% of the final result. And while these mythic races are intentionally fantastical, they have deeply allegorical origins. D&D’s modeling of Race should evolve.

48. Podcasts for the People
Classroom 66-154

Podcasting has been embraced by media institutions large and small and has provided a means for those with limited resources to create and disseminate ideas. It has seen a steady increase in listenership, formats, and challenges. What possibilities does this method of storytelling create for the democratization of diverse voices? Do practices of intimate listening, unconstrained time formats, and deep investigations of various topics facilitate more meaningful engagement with politics and art? Rekha Murthy, podcast strategist, discusses her involvement with the inaugural Spotify Sound Up podcast training program and diverse voices in the space. Anjali Kamath, WNYC political journalist, discusses reporting for radio and the pros and cons of converting and generating content for the podcast format. Rachel Thompson critically interrogates Ear Hustle, a podcast featuring “stories of life inside prison, shared and produced by those living it,” within the lineages of incarceration media and audio storytelling. Moderated by DJ Rekha, the roundtable discussion will address the issues above as well the impact of podcasting on democratic engagement and as a tool for social change.

Moderator: Rekha Malhotra, MIT
Anjali Kamat, Journalist, Filmmaker and Writer
Rekha Murthy, Independent Podcast Strategist
Rekha Malhotra, Producer, Curator, Educator, and Activist
Rachel Thompson, MIT Graduate Student, CMS/W

3:00 PM to 3:15 PM

Session 8
3:15 PM to 4:45 PM

49. Finding Commonality in Our Humanity: Experiments in Discovering Shared Concerns and Visions
Classroom E25-117

Moderator: Sam Ford, Columbia University Tow Center/MIT
Anika Gupta, The Atlantic, “A Moderating Influence: Lessons on Creating a Culture for Healthy Online Conversations”

Today’s digital experience is driven by powerful online communities. Social media networks have gained enormous power over our online experience, partly by harnessing our desire to connect and share with each other. But successful, intentional communities are incredibly difficult to build and get right, as media organizations often discover when they attempt to create digital communities of their own. Anika has helped develop community products for media companies in the United States and India, across boundaries of language and culture. Her experiences demonstrate the challenges inherent in trying to engineer something that should feel organic, as well as the challenges for traditional media companies when they try to engage participatory online culture. Online moderators help bridge this gap. Moderators set shared goals for community members, invest in long-term relationships, and thoughtfully craft discussion norms. In these spaces, moderators have a great deal of power. Despite its prevalence and power over our online lives, online moderation work has received relatively little academic study. In industry, it’s not viewed as its own holistic discipline, even though moderators across industries can learn from each other’s experiences. In her research on online moderation work, Anika has found that moderators are drawn to the work because they love interacting and sharing with others, and that these impulses are often poorly understood by moderators’ employers. Her subsequent guides have focused on how to build better moderator-driven cultures for commercial online community work.

Joe Karaganis, The American Assembly at Columbia University, “Civic Assembly: Exploring a New Approach to Journalism and Deliberative Democracy”

This presentation will look at the use of a novel, scalable online conversation tool called Polis to explore the drivers of polarization in American communities and their relationship with the wider “epistemic crisis” surrounding news and shared facts. Our approach focuses on strengthening the local information ecosystems that support the epistemic integration of communities— i.e., what we know together, about each other, and about our shared goals. We do so in partnership with local media organizations who, by anchoring and amplifying Polis conversations, can reassert a role in this process and better challenge non-local, national, and social media for the attention and trust of their communities. We call this process a “Civic Assembly.” The Civic Assembly engages two traditions of work: journalistic experiments with community engagement and civic experiments with alternative models of deliberation and opinion formation (often called ‘deliberative democracy’). In both contexts, there are sharp trade-offs between the quality and scale of engagement. Polis occupies a novel middle ground in which important participatory and deliberative features can scale to thousands of participants. Perhaps most importantly–and unlike many civic exercises–Pol.is conversations are fun, hard to troll, and resistant to degenerative feedback.

