Digital Sociology Podcast

I’m really happy to share with you all a lovely interview I had with Dr Chris Till, a lovely and talented lecturer at Leeds Beckett University.

The interview is the latest episode of his Digital Sociology podcast series, where Chris interviews researchers about their work. It was a real pleasure and an indulgence to get to talk to an engaged audience about my work. Chris is a great interviewer and I think it’s actually a lovely chat!

You can find it in all good podcast apps. Just search ‘digital sociology’ and you’ll find it!

Alternatively, the link to the soundcloud is here. Have a listen and let me know what you think!

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Understanding the Social in a Digital Age

I’m really proud to be running this brilliant event with the equally brilliant Zoetanya Sujon. We’ve been planning this for a while now, and we’re really happy to release the call for papers. It’s a free event, with two brilliant and exciting keynote speakers. We’d love it to be a lively day, so please do submit abstracts.

If you have any questions, email us at @UnderstandingTheSocial@gmail.com. Abstracts due August 28th 2018.

 

Understanding the social in a digital age: An interdisciplinary conference on media, technology, and the social

The pervasiveness of social media has led to both the rise and erasure of ‘the social’. The social is increasingly evasive, at once found everywhere and nowhere. Social media are widely lauded for connecting people and enabling richer, more dynamic socialities yet many critique these processes as emptying out social connection in favour of data accumulation, self-promotion, and platform capitalism. Similarly, these new ways of experiencing, augmenting, and understanding the social are rife with their own socio-cultural and socio-economic biases, born out through designers and users, meaning not every user experiences these spaces and relates to these technologies in the same manner. It becomes apparent that ‘the social’ presumes a singular experience, when realities are far more diverse.

Current research on social media draws in an interdisciplinary manner from a wide range of thinking on what the social means, and is increasingly challenging extant theories and conceptions of the social. This poses a number of questions for how we consider, define, and explore the social, and crucially what our responsibilities are as researchers and educators. This also poses a number of opportunities to work across disciplinary boundaries to explore and reframe our understandings of media, technology, and the social.

Keynotes will be given by Professor Nick Couldry, London School of Economics and Professor Gina Neff, Oxford Internet Institute.

This event aims to critically examine not only the meanings of the social in contemporary digital practices across cultures, but also challenges underlying epistemologies of the social in research and popular cultures. Papers may approach the topic from theoretical, conceptual, and/or empirical positions.

Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • Challenges of and negotiations around agency and structure
  • The relationship between technology, self, and society
  • Educational challenges and responsibilities in the digital age
  • Changing socialities in the face of platform capitalism, the sharing economy, the gig economy, the rise of mediation, & networked selves
  • The embedding and disembedding of socio-cultural resources online
  • Resistance and transgression on, in, with, and through technology
  • The role of designers, users, researchers and the public in the framing, conceptualisation, and representation of ‘the social’ online
  • Extant and emerging social structures in the digital age
  • Boundaries between online and offline social practices
  • Affordances and mediation of social practices
  • Alternative media and sub-altern communities
  • Technological mediation of public / private
  • Digital citizenships and the politics of belonging
  • Emerging technologies and digital futures

This list is merely suggestive of the range of topics of interest to the organisers and is not in any way restrictive of possible interpretations of the theme.  We encourage contributors to be imaginative in formulating ideas and paper proposals.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words and a short bio of 100 words should be submitted via email by 28th August 2018.

You will receive notification of the outcome of your submission by September 30. Submissions from early career researchers are highly encouraged. Final papers should be no longer than 8,000 words / 20 minutes. All those who submit final papers by January 7th will also be invited to submit to a special edition of an international peer-reviewed journal.

The event is free to attend and present, and will be hosted at the School of Education and Lifelong Learning and the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK, on the 8th January 2019.

