Hong_Kong_2019

We performed our academic FIFO (Fly In Fly Out – thanks for the insights here Jolynna) duties recently at the first University of Sydney and Hong Kong University symposium, expertly crafted by Professor Heather Horst and Dr Tom McDonald.

During the one day symposium, all researchers were asked to respond to the somewhat broad theme around the concepts of cross border media flows and social imaginaries – in thinking through these two areas, it is a lovely way to bring sociology and media studies (communication if you will) together:

Media of various forms, and the infrastructures and communities that are associated with them, have often been strongly determined by national boundaries. This is particularly the case in different countries dispersed across the Asia-Pacific region, where media organisations are often owned by government entities and/or large companies. Such media organisations also frequently have political or commercial roles that, arguably, make them less susceptible to the kinds of disruption that have been witnessed by their European and American counterparts in recent years. At the same time, the movement of people, goods, capital, information and ideas are undergoing shifts and intensifications, owing to broader geopolitical changes, state-led infrastructure projects and the aspirations of individuals and communities shaped by such regional transformations.
 
Against this context, media flows are being created, worked and reworked, facilitated by new infrastructures, imaginaries and understandings. These flows frequently cross, circumvent or come up against borders, both domestic and international. For instance, countries such as China and the US increasingly compete to export infrastructures across the region through the promotion of platforms, technologies and services. Online shopping, logistics, blockchain and fin-tech are fostering new cross-border flows of goods and money. Media content is increasingly consumed internationally, posing new opportunities and challenges for media companies, regulators and governments. Users and consumers of the media are also witnessing the reworking of their media environments because of these changes, and are adopting inventive responses to and adaptations of the media in return.
 
This symposium, and the planned journal special issue that will result from it, explores these changing circuits of media in the Asia Pacific region. We ask contributors to consider: How are media flows redefining understandings of borders? What kinds of novel communities are being created by cross-border media flows? What forms of social imaginaries accompany the emergence of new infrastructures from “outside”? How are boundaries and borders being made, unmade or remade within and across the Asia-Pacific region?

Personally, it was a unique opportunity to apply my recent thinking around digital intermediation to the concept of social imaginaries to understand how geopolitical borders are constructed, de-constructed and enforced and reimagined – there is no better place in the world than Hong Kong to get that sort of thinking on.

If you are interested in the research I have started in this space, you can access my presentation here:

But enough about me, the better work was all around! Here are some notes and reflections from the research presented:

Sylvia Martin – Imagin(eer)ing peace: Simulations and the state

  • Holograms and military uses of them
  • USC and Shoah Foundation
  • Hologram shown in front of young students and they ask him questions
  • Filmed in a multi-camera environment
  • Statistical classifier to find the best answer to the questions
  • The Girl and the Picture
  • IBM Watson to do the classifier for the woman filmed in The Girl in the Picture
  • What enables the production of survivors who have crossed the borders?
  • There is a close connection between the state and industry – building larger goals into the process
  • There are a number of agencies involved in this process
  • Leads to the ‘Imagineering’ of content – this is the link to the hologram
  • The industry in Hollywood has shifted to military content –
  • The emergence of the Silicon Beach – the increase of tech etc in Venice Beach
  • Institute of Creative Technology (ICT) – military, academia and entertainment

Joyce Nip – Friends and foes: China’s connections and disconnections in the Twitter sphere

  • While much of the social media is blocked, “foreign hostile networks taking over the regions”
  • @XHNews – one of these ‘blocked’ Chinese Twitter accounts
  • CGTN, SCMP, Xianhwa News
  • Looking at #SouthChinaSea
  • Interestingly @XHNews have set the frames around “Aircraft Carrier”
  • There may be not artificial warfare, but other computational forces at work
  • Hub account – I think this means the sorts of large betweenness centrality
  • @9DashLine and @AsiaMTI758 are the most retweeted accounts
  • What is the correlation to the US based news services then picking up the ‘new’ framing of the events?
  • Hub accounts are super important
  • So are Russians more interested in global news than other countries?