Sangita Shresthova, University of Southern California, “Civic Imagination: Roadmaps, Stories, Practice and Calls to Action”

Drawing on the work of the Civic Imagination Project at the University of Southern California, this interactive talk engages the imagination as a hand-on tool for civic action. Here, the civic imagination is defined as the capacity to imagine alternatives to current cultural, social, political, or economic conditions; one cannot change the world unless one can imagine what a better world might look like. The concept of the civic imagination provides our Project with an action and research agenda. We map the civic imagination through research, case studies, workshops and brainstorming session with people from diverse grassroots communities In this talk, I will introduce the theoretical framework that grounds our workshop-based approach to the civic imagination in practice. I will then share accounts of exploratory creative collaborations with several communities in which we explored civic imagination from the perspective of personally inspiring stories as material for new, civically engaging narratives. Among others, I will share our experiences from working with the Future of Work Initiative in Kentucky, the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Arkansas, the Dil Se Pakistan campaign, and the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change. Finally, I will invite the audience to briefly experience our approach to the civic imagination through a future oriented collective brainstorm.

Michelle Holmes, Alabama Media Group, “Guns, An American Conversation: Listening To, and Trying to Learn from, People with Vastly Different Perspectives”

In 2018, my team at Advance Local partnered with a coalition of organizations to initiate a project examining the role of guns in America across partisan and social lines, focused on one key question: Can we get past our differences and talk with one another where it really matters? That work began with small face-to-face gatherings of diverse groups of Americans with a range of perspectives on guns in Washington DC and in Massachusetts to begin an ongoing discourse about guns, gun violence, and personal rights. It expanded into a private Facebook discussion with a wider set of about 130 participants. And, as part of our reporting about those initial conversations, we invited our readers to join in, first by answering a series of open-ended questions meant to explain their experiences and why they feel the way they do about guns to someone who feels differently (more than 150 people took part) and, for those who were interested, then giving them the opportunity to engage in an anonymous pen pal program, being matched with someone whose perspective differs from their own. Thus far, 13 pairs have ultimately asked to be directly introduced to one another. As we embark on a book project that shares and reflects on the experiences this project led to, we will share some of what we heard and learned in experimenting with this pilot program.


50. Regulating Containment and Control
Classroom 56-114

Moderator: Rachel Thompson, MIT
Ian Alexander, NYU, “Carceral Media Practices: Media Technologies, Affiliation, and Control in U.S. Prisons”


As dense systems of old technologies such as walls, locks, and turrets, prisons are designed to enclose, isolate, and confine. But like all enclosures, prisons are porous, and carceral control works as much by regulating certain mediations as it does by blocking and forbidding others. Recently, that control is exercised through the implementation of digital media technologies, such as touchscreen tablets, and new protocols for already integrated (older) media technologies, like books and paper mail.


Presented as reform, the official introduction of digital media systems into U.S. prisons appears to offer connectivity, education, and a modest cyber-utopia for incarcerated people. In reality, these machines provide little or no internet access and prohibitively expensive books while replacing in-person visits with pay-walled video calls. Prisoners and guards alike negotiate these shifts informally, most notably by circulating smartphone contraband. Similarly, services like Smart Communications’ MailGuard—sending mail addressed to those imprisoned in Pennsylvania to a Florida worksite for scanning, labeling, digital storage, and destruction— are re-structuring and further securitizing practices of mediation by manipulating infrastructures of affiliation.


In my study of carceral media technology, I look at how affiliation and mediation are managed in/by prisons and incarceration. I argue that the management, surveillance, interruption, and refusal of affiliation and intimate practices of mediation are central to how incarceration has long operated in the U.S. As media environments, prisons provide an alternative and concrete perspective on (old and new) media technologies’ relationships to politics, governance, and control, a view from outside formal democratic inclusion.


