Yesterday, I attended the Sydney Vietnam Innovation Symposium both as a delegate and as an invited speaker. The event is a major milestone in the development in the work so far from our Sydney Vietnam Academic Network, which now has incredible support from the University of Sydney, the NSW Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and Austrade among many others. A big congratulations to Professor Greg Fox and Associate Professor Jane Gavan for their tireless work in this space, and for such a successful symposium.

It seems the ‘physical’ Network will be realised sooner rather than later.

There were a a great number of addresses, roundtables and research presentations during the day which provided such a solid foundation for the next five to ten years of work in the country (apparently it takes 20 to 30 years to do research in Vietnam, as one of the presenters noted!).


Dignitaries of the morning included:

  • Professor Mark Scott, Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Sydney
  • Honourable Minister Mr Bri Anoulack Chanthivong, NSW Minister for Innovation, Science and Technology & Minister for Trade
  • Honourable Bui Thanh Son, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Socialist Party, Vietnam

Some of the crucial take aways included the fact that Vietnam is number 13 in the top 20 countries Australia has included in the Australian Innovation Strategy, its GDP was $6billion in 2022, NSW is committed to working with the country, it is a model of how countries can bring their people out of poverty through economic transformation, there is a strong focus on its tech precinct and ‘night time’ economies.

The event was also a celebration of 50 years of collaborative science and technology research between Australia and Vietnam.


One of the huge research potentials is the Aus4Innovation hosted by CSIRO. The Aus4Innovation scheme is:

Aus4Innovation is an AUD$33.5 million development assistance program that aims to strengthen Vietnam’s innovation system, prepare for and embrace opportunities associated with Industry 4.0, and help shape Vietnam’s innovation agenda in science and technology. Through the Aus4Innovation program, Australia and Vietnam will work together to explore emerging areas of technology and digital transformation, trial new models for partnerships between public and private sector institutions, and strengthen Vietnamese capability in digital foresight, scenario planning, commercialisation, and innovation policy.

It’s great for agriculture just now, but they do rotate the focus – keen to keep an eye on this scheme for when its digital comms time.

Layton Pike (RMIT) spoke about the pioneering work that had been done by RMIT in Vietnam and that approaching the country as a consortium of universities is better than vying for leadership. There are 100million people with about 22 million students – one university can’t service all of those students. He also made me aware of the Australian Vietnam Policy Institute (AVPI) which is a useful clearing house of research and public poloicy. Excellent resource.

I also met Ngheim Long, the President of the Vietnamese Australian Scholars & Experts Association (VASEA). They are a reasonably new organisation, but seem to be an emerging peak body for Vietnamese scholars.

And while I missed this year’s round, the New Colombo Plan PhD Scholarship scheme will be front and centre for 2025 research. Engaging a cross-country PhD seems like the obvious way to build research momentum now.


One thing that blew my mind came from the Medicine Faculty, specifically a cancer researcher. Professor Robyn Ward is my new favourite human in the world. Beyond just a stellar career of health research, she and her team have been tasked with addressing a Research Impact Assessment Framework. It feels like there is qualitative research trickling into the Sciences here? Anyway, it was a revelation to think about these things from a Medicine perspective, such as multiple stakeholder perspectives on impact (for me I read that as cultural value). So establishing a framework that is designed by the stakeholders on what they think is important – in this case knowing something works, culture, partnerships, sustainability, engagement, etc. etc. This can then result in a ‘score card’ to measure research engagement based on the importance to a variety of stakeholders. WHAT IF I DID THIS FOR CULTURE? Theme 1 of my Future Fellowship just became so much more interesting now… A Cultural Impact Assessment Framework.

Also, I spoke. It was a kind of tough crowd as the majority of delegates were Health Science, Medicine and Science scholars (we are only three from FASS – Museum Studies, Economics and Media Comms)

Recently, I was invite to deliver a keynote for a joint session with the News and Media Research Center and the Centre for Deliberative Democracy to explore the ideas and concepts of digital intermediation.

The blurb:

How might generative artificial intelligence (AI) and automation be undertaken to produce social good? In an increasingly automated digital media world, user agency is challenged through the loss of interaction functionality on the platforms, technologies and interfaces of everyday digital media use. Instead, algorithmically designed decision making processes function for users to assist them in making sense of these environments as a means of assisting them to seek out content that is relevant, of interest and entertaining. However, if the last five years are anything to go by, these sorts of recommendations, particularly across social media, have caused anything but social cohesion and unity amongst users, and have instead spread misinformation, vitriol and hurtful media. Would our society be different had we designed systems that focused on, while still entertaining, content that places the wellbeing of humans at the forefront over content that is, for the most part, popular?

