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Research, rants, and random thoughts by Axel Bruns.


The Experience of Social Time in Mobile Dating Apps

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 15:28:22 +0000

The (very) final speaker at Social Media and Society is Dominic Yeo, whose focus is on mobile dating apps. Such apps have fully arrived in recent years, and are now also incorporating geolocation functionality, for instance. Such apps have been studied from a number of angles, but the dimension of time has been largely ignored: how does the concept of social time affect these mobile-enhanced dating practices?

Aspects of this include tempo, duration, sequence, and timing, and all of these shape the subjective experience of social interactions. Dominic's work has focussed especially on young adult, mostly Chinese and gay-identified app users in Hong Kong to explore these.

Tempo refers to the pace of interactions in dating relationship development. The use of the smartphone (compared to the previous generation of desktop-based dating sites) substantially speeds up the tempo of interactions, and enables instant connections; it accelerates the speed and shortens the duration of relationship formation. Tempo has different social meanings: a more gradual pace may imply sincerity; greater speed may imply greater casuality and impersonality. This is ultimately also a distinction between dating for relationships, or dating for sex.

Sequence is another key aspect: it signals a value hierarchy, and is also embedded into the design of the apps themselves. For instance, the browsing of profile photos that is built into most of these apps privileges the visual aspects of a potential partner; connecting through text postings shifts the focus to other expressions of personality and interests. This also affects the sequence of messaging: on many apps, no chats will be initiated without a profile photo, while on other platforms text chats precede the exchange of more photos.

These temporal logics are imbued with normative prescriptions, and the interface design of most apps privileges sexual, visually dominated encounters over long-term relationships. This frustrates people seeking long-term relationships using these apps, but the efficiency of the apps still leads them to use them, if grudgingly and against the grain.

Gender Biases in the Social Sharing of Academic Research

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 15:10:25 +0000

The next speaker at Social Media and Society is Stefanie Haustein, who begins by highlighting the substantial gender gap in academia – especially at higher levels of employment, but also in academic publishing and citation patterns. Similarly, there was a substantial gender gap online, at least early on, and this has balanced out only in relatively recent times, especially also since the advent of social media (with some social media platforms very substantially female-dominated).

Male academics still have a greater Web presence, and are more likely to blog (sorry); also, more scientific papers are tweeted by men, even though overall social media have a tendency to flatten academic hierarchies. Some of these patterns are being addressed by proposed altmetrics frameworks, which move well beyond conventional citation activities and are incorporating more balanced, inclusive, and democratic sources of citation and distribution data – can this also address the gender gap in academic publishing, then?

The present study drew data on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, and Mendeley across some 14 disciplines to generate altmetrics for academic citations – here, with a particular focus on the apparent gender of the first author. This captured some 770,000 papers, roughly two-thirds of which were first-authored by a male author.

But choosing the appropriate indicators for analysing this is also non-trivial. By most indicators, however, the gender bias is less pronounced than it is for conventional citations, although there is still some male dominance amongst the very top, most shared papers.

This also differs across fields and platforms, and to some extent this matches with traditional distinctions into 'hard' and 'soft' sciences. Facebook and Twitter appeared to be most gender-balanced, while Mendeley is more female-, and blogs and especially Wikipedia are more male-dominated. What remains largely unknown, however, is what kind of impact this kind of sharing, especially on the mainstream social media platforms, does have, because we know very little about the people doing the sharing.

Visual Self-Portrayals of Athletes on Social Media

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 14:47:01 +0000

The final session at Social Media and Society is starting with Ann Pegoraro and Ashleigh-Jane Thompson, whose interest is in the visual coverage and self-presentation of athletes on social media. This can be linked to Goffman's ideas of backstage and frontstage performance, and also tends to play out quite differently depending on the athlete's gender.

This study selected a number of sports (male- and female-dominated, as well as gender-neutral), and examined the visual portrayal of athletes on their Instagram profiles, coding for a number of aspects (focus of the photo, categories of portrayal, and gender role).

Some 75% of all Instagram photos were athlete-focussed, and another 10% or so featured landmarks; 27-29% were in a non-sport setting, 17-20% showed athletic action, 17% were dressed for sports but posing. Differences between the genders were relatively limited on these aspects.

Athletes in male-appropriate sports were more likely to post food pictures as well as pictures portraying non-traditional gender roles. Athletes from Australia were more likely to post photos with others, while athletes from Canada were more likely to post photos in non-traditional gender roles.

One obvious next stage for this research is now to examine the responses of fans to these pictures, as well as to interview athletes about how they are seeking to portray themselves, and how this may relate to other pressures of being a professional athlete.

The Influence of Community Topics on Network Structures in V Kontakte

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 13:59:33 +0000

The final speaker in this Social Media and Society session is Yuri Rykov, whose focus is on the Russian social network site V Kontakte. What is the structure of online communities on this site? Are they flat, inclusive, and egalitarian, or are they stratified and hierarchical, with clear leadership structures emerging, as a power law distribution would expect? What new light can network analytics shed on these questions?

Past studies have examined online communities such as Yahoo! Answers and Slashdot, and (somewhat controversially) researchers at the Pew Center have even proposed the existence of six archetypical structures in online networks. Are such structures also related to the aims and functions of the specific social networking platform in question?