 Heather Horst – From Kai Viti to Kai Chica: Debating Chinese influence in Fiji

  • Chinese aid has been welcomed in Fiji, in anticipation of APEC 2018
  • Cable net offer from Oz around the islands, to ward off Chinese influence
  • Strong connection with the last coups between China and Fiji
  • Fiji states it is a relationship, not influence
  • The 28 WG Friendship Plaza building has difficult Chinese/Fiji relations
  • First instance of fake news in Fiji – China will take the island of Kadavu to recover the $500m debt
  • Fiji has an informal censorship process in its media system
  • The Wikipedia page has been adjusted to say a ‘Province of China’ but was changed back ‘quickly’
  • Oz support is participatory government (aid cultures), Chinese has been infrastructure support
  • Often
  • A common thread between all papers of influence through infrastructures and countries?
  • What is the broader impact of social media on the Chinese influence?

Discussion

‘Great Power Rivalry’ – some nation states are more important than others. This promotes the idea of what are we missing? What if you don’t have a ‘state’ formed around you? Jewish context and the Chinese massacres contexts. Non-state actors (not ISIS, but the anarchist forms).

China is not one – There are a number of Chinese (Mainland, New Territories, Hong Kong)

 Bunty Avieson – Minority language Wikipedias for cultural resilience

  • Privilege has moved online, through connected communication
  • Cognitive justice – beyond tolerance is something that we need
  • Localised knowledge practices contribute to cultural production – this is a form of resilience
  • Pharmacon – a cure and a killer
  • Wikipedia paints one aspect of the unity of users, knowledge,
  • Wikipedia is drawing information from Wikipedia
  • Anyone can edit is a myth – Wikipedians are white global north, Christian, under 30, technical competent
  • Oral cultures – only 7% have been written down
  • Positional superiority (Said), long tail of colonialism

Tom McDonald – One Country, two payment systems: Cross-border digital money transactions between Hong Kong and Mainland China

  • WeChat Advertising campaign that rolled out across Hong Kong during the time of protest
  • Immigration has increased significantly during this period
  • One country/two systems – the border remains constant
  • There is a focus to engage communication technologies to secure the future
  • 2016 the Money Authority gave the right to five operators to launch digital wallets (Alipay, WeChat, Octopus, OlePay, TapnGo)
  • Users are using WeChat and/or Alipay to transfer funds and then purchase things for cheaper (better rates) in Hong Kong
  • WeChat groups are emerging for money transfer

Discussion

  • Culture is always changing, cultural dynamism is a better term
  • More explanation of microplatformization, and digital intermediation
  • Can oral Wikipedia help solve the Bhutan problem?

Jolynna Sinanan – Mobile media and mobile livelihoods in Queensland’s coal mining industry

  • What access do miners have when away from home?
  • Three areas of contestation: they are not allowed to have mobiles while working, They are often in remote areas with low coverage, connection to home is no one’s responsibility
  • mobilities and families – digital media characterized by mobilities
  • Literature says: Digital media is how families do everything together, this is how users make sense of each other and their context while they are apart from each other
  • Social transformations are under-developed
  • Jhow mobilities make sense. through ‘work’ and ‘home’
  • Drops ‘cashed-up bogan’ as a term to describe the impact of the stress on the workers
  • FIFO Life as a producer of memes
  • How is this different to pilots? They fly in and out, have similar digital media tools, but are vastly different in how they react with their family?

Tian Xiaoli – No escape: WeChat and reinforcing power hierarchy in Chinese workplaces

  • WeChat users often think about superiority online – who is senior? Who is younger? This is reflective of offline lives
  • Hierarchy and behaviour studies as a background for the workplace

Jack Linchuan Qiu (Chung Minglun & Pun Ngai) – The effects of digital media upon labor knowledge and attitudes: A study of Chinese vocational-school students

  • School students from poorer backgrounds – being trained for vocational jobs (blue collar)
  • Effects study on the rights
  • The border between social classes
  • A study on human capital (Becker, 1964) – the internet economy, the knowledge economy,
  • How is the schooling process outdating, or distracting, or are they adding to the education process?
  • Passive use of internet versus active use (net potato (Kaye, 1998))
  • A process that leads to individualistic usage (Ito), hyper-individualistic
  •  Village well (Arora, 2019)
  • Increased consumerist activity does not necessarily relate to decreased labour subjectivity
  • Media literacy encourages reflective thinking
  • Is consumerist worry an elitist position?
  • What is the labour subjectivity if the user is Reflective/individualistic? for example