This presentation uses the lens of digital intermediation to explore how civic algorithms might be designed and implemented in digital spaces to improve social cohesion. By unpacking the technologies, institutions and automation surrounding the cultural production practices of digital intermediation, it becomes clearer how these leavers can be adjusted to nudge and encourage platforms, users and content creators to engage in improved civic processes. As a digital intermediation challenge, creating and working with civic algorithms presents as a potentially useful approach towards improving the cornerstone of our democracies by ensuring citizens have access to accurate information, are engaging in the discussions that are important and relevant to them, and are operating within digital environments that value social good alongside commercial gains.

And here’s the recording of the session, slides included:

Floating in water

It’s been a while since I’ve published anything here. Hi, and welcome back!

In my academic career, much has been happening which may explain my silence. I’ve been super busy with research while also undertaking some of the most important leadership roles of my professional career. Right now, I hold the three executive roles of Editor-in-Chief of the Policy & Internet Journal, President of the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA), and the Chair of Discipline, Media and Communication at the University of Sydney.

In this post, I’m going to focus on the latter leadership role (Chair of Discipline) and describe how my first six months in the role has gone.

Where I’m at right now

8ish years ago, as a young Level B scholar and just after my own PhD journey, I sat with my Chair of Department and my Head of School to talk about my career goals as an academic. Today, as Chair of Discipline, I sat with my Head of School and one of our newest Level B colleagues and spoke about their goals for their academic career. I walked out chuffed with my progression in this life path, but also thankful for those in front of me who supported, guided, shielded, prompted, directed, and generally helped along the way.

For me, today was an important reminder of the trail we leave behind us and how working with our next generation is crucial for everyone. It’s only academia, but it’s bigger than that, too.

I also had the opportunity to sit with my Head of School (HoS) today and just get to know each other. It was lovely! It was also an opportunity for us both to share our stories on how we ended up where we are today. While I was fascinated with my HoS ‘s story, and some of the similarities, it was a moment to reflect on how I’ve grown and developed over the last while. I’m happy and focussed for the minute, and have a new found passion in my professional life.

What I’ve learned in the last six months

It’s hard to try to compact what I’ve learned in the last six months into a few lines, but if I can summarise it – the ability to listen a broad range of people, understand individual perspectives, and to then make the best decision on how to proceed.

When I was working in live production, we would rehearse shows and working as a collection of experts in each medium (audio, video, lighting, producing, etc.) we would work through a series of scheduled motions. Most times it was perfect, but there was also unexpected problems that pop up. That pressure and immediacy of making decisions that was informed and directed at success is not unlike the Chair role.

My first six months in the role was learning from my predecessor, while also meeting with everyone around me to understand their needs. There were a few calls I had to make in terms of direction, and most were fine, but it was really about listening.

Now, I move into a more driving mode and need to listen to what is at play from around my own Discipline and think how to position us for the next 12 months. This is tough, but again something that is not done in solo mode but with the input of everyone around me. It’s exciting, and a bit terrifying at the same time.

Where to from here?

So. I have some new skills and am keen to keep developing these. But as I look towards my next step post these leadership roles, I’m also focussed on succession planning. I’m beginning to think about who will be in the chair next and what they need to be ready to take over.

Just as those who paved the way for me, it’s my responsibility to provide the opportunity to the next gen.

Providing opportunities is probably the most important thing I’ve learned in this gig.

Photo by Evie S. on Unsplash

Recently, I presented some emerging research on newsbots, that builds on the work Heather Ford and I did in 2018.

As part of this developing research, I examined 16 newsbots to understand to what level the automation is, what are the issues at play, and how the news is integrated ‘automatically’. The outcomes are still emerging, but there are some interesting preliminary findings to go through from the first parse.

It was excellent to be given a stage at the 2023 ADM+S Symposium to present these preliminary findings, while also talking with some of the leading industry and academic people in this space.

Below is a recording of that session. Please enjoy the session:

It is with great pleasure I can share the publication of my new book, Digital Intermediation: Unseen Infrastructure for Cultural Production.