Chris Campanioni, The Graduate Center/CUNY, “The Glitch of Biometrics & the Error as Evasion: the Subversive Potential of Self-Effacement”

Zygmunt Bauman’s linking of an absence of identity with actual effacement requires re-contextualization in today’s culture of biometrics, and its “optical correction” (Virilio). In applying Gauthier and La Cour’s thoughts on the “problematic event” and its potential to undermine the archive, with the “glitch” of facial re-presentation, I explore self-disfiguration in a world that recollects everything based on systems of control and homogenous representation. My paper utilizes Zach Blas’s glitch art and frameworks of phenomenology, psychoanalysis, and media theory to force readers into encountering the exigency of the error and its inter-rupture in an algorithmic-rich system of information and optics. What can one do inside this structure of always-on, eyeless voyeurism but open our eyes towards misapprehension? In exploring this question, I track the progression of failure and the glitch as theoretical approach and subversive response, calling for a reconsideration of the agency of disfiguration and self-effacement.

Jingyi Gu, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “From Banning Eating Banana to Penalizing Insulting National Anthem: Chinese Government’s Intervention in Regulating Live Streaming”

Live streaming platform has been one of the most popular and phenomenal social media in China in the past five years with many people becoming professional live streamers and even more people including watching live streaming in their daily routines. These platforms’ popularity is due to their encompassment of entertainment function with broadcasters providing various types of content, and social network function for users to interact with each other in a synchronous setting. The booming of live streaming platforms is built upon the popularization of mobile devices among Chinese people and the spread out of telecommunication infrastructure. However, live- streaming platforms also create challenges for the Chinese government to enact its regulation of media on this type of platforms, which are characterized by synchronicity, interactivity, and its problematization of the distinction between the public and the private space. Utilizing theoretical lenses including a Foucauldian approach to neoliberal governmentality, this research looks at two recent cases: one in 2016 on live streaming services banning “erotic” banana eating, and the other one in 2018 on live broadcasters getting detained for “disrespectfully” singing the national anthem. Based on the analysis of these two cases, this research propose to investigate how the postsocialist party-state makes interventions in regulating media content and new media technologies to ensure its control over the discourse on morality and legality.

Martin Fredriksson, Linköping University, Sweden, “Pirate Utopias Revisited: What’s Left of the Information Commons”

In June 2009 three young men from Sweden were sentenced to heavy fines and one year in prison for running the infamous filesharing site The Pirate Bay. The trial was highly controversial, and while it did little to stop The Pirate Bay it fueled a political mobilization of ideological file sharers and self-proclaimed pirates. For a few years around 2010, copyright was high on the political agenda as activist groups protested against how stricter implementations of copyright laws enclosed what was perceived as information commons. These debates did not only concern cultural rights and intellectual property, they also addressed fundamental questions regarding free speech and democracy. Today, just a few years later, streamed media and data mining have changed the information-political agenda, shifting the focus from piracy to privacy. In the light of the PRISM surveillance system and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, concepts such as access to knowledge and information commons get new meanings.

This paper revisits the copyfights of the early 2000nds and relates them to more recent copyright discussions. It takes a previous study of the organization and ideology of the Pirate Party, conducted between 2011 and 2014, as a backdrop to analyse the current debates about the European Union Directive on Copyright for the Digital Single Market (COM/2016/0593). The presentation will ask if and how the perceived relation between information commons and democracy has changed with the rise of a data driven economy built around streamed media and data mining.

51. Democracy and Media in The Handmaid’s Tale: Lessons about Civility and the Public Sphere
Classroom 56-154


Moderator: Karen Ritzenhoff, Central Connecticut State University
Theodora Ruhs, Central Connecticut State University, “‘I’m Ravenous for News’: Using The Handmaid’s Tale to Explore the Role of Journalism”


This presentation will look at how a reading/viewing of The Handmaid’s Tale can reflect on how aspects of journalism ideology can both be shaped by the surrounding culture and in turn shape society. It will look at how an authoritarian regime, such as the fictional Gilead, controls information and dismantles the public sphere. While an extreme dystopian example, this approach to The Handmaid’s Tale may illuminate the role and importance of journalism in a democratic society.


The theme of journalistic relevance is explicit when, in the second season of the series, it shows Offred (Elisabeth Moss) take refuge in the abandoned production facility of what appears to be The Boston Globe. There, she discovers that the journalists have been executed. While Offred/Jane is herself captive in the building, waiting for her potential rescue, she begins to gather clippings from the discarded newspapers and pins them up. She discovers that reporters had been writing about the deterioration of social order and had predicted the decay of human rights in their articles. By creating this montage of the past, June illustrates that journalism had indeed covered the advent of Gilead but might have been ignored by the public. Both this and the fact that the new regime of Gilead found it necessary to silence the journalistic voice altogether can lead to discussing the invaluable role of the press in contemporary society.


