Picturing the Social Conference


This sounds like such a great event. Below the break is the details of a one-day conference on June 20th in Manchester with some really awesome people talking about image sharing and online visual culture. Thanks to the always awesome Mark Carrigan for the heads-up about this one! If you’re not following him I thoroughly recommend that you do!

As the internet becomes increasingly multi-modal, and as an increasingly diverse range of Social Media sites are becoming purposefully heterogeneous, understanding visual culture is so important.

What’s so great about this event, and what I love about Digital Sociology at the moment is it’s really broad in scope. So many fields with so many epistemological stances all want to try and understand the increasingly ubiquitous role of Social Media. We need this diverse input in the field, we need to throw open the doors and try and come at this from a range of perspectives.

I cannot make the day so I’m going to follow along online, but I thought I’d flag it up for all those up north interested in Visual Culture and wanting to look at it from a purposefully broad perspective. More of this sort of thing please!


A one-day conference exploring contemporary image sharing on social media & online visual cultures, which aims to create productive dialogue

Monday, 20 June 2016

Grand Hall, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

10:00 – 17:00

In recent years individuals, groups of people, and organisations have become more reliant upon visual images and practices of visualisation as means of understanding and communicating about the world. The wide use of camera phones in combination with the on-going rise of social media platforms, catering to easy image sharing, has resulted in everyday image production and sharing on an unprecedented scale. Most recently, Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends report highlights that younger users increasingly prefer to communicate via images, and more broadly, that daily photo sharing across Snapchat, Facebook (including Messenger), Instagram and WhatsApp now exceed 3 billion shares every day (which is up from 1.8 billion in 2014, a figure frequently cited). These activities are increasingly attracting academic interest.

Businesses and government bodies now treat images shared on the Internet as a valuable form of data that can be used to inform commercial decision-making and help develop policy. In addition to this, verbal and numeric forms of data are increasingly presented through data visualisations that are intended to provide synoptic views of the available information. These developments have increasingly have attracted important, timely and wide-ranging critique, including from academia. These developments also point to the contemporary existence of what W.J.T. Mitchell has recently called ‘Iconomania’, a term that refers to an intense desire to see and understand the world through images and visual displays. This notion is useful and widely applicable whether one considers governmental, military, and corporate surveillance, or forms of citizen witnessing, journalism as well as counter-surveillance utilising digital cameras to document the actions of the powerful.

In response to these complex developments, this one-day conference seeks to create dialogue between different areas of research and practice relevant to the use of images on social media and to the wider visual web. To do this, the conference brings together prominent academic researchers from Visual Culture, Internet Studies, and Media Studies with industry-based researchers and practitioners from the areas of Social Data, Data Visualisation, Journalism and Data Analytics to explore crucial issues relevant to contemporary digital visual cultures. The conference seeks to demonstrate the breadth and richness of research and practice in these areas as well as to raise pressing questions that relate to how images and visualisations are used within different aspects of contemporary social, cultural, economic, and political life. This will be done with a concern to see how approaches from different sectors of research and practice might potentially productively inform each other.

The conference has been organised by the Visual Social Media Lab (based at The University of Sheffield). The VSML develops new interdisciplinary methods and analytical approaches for the study of online visual culture by bringing together expertise from a range of academic disciplines as well as industry. This VSML team involves academics and industry researchers from The University of Sheffield, Manchester School of Art (MMU), University of Wolverhampton, Royal Holloway, University of London, and Pulsar.

Attendance at the conference costs £20(only!). Please register here


9.30-10.00       Registration

10.00-10.15     Welcome and Introduction

Farida Vis (Visual Social Media Lab/University of Sheffield)


10.15-11.00     Talk 1: Language of the Eye: How Computer Vision is Remaking Social Media

Susan Etlinger (Altimeter Group, A Prophet Company)

Images have the power to capture emotion and call people to action in a way that words often cannot. They can frequently be interpreted and understood without need for translation. They can spark trends and movements overnight, as we have seen with everything Black Lives Matter to Star Wars memes. But there is another factor at play. Social and mobile media have fueled an explosion of images on the Internet, whether in the form of photos, emoji, GIFs or video. According to a recent report, people share and upload 1.8 billion photos daily. This is both exciting and terrifying for industry, because approximately 80 percent of images that include a brand logo do not refer to the brand directly, which means that organizations are flying blind when it comes to detecting the content and context of images, and acting on the opportunities or risks they may present.

Today, organizations from start-ups to industry goliaths such as Facebook and Google are working on technologies that analyze the content of a photo. Increasingly, they’re also applying artificial intelligence to understand the context, manage brand reputation, detect opportunities and threats, better understand customer attitudes and behaviors, and identify product and service opportunities. Yet while the image recognition market is expected to increase at a 19.1% combined annual growth rate by 2020, it is still a nascent technology.

This talk will lay out the context of the growing image recognition market, outline use cases and challenges of image recognition technology for industry, discuss the social and ethical concerns presented by the increasing use of images for organizations that wish to better understand not only what people say about them, but what they see.

Chair: Farida Vis

11.00-11.15     Break


11.15-1.00       Panel 1: Qualitative approaches to social media images

This panel explores a range of qualitative approaches to and interpretations of the use of images on social media, via a number of different case studies, including: the sharing practices of the Alan Kurdi image in September 2015, the way in which different groups in Sheffield use Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to ‘image’ Sheffield, and a recent case study from France, to encourage women to wear the hijab for a day to combat the rise of Islamophobia.


Lin Prøitz (Visual Social Media Lab/University of Sheffield)

Anne Burns (Visual Social Media Lab/University of Sheffield)

Katharina Lobinger (University of Bremen)

Fatima Aziz (EHESS, Paris)

Chair: Ray Drainville (Visual Social Media Lab/MMU)

1.00-2.00         Lunch

2.00-3.45         Panel 2: Social media images, politics, and protest

This panel addresses relationships between images on social media and political practices and identities, focusing examples on the use of social media images for the purposes of policy-making, journalism, activism and protest. Two cases discussed will include the use of Facebook for political purposes by Palestinian photographers and journalists and the May 1st demonstrations in Milan in 2015.


Simon Faulkner (Visual Social Media Lab/MMU)

Paolo Gerbaudo (King’s College London)

Matteo Azzi and Gabriele Colombo (DensityDesign/Politecnico di Milano)

Rebecca Moody (Erasmus University, Rotterdam)

Chair: Jim Aulich (Visual Social Media Lab/MMU)

3.45-4.00         Break


4.00-4.45         Talk 2: ‘Diversity on the Internet: A Goat Thing’

An Xiao Mina (Meedan)

“Kittens,” said Tim Berners-Lee, when asked on Reddit what he never thought the internet would be used for. And yet cats themselves are culturally situated, reflective of those who have historically been the internet’s primary users: middle class Westerners. As the internet’s global population diversifies, cats’ presumed dominance deserves a second look.

Over the past year, I led research on a world map of animal memes shown at “How Cats Took Over the Internet,” an exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image. Reflecting the collective work of over a dozen internet scholars and researchers, the map looks at animal memes in different regions, with a special focus on the global south. What’s revealed is a diverse meme-nagerie, including llamas in Mexico, donkeys in Tajikistan and—perhaps most revealingly—a global trend toward goats.

In this talk, I will take a brief look at cat media online vis a vis the history of internet users and global connectivity. Discussing the map, I will argue that new meme cultures reflect a profound shift in internet population, as connected users reflect a wider range of lifestyles.

Chair: Olga Goriunova (Visual Social Media Lab/Royal Holloway)

4.45-5.00         Closing Remarks – Farida Vis (followed by a reception at 17:15)


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