This book offers a new framework for understanding content creation and distribution across automated media platforms – a new mediatisation process. The book draws on three years of empirical and theoretical research to carefully identify and describe a number of unseen digital infrastructures that contribute to predictive media (algorithmic platforms) within the media production process: digital intermediation. The empirical field data is drawn from several international sites, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, London, Amsterdam, Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Sydney and Cartagena. By highlighting the automated content production and distribution process, the book responds to a number of regulatory debates emerging around the societal impact of platformisation. Digital Intermediation: Towards transparent digital infrastructure describes and highlights the importance of key developments that help shape the production and distribution of content, including micro-platformization and digital first personalities. The book explains how digital agencies and multichannel networks use platforms strategically to increase exposure for the talent they manage, while providing inside access to the processes and requirements of developers who create algorithms for platforms. The findings in this book provide key recommendations for policy makers working within digital media platforms based on the everyday operation of content production and consumption within automated media environments. Finally, this book highlights user agency as a strategy for consumers who seek information on automated social media content distribution platforms.

As with all new publications, Routledge have provided a 20% discount for all purchases – please use code AFL03.

Also, a series of book launches are underway from August through to October in Australia, so looking forward to seeing those who can travel to the following locations:

  • 9 August – News and Media Research Centre, University of Canberra
  • 20 September – Digital Media and Research Centre, Queensland University of Technology
  • 27 September – AI Governance and Trust in Digital Societies, University of Sydney
  • 19 October – RMIT University
Womens College

We have just completed the 2022 Policy & Internet Conference, which we held at the University of Sydney at the picturesque Women’s College.

This is the first time the conference has been held outside of the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) and was an opportunity to bring scholars and policy advocates together to discuss the current state of affairs for internet and policy now. It was also a chance to focus the direction of the journal for the next 12 months and direct the scholarship, too.

Day One

Day one was opened by our own Professor John Hartley who laid out a clear argument for why global internet policy is not a thing and that we should be looking towards younger, local audiences to see better forms of regulation. It was wonderful to have such a provocation that went through the remainder of the conference and was a welcomed touch point to refer to with each of the following sessions.

We then heard from Matthew Nguyen, Damar Juniarto and Jay Daniel Thompson to explain some of the critical concerns of internet policy from their respective regions. The key issues emerging were the increasing takedown/censorship issues from Southeast Asian country governments that work with big tech platform providers, alongside the lack of co-design and consultation for regulatory design.

Our second keynote speaker was Associate Professor Crystal Abidin who took us through her three years of DECRA research data that has explored the Southeast Asian region specifically looking at the social media influencers cultures. Through this talk, it became obvious there is a lack of regulatory oversight for the influencer industry from young people, agencies and general practices for most stakeholders in the field.

This observation was cemented with the final panel for the day that was a result of the special issue (15, 4) from Policy & Internet that specifically looked at the influencers in the Asia Pacific Region. We heard from four of the authors who presented work on YouTubers, livestreamers and TikTokers.

Day Two

Day two was opened by Associate Professor Tanya Lokot who expertly explained how the Ukraine environment is under a networked authoritarian regime. One of the most inspiring take-aways from Tanya’s presentation was how new forms of resilience were emerging, including through collaborative measures with satellite providers (yes, Elon Musk) and through state initiatives that have been established to improve and secure user data.

Following Associate Professor Lokot was the first panel of the day which was chaired by Professor Terry Flew and included Dr Joanne Gray, Associate Professor Diana Bossio, Professor Kim Weatherall and Professor Julian Thomas. It was excellent to hear these well versed, experienced and critical scholars outline the issues with platform governance and regulation right now. The two takeaways for me were the lack of coordination for everyone who is doing work on regulation for platforms at the moment (many individuals are overworked) , and the need for policymakers to be up-skilled on contemporary practices.

Panel three was chaired by Professor Gerard Goggin and featured the work of Associate Professor Paul Harpur and Dr Natasha Layton. The focus was disability and internet policy and it seems we can learn much from your the histories in this space in terms of accessibility (or lack of) and assistive technologies. The cross over between infrastructures, technologies, governance and regulation seems full of insights for policymakers and advocates.

And finally, we heard from Professor Rohan Samarajiva, who expertly laid out the issues for internet policy in the Sri Lankan case. Through his years of experience of working both as an academic and advocate, it was obvious the lack of consultation has resulted in inappropriate and non-useful policy outcomes.

