Thursday, 29 May 2014

The era of the ‘making and doing’ culture: A video about David Gauntlett’s book “Making is connecting”

By Tianzhang Zhao, student in the MA in Social Media at the University of Westminster

This video I produced is an interview with David Gauntlett and Simon Lindgren talking about the book ‘Making is Connecting’. David Gauntlett is the author of this work. He is a sociologist and media theorist and works for University of Westminster in UK. Simon Lindgren is a sociologist as well, and a social media researcher, who works for Umeå University in Sweden.

The video is about 30 minutes long and is divided into 9 parts:

The first part is about the relationship between making things, individuals’ happiness, and society. In this book, David Gauntlett promotes that making things would reflect and realize individuals’ values, which would bring people happiness and would further influence society as a whole in a positive way. Therefore, this section is focused on the question if ‘making things’ can raise individuals’ happiness and advance a good society.

The second part is about creativity. As David Gauntlett says in his book, creativity is “a process which brings together at least one active human mind, and the material or digital world, in the activity of making something which is novel in that context, and is a process which evokes a feeling of joy”. In this section, David Gauntlett illustrates the idea of creativity in detail and where his idea about creativity comes from. Simon Lindgren discusses David Gauntlett’s definition of creativity and explains what creativity is to him.

The third part is about the transition from a ‘sit back and be told’ culture to a ‘making and doing’ culture. This section focuses on how this transition happens and the future of the Internet.

The fourth part is about the relationship between the ‘making and doing’ culture and social media. In this section, David Gauntlett and Simon Lindgren discuss if social media be considered as a ‘product’ emerging from the ‘making and doing’ culture.

The fifth part is about how to motivate people to embrace the ‘making and doing’ culture. In the book, David Gauntlett points out that people today are still used to only ‘watch’, ‘listen’ and ‘share’, but do so much participate in making and doing things. Iin this section of the video, David Gauntlett and Simon Lindgren talk about how one can best motivate people to go from the broadcast mode of media use towards real participation.

The sixth part is about how to describe people who use the Internet and social media. Both David Gauntlett and Simon Lindgren do not want use the word ‘audience’ to describe people who use the Internet and social media. So, what term do two scholars employ? You can find out in the video.

The seventh part is about the ‘creative X’. ‘X’ represents the term that can best be used to describe people who use the Internet and social media. In this section, David Gauntlett and Simon Lindgren talk about what is a ‘creative X’ to them and what kind of behavior could be called ‘creative’.

The eighth part is about free digital labour. In the book, David Gauntlett points out that the social media owners are making money from the ‘creative X’ and squeeze their labour. In this section, David Gauntlett and Simon Lindgren talk about their ideas towards this issue.

The final part is about the users’ awareness of free labour. David Gauntlett and Simon Lindgren talk about whether people online have awareness of the free labour issue or not.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Under constant surveillance: A video about the collected volume “Media, Surveillance and Identity”

By María Belén Conti, student in the MA in Social Media at the University of Westminster.

I have directed a movie about the collected volume “Media, Surveillance and Identity” that has been edited by Andr
é Jansson and Miyase Christensen.Watch the video interview here!

As early as 1995, John Thompson was talking of a world of “mediated visibility” in which technology was a double-edged sword, since it allowed the few people in power positions to control the many, but also empowered the many to control those few. Since then, many things have changed, with the Internet growing in importance as well as with the appearance of a new actor: social media.

In these social and networked spaces, private and public communications merge and the invisible turns visible. It is no longer easy to maintain the private sphere private and unintended audiences may reach any message we send. But these unintended audiences that have access to our communications are not only other users but also government agencies and companies, as Edward Snowden’s revelations known as the “NSA affair” and the many forms of targeted advertising can testify.

In other words, we are always potentially under surveillance or monitoring by others, either peers, companies or states. Even though that does not mean that we are all the time under one-on-one monitoring, the potential is there. And most of the times, there is a big power asymmetry, since people sometimes do not even know that they are being watched or, if they do, they feel powerless or out of options.

Even though it can be argued that people can use social and networked media for free in exchange of giving up some personal information, as Miyase Christensen explains in the video, people are in fact paying a very big price for that supposedly free use. Mark Andrejevic argues in this context in the collected volume that data has become “the new oil” or commodity exchanged and commercialized for the “free use” of services.

In other words, even though people may think they are the clients of these social and networked media, they are in fact the product being sold to advertisers in order to make profits. What is more, they are “unpaid workers”, as Allmer, Fuchs, Kreilinger and Sevignani argued in the collected volume, since they are producing all the data being sold to the advertisers, who will then target those same users with specific forms of ads, according to their taste and interests.

