It is now Friday morning and the I am synthesising the last four days that I have been embedded at the News and Media Research Centre (NMRC), here a the University of Canberra. This is the first of three visits I will make here, and I will be back in July to undertake the next phase of research wonder.

The plan from the outset was to come to NMRC, share my research, mentor some emerging scholars and higher degree researchers and work on potential research connections. I think I did that in probably the best possible way! Also, props here to David Nolan who has been the host with the most – not only was this trip scholarly stimulating, it was also fun.

I gave a two–hour workshop on industry research and mentored a few PhD candidates on Tuesday – you can read about that here.

Wednesday was a chance to meet with one of the Directors at the National Gallery of Australia who looks after the digital media programs. This was a chance to talk through my research, get an overview of where the gallery is heading (particularly around automation and collections) and lay the foundations for future collaboration. Wednesday was also a chance to meet with the Associate Dean of Research and talk through the purpose of the Fellowship. Meeting and greeting was on the agenda over sensational Asian treats.

I also had a great brainstorming session with David Nolan around the potential of research within the Discovery Project space. We talked through evolving media ecosystems and worked through our foundational scholarly position within our research and where the cross over points are. I think we have something that is starting to flourish here.

Thursday was the last chance to make it all come together, which David and I did through more collaborative discussions about research. We really found a stride here and are moving towards a project.

Thursday was also a great chance to sit down with all (well Most) of the scholars of the NMRC. We exchanged our research areas, which is always refreshing to take time out of our everyday and talk about what really interests us as scholars. As expected, the NMRC is a powerhouse of scholars, ‘punching well above their weight’.

NMRC Researchers

Here’s some take aways form that moment:

Professor Kerry McCallum

Associate Professor Mathieu O’Neil

  • Free software and work and new forms of collaborations, volunteer work potential from a survey, Ford and Sloan, Digital Commons Council was established, mapping email addresses in GitHub.
  • w/Rob Acland, Online networks, grant from VW Scheme working on echo chambers and online discourse
  • w/ faculty on media literacy with kids, orient them to Wikipedia as a fact checking source.

Professor Sora Park

Associate Professor David Nolan

D

Senior Research Fellow Kate Holland

Postdoctoral Research Fellow Kieran Mcguinness

  • Postdoc – generalist
  • Split between audience and news consumption, trust misinformation, social media use, attitudes towards news
  • Political comms, policy and politic and discourse analysis, PE focus
  • Client facing in last two years, Judith Neilson Institution, the ACMA, The SBS, partner orgs, specialist skill sets for short term projects
snow light dawn landscape

I have arrived at the University of Canberra to undertake my first of three visits as the Distinguished Faculty of Arts and Design Research Fellow. While Day 1 was a wonderful day of catching with friends and colleagues and eating some great food from around the way, the real work started on Tuesday, Day 2.

My day was split into two key sessions: a workshop in the morning that explored embedded industry research, and the second half of the day which was for HDR mentoring. I’m here to bring my research, meet people and think through potential collaborative research projects with colleagues. I’d like to thank all the wonderful people at the News and Media Research Centre for hosting me over the five days.

Embedded Industry Research

First off, I forgot how much I love travelling and talking with people in a face-to-face mode! I haven’t presented research anywhere in person for about two years, so I was very excited to talk with people in a room that didn’t rhyme with Zoom.

This first session was designed as a two and a half hour workshop for HDRs and beyond to explore the contexts and nuances of embedded research within industry. Drawing on my last ten years of embedded research at various industry partners from around the world, it was refreshing to re-visit how to do this sort of really important work. From how to approach industry with an offer, to co-designing research questions, and then how to integrate the appropriate methods, particularly in a post-lock down world, was refreshing for me.

What was more exciting was the discussion that emerged after the presentation. We had about an even split of colleagues who had done industry research (and this includes Linkage projects, consultancy work, commissioned research, and longer form research), and those that hadn’t. As we broke into smaller groups (not break out rooms), the conversation was focussed on the lived experience of researching with industry partners. It was excellent.