Special Issue – Policy & Internet 15(2)

There is no doubt there is a clear thread for the next moment of internet policy, and as a result we have designed the call for papers for the next special issue (15, 2) for Policy & Internet. Overall, the conference was a success and while we learnt a great deal to put hybrid conferences on in this era, we are looking forward to the 2023 iteration.

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

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


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.


This article first appeared as the Editorial for Volume 13, Issue 4 of Policy & Internet Journal and is co-authored with Milica Stilinovic. I am sharing this pre-print here as a resource for others who may not have access to the copyedited and typeset version.


As our societies approach and engage with a number of policy moments, we are presented with opportunities to develop the discourse surrounding a sustained vitality of the worlds in which we live. One way of undertaking this is through extensive consultation with those of whom the discussions impact the most. Often this includes industry and government stakeholders, but more importantly is the process of including the voices of the groups and individuals who will be left to function within and around these policy interventions. This article highlights several moments there has been a successful consultation process within policy and internet arenas, and also highlights some key examples of when user consultation failed or was marginalised, resulting in less than acceptable outcomes. Further to this, policy intervention is a unique opportunity for scholarly research to demonstrate some of its best impact: its inclusion of intensive and often publicly funded research within the societies it examines. The contemporary take on the inclusion of user perspectives and scholarly research provides the backdrop for the seven articles of this issue that in many ways integrate this approach and highlight the importance of all voices within the policy development for the internet and its surrounding technological and cultural spaces.


policy; user-centred design; platforms; communication; scholarly research


As our world leaders gathered in Glasgow for the United Nations Climate Change, or COP26 as it has been adopted by the world, our attention has been directed toward the impact of humanity on the enduring existence of our planet. We had not been in this moment since the Paris Agreement of 2015, also known as COP21, where all countries agreed to limit global warming well below 2 degrees, with an aim of 1.5 degrees. The goals of the 2021 gathering are four:

  1. Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
  2. Adapt and protect communities and natural habitats
  3. Mobilise Finance
  4. Work together to deliver the outcomes (ukcop26, 2021)

This list seems a feasible agenda for a gathering of this sort, yet it was not without its own controversies as leaders gathered from most countries to talk through their strategies for the next five years. 

Central to these discussions was the communication of the critical information about climate change. In the lead up to the summit, and in the moment of the Pandemic, we have seen such an increase in misinformation, which has been fuelled too often by disinformation. Entangled in this space are also “propaganda, selective reporting, conspiracy theory, inadvertent misinformation, and deliberate disinformation” (Angus et al. 2021, p. 1), where these scholars argue misinformation is not new in itself but is being amplified by users and algorithmic distribution techniques. It is the information communication input and output moments of COP26 that is crucial for citizens around the world to ensure we are across the current debates, science and outcomes of this critical gathering for climate change.

Yet in all this discussion, there remains one thing that is missing: us. And this is a somewhat common practice at these often-high level policy-generating gatherings between our global leaders, where the focus could be for reasons other than the titles on the banners. Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian makes a wonderful argument for just that: it’s a great idea to get everyone wanting the same thing, but in reality it’s just unworkable. The key point to take away from his discussion is that any significant moment, movement or policymaking gesture should always try to make change withpeople and not just for them. While discussions are underway at the global level for environmental decisions that are, and continue to remain, unfolding at time of writing, the user-focus is something that is still relatively un-inclusive and emblematic of our communication and technology policy dialogue.

In our last Editorial for Issue 13, volume 3, we revisited the Mark Deuze concept of living in the media to make sense of some of the contemporary media and technology policymaking moments currently underway (Stilinovic and Hutchinson, 2021). Yet in the three months since its publication, the adaptation of top-down driven regulatory decisions has appeared across several our favourite and everyday platforms – a return to the enduring issues that plague Tumblr. In 2012, Tumblr changed its content publishing policy to remove all blogs that were related to self-harm, attempting to improve the so-called quality of its published content. This was driven internally, and the decision was made in the interest of ‘all’ users. However, as Tiidenberg, Hendry and Abidin (2021) articulate, this was catastrophic for users who found community and belonging on Tumblr when they had been pushed away from other online spaces. The questions then emerge, where do these users go and what happens when they cannot connect with other users? Could the policy of this one social media platform been derived in a better method to not other, alienate or displace digital users? How might we learn from the outcomes of Tumblr and apply those insights to other aspects of our digital communication environments?