Karen Ritzenhoff, Central Connecticut State University, “Writing Women Out of the Public Sphere: Fake News in The Handmaid’s Tale”


This paper discusses the absence of informational resources in Gilead, fake news/lies, and the way this phenomenon as well as “alternative facts” are described in the novel, the film and the television adaptations. It will focus especially on television news. The question is whether democracy and a public sphere can continue to function if women are no longer given access to information gathering, literacy and representation.


The Hulu television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale spends a significant amount of time reflecting on the effects of writing women out of the script of all branches of government, the law, the public sphere and even information gathering. None of the news in Gilead travel lightly. There are no longer any newspapers, only one government sponsored television channel, and even icons instead of writing in Supermarkets. Surveillance is strict to catch transgressions immediately, and punish those by torture, exile or even death.


In a key scene that is included in the novel, the film and Hulu television series Commander Fred Waterford invites his handmaid Offred to meet him alone in his office to play the board game Scrabble. To give her a treat, he hands her a now forbidden women’s magazine as if her desire to read would be satisfied by consuming popular culture, assuming that she would want to read about women’s issues, not the news. This biased channeling of information flow can also be seen in the abandonment of reliable news and the absence of social media in Gilead.


Janis Goldie, Communication Studies, Huntington University, “Idealizing Canada: Democracy North of the Border in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale”

In Hulu’s popular and critically acclaimed television production, The Handmaid’s Tale, the plot centers on the horrific consequences of the collapse of democracy in the former United States. The newly established autocratic Republic of Gilead that takes its place instead imposes its repressive rule on its citizens and the effects — particularly for women — include the elimination of individual rights, freedoms, and basic liberties. In contrast, just North of the border, Canada is juxtaposed as an ideal democratic nation state. Via many different devices and instances, The Handmaid’s Tale draws on symbols of democracy such as a free press, peaceful protests, equality for citizens, and a government responsive to the demands of its public, in order to present Canada as a kind of democratic utopia to the dystopia of Gilead.
Canadian social support systems such as healthcare as well as refugee and immigration systems are also highlighted as an extreme counterpoint. Thus, this paper examines the idealization of Canada in The Handmaid’s Tale, and questions why Canada is featured as a functioning democracy in the adaptation, what is idealized within it, and how institutions like the press and government operate in Canada in contrast to Gilead in the production. Canadian identity myths, such as those around tolerance and equality that are drawn upon in the production will also be discussed in connection to the idealized North.

Valerie Giovanini, California State University, Northridge, “An Army of Me: Representations of Intersubjective Relations, Ethics, and Political Resistance in The Handmaid’s Tale”

The Handmaid’s Tale uniquely offers more than just a possibility for critiquing patriarchal society. The show’s neo-realistic form also offers its viewers an engagement with new concepts of subjectivity, morality, and political resistance through the presentation of its main character Offred, whose identity is shattered and empowered by empathic relation to others. A circumvention of power for a new form of resistance comes into view for Offred’s dynamic character and for viewers who have critically used its aesthetics in political protests. In the first section of the essay, I analyze how formal aspects in the show’s cinematography represents trauma and defense mechanisms according to Freud’s ego-psychology, which I then contrast with representations of developments in intersubjective psychotherapy. In the second section, I take the show as an aesthetic object to understand how it affects the viewer’s unconscious by opening new moral horizons that challenge and resist patriarchal norms of self-sufficiency and individualism. The third and final section relates the intersubjective context to hashtag movements like #MeToo and the successful mobilization of the show’s aesthetics, such as the use of handmaid’s robes, as a potent protest symbol against oppressive tactics in contemporary US politics.