Some of the key topics that emerged included:

  • Often there are different languages and perspectives at play between academics and industry – intermediaries are always useful, to broker between the different stakeholders
  • We (academics) can become annoying? How do we ensure we remain relevant to the project from the industry perspective, too?
  • Often the experience was disappointing – a great word to use here, where some of the finding shave been ignored or not acted upon
  • There can be an anti-intellectual/academic culture – is it common with media organisations/journalists or more broadly than this?
  • Is there something about the authority of academics that might not gel with industry folk?
  • How could we know about their world/environment?
  • What is your character that you take in with you? I’m a journalist. I’m a content creator. ‘Interloper’ was used.
  • Suspicion seems to be the reaction from those being researched – why are they here?
  • ‘It’s all about trust’
  • The complications of trust
  • Pandemic and the loss of hanging out with our industry folk
  • Reflexivity – all data is skewed, “situation of data gathering’

If you are interested, you can access the slides from the day here:

The slides for the Embedded Industry Research workshop

The second half of the day was spent listening to HDRs talk about their projects and trying to guide them where I could. I very much look forward to connecting many of these amazing people with some fo the amazing humans from MECO – there are many cross over points that can be strengthened with a more national network of HDRs.

I

eSafety Commission

Recently, I was hanging out with my kids and we were doing a drawing tutorial on the YouTube channel, Arts for Kids Hub. We were following along learning how to draw a volcano when I was struck by some of the things Rob (the tutor) was saying to his son (the student). Every time his son wouldn’t quite make the straight line, or stay inside the colouring lines, or just go a bit wobbly, Rob would just say ‘that’s OK ’cause we’re learning’.

[Just so you know, we drew some insanely cool volcanos that day.]

Anyway, it struck me that this was a reminder that sometimes getting bogged down in the details stops us from just getting on with the overall project – it really interrupts our flow. Kind of like when you are learning a new song on whatever instrument you play, and you can either focus on each note until it’s perfect, or work you way through the piece and perfect sections as you progress. One way is probably more correct, but the other is more fun and likely more insightful of the ‘other’ things you discover along the way.

I wondered if this approach would (could?) apply to my professional world.

Academia runs on perfection and there’s always pressure on us to do the best work we possibly can. This is not necessarily a bad thing, given the significance of the work that we do and the broader impact it might have. The outcome should be the best it can, while also done as a digestible effort for a wide audience. But if we perfect each increment of every step along the way, I wonder what opportunities we may miss. Would there be new discoveries that we miss by chance, or perhaps through serendipity?

I think this is definitely the case with research grant funding.

I was recently, along with two of my colleagues Dr Justine Humphry and Dr Olga Boichak, awarded a reasonably large research grant (around $250,000) from the eSafety Commission – a tier 2 grant category as we say in the biz. This is genuinely an amazing achievement and we are incredibly happy to be one of the funded projects looking at the emerging safety issues on social media for young audiences. You can read more about the grant and project here, and about the funding scheme and other funded projects here.

This project will take us through until mid 2023, with an official kick off in January next year.

I’m now well within my mid-career researcher (MCR) phase, which means I have progressed from the early career researcher (ECR) era – ECR is often judged as beyond five to seven years after completing one’s phd thesis (I submitted mine in 2013). During this time, you usually receive strong mentorship with senior colleagues for positioning your career, focussing your research and its outputs, teaching (if that’s your stream), and grant writing. I’ve had a reasonably strong track record with grant funding for research both through schemes internally at USyd and externally at the Australian Research Council and others.

The eSafety Commission grants were officially announced yesterday, with much media coverage, to which were part of a well-deserved celebration of our successes. We had web pages launched, media releases, tweets constructed and people sending congratulations and best wishes all day and night. It was lovely.

It did make me pause and think about the development of this research project up until this point. We had two failed attempts at various grants (Facebook and ACCAN) before securing this funding go-ahead. Also there would have been so many other great ideas from other research teams that didn’t make the cut for this funding scheme – I have certainly been in that category several times over. Such much effort and time invested in developing a research project and funding application, only to have it declined.