The stretch of platform-oriented regulation

The absence of users, particularly in the online environment, is nothing new and we have seen this occur across a number of settings. To briefly return to Tumblr as one of the most fascinating cases studies in recent times, it’s useful to highlight the spectrum of issues at play when activities come under the policy re-shaping spotlight. Seko and Lewis (2016) made a critical observation of Tumblr and the fringe sorts of online communities that gather in that space, highlighting the importance of community-making though online cultural curation. In describing the unique reblogging affordance of the Tumblr platform, they describe how online community has formed, consolidating what boyd and Marwick (2009) argued as avoiding a fear of being stigmatized online. Seko and Lewis argue “that unique affordances of the Tumblr platform shape distinct ways in which SI (self-harm) is told and shared. These affordances also imply the broader sociocultural context drawn by the particular audiences in making sense of the shared story” (2016, p. 182). The important takeaway from these scholars and others working in this space is the variety of users and how they rely on a broad range of sociocultural affordances in their online selves, communities and existence.

            For Tumblr, they were trying to combat the public view that providing a place for those interested in self-harming would encourage the activity to occur. In fact, as the research indicates, this type of content provides a place for users to gather, provide support, share knowledge and feel included. Instagram has shown a consultative approach towards policy design, but also has significant leaps to make that work for its large user base. In 2019, the platform made a move to restrict content that includes dieting, detoxing, losing weight and cosmetic surgery (iweigh, 2020). What was of note here is the consultative approach they used to include the users themselves, body positivity campaigners (see for example Jameela Jamil), alongside academics researching in this space (see for example Dr Ysabel Gerrard), to produce policy that was inclusive and representative.

While this may seem a positive step forward, it also introduces the broad discussion of content moderation and the role it plays within policymaking, especially for areas such as young social media users and their health. Further to this, content moderation demonstrates the role that those who administer or police these sorts of policies play across social media, but also in other spaces of communication and technology. “Emerging policies will be limited if they do not draw on the kind of expansive understanding of content moderation that scholars can provide” (Gillespie et al. 2020, p. 2). These scholars highlight that what is happening on social media platforms, is reflective of what then happens across other digital spaces – it is a call for academics to take an increasingly important role in policymaking. Yet they further argue academic involvement in policymaking discussions “must be grounded in an understanding of moderation as an expansive socio-technical phenomenon, one that functions in many contexts and takes many forms” (p. 3). Beyond the location of content moderation of social media platforms, the point of socio-technical phenomenon is a grounding standard for all policymaking processes. 

The current focus within the communication and media space is very much on the regulation of platforms as a key issue for a variety of governments, it is important to also be considerate of how this discussion extends beyond platforms alone and towards other aspects of policymaking. In this conversation, it is important to highlight the importance of the user voice and perspective when these debates emerge and indeed when the action of policymaking occurs. Further to this, the inclusion of these voices, such as activists, campaigners, interest groups, lobbyists and academics, the holistic understanding of the social and cultural affordances of these spaces are critical – these are the indicators on how good policy should be designed and implemented. This is where much of our policymaking falls short in the contemporary space. While the policymaking is accommodating for certain sectors of the userbase, it is inherently ignorant of others which often causes sever ruptures of the status-quo – this has consistently been the experience in the Australian context.

The most recent case study to demonstrate this exact argument is in the shift to update the advertisement policy at Facebook. On January 19, 2022, Facebook will remove detailed targeting options “that relate to topics people may perceive as sensitive, such as options referencing causes, organizations, or public figures that relate to health, race or ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, or sexual orientation” (Mudd, 2021, n.p.). Facebook sees this as a positive move forward that will protect individuals from content that is not relative to them. They are attempting to balance a policymaking approach that on the one hand is trying a balanced approach:

“we want to better match people’s evolving expectations of how advertisers may reach them on our platform and address feedback from civil rights experts, policymakers and other stakeholders on the importance of preventing advertisers from abusing the targeting options we make available” (Mudd, 2021, n.p.)

Yet, the outcome is less than desirable for a breadth of Facebook stakeholders. Jordan Taylor (2021) wrote on Twitter that this move not be a good thing: “Public health researchers & communicators, local advocacy groups, and Big Pharma likely use this feature to target ads related to HIV treatment and prevention. Removing this targeting may make reaching marginalized communities more difficult for small advertisers”. This is but one area of a policy change that will impact a significant group of stakeholders on the platform. Kath Albury (2021) continued Taylor’s support against this policy change by highlighting the continued difficulties academics and researchers face when trying to interface with social media platforms: “…these kinds of policies make it very hard to do health promotion – or recruit research participants”. In many cases, these moves are as Jean Burgess (2021) noted, going to cause harm if they are not connected to context and theories of power.