Yuri examined three different types of network communities on VK: online fan communities, acting as audiences to media texts; professional groups, engaging as a community of practice in knowledge sharing; and social movement communities, aiming to promote collective action on specific political issues. The project used the VKminer software, which connects with the VK API, and gathered data from each group's wall and discussion boards, including posts, user information, and friendship relations. This covered some 726,000 users with over 2 million friend relations.

Online fan communities had the highest number of connected components as well as clusters, and the lowest proportion of edges – they are the most fragmented of the three communities studied here. There is also a clear distinction between content contributors, semi-passive 'likers', and inactive followers.

Professional online communities have the highest proportion of active users; the highest clustering coefficient (with strongly tied but separated clusters, and only a few brokers between them); and the broadest distribution of posting and liking activity across the community.

Social movement communities have the lowest proportion of isolated users, the lowest modularity, the highest density, and the highest mean degree (excluding the isolates). At the same time, they are most centralised, with ties distributed least equally across the community.


Intersections between Follower and @mention Networks in the Australian Twittersphere

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 13:59:15 +0000

The next paper in this Social Media and Society session is by my QUT colleague Brenda Moon and me. Our work-in-progress presentation explores how we can connect our long-term data on the structures of follower networks in the Australian Twittersphere with shorter-term comprehensive information on actual posting activity; we are interested how follower networks and @mention networks cross-influence each other. What emerges already from our preliminary work is that different communities of Australian Twitter users appear to exhibit some very different activity patterns, and that some appear more likely to break out of their follower/followee network clusters than others. One of the newer Twitter communities in Australia, teen users, seem to tweet particularly differently from the others.

Slides are below:

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One Day in the Life of a National Twittersphere from Axel Bruns

Insider and Outsider Accounts in Online Communities

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 13:14:07 +0000

The next speaker at Social Media and Society is Shih-Yun Chen, who focusses on online communities. Such communities are used to connect, share information, and give mutual support; and it important to understand the participant roles that emerge in such communities, what content they contribute, and how this affects the sustainability of a community. This study focusses on these patterns in the context of knowledge sharing and social events.

The study focussed on a 7,000-post discussion thread that unfolded between 2007 and 2015 on a car-related forum in Taiwan. This identified a range of insider and outsider accounts, defined in part by their participation in knowledge-sharing, and by the insider accounts being frequently mentioned in posts by outsiders. Others serve as go-between connecting the groups.

Such analysis can identify the hidden influencers in online communities. Hidden influencers who contribute to knowledge-sharing are especially important.

Audience Flows and Platform Links between Legacy and New News Media in Spain

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 13:00:18 +0000

The next session at Social Media and Society starts with Sílvia Majó-Vázquez, whose interest is in the role and positioning of legacy news media in social media spaces, for the particular context of Spain's media ecology. Some legacy news media have recognised their own difficulties in engaging with the online space; some are significantly decreasing their offline activities and therefore need to improve their online services by comparison.

To what extent are new outlets recognised as prominent sources of information by other news providers, then; to what extend do they act as information brokers, even? This addresses two dimensions of power, as the online domain contains both media and audience networks which are interconnected with each other. For instance, there are audience flows between different news sites and platforms; at the same time, there are also (some) interconnections through hyperlinks between these platforms. (How) are these interrelated?

These networks can be analysed using authority and hub measures as generated by the HIT algorithm; it is also possible to calculate betweenness centrality measures to identify the most important information brokers in the network. A configuration multi-edge model as well as weighted betweenness centrality scores can shed further light on network structures. Data for the study come from VOSON (for hyperlink networks) as well as ComScore (for audience flows and overlaps).

From this it appears that authority and media reach are broadly related, for legacy media. This is not the case for new, born-digital media sites, and this pattern needs further analysis. The authority score for each outlet is not explained by the type of outlet (legacy or new media).

Audience flows are largely still dominated by the main legacy media; however, this looks different for younger audiences, where new platforms have much greater brokerage power. So these new platforms challenge the power monopoly of legacy media, and young audiences confer greater brokerage power.

Social Media and Their Consequences

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 11:13:06 +0000

The final speaker in this Social Media and Society session is William Housley, whose interest is in the role of social media as disruptive technologies: they affect how we organise ourselves in our social relations, and how these social relations are captured through big data on social media activities. This has a strong temporal dimension, recognising the dynamics of change over time.

We could think about social media in terms of colonisation: how are they having an effect on everyday life, for instance; how do they give rise to new forms of labour; what are the temporal aspects of social media activity and how is this tied to labour; how do social media compress time and space? Much of this is also about the rise of real-time social networks, of course.

This is a question about the socio-temporal effects of social media, then: it relates to instantaneity and space-time distantiation. Social media can be understood in terms of timescapes: what is the temporal frame of social media; what are their temporal effects, for instance in terms of data and surveillance, as viewed from both dystopian and utopian perspectives?

The key dimensions here are commodification, colonisation, and compression. Social media may have the potential to metrify social status and social capital, thereby commodifying social interactions; social media are also colonising various activities in everyday life, from dating to looking for work, and assist in the monitoring of everyday activities (increasingly also through the provision of social bots); and social media are compressing time and space by enabling and privileging certain types of social interactions over others.

So what are the potential timescapes of digital society? What are the features and contours of an automated society that are now emerging? Human actors are providing big and broad data for the development of automatic analytics and artificial intelligences, and social media are therefore also a key site for operationalising the human-robot interface? Can we utilise emerging scholarly models for horizon scanning and future studies to extrapolate from the current situation and anticipate these developments? Can we trace the continuities and disruptions inherent in these