In academia especially, we always talk about our successes as this is our currency that opens the door for the next opportunity – it is our track record. But we never talk about our failings, and this is where the real learning is located. On this most recent successfully funded project, we learnt the following from our previous failed attempts at funding:

  • Boring things like how to follow procedures to submit through administration systems (which are actually really important);
  • That there are amazing industry partners in this space, and who we now work with like Youth Action NSW and Student Edge;
  • That our project has two prongs: one in digital disengagement, the other in safety for young people online;
  • That we have some amazing emerging scholars around us (looking at you Mahli-Ann);
  • That we have excellent knowledge in our local CALD communities; and
  • There is a huge gap in our knowledge around these important areas.

So yeah, we failed. But then we succeeded spectacularly. So I think that’s OK, we’re learning.

Public media and automation

I’m super happy to announce a book chapter, co-authored with my colleague Jannick Sørensen, in The Values of Public Service Media in the Internet Society. Our chapter is titled Can Automated Strategies Work for PSM in a Network Society? Engaging Digital Intermediation for Informed Citizenry.

2020 was a tough year for everyone, all round. It was also tough in the research output space as reviews slowed, research focus was redirected, conferences stopped, and the overall productivity of our research space grinded to a turtle pace – at times driven by an increased demand on our skills in the teaching space.

What I think we will see is a slowing of research output in the next few years as we all took a hit in research access, fieldwork and overall ability to keep researching during 2020. But it is nice to see colleagues still publishing for the moment and getting back on track in 2021.

One of those outputs for 2021 is our co-authored chapter that explores the role automation plays in public service media. To approach this we have used the lens of digital intermediation to understand how user visibility plays into the overall strategies of increasing uses of automation within public service media.

As always, please get in touch if you have issues with access to the book chapter.

**This article first appeared in The Conversation, May 28 2020**

The constraints of coronavirus isolation have closed down most recreational activities, but some creative industries are responding in innovative ways.

I have been researching “digital first personalities” – content producers who build massive (or highly engaged) audiences online first and then often make the jump to traditional media.

Online spaces and social media platforms including Twitch, Patreon, Streamlabs, OnlyFans, and SubStack are becoming more familiar to consumers. This new frontier of the creative industries has writers, comedians, gamers, musicians and even porn producers adopting new ways to make a buck online that could prove viable beyond lockdown.

Plamping the DJ

Zoom and TikTok have emerged as the go-to social platforms during isolation. Families share meals together online, colleagues enjoy drinks remotely after work, families perform micro-dance challenges together, and trivia has found a new audience.

DJs and their record labels) are providing an innovative model and keeping the good-time vibes rolling during isolation.

The recent phenomenon of “plamping” (a portmanteau of plant and lamp to describe the DJ’s classic background mise en scène) has emerged as a meme. When people are “plamped” they are ready to socially engage with others by tuning in to a live DJ set on Twitch TV and interacting with others in a “hosted” Zoom room.

This is the online equivalent of paying your entry fee to the club and hanging out with your mates. Once there, DJs and their labels encourage participants to donate to support the creators.

As users engage with each other via the chat functionality on the Twitch channel’s stream, they build relationships. Twitch has its own communication style – from platform-specific emojis to catch-cries. As the party kicks into gear, someone will likely ask: “Still plamped?”

New York club Nowadays is hosting virtual DJ sets and asking for financial contributions via Patreon. The highest level of support includes entry to a post-pandemic party.

DJ Khaled and Katy Perry are among high profile artists who will perform live concerts via BeApp, though the platform (sponsored by Coca Cola) will raise funds for International Red Cross.

Embedded video
Plamping hard at Virtual Neon Oasis Fest! ??The full set is up on SoundCloud now – check it out! http://Bit.ly/2TxpqHZ  #plamp

Front Runner Platforms

Twitch has exploded as the go-to streaming platform during coronavirus times. Italy’s Twitch gaming traffic alone increased by 70%. There are now 5 million monthly streamers on site, up almost 40% on last year.