            This is an important backdrop for the setting of this issue of Policy & Internet: the importance of users and their social and technological contexts when policymaking consultation emerges and through its implementation. Good policymaking is done with a sincere and thorough understanding of all those who will be effected by changes, and done with a view to increasing the status quo of the environment. It is also important to continually highlight that while this is happening in the media and communication space, particularly in the social media space, it is representative of how policymaking should be undertaken more broadly. It is a continuing discussion between the users (Hoffman, Proferes & Zimmer, 2018), the technologies (Hutchinson, 2021), the socio-cultures (Cabalquinto & Soriano, 2020), the moderators (Gerrard & Thornham, 2020), the researchers (Gillespie et al., 2020) and the policymakers that enable good policy design and implementation.

Issue 13:4 

With an undertow for more scholarly research for and within policymaking as a thematic thread throughout this issue, the first article by Arho Suominen and Arash Hajikhana (2021) systematically explores the implication of big data on the policymaking processes. Through three key indices that have emerged from nine communities engaging in this research – namely the policy cycle, data-base decision-making, and productivity – these authors articulate a research agenda for further studies in public policy through big data. That is, these scholars are grounding the research agenda for policymaking in the context of what it seeks to regulate.

            The second article in this issue turns its attention toward the China context, specifically looking at the role social media has played on the country’s family planning policy. As the media landscape has shifted and changed in the last ten years, so too has the agenda setting mechanisms for policy surrounding public issues, where a strong focus was on the revision of the one-child policy. Deng et al. (2021) have engaged text-mining analysis across a corpora of 74,000 Sina Weibo user comments on The People’s Daily published content to understand how the agenda has shifted. They specifically focus on the interactions between users and state-run news media to reveal how other public issues have emerged as important to the Weibo users during this time and how approaches towards agenda setting have changed over time.

            Daniel Konikoff (2021) explores the space of toxicity and abusive content policy for Twitter in our third article, and argues for how we might reconceptualise policy within this communication space. By implementing a gatekeeper theory approach, and engaging in a discourse analysis, Konikoff presents a compelling argument that the policy and the technological affordances indeed perpetuate the toxicity of hate and vitriol content on the Twitter platform. This article signals how the freedom of speech rhetoric is not a useful mechanism to limit hate speech, which can also be applied to other social media platforms beyond Twitter itself.

            Public policy discussion between the US and the UK come under the comparison lens in our fourth article by Barrett, Dommett and Kreiss (2021). These scholars identify six common ideals across the UK and the US for digital threats to democracy: transparency, accountability, engagement, informed public social solidarity, and freedom of expression. They also argue that policymaking is out of step with current literature by demonstrating how the framing of these democratic ideals often lead to specific sorts of evocative practices and promotion of the ideals themselves. This work is especially important with the growing rise of right-wing politics and other democratic crises.

            Costa e Silva and Lameiras (2021) provide a Portuguese perspective on civil society and internet governance in our fifth article of this issue. By taking a national level perspective, these scholars critically examine the impact of participation on the conditions of civil society by reviewing activism within Portugal, based on the Portuguese and EU policy space. Through the integration of mobilization theory, these scholars identify a lack of horizontal networking because of the lack of civil structural resources such as knowledge and legitimization which is often achieved through international collaboration. Ultimately, they argue, and are in support of, multistakeholderism is a core principle for European civil society, yet the Portuguese case provides unique insights and a space for learning for the broader European context. 

            Lynette H. X. Ng and Araz Taeihagh (2021) turn to a more technology approach in the sixth article of this issue, in How does fake news spread? Understanding pathways of disinformation spread through APIs. As an often-overlooked stakeholder for internet policy, these scholars ask how technology infrastructures are impacting on how disinformation spreads through our networks. Through extensive analysis of how application interface programs (APIs) operate – especially their code repositories on GitHub and the like– across Telegram, Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. Through this analysis, these scholars highlight a four-stage framework that enables disinformation to travel across social media platforms, with a view to providing policy input on how APIs can be better managed. This research provides unique insights on how platform governance can continue to evolve for improved regulation on social media networks.