52. Cause for Collaboration: Librarians, Museums, and Allied Professionals Working Against Misinformation
Classroom 66-144

The ability to access and evaluate information is essential to fully participate in a democratic society and make well-informed life decisions. Yet, many Americans say that “fake news” is creating confusion, and research shows people are not adept at evaluating information. Adding to the concern, public trust in government and news media, once seen as gatekeepers of credible information, is waning. As two civic institutions that still enjoy high levels of public trust, libraries and museums are in a unique position to work with other professionals concerned with the spread of mis- and disinformation to help people access credible information and develop and practice news literacy competencies. This panel will share results from an IMLS grant-funded symposium that brought together 80 librarians, journalists, and allied professionals to discuss professional standards, values, and practices related to how information is created, disseminated, shared, and evaluated across the fields, and to brainstorm collaborative responses to the problems of misinformation. The symposium resulted in 9 proposals for action. This panel will share findings from the symposium along with current successes, best practices, and potential ways for allied professionals to collaborate to combat the spread of mis- and disinformation and promote news literacy.

Moderator: Laura Saunders, Simmons College SLIS
Lisa Hinchliffe, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,”The Library as Living Laboratory”
Laura Saunders, Simmons College SLIS, “Exploring Information Standards and Values across Allied Professions”

53. Publics: Engaging and Engrossing across Media in the Modern Era
Classroom 66-168

Moderator: Samuel Mendez, MIT
Samuel Mendez, MIT, All of Us: A Textual Analysis of a Precision Medicine Research Recruitment Program

With historical cases of unethical biomedical research and ongoing patterns of unequal access to medical care in the US, participation of medically underserved communities in precision medicine research is fraught with complex issues. Without adequate representation in research pools, the findings of precision medicine research might not apply in the context of medically underserved communities. However, precision medicine research may expose participants to risks while the resulting benefits of new medical technologies may not reach medically underserved communities.

It is within this socio-historical context that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is running All of Us, a nationwide transmedia campaign to recruit 1 million volunteers for a precision medicine research database. This textual analysis focuses on the Illinois regional branch of the All of Us program, examining how its structure and media strategy address the program’s stated goal of improving disease prevention and treatment for “all of us”.

Through its attempts to create a unified public that can universally benefit from precision medicine research, the All of Us campaign ignores structural factors that impact medically underserved communities’ access to the benefits of such research. This failure to directly address underserved communities may limit the level of participation these communities have in this program. Further, it may have the unintended consequence of reinforcing current systems of inequality.

These findings are significant, as the commitment of the NIH to usher in a new era of precision medicine research still has the potential to usher in a new era of health equity.

Malte Delere, Gudrun Marci-Boehncke, Tatjana Vogel, Technische Universität Dortmund, and Matthjias Rath, Ludwigsburg University of Education, “Focussing “teachers beliefs” – how German pre-service teachers think about digital media, democracy, and political denunciation”

Political neutrality is an integral part of German civil service and thus also for teachers at German schools. This requirement of neutrality has the function of preventing one-sided party-political indoctrination at school. The normative fundament for the civil service, however, is the liberal-democratic basic order which the German constitution lays down for Germany as a democratic constitutional state. After the devastating experiences of National Socialism, the aim of this fundament is the education of democracy in schools and thus the strengthening of democratic awareness and constitutional commitment of the pupils. All in all, teachers should train the pupils for a democratic future. However, Germany is currently witnessing an attempt by an extreme right-wing party, the “Alternative für Deutschland”, which is at the moment gaining almost 18 percent of the approval in surveys, to use this principle of neutrality to intimidate teachers in order to prevent them from discussing the anti-democratic tendencies of this party in the context of democracy education in schools. This party uses an online platform that offers everyone the opportunity to anonymously denounce teachers who point to these anti-democratic tendencies.

The article presents the results of a survey among prospective teachers, which has three focal points:

1. the attitude of teachers towards digital media in particular and their willingness to communicate the “capability” (Martha Nussbaum) of media practice both productively and critically,

2. sensitivity for their own teachers’ beliefs that determine their educational actions,

3. resilience to the political threat of official complaints about their democratic attitude. .