What is new, however, is the evolution of Twitch (owned by Amazon) for other entertainment areas, including fundraising, house parties, and of course, plamping. It is estimated Twitch’s turnover was approximately US$1.54 billion in 2019 (A$2.32 billion), with creator revenue around US$600 million (A$900 million) per year.

Beyond Twitch, there are a number of other monetised streaming apps and platforms, established to enable creators to earn money while they “perform” their craft.

Patreon, Streamlabs, OnlyFans, and SubStack all have business models in place that enable creators to choose a plan and partner with the streaming app.

Started in 2013, Patreon now claims to be home to over 150,000 creators supported by more than 4 million patrons. A Patreon creator will select either a 5, 8, or 12% membership plan, with each level offering increased member benefits. As the artist earns more money, so does the streaming app.

OnlyFans – where users sell nude pics and videos – has reportedly been booming since lockdown, with a 75% increase in monthly sign-ups and gaining 150,000 new users every 24 hours.

Lee Reynolds digitally busking during his DJ set. Twitch TV

Can you make a living?

It is estimated Patreon paid its members approximately US$1 billion (A$1.5 billion) up to and including 2019. And with the isolation period in the first three months of 2020, Streamlabs says its active user base has increased by over 30%.

Online gamer Ninja earned US$17 million (A$25 million) in 2019 alone according to Forbes. Social media influencer Caroline Calloway (famous for securing book deals and then not delivering on them) has bragged about a projected US$223,800 (A$337,000) salary from OnlyFans pics, while porn creator Monica Hudt claims she earned over $100,000 on OnlyFans in 2019.

But are these figures representative of online streamers more broadly?

As with all start-up platforms, there are varying degrees of success with typically only a few rising as top earners above the majority of creators. Most streaming creators generally offer branded merchandise alongside their stream to support their income. In the plamping space, DJs are digitally busking by asking punters to leave tips or contribute to their rent.

OnlyFans has been criticised for recent changes to referral bonuses that will cut into earnings.

After lockdown

Some believe creative industries and major events will change forever after COVID-19. If that’s the case, new economic models are required for those who work in this space.

Digital first personalities who integrate streaming apps are leading the way, but it remains to be seen whether they can sustain themselves this way. As with all disruptive technologies, they explode when they emerge, then settle in the larger media framework.

Still with the increased exposure to live streaming during COVID-19, it is likely we will see more integration of online activity even when live events return. And that is a space where more attention is required to ensure those who work in the industry are supported.

plamping

Social media preferences are shifting during COVID-19 restrictions. While many of us have been house bound during the recent COVID-19 isolation period, many social media users have been finding innovative ways to socialise online, akin to how we would in non-restrictive times. But how are social media logics playing out during this time?

New forms of connecting during COVID-19

There is no doubt, Zoom, TikTok and others have taken over as the go-to social platforms during these times. Families are sharing meals together via video conferencing, colleagues enjoy drinks after work on Friday evening, families are doing micro-dance challenges together, we’re notified when our friends fire up their ‘Houseparty’ app, and trivia games have found a new niche interest.

The recent phenomenon of ‘plamping’, however, has emerged as the one fringe-styled socialisation technique that is rapidly evolving to the mainstream. When one is ‘plamped’ they are ready to socially engage with others usually through a combination of social media platforms, focussed around live DJ sets – usually the combination of Twitch and Zoom.

The fast-tracking of reliance on these few platforms has resulted in a digital intermediation issue: who owns the ‘plamping’ platforms, and are users able to socialise while multi-platforming? [Side note dear reader, you must read the work of Kristian Møller and how chemsex is changing during isolation].

How does ‘Plamping’ work?

Plamp is a portmanteau of the words ‘plant’ and ‘lamp’ which first appeared on the Twitch Live streaming platform on the first weekend of quarantine 2020 to describe the live DJ set of Dark Deep and Dangerous. He had a plant and a lamp in his frame, which is now replicated as a typical ‘prop’ within the scene.