But is an alternative to that commercial model possible? In fact, there are some alternative social media such as Diaspora* which intend to protect the data of the users. However, people want to be where most of their peers are, so it is hard to make them migrate to this alternative social media. And in the lack of better solutions, or at least until a better idea comes, education and better legislation to protect users are needed, as both Miyase Christensen and André Jansson, editors of the book Media, Surveillance and Indentity. Social perspectives, point out in my video.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Future challenges, take-down notices & social media research

Kandy Woodfield is the Director of Learning at NatCen Social Research and one of the founders of the NSMNSS network. You can follow her on Twitter @jess1ecat.

I took part in a panel at the SRA's annual social media in social research conference on May 16th and took the opportunity to reflect on the challenges facing social media research in the future. The original version of this blog was posted here:
You might be able to explain social media using doughnuts, but what about how we research that behaviour and the data it produces. Three years into our New Social Media, New Social Science? peer-led network we have over 600 researchers in our community and we've witnessed an explosion of interest in social media research in the social sciences.  Over the course of those three years researchers from around the world have come together in person and online to share their experiences, frustrations and achievements. We've identified a number of challenges.

There is no doubt that there are now more people talking about social media research, it has become part of mainstream methodological debate and researchers are developing new tools for exploring social media data and understanding the social media dimension of contemporary life. It's hard to find any sector of life where the promise and potential of 'big data' haven't been touted as the next big thing.

But we face a key methodological challenge. I'm struck by the fact that quite simply most social media data is 'not quantitative data, rather qualitative data on a quantitative scale' (Francesco D’Orazio) - we have yet to fully address the fact that a high proportion of social media traffic consists of pictures not text. The social science of images and visual data is not hugely well served by current approaches and tools which focus on text and numerical data. There are some researchers leading the charge in this area (see this from Dr Farida Vis, for example, on the challenges of analysing visual data from social media) but we have much to learn from colleagues working in the digital humanities sphere.

image  This brings us to the collaborative challenge. I'm confident that the most powerful insight from social media research will come from transdisciplinary efforts drawing on the varied insights and skills of for example statisticians, qualitative researchers, digital curators, information scientists, machine learning experts and human geographers. We have a window of opportunity to forge a new shape and rhythm for our research methods and epistemologies, I'm not convinced we're yet fulfilling the potential transformative nature of this moment.

We also face profound ethical and legal challenges. In a week when internet search giants have been legally required by an EU court to respect individual's rights 'to be forgotten' we are talking about using social media data for research. We might feel that our social research is a benign endeavour contrasted to commercial harvesting of customer insight data but we all face similar ethical and legal challenges: whose data? whose consent? whose ownership? All complex issues, as shown by our recent NatCen research on the views of social media users about researchers use of their data. We have only just begun to scrape the surface of this debate and meanwhile data is being mined, harvested, analysed and reported in increasing volume. The critical moments which will shape and define the ethical and legal frameworks for the use of social media data will probably not come from social research but from the use of social media data in the commercial world or media realm, these industries practices may shape our future access to research data. Are we engaging enough with these sectors and issues?

And in a world where technology moves fast we face a capability challenge. How many of us are really au fait with the worlds we are researching on social media platforms? Which brings us to the connective or contextual challenge how can we research what we don't understand or use? We know from our members that many methods lecturers, research supervisors, research commissioners, and research ethics board members do not feel adequately equipped to make rounded, informed decisions about the quality, ethics or value of social media research projects and proposals.

Finally, there is a synthesis challenge, how if at all can new forms of research and findings map onto, elaborate or further inform conventional social research data?

Of course challenges are hard, knotty things to tackle but they also give us great opportunities to really push the boundaries of our practice as social scientists. Social media research needs social science as much as it does data science, it needs anthropology and ethnography as well as big data analytics, it needs to reflect, explore and understand the context and communities which anchor and shape social media data. I'm up for the challenge, are you?

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Vlogging: Video interview about Dhiraj Murthy’s book “Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age”

By Barrie Schooling, student in the MA in Social Media at the University of Westminster

Watch the video interview here:

Google ‘Twitter book review’ and you’ll get reviews of 1,000 page tomes reduced to 140 characters, for example “The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Beautiful and thought provoking novel of love, obsession, lust and oppression". This sort of activity, indeed every sort of activity on Twitter from the profound to the banal are the subject of a book called ‘Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age’ by Dhiraj Murthy.