Vassiliki Rapti, Engagement Lab, Emerson College , “Greek Drama and Democracy as “The Eyes of the People”: Re-staging Democracy as Spectacle in the New Media Era”

Democracy today has been exponentially challenged. Countless theories lament the loss of control due to big data and others attempt to turn these challenges to opportunities for mining the emancipating potential of “liberated” technology. Others seek a more holistic approach that demands a culture shift and a direct civic engagement with an elevated level of alertness on behalf of the citizens. This paper will address the new challenges of our digital era in a traditional way which yet can still be innovative and able to reinvigorate “endangered” democracy. It proposes a Greek tragedy-based model for approaching today’s ocular democracy as a civic spectacle that can be re-staged, albeit re-imagined, re-positioned, re-viewed and therefore revised; a spectacle that occurs in the global virtual theatron (=viewing place), where “the eyes of the people” coincide with the eyes of the spectators-citizens of the ancient Greek drama that was inscribed in a civic spectacle-project. It suggests a constant cultivation and institutionalization of re-enactments of Greek tragedy in the form of adaptations which have arguably multiple benefits for civics education and the democratic values. Envisioning today’s global citizens as spectators of the “world’s suffering” in front of their screens aggrandizes their eyes and prompts them to visually respond to the world’s urgencies behind their screens/stages. Likewise, their empathy is augmented within their augmented reality of the grand spectacle. In other words, we may rethink today’s democracy by means of the powerful device of the chorus of the Greek tragedy-contest to talk about ocular democracy.

Gina Hara, Concordia University, “GAMERella, Community Outreach and Inclusive Design”

Prior ethnographies of game design and development as it happens have primarily taken place within conventional studio structures, both large scale and indie, as well as at the level of institutional programs built into classroom curricula (Whitson, 2018; Flanagan & Nissenbaum, 2014). Although these are robust accounts of development processes, the general tendency to focus on professional or institutional models has left a gap where amateur programmers and developers are concerned. Simply put, game development is disproportionately difficult to access for those outside these structured scenes, and even more so for individuals from marginalized positions. The question then, is how can we provide adequate access and education for those from these communities seeking to get a start in game development?
Over the past six years, GAMERella has organized and hosted workshops providing those tools to marginalized folk. We have collected data from our experience hosting these ateliers in the form of personal logs, surveys and participant interviews that have been synthesized into a manual for organizing community outreach programs such as this one. The purpose of this talk is to highlight obstacles faced by marginalized folks getting into game development and community organizations like GAMERella, as well as our solutions and strategies for dealing with these challenges. The compilation of our observations and participants’ accounts provides a first-hand account of amateur development specific to these communities. It is our belief that designing media technologies with inclusion in mind first requires restructuring design programs and strategies along those lines as well.

Charles Musser, Yale University, “Beginnings, Formations, Genealogies: Documentary’s Longue Durée”


If digital media has transformed documentary practice in all sorts of ways—creating new genres as well as new ways of seeing, of storytelling and of representation, then we might also ask how might this revolution in theory as well as technology allow us to think differently about documentary’s early history—its longue durée when documentary-like practices were not yet called (or retrospectively considered) documentary.

We have tended to think of cinema as a media-specific practice that began in 1895-96 and rapidly expanded. In this conception, documentary (Flaherty, Grierson, Vertov, etc.) emerged in the early 1920s, shortly after the classical cinema was falling into place— or more specifically the vertically integrated Classical Hollywood studio system. Yet we might think of the documentary tradition as having a different and much longer historical trajectory. In this regard, we might examine documentary’s longue durée, which not only involved a variety of earlier screen practices that flourished from the second half of the nineteenth century into the 1920s and beyond––but one that can also be traced back to the eighteenth century and, for the US strand at least, the American Enlightenment as it emerged in the 1740s and 1750s. In short, we need to think of the documentary tradition as embracing not only a successive variety of media forms but in its early stages using media forms that are not associated with specific technologies of reproducibility.

54. From Democracy to Post-Citizenship: The Art of Populism and Revolt*
Classroom 66-160

Moderator: Lanfranco Aceti, BU & MIT, Assistant, Rob Halperin

Krzysztof Wodiczko, Harvard University, “Cultural Prosthetics: Projections and Instrumentations”

The democratic process depends on the communicative and discursive vitality of the public space. This demands the creation of psychosocial and cultural conditions for people to open up and fearlessly speak in public, as well as devising the aesthetic and media means and strategies that inspire and assist not only their open communication and expression but also their public reception. 