Key dates:

Abstract submission: August 28th 2018

Notification of outcomes: September 30th 2018

Draft papers due: January 7th 2019

Conference: January 8th 2019, at UEA

Organisers:

Dr Zoetanya Sujon (University of Arts London)

Dr Harry Dyer (University of East Anglia)

Enquiries and abstract submission: UnderstandingTheSocial@gmail.com

La plume de ma tante… What French language lessons can tell us about current UK digital skills education

A quick French lesson

Over the last few days I’ve been mulling over the state of digital skills education in the current UK educational system, reflecting on a phrase that I randomly heard for the first time in forever on a BBC podcast – “La plume de ma tante”.

For those not familiar, ‘la plume de ma tante’ was a phrase commonly used in French language teaching in the UK for the first half of the 20th teaching. It translates literally as “the quill of my Aunt”, and it was for a long time one of the very first things every British student of the French language would learn in a French lesson.

You might be thinking to yourself that it is a really odd phrase to learn at the beginning of a French language course, and you would be entirely right. It was used as a functional example of French grammar. The phrase shows how the definite article and possessive adjectives change form according to gender. A useful grammar lesson for sure, and one that has useful applications for a study of the language, but nonetheless ‘la plume de ma tante’ was such an obscure phrase it was fairly useless if you wanted to learn practical French phrases.

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Online news, fake news, filter bubbles, and mainstream media. Or how I learnt to stop retweeting Trump. 

A report came out today from the Reuters Institute in Oxford University, published by Rasmus Neilsen, detailing where people get their news nowadays. It’s really interesting, and confirms what many researchers have suggested in the last few years, that the internet is becoming an important space for the production, consumption, and sharing of news.

The report notes that 84% of the 18-24 year old participants viewed the internet as their main source of news, though interestingly only 24% of 18-24 year olds viewed the more narrow category of ‘social media’ as their main source as news. This says a lot for a working definition of social media, for our understanding of where young people are on the internet, and for our understanding of how young people use the internet. Researchers need to continue to grapple with the shifting boundaries of social media, and clearly need to continue to broaden their scope beyond just Twitter and Facebook in order to understand the entirety of the young people’s online actions and interactions.

With only 4% of participants viewing print media as the main source of news, and 9% listing TV as the main source, it is clear that the shift towards online news consumption is not abating any time soon. However, we also need to consider another form of news consumption that we can begin to unpack through looking at Fiske’s ideas around ‘popular culture’ and ‘mass culture’.

Fiske’s writing in the 1980s attempted to problematise the narrative around how we consumed media. Rather than viewing the relationship between audience and media as a simplistic one-way street in which the media told us how to feel about an issue, Fiske argued that there was a distinction between ‘mass culture’ and ‘popular culture’ that needed to be considered. Mass culture in essence is the culture that is presented to us by the institution of the media. However, Fiske noted that we could resist, subvert, and challenge these messages, and that we could in turn create our own culture; popular culture. Popular culture, in Fiske’s words, is “made by the people, not produced by the culture industry”, and therefore contains the voices and ideas of the people. Fiske suggested therefore that we need to understand both how culture is presented to us, but equally how it is used, and what life it took on when it came in contact with a socially grounded audience. He noted that:

“…by ignoring the complexity and creativity by which the subordinate cope with the commodity system and its ideology in their everyday lives, the dominant underestimate and thus devalue the conflict and struggle entailed in constructing popular culture within a capitalist society”

This suggests therefore that news is not just what we read and consume from a popular news source, it is also our reactions to these events and issues.  We can understand news not only as a product of ‘mass culture’ passed to us by the news media, but also as ‘popular culture’ created in part through our reaction to the news. Through our responses to Trump’s Tweets, through our browsing of vitriolic comment sections, through reading our Aunt’s Facebook posts, through reading blogs, we are consuming both ‘popular culture’ and ‘mass culture’.