Having recently written a review of the book I arranged to interview Dhiraj in his Goldsmiths lab and chat to him a bit more about his work and to ask questions that might help to me critically review his work.

In ‘Twitter. Social communication in the Twitter age’ Dhiraj Murthy discusses the platform as it gives ‘ordinary’ people a medium to publish ‘user-generated “news/updates”, Twitter is a ‘social media’ where the ‘social’ is derived from the content being created by users rather than a ‘traditional’ media outlet.

Traditional media content is determined by the producer whereas the process is more democratic in Twitter. Murthy identifies ‘whoever is considered to be an expert or simply worthy of being listened to is potentially determined by consumers rather than producers’. Users can choose what information they wish to receive through the accounts they follow – ‘they can choose from a variety of sources: traditional media, individual commentators, friends, leaders in an occupational field’.

Murthy explores the notion of the ‘global village’ and other’s who see Twitter as the realisation of the global village, for example ‘fashion enthusiasts can interact with fashionistas in London and Paris, regardless of where they live’.

On one hand Twitter ‘can be thought of as a megaphone that makes public the voices/conversations of any individual or entity’ but yet if the voices ‘reflect influence already present in traditional media’ then it isn’t truly a democratizing technology merely a different medium for the same messages. Murthy presents an ‘event society’ but given that these ‘trending topics’ or ‘events’ can often be a mixture of a major news story alongside a celebrity story he questions what constitutes an event? A major political rebellion is undoubtedly an ‘event’ but is what your colleague had for breakfast?

Murthy observes many changes to traditional journalism, from Twitter adding to journalists’ ‘source mix’ to historically impartial journalists giving personal viewpoints via Twitter to the idea of ‘crowdsourcing’ and he gives examples like users looking through the great volume of MP’s expenses for discrepancies.

The ‘citizen journalist’ is presented through coverage of the Mumbai bombings in 2008 and the US Airways flight that downed in the Hudson River in 2009, both of which were first reported via Twitter. Although the ‘citizen journalist’ has in the aforementioned cases been the first to report on the story Murthy presents a case for the traditional news media still being the main reference point for verification of the story.

Throughout the book Murthy is careful not to over- or under-credit Twitter’s importance to the subject at hand, be it in saving lives following a disaster. This chapter on Activism uses statistics to debunk a number of myths about the role of Twitter in Arab Spring uprisings and the so-called ‘Twitter Revolution’.

Whilst not entirely convinced about ‘revolutions’ happening as a direct result of Twitter activity Murthy does constantly note social changes arising as a result of its usage and the chapter ‘Twitter and Health’ provides one such example. Throughout the chapter we are given examples of changes (and limitations) in people’s medical advice and opinion being shared via Twitter, to new support groups forming via Twitter or to the use of hashtags to filter the usually like-minded into the similarly-diagnosed.

I’d like to thank Dhiraj for allowing me to interview him and I hope you enjoy listening to his opinions on the subject.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Catch up on our latest tweetchat with our Storify

We had a Twitterchat on 8/5/14 ably hosted by Janet Salmon a.ka. @einterview. The chat focused on how we can engage students with reflective practice for online qual research and covered a range of issues. Our now annual 'time zone confusion' moment happened when the UK moves over to summertime but we advertise the tweetchat at GMT so huge apologies if you were hoping to join in only to find the chat had started 60 minutes before. Thanks to Janet for staying online to pick up discussions with people turning up at the later session. And a final thanks to @jennacondie who quietly goes about running the #NSMNSS Twitter account and managed during this chat to contribute both as facilitator and participant, well impressed. 

See you all soon. And don't forget you can keep up with news and events by following #NSMNSS and @NSMNSS

Read all about what you missed on Storify, here:

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Understanding Geert Lovink’s book “Networks without a cause: A critique of social media”: A video by Akin Olaniyan

Akin Olaniyan is a student in the MA in Social Media at the University of Westminster

Watch the video interview here!

He sounds very much like a techno-pessimist. When I first read Professor Geert Lovink’s book, ‘Networks without a cause: A critique of social media,’ the first thing that struck me was the sense of despair that runs through all the chapters. With chapters devoted to Facebook and the crisis of identity, big data and the ‘Googlisation of our lives,’ and a proposition to divorce the study of social media from media studies, there appeared to be no other way to understand Geert Lovink. And that was the starting point of my interview with him conducted via Skype. As you can see in the video (, when I asked him what was the source of the despair I felt running through his book, Geert describes his frustration that the Internet has become too centralized and cites cloud computing as evidence. He feels it was time the Internet went back to the original format of small networks.