These who are least heard, understood and whose unacceptable life situation and experience is least acknowledged, should be first to receive an opportunity for such communicative project. 

Unfortunately, many among them are so overwhelmed by the very experience they may wish to make public –and which we should all hear– that they keep silent. Creating conditions for them to open-up and communicate in the Public Space –and for the public to come closer and listen –requires exceptional help: psychological, cultural, artistic and technological.

My Projections and Instrumentations intend to offer such help. These projects are both psychotherapeutic and political as well as developmental and civic. I call them cultural prosthesis.

In my presentation, I will elaborate on the social, psychological, technological, aesthetic, and design aspects of some of my projections, and instrumentations developed with less privileged city dwellers who for the sake of their own lives, lives of others, and society at large, have made use of such projects to appear, speak, and be heard in the public space.

Vera Grant, University of Michigan, “Democracy, Performance, Activism, and the Public Domain (conversation with Stefanos Tsivopoulos)”

Stefanos Tsivopoulos, Parsons, “Democracy, Performance, Activism, and the Public Domain (conversation with Vera Grant)”

In this conversation, Stefanos Tsivopoulos, artist, filmmaker, and lecturer at Parsons, and Vera Ingrid Grant, Deputy Director of Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of Michigan Museum of Art, analyze both the current interchanging social landscape and the way citizens come together in public spaces to voice and claim their rights. There have been countless gatherings, demonstrations, and marches in recent months in the United States and, in many capitals and cities around the world, marching has become a vital tool in the hands of people. 

The discussion draws inspiration from Stefanos Tsivopoulos’ One Step Forward Two Steps Back (2017), an ongoing project conceived for the public space—more specifically, conceived as a performance-protest, taking place in front of buildings and other public domains that represent political power. The first edition of the performance took place at the Constitutional Square (Syntagma) of Athens in front of the Greek Parliament, in 2016, and the second in front of the White House in Washington DC, in June 2017. 

One Step Forward Two Steps Back is stripped of any political message; there are no shouted slogans, no placards, no bull-horns, and no chanting. It is based on a subtle choreography of 12 performers walking one step forward and two steps back, in silence, for an uninterrupted cycle of 24 hours. The public, the tourists, and the passersby are challenged to observe, inspect, and relate to this palindromic flow of bodies, as activism, as a silent demonstration, a transient sculpture of human bodies, or simply an act that reflects upon our political times.

Vincent Brown, Harvard University, “Democracy, Slave Revolts, Emotive Data, and New Media”

Is it possible that there is something in the historical slave revolts in the Caribbeans, but also in other socio-political historical contexts, from which contemporary people can learn? What is the role that collected contemporary data plays in shaping the perceptions and realities of failing democracies across new media? What if the emotive charge of data (both historical and contemporary) that represent the angst and plight of entire populations has been too easily dismissed in the name of scientificity and objectivity, and this has led to faulty interpretations and historical re-interpretation of events? 

The essay departs from the recollection and analysis of pre-existing data concerning what may be defined as marginal historical events in the Caribbeans, which nevertheless were inscribed in and part of larger historical shifts rebounding across the globe as historical markers left by imperialistic power struggles and confrontations, and unveils the emotive personal histories and representations that characterize and shape popular moods and mindsets. 

Similarly to these historical events, the current socio-political contemporary American history is characterized by minor events and data that are interpreted and constructed aseptically. Decontextualized and vacuumed of any emotive charge these data represent the basis upon which an interpretation of the ‘mood’ of society is constructed. 

The essay argues the importance of understanding and fully representing the emotive value of data, the impact that they have on personal and collective histories of small minorities, social groups, and citizens at large if one wants to understand phenomena and movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, #MeToo, or #YellowVests.