The term also refers to the act of tuning in to a live DJ set on Twitch TV and interacting with other participants in a hosted Zoom room – the preferred platform combination for many users.

As users engage with each other via the commenting and liking functionality on the Twitch channel’s stream, users begin to build relationships with each other. Twitch has its own style of communication, for example through the use of platform specific emojis such as WutFace, HotPokket and a host of unlockable channel specific communications. As the party starts to kick into gear, someone is likely to ask: ‘still plamped? [insert Zoom Meeting ID] [Insert Zoom Meeting Password].

Following that link can take one to all sorts of places.

A screenshot of a cell phone

Description automatically generated
Screencap of a random Twitch chat to demonstrate the variety of emoji and language norms

The Twitch/Zoom combo has become a standard for many users wanting to enjoy their Friday and Saturday nights at home, with many users setting up their houses to mimic ‘the club’ with appropriate lighting and props.

But why are users flocking to this combo of platforms over, say YouTube or the Houseparty app?

Amazon dominating the live-stream market

There is no doubt that Twitch has exploded as the go-to platform during Coronavirus times. This has been expected in the gaming industry. Italy’s Twitch traffic alone has increased by 70% in gaming traffic alone.

A close up of a map

Description automatically generated

Source: TwitchTracker

What is emerging is the adaptation of this gaming network for other entertainment areas, including fund raising, house parties, and of course, plamping.

And Jeff Bazos is rubbing his hands together.

Twitch is owned by Twitch Interactive, a subsidiary of Amazon. Initially propped up by venture capital of around US$15 million, it was acquired in 2014 by Amazon for US$970 million. Recently, Twitch has introduced Amazon Prime, further monetizing the platform for creators who can now offer in-stream links for events underway.

It is estimated Twitch’s turnover is approximately US$1.54 billion, with creator revenue around US$600 million per year. It is estimated that Ninja, the top Twitch streamer, earns around US$500,000 million per month. 

A close up of a map

Description automatically generated

Source: NewZoo

Zoom, however, is owned by Zoom Video Communications, who’s founder, creator and CEO has earned nearly, Eric Yuan, US$4 billion dollars as a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic. The platform’s usage statistics have gone from ~10million daily meeting participants in December 2019, to 300 million+ in April 2020 (Iqbal, 2020).

Twitch and Zoom combined have skewed the social media space away from the usual suspects (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube) for highly engaged social media users.

Is this the end of YouTube?

It is difficult to see the sunset for YouTube (if ever), but the platform has certainly taken a significant hit as these two new platforms become the go to for users during the COVID-19 moment. YouTube are increasingly working on their ‘Live’ offering but are not having that much of an impact on Twitch as the Western streaming giant in this space.

Skype (Microsoft) must be scratching its head, wondering what happened (although Microsoft has proven its resilience time and time again).

This moment does bring into question, how much market share is there for multiple platforms? And indeed, as big tech companies are in the mergers and acquisition game to prevent market competitors, can social media users navigate (engage) more than a handful of platforms (beyond Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.)? Or is this a typical media technology media that sees other technologies shift and change to accommodate new innovative practices?

So next weekend when Friday night hits and DJs start entertaining their audiences around the world, will people be plamping on YouTube and Skype? Probably not. But will they integrate their old favourites in new ways? That remains to be seen. In any case, I have found an amazing new field to explore an emerging area for social media logics.

Nats What I Reckon

For many of us who have been impacted by the stay-at-home isolation conditions during this global pandemic, we have turned to new forms of social media entertainment for comfort.

However, for prime-time celebrities who rely heavily on their production teams to create world-class media experiences, the transition has not been so seamless. Instead, what we have seen is the rise of those online content producers who are native to social media platforms amass new audiences of interest.

I have been researching digital first personalities around the globe to understand how single person media productions have become the go-to media source for many individuals, especially in times of isolation.