One of the comments on the blurb of his book, by McKenzie Wark (author of Gamer Theory and Professor of Culture and Media at The New School), describes Geert as our Tin Tin. ‘Like canny adventurer, he travels the world discovering new frontiers of both folly and invention,’ McKenzie writes and that was instantly confirmed when Geert – after he found where I was from – expressed an interest in working in Nigeria if there was a good chance to teach critical Internet Cultures.

I find that this interview is a rare insight into the minds and works of a scholar who sounds techno-pessimistic but whose research and works focus on making the Internet more workable.

On big data and social media alternatives for instance, Geert, whose works have focused on developing alternative social media, is critical of big data and the concentration of power in the hands of few corporations like Google.  “When we talk of alternatives to social media we refer to alternative variations of the known platforms. So, an alternative to Google would be a search engine without all this commercial bias, a search engine that will be based on other algorithmic principles,” he says. And on Facebook, Geert says: “When we talk of alternatives to Facebook, we mean a social network that is truly local and doesn’t work with this ridiculous notion of friends as a general principle of connecting people.” He sounded to me more like an activist than a university teacher.

When asked how to best arrange funding for such alternative social media platforms, Geert admits there may be no global solution owing to differences from country to country but mentioned subscription and the public library model as possible options for consideration.

I finally asked him whether he considers himself as belonging to the same school of thought as Evgeny Morozov and Neil Postman since I found as I felt his arguments sound techno-pessimistic. He appeared to smile at the question but looked serious as he answered: “I strongly believe that we have to team up with start-ups, programmers and insert a political and cultural agenda there. I come from a background where we see ourselves as developers of the network and that is different from traditional techno pessimist point of view. I have absolute joy in the constructive value of ruthless radical critique.” Overall, I find Geert an interesting scholar, especially after I received copies of other books he co-authored, which he freely offered. A quick look at two of those books, ‘Unlike Us Reader: Social Media Monopolies and their Alternatives,’ and ‘Video Vortex Reader: Responses to YouTube,’ confirm my feeling that this is no ordinary scholar but one who is at the same time an activist.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Living in the Information Age: A video about Christian Fuchs’ book “Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age

By Jinshuang Zhao, student in the MA in Social Media at the University of Westminster

Could you image your life without the Internet in contemporary society? What difficulties can you overcome with the help of Internet? How do information and communication technology influence society? If you are interested to learn more about these issues, please watch my video that presents interviews with Christian Fuchs and Eran Fisher. Watch the video of the interview here!

Christian Fuchs is professor of social media at the University of Westminster and is conducting research about the relationship between information and communication technology (ICT) and society. He is a neo-Marxist and utilises Marxist theory for theorizing the connections between ICT and society. Eran Fisher is an assistant professor at the Open University of Israel, He is the author of “Media and New Capitalism in the Digital Age”. His research fields are media and communication, information science and sociology. I invited Christian Fuchs and Eran Fisher to discuss some issues related to Christian’s book Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age.

In the interview, Chrsitian Fuchs reflects back on when he was a student of informatics. He discusses how he became interested in ICT and society research and why he wrote this book.

It is well-known that information and communication technology plays an important role in changing society and the world. Christian Fuchs’ book Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age describes mutual relationships between Internet and society by using philosophy and social theory. He uses the theory of complex, dynamic self-organizing systems, which is a core concept of the book that he applies to various dimensions of society and it subsystems, including cultural, ecological, economic and political systems. He also uses Marxist theory and Hegel’s dialectical philosophy for analysing dynamics and power structures of self-organising systems. Eran Fisher argues that the book combines Marxist theory and the theory of self-organising systems.

Both interviewees argue that this approach can explain how ICTs are embedded economic, political, cultural and ecological structures that are shaped by an antagonism between competition and cooperation. This book takes social media platforms as examples to show how the Internet interacts with society. It also engages with issues of electronic participation, online politics and how grassroots movements voice their critical opinions via online forums and social-networking sites. In terms of the economy, Christian Fuchs and Eran Fisher argue that the economy in the information age is facing a contradiction between the gift and the commodity logic and that there is a dominant class that aims to gain more and more financial profits with the help of the Internet.

If you are interested in how to make a difference to our lives in the information age, then I invite you to watch my video and to read Christian Fuchs’ book Internet and Society: Social Theory in the Information Age.