Tommy Tse – Dream, dream, dream: The interwoven national, orgnaisational, and individual goals of workers in China’s technology sector

  • Sociology pays more attention to the practice beyond the theoretical
  • Cultural practices and how they play out in labour practices
  • Chinese dream versus Alibaba Dream versus individual dream
Jonathon_Hutchinson_Transparent_Infrastructures

I have just completed a world-wind European tour, giving lectures at some of the best media institutes this side of the planet. Thanks to all the folk who made this possible, and took the time to promote my work. I’d like to reflect on that work and the discussions I’ve had with many great people within this post as I prepare this thinking for my next book – namely who should be facilitating and innovating transparent automated media systems? I argue public Service Media (PSM).

The thrust of this latest research was to problematise the concept of the ‘black-box’ as has been argued by so many scholars as something that we have no control over and are almost helpless to its control.

I think some of the most important work in this space was undertaken by Frank Pasquale and his Black Box Society book, which highlights the role algorithms play in society from a finance, legal and economic’s perspective. His argument of how algorithms control not only finance, but our digital lives, is a call for increased transparency and accountability on those who facilitate these technologies.

I also appreciate the work of many scholars who contribute and develop this arena of scholarship. Safiya Noble has done amazing work here and here book Algorithms of Oppression is a landmark piece of scholarship that brings to bear the real world implications of how algorithms are not only bias, but racist and oppressive.

Noble’s book leads well into Tania Bucher’s also groundbreaking book If…Then, that further develops the politics of algorithms and automated systems, to offer media academics a framework to help think through some of the implications of these socio-technical constructs.

I also find Christian Sandvig’s work incredibly inspiring here. While Sandvig’s work on algorithms and discrimination is super interesting, this particular piece on Auditing Algorithms sparked a particular interest in me on how to research algorithms.

But what I have found through most of this literature are two things, and this is perhaps where my ‘application brain’ is most curious. Firstly, most scholars tend to ignore user agency in these relationships, as if we are helplessly at the mercy of mathematical equations that are determining our society. Most (some) people are aware of the algorithm, and how to work alongside it these days, if our interface with platforms like Netflix, Spotify, YouTube etc. is anything to go by. Secondly, no-one talks of who should be responsible for facilitating a better system. Should we simply make more policy that tries to calm the overlord digital tech companies of now, or should we be thinking five to ten years ahead on how that technology can be used for society’s benefit (and not in a Chineses Social Credit System sense, either)?

So that is what I have been talking about in the last few weeks, and I think it is really important to include in the automated media conversation. I have been developing a digital intermediation framework that incorporates a number of these actors, and trying to understand how the intermediation process occurs. Check this out:

Digital intermediation actors, as part of the intermediation process

This is a first parse at what will become an important tool for a facilitating organisation who should be leading and innovating in this space: public service media.

Work has already commenced in this space, and we can draw on the thoughts of Bodó et al. (2018):

Public service media have charters that oblige them to educate, inform, and sustain social cohesion, and an ongoing challenge for public service media is interpreting their mission in the light of the contemporary societal and technological context. The performance metrics by which these organizations measure the success of their algorithmic recommendations will reflect these particular goals, namely profitability, loyalty, trust, or social cohesion.

Bodó, B., Helberger, N., Eskens, S., & Möller, J. (2019). Interested in Diversity. Digital Journalism, 7(2), 206–229.

So then, how does PSM do this? One way is to embed it in editorial policies to ensure PSM employees are operating as such. Another is to undertake PSM innovation remit and start teaching its users on how to work with algorithms effectively.

I don’t think ‘cracking open the black-box’ is all that useful to operationalise. They are often complex algorithmic formulas that require specialist expertise to design and interpret. But affording a control mechanism that enables users to ‘tweak’ how the algorithm performs may be not only possible, but crucial.

This is my focus for my last few weeks while I am working as a Research Fellow here in Hamburg.

Jonathon_Hutchinson_Internet_Research

I’m lucky enough to be the Program Chair for the 2019 Association of Internet Researchers Conference, to be held in Brisbane in October. During the last week, I have engaged in the next task as Program Chair and gone through each individual submissions as I assign them to reviewers. This process involves reviewing the title, the abstract and then matching those papers to most suitable experts within the Association.

