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…
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).
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.
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.
- 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.
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
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 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.
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.
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!