            The final article in this issue focusses on the scholarship of digital diplomacy while exploring the Twitter use of three countries: Israel, Turkey and Russia. Through a content analysis and topic mapping, these scholars highlight how the countries’ Ministries of Foreign Affairs use Twitter to present an international and somewhat positive face to their audiences. What is of interest here is how these digital diplomacy efforts act differently towards their Ministry’s strategies to promote their foreign policy goals. By highlighting that Twitter is a legitimate platform to implement foreign state policy, and through a sociopragmatic framework, it can be seen that each country is addressing foreign audiences within the international arena.


Albury, K. (2021) [@KathAlbnury]. Thread of the day – these kinds of policies make it very hard to do health promotion – or recruit research participants. [Tweet]. (Twitter)

Angus, D., Bruns, A., Hurcombe, E., and Harrington, S. (2021). Fake news’ on Facebook: a large-scale longitudinal study of problematic link-sharing practices from 2016 to 2020. In Selected Papers in Internet Research 2021: Research from the Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers. AoIR – Association of Internet Researchers, United States of America.

Barrett, B., Dommett, K., and Kreiss, D. (2021). The capricious relationship between technology and democracy: Analyzing public policy discussions in the UK and US. Policy & Internet. 13(4).

Burgess. J. (2021). [@jeanburgess] Once again for the choir in the back: all platform governance strategies enacted without connection to a. context and b. a theory of power are c. not going to work and d. likely to cause harm. [Tweet] (Twitter).

Cabalquinto, E. C., & Soriano, C. R. R. (2020). ‘Hey, I like ur videos. Super relate!’ Locating sisterhood in a postcolonial intimate public on YouTube. Information Communication & Society, Forthocming, 1–28.

Chakrabortty, A. Muddled, top-down, technocratic: why the green new deal should be scrapped. The Guardian.

Costa e Silva, E., and Lameiras, M. (2021). What is the role of civil society in Internet governance? Confronting institutional passive perspectives with resource mobilization in Portugal. Policy & Internet. 13(4).

Danziger, R. and Schreiber, M. (2021). Digital Diplomacy: Face management in MFA Twitter accounts. Policy & Internet. 13(4).

Deng, W., Hsu, J H., Löfgren, K., and Cho, W. (2021). Who is Leading the China’s Family Policy Discourse? Policy & Internet. 13(4).

Gerrard, Y., & Thornham, H. (2020). Content moderation: Social media’s sexist assemblages. New Media & Society, 22(7), 1266–1286.

Gillespie, T. & Aufderheide, P. & Carmi, E. & Gerrard, Y. & Gorwa, R. & Matamoros-Fernández, A. & Roberts, S. T. & Sinnreich, A. & Myers West, S. (2020). Expanding the debate about content moderation: scholarly research agendas for the coming policy debates. Internet Policy Review9(4). 

Hoffmann, A. E., Proferes, N., & Zimmer, M. (2018). “Making the World More Open and Connected”: Mark Zuckerberg and the discursive construction of Facebook and its users. New Media & Society, 20(1), 199–218.

Hutchinson, J. (2021). Digital intermediation: Unseen infrastructures for cultural production. New Media & Society. doi:10.1177/14614448211040247

iweigh. (2020) Instagram Bans Weight Loss Content for Under 18-year-olds.

Konikoff, D. (2021). Gatekeepers of Toxicity: Reconceptualizing Twitter’s Abuse and Hate Speech Policies. Policy & Internet. 13(4).

Mudd, G. (2021). Removing Certain Ad Targeting Options and Expanding our Ad Controls. Available at:

Ng, L. H. X., and Taeihagh, A. (2021). How does Fake News Spread? Understanding pathways of disinformation spread through APIs. Policy & Internet. 13(4).

Seko Y, Lewis SP. (2018) The self—harmed, visualized, and reblogged: Remaking of self-injury narratives on Tumblr. New Media & Society. 20(1):180-198. 

Stilinovic, M. and Hutchinson, J. (2021). Living in media and the era of regulation: Policy & Internet during a pandemic. Policy & Internet. 13(3).

Suominen, A. and Hajikhana, A. (2021) Review of Big Data Analytics in Policy-Making: A Research Agenda. Policy & Internet. 13(4). 

Taylor, J. (2021). [@nprandchill] Facebook just announced they are removing ad targeting based on sexual orientation, but that may not be a good thing. [Tweet]. Twitter.

Tiidenberg, K., Hendry, N. A., & Abidin, C. (2021). Tumblr. New York: Polity Press.

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.