Gregor H. Lersch, Jewish Museum, Berlin, Mischa Kuball, Academy of Media Arts Cologne, “Populism vs Democracy and Social Media… and other Disasters (conversation with Mischa Kuball)”

In this conversation, Mischa Kuball and Gregor H. Lersch analyze the contemporary artistic and curatorial definitions of public space, democracy, and art. Recently, these three definitions have taken center stage in history and have undergone a substantial change from the interpretations and attributions they had in the 1970s. 

The current conversation will serve as a platform to discuss, via the project series public preposition and the exhibition and public art project res.o.nant by Mischa Kuball, the latter presented in the Jewish Museum Berlin from 2017 to 2019. Curator and artist examine the aesthetic and curatorial implications of addressing these topics within an extended socio-cultural context. 

The conversation will focus on the relationship between historical sites and their context, using, as one example among others, the Jewish Museum in Berlin and Lersch’s curatorial approach to issues that extend the role of the museum beyond traditional definitions and borders. 

Anticipation and interaction in the context of art performances and time-based interventions are the aesthetic tools that the artist employs in order to engage with democratic frameworks and new media. The works of art and projects spring from site-specific analyses of the locus in which they take place. Within their aesthetic structures, they incorporate social, political, or communal specificities and challenge the audience by being fleeting and temporary interventions that rely on the potential of an altered perception of seemingly familiar / suddenly unfamiliar urban and social contexts. These projects ask their viewers to reconsider the modalities of their engagement with democracy, populism, and new media.

 Lanfranco Aceti, BU & MIT, “The Alarm Bell Rang in the Silence: Witnessing and Memorializing Democracy through New Media”

*The panel was realized with the gracious support of the Goethe Institute, Boston. 

The arrival of Donald J. Trump—and the populist movements across Europe—was all but a surprise to a few intellectuals. While signs of social crisis and cracks in the new post-democratic corporate order were perceptible across social media, the ‘majority’ lived in a faulty consensus that displayed a self-delusional inability to read and understand the mood of anger and disenchantment in the populus.

The traditional media presentation of post-democracy—a defective ideal of democracy with lower expectations as the best of all possible worlds—did not perceive the revolutionary charge of digital media visual imageries. If post-democracy is a lesser democracy and as such slipping towards dictatorship, where is the point at which democracy through post-democracy becomes dictatorship? What is the number of people that can be cut out from society in the name of economic gains before the social body collapses? 

The Great Recession gave numeric indicators to the amount of people who are necessary to be disenfranchised in order for a ‘democracy’ to slip into a populist frenzy. Nevertheless, is this really a populist frenzy or an easy label for people who have been marginalized, disenfranchised, and forgotten to favor vulture capitalist practices dismantling across the globe post- fascist democratic constitutions?

If democracy is ending, digital media have witnessed and memorialized the confrontational context of the processes of transformation into post-democracy. It is in this visual digital media context that the righteous anger of the ‘forgotten people’ has to be inscribed in the larger issues of social injustice and economic slavery. 

Please Note: The panel will coincide with the announcement of the forthcoming book in 2020 by Lanfranco Aceti titled Alarm! and published by LEA/MIT Press. The book is a visual memorialization of the events of November 8, 2016.

*The panel was realized with the gracious support of the Goethe Institute, Boston.


Plenary 2
5:00 PM to 6:30 PM

Plenary: Digital Technologies and Cultures
Weisner Building – E15

Bartos Theater


20 years have elapsed since the first MiT conference on Democracy and New Media, setting into sharp relief the situatedness of our terminology, our scholarship, and our teaching. Fast morphing global assemblages – the technologies, ethical regimes, and administrative systems that articulate contemporary transformations – have put pressure on our conceptual models. How does precedent, most often embedded in vocabulary, figure in our work? And what strategies are available to work with it productively, or confrontationally, or playfully, to circumvent its limits? The discussion will wander through such issues as access and power; the private and public; the territorial and extra-territorial; and the (tactical) role of imaginaries.


Moderator: William Uricchio, MIT
Tarleton Gillespie, Microsoft Research & Cornell University
Nanna Verhoeff, Utrecht University
Toussaint Nothias, Stanford University
Orit Halpern, Concordia University

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Comparative Media Studies/Writing
160 Memorial Drive, 14E-303
Cambridge MA 02139


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