For those non-academic folk reading this, the conference process usually involves responding to a conference theme as designed by the conference and organisation committees, where potential delegates submit a proposal of anywhere between 500 and 1200 words addressing that theme. This proposal is then sent to a number of reviewers who conduct a blind review (blind meaning they do not know who the author(s) is/are), and then the paper is returned to the program chair with a review and overall score. The papers that receive a suitable score are invited to submit their paper to the conference, while the others are rejected.

We are just about to send the papers out to the reviewers after they have been assigned, which has provided me with some unique insights into the state of the field of internet research. Granted, the proposals are responding to the theme of Trust in the System, which will skew the submissions slightly, but typically academics will usually make their research align with any given conference theme as one’s field usually moves towards a common trajectory. The research that has been submitted can be read as a very strong overview and indicator of where the field is currently, and where it is heading.

Of course the items below are seen through my eyes, which is the first parse of the content coming through the submission portal – the final version of papers that will be accepted and presented will no doubt differ slightly from these initial observations.

What are the hot internet research topics?

As you would expect there is a growing number of research papers in the area of algorithms and platforms. The concept of automation and recommender systems has spread beyond Netflix and permeates in the areas of news and journalism, smart cities, politics, and healthcare.

Platform research continues to be incredibly important with work critically looking at YouTube, Instagram and Facebook as the most popular areas. It is interesting to see the rise of focus on emerging Chinese social media platforms – while I didn’t notice any on TikTok, there was a focus on WeChat and Weibo.

Other very popular areas of research interest include governance and regulation of internet and social media, news and journalism related to the internet, social media and politics, methodologies, labour and things/bots. There is also a group of researchers interested in Blockchain.

Who are internet researchers?

One of the core roles of the review assignment was aligning the papers that were submitted with relative experts in the field. To assist in this process, members of the Association nominate the topics and methodologies of which they are experts. This information provides a unique insight into how we see ourselves as internet researchers.

I have not crunched hard data on this, and would not publish any sensitive data from the Association, so this is a broad observation of my aggregated insights. That is, these are the methods fields that kept popping up when I was assigning papers to reviewers.

One of the most popular internet researcher categories that was available from the pool was ethnographers for social media – participant observation across social media practices. I directly fit into this category and needless to say much of the work undertaken by these researchers could easily align with my own research endeavours.

An emerging category that aligns with the growing field is social media algorithm analysts. As humanities and social scientists become increasingly involved in data science alongside media and communication, the rise of algorithmic analysis has become not only popular, but essential to understand our field.

News and journalism experts are often coupled with social media experts, and the other interesting (and popular) couplings included discourse analysis with social media, and social media and textual analysis/content analysis.

There is a significant gap however, in those researching identities and activism – from what I can see across most of the communication infrastructure formats. A number of researchers are presenting work in this area, yet we still don’t see ourselves as a large cohort of experts in identity research – which seems odd. Perhaps this is just how the methodological categories appear in the conference system, or perhaps this is true of how we (don’t) identify as researchers?

So what does all this mean?

Well, these insights certainly won’t change the field’s direction but it does offer some insights into the gaps of internet research. I think we have platform research covered, while social media and ethnography is very strong. Social media and politics also has a very strong presence.

But there are areas that lack representation in internet research, that would be useful for researchers to pick up on in the next 12 months.

These include:

  • Ethics – in both use of internet and how to research the internet;
  • Algorithm analysis – the growing field here requires more people to apply data science to their existing work on platforms, social media etc.;
  • Geography and geolocation – I didn’t notice any human geographers (I might have missed this) conducting work in internet research in this sample. There is a small group of researchers undertaking geolocation specific work, but there is room for more;
  • Internet histories;
  • Labour;
  • Public sphere;
  • Surveillance;
  • Apps;
  • Conflict; and
  • Commerce.

For me, a light bulb just went on with how to personally align my research after attending conferences. I guess I always thought of conferences as a chance to present my current work alongside the field. But after having undertaken this Program Chair role, I find it is better to also analyse the gaps in the field to position your work for the next 12 months.

Perhaps scholars have always worked like this and I am just catching up with the game, but having these insights has been incredibly useful to shape my thinking. Hopefully they are useful to others in some capacity.

Original photo by 85Fifteen on Unsplash.