Celebrities as YouTubers? ‘That’s Chat’

On 30 March 2020, YouTubers Colin and Samir published a video ‘Is this the end of Late Night?’. On the surface this video seemed to make light of the careers of late-night hosts such as Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert. In reality, these LA based YouTube creators provide a stunning commentary on the vast difference of skill and expertise levels between native YouTubers and traditional prime time celebrities.

This difference becomes bleedingly obvious when a number of these traditional celebrities were forced to take their productions out of their ‘bright-light’ studios in New York and Los Angeles, and retreat to their private family homes.

While the hosts incorporated the inadequacies of their production design into their nightly comedy routine, for example Seth Meyers making jokes about his attic door which has become something of a regular ‘guest’, the deficiencies in production qualities began to show. Some channels went into hiatus for several days at time, interviews were plagued by poor quality internet connections, lighting was experimental and the technical issues often became obvious for the audiences of these loved programs.

This is not the case for YouTubers who continue to produce high-quality content.

Colin and Samir observe that YouTubers are equipped to not only create entertaining content, but also have the technical skills to write, shoot, edit, publish and distribute at a level far beyond our well-known traditional media celebrities.

‘Good Onya Champ’ – The rise of digital first personalities

I have written about this phenomenon as digital first personalities. Digital first personalities are individuals who produce digital content for maximum visibility by engaging social influencer publication strategies that appease platform algorithms. In other words, they are experts in ensuring their content is seen by large audiences across social media platforms by utilising their entertaining and technical production skills.

Nat’s What I Reckon is one example of online content producers that are rising in popularity on social media, based on their past abilities of interacting with their audiences. As a YouTuber and Instagrammer based in Sydney, he has recently amassed a large audience through his welcomed, no-frills isolation cooking segments. Nat has been posting videos on YouTube for several years, examining the Summer Nationals in Canberra, why cruise ships ‘are weird’, chilli eating competitions, and aliens in Roswell, USA. These videos had a steady audience of just under 10,000 views on average, but as the media hungry, COVID-19 isolated audience grew, Nat’s What I Reckon channel has grown into an almost overnight success story.

As a digital first personality, Nat has spent years not only developing his unique entertaining style, but has also sharpened his interview technique, camera skills, and audio production. Additionally, this digital first personality has honed his public relations skills by strengthening his audience across Instagram and distributing his work across several other social media platforms.

I also wanted to make special mention of Laura Clery, who even makes me laugh as I write her name here – a strong example of a digital first personality, although she does some fame from her previous YouTube life.

The End of the Late Show?

Probably not. But what we are witnessing here is a shift of audience attention away from the large-scale traditional media formats and a continued growth across social media platforms as isolated audiences change their viewing habits indefinitely.

This is a unique moment for online content producers who demonstrate key digital first personality skills. Using TikTok, the demand for content is much higher than what is produced, making this a space ideal for emerging digital first personalities to build their audiences and move from influencers towards native online content celebrities.

Original Image by Newcastle Live!

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
Danke für die lustigen Zeiten, meine neuen Freunde!

You may notice I call it a sabbatical, even though technically it is called Special Studies Program (SSP) here at the University of Sydney. But, so a broader audience gets what’s going on here, let’s go with sabbatical for now…

Good times…

During my sabbatical, which I undertook during December 2018 to July 2019, I was embedded as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Hans Bredow Institute (now called the Leibnitz Institute for Media Research) in Hamburg Germany. I was working on the Algorithmed Public Sphere project alongside my two amazing colleagues Dr Cornelius Puschmann and Dr Felix Münch.

It was also a unique opportunity to meet a diverse group of like-minded researchers from around the world as we all converged on Hamburg to get going with some ground-breaking research. The powerhouse of researchers include Arjen van Dalen (Denmark), Christiano Ferri (Brazil), and Maris Männiste (Estonia).

The Algorithmed Public Sphere Fellows, 2019, L to R: Christiano Ferri, Jonathon Hutchinson, Cornelius Puschmann, Felix Münch, Maris Männiste (Arjen was missing that day).