Interestingly, mass culture and popular culture are not separate or separable; they exist together, meaning that popular culture, though subversive, contains multiple layers and multiple voices (or what Bakhtin termed ‘Heteroglossia’). As Fiske notes:

“A text that is to be made into popular culture must, then, contain both the forces of domination and the opportunities to speak against them, the opportunities to oppose or evade them from subordinated, but not totally disempowered, positions. Popular culture is made by the people at the interface between the products of the culture industries and everyday life”.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the internet, where we are surrounded by issues as they unfurl, with many layers of commentary, and many attempts to create ‘popular culture’. Thus popular culture becomes a battleground as multiple forces attempt to create the narrative of the news and shape popular culture out of the remnants of mass culture. The news then is not the battleground here, instead it is people’s reaction to the news. In otherwords, the news is arguably less important today than the reaction to the news.

This is increasingly apparent through Trump’s retweeting of News platforms such as the Drudge Report and Fox News, and his attempts to delegitimise other sources such as MSNBC and the New York Times. We can see the multiple interacting layers of popular culture in action as Trump provides his own attempt at the creation of popular culture. This is inevitably followed by other users retweeting Trump and providing their own commentary, followed by other users reacting to this…and so on… Indeed, this even becomes cyclical as Trump’s tweeting then become the news, which is then further commented upon. Thus popular culture and mass culture become largely inseparable online, and the division between what is news and what isn’t becomes hazy.

When we consider how we consume news, and where this comes from, we must not forget to also consider how we create and perpetuate news. We must consider what voices we are amplifying, what narratives we are resisting, and what sources we are challenging. We must not forget that retweeting users that we disagree with in some manner amplifies their voice through their heteroglossic presence. The internet is not a level playing ground for everyone, and as users we choose to give credence to others through following and retweeting them. We should think about who we allow to create popular culture, and also whose voices we amplify, even in protest to them. Finally, both users and researchers should understand that the news isn’t just something that comes from a newspaper or a website, but that it increasingly is a complex mix of many voices and agendas.

Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi Problem: What the internet reaction tells us about the relationship between media and consumers.

A while ago I wrote a blog post about the Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge; a craze taking the internet by storm (or, at least, heavily reported across various media channels – but that’s a distinction for whole other blog post…) in which people filmed/photographed themselves trying to get fuller lips by creating a vacuum around them. The results were obviously not great, and it led to many a think-piece about ‘kids these days’ being stupid, passive, and gullible. I always think this reaction is incredibly patronising to a generation who, according to recent data, are showing adept media literacy and criticality in a landscape with far more sources competing for attention. It is always worth remembering that we all did stupid things as kids. I did a million stupid things, including swallowing my mum’s earring for a game of hide-and-seek. The difference was of course that I didn’t have a camera in my face and an internet to project my failings onto (until now I guess). The earring never emerged, but I’m sure I’m fine…

 

But nonetheless, many a reaction was formed about how gullible the current emerging generation are, a far too simplistic narrative that I think needs to be problematized and examined, rather than assumed. Interestingly, this narrative can be further challenged by a more recent reaction to another Jenner sister’s media forays.

 

Today another Jenner sister was trending in the media for an entirely separate reason. Kendall Jenner starred in an incredibly tone-deaf Pepsi advert that borrowed the imagery and timbre of many current protest movements in a move of crass neoliberalism, highlighting some of the greediest aspects of capitalism. It was a move that many people saw through, and that garnered a wealth of criticism cross the board. Many posts will be written today about what just how misguided and offensive this advert is, and that is a much needed reaction. Here however I want to briefly unpack just what this reaction means for how we think about the relationship between media and audience.

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Call For Papers on Language, New Media and Alt-Realities

If you’re interested in/researching ‘fake news’, alternative facts, clickbait, and/or the ‘decline’ of ‘experts’ (really not sure how many scare quotes to use here…) then check out this call for papers below. Sounds like a really interesting conference. The submission deadline is a little tight, but I’m going to try to attend if nothing else!

 

Details below:

 

Language, New Media and Alt-Realities

April 21, 2017, University of Reading

Proposals are invited for 20 minute paper presentations as well as posters/web-based presentations addressing the theme of ‘language, new media and alt.realties’.

Possible areas of interest include:

·       New media epistemologies and ontologies

·       New media discourse and political polarisation

·       Algorithmic pragmatics and political debate

·       Authoritarian and populist discourses online

·       ‘Trolling’ as a form of political discourse

·       Agnotology (the cultural construction of ignorance)

·       The crisis of ‘expertise’

·       ‘Fake news’ and ‘clickbait’

·       Hacking and disinformation

·       Infotainment and spectacle

·       Conspiracy theories and memes

·       Journalism in the age of social media

Please send your proposals in the form of a 250-word abstract to Prof Rodney Jones, University of Reading r.h.jones@reading.ac.uk

Deadline for Submitting Proposals: April 5, 2017

We need to talk about Growing Up Digital…

The new Growing up Digital report came out in the UK today from the Children’s Commissioner (Find it here).  It’s a nuanced report with many interesting ideas and thoughts about the internet. It acknowledges that children are on the internet more, and that this is not going to change. It acknowledges the internet can be a great place (It literally starts with the sentence “The internet is an extraordinary force for good…”). It suggests that children need to be taught critical skills online as well as offline. It’s really nuanced and well written.

So why is it that nearly all the press reporting on this is SO APPALLING?! Continue reading

Online anonymity: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

An article came out today by J. Nathan Matias (find it here, it’s really interesting) calling for a re-examination of online anonymity, which for so long has been painted as a pantomime villain that automatically leads to abuse and problematic behaviour.

In the article J. Nathan Matias argues in essence for a reversal of the approach to anonymity and abuse, calling for a re-evaluation of online abuse that acknowledges the fact that it is and obviously is not solely an online phenomenon, but that it emerges from pre-existing social structures and resources. This is really interesting, especially in the wake of a re-emergence of anonymous platforms such as Yik Yak (before the update) and ask.fm.

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What social media data should I use in my research? A response to Choi et al (2016).

Firstly, apologies for not blogging in quite a while; I’ve been finishing off my PhD which I’m super happy to announce I passed, with no corrections B-). It’s been a long process but I’m really proud of the finished product and I’m working on getting publications and a book out from it ASAP. Stay tuned for more news!

Secondly, and to get to the point of this post, a great article has just been published entitled “What social media data should I use in my research?: a comparative analysis of Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and the New York Times comments”.

It’s been put out by a group of researchers from the State University of New Jersey. Namely Dongho Choi, Ziad Matni, and Chirag Shah. It was presented at the 79th ASIS&T Annual Meeting in Copenhagen a few months ago (October 2016). The full link to the article can be found here.

It’s a really great article, and it is truly truly great to see people moving towards a broader definition of social media. For far too long, Facebook and Twitter have held a relatively unchallenged monopoly over social media research. It’s easy to understand why; they are currently the most popular platforms by some distance in the western world. They also put out a staggering wealth of content to analyse and utilize. In many ways, they present perfect spaces through which to understand a range of issues, and they produce rich and detailed data.

However, thanks to the pioneering work of researchers such as Paul Hodkinson, Deborah Lupton, Sonja Utz, Rachel Kowert, Nicole Ellison, Xuan Zhao, Caleb T. Carr, and many others, digital research is again spreading out and looking at the social internet in its messy and overlapping entirety. That means embracing multiple platforms and exploring a range of spaces that contain various social elements. This should be encouraged, especially as recent statistical research from PEW (Lenhart, 2015) shows that young people are increasingly present on multiple platforms. Users are not using one platform alone; they exist in and across multiple spaces, and are increasingly using a broad array of platforms beyond Facebook and Twitter alone. As such, in order to understand the experiences of users online, a broader focus is needed, lest digital research gets left a decade behind the progressing reality of social media for many users.

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