Beyond having an amazing experience with these folk and learning about the bizarre similarities and differences of our countries, we shared insights into our research on automation, algorithms, media policy, and social cohesion. We also moved forward with some innovative digital methods, and have hatched a number of new research projects, including Bot visibility and authenticity: Automated social media conversation detection:

Bots are increasingly simple to produce and used as key communication protocols for individuals and institutions across social media platforms as one form of automated media production. Simultaneously, however, bot use is emerging as a relationship creator (Ford & Hutchinson, 2019) between consumers across platforms, skewing content visibility. Recent work by Münch et al. (forthcoming) identify bots within the German Twittersphere, resulting in a high probability of bots within Marketing and public relations (PR) conversations. Conversely, there is a low probability of bots communicating within the YouTuber Creator conversations across the same Twittersphere. This observation supports the argument that YouTubers may have a better strategy at visibility than bots, yet their content production is determined by their cultural, economic and political backgrounds. This project seeks to test bot-detection methods, for example the Botometer. It will design a ‘human’ baseline for bot detection within the German and Australian Twittersphere that can be compared against the automated bot-detection processes currently utilised. It will produce a bot-detection classifier that will be able to categorise accounts across a scale of malign, benign, or not likely automated.

Keynotes and Public Lectures

I also spent a small amount of time travelling to other European Universities to strengthen networks and develop future research projects. I was invited to deliver a Keynote Lecture to the Baltic Film, Media, Arts and Communication Institute of Tallin University in Estonia. My exceptional host was Dr Katrin Tiidenberg, who made me feel very much at home, but also exposed me to the life in the few countries within post-Soviet Union (like, I saw a real KGB interrogation room!!). Thanks to everyone who came along and asked engaging questions to help me continue to think through my new research area.

The view of Old Town in Estonia.

I also had the pleasure of visiting a number of other universities, to catch up with friends, colleagues and hatch new ideas and projects, including:

  • The University of Amsterdam, Netherlands;
  • London School of Economics, United Kingdom;
  • City University, London, United Kingdom;
  • Alexander von Humboldt Institute, Berlin, Germany.

The result:

  • Hutchinson J. (2019). Towards transparent public automated media: Digital intermediation. Keynote Lecture. University of Tallin, Estonia. 16 May.
  • Hutchinson J. (2019). Towards transparent public automated media: Digital intermediation. Keynote Lecture. Leibnitz Institute for Media and Communication, Hamburg, Germany. 15 May.

Methodology Masterclass

While I was in Tallin, I also delivered a masterclass on Data Ethnography with a group a diverse folk from Lecturers across the Arts, through to Masters Students from Information Technology. While the participants genuinely enjoyed the class, I think I always take more from this workshop as I keep developing the method. Thanks everyone for coming along the ride with me:

  • Hutchinson J. (2019). Data ethnography: How do we research what we can’t see? Postgraduate Masterclass. University of Tallin, Estonia. 17 May

Publications

I mean, this is what it all comes down to, right? Of which I am most delighted to have some time to finish those articles that were stuck on my hard drive, complete some new pieces, and then start work on the next few areas.

My time away during my SSP was spent for the most part writing and researching on my new emerging area of research, digital intermediation which I argue highlights the new media ecology that incorporates the agency of digital agencies, automation and algorithms.

I bought some books, they were heavy to carry home.

I was also able to have three articles published as a precursor to this work, and commenced work on new research and writing in this space. As I return to work, I have two articles under review and one book proposal in with the editors of Media Series for MIT Press.

Published Journal Articles:

  • Hutchinson J. (2019). Micro-platformization for digital activism on social media. Information, Communication & Society. DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2019.1629612
  • Ford H & Hutchinson J. (2019). Newsbots That Mediate Journalist and Audience Relationships. Digital Journalism. DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2019.1626752
  • Hutchinson J. (2019). Digital first personality: Automation and influence within evolving media ecologies. Convergence. DOI: 10.1177/1354856519858921

Journal Articles Under Review:

  • Hutchinson J. (2019). Data ethnography for digital intermediation: How do we research what we can’t see? Big Data & Society.
  • Hutchinson J. (2019). Theorizing digital intermediation: Automating our media. Media, Culture & Society.

Book (almost with commissioning editors):

  • Hutchinson J. Revealing digital intermediation: Towards transparent infrastructure. Distribution Matters book series, MIT Press.

Grants

I was also awarded a few smaller grants to assist in developing my research towards an external grant application. At this stage, I have focussed on an ARC Discovery Grant to be submitted in March 2020 for funding in 2021. I am also looking at other funding opportunities such as the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) Grants Program for funding in July 2020.

SLAM Research Support Scheme: $2966.44.

This grant is being used for the research project Bot visibility and authenticity: Automated social media conversation detection, which is underway with colleagues from the Leibnitz Institute for Media and Communication, Hamburg. This project seeks to understand the reliability of the Botometer project in comparison with the bot detection methods we have already developed, to understand how perceived real communication occurs around events within the Australian and German Twitterspheres. The immediate output is a paper for the 2020 ICA Conference, with a view to continue working on this project in the near several years.

Faculty Research Support Scheme: $5000.00

This grant is being used to bring several colleagues together on a project with a view to advance the research project to a competitive ARC Discovery Grant application. The project’s title is Promoting digital equality through better platform algorithmic policy, and brings expertise from Political Science, Computational Science, Design and Media Studies. While in Europe, I have received support for the project from Dr Jan Schmidt at the Leibnitz Institute for Media and Communication, Hamburg, and Associate Professor Thomas Poell from the University of Amsterdam – both leading academics in this field who are interested in becoming international advisors in the project.

Current Thinking…

I continue working on my book, which will create the field of digital intermediation. I describe the book in the following way:

Our media consumption is increasingly curated and designed by digital infrastructures that are informed by economic and infrastructural environments that determine the creation of content and how that content is distributed. Often, this is represented through algorithmically calculated decisions: recommendation systems on media applications and platforms. While this can be seen as a useful mechanism to sort, curate and present a digestible media diet within a saturated media market, automation is also an unseen digital infrastructure that contributes to the decrease in diversification of our exposure to information. Social media platforms increasingly promote what they see to be important content, which is often aligned with their commercial interests. Smart TVs are purchased with a bundle of pre-installed applications that are often unable to be uninstalled. Connected devices and interoperable systems are developed on information efficiency calculations with little concern for user and information equality. It is the commercial operators such as Netflix, Prime, YouTube and Apple who are succeeding in the content exposure battle, crowding out other key content creators, media organisations and cultural institutions. This is a digital distribution problem: the mismanagement of automated infrastructures.

This book constructs a theoretical model of digital intermediation within increasingly automated media systems. Digital intermediation can be applied to the process of digital media communication across the majority of social media platforms, which now drive the news and media cycle, highlighting the agency of users that becomes restricted and refined by the digital intermediaries that create, publish and distribute content. Through digital intermediation, it is also possible to understand the strategies of its most successful social media users, the platforms that privilege this content production process, and explain how some media is more visible than others. The book answers this question: How is media content produced nowadays, in what context(s), and within which structural pressures? Digital intermediation is a content production process that incorporates the culture and political economy that surrounds the technologies, online content producers, digital agencies and automation. The book describes these four unseen infrastructures of digital intermediation in detail by highlighting the production and distribution of content within our contemporary media ecology. The book then moves on to describe the cultural dimensions that surround how particular types of content is created as a means to represent our current societal understandings. The use of political economy is incorporated to then frame the regulation and economical practices that surround the production and consumption of content that is produced and distributed across digital spaces through the digital intermediation process. Finally, the book provides a series of recommendations that includes improved interface design that incorporates the dimensions of digital intermediation for content production and distribution to encourage the education and involvement of user agency within these media ecologies.

I’m super focussed, enjoying teaching again, and ready to develop my skills in the research service roles (HDR Coordinator). I am also managing the three International Executive Roles and learning so much from being on these Boards. Until the next three years!

Danke für die lustigen Zeiten, meine neuen Freunde!

That day I cooked for the Institute, with Philip, and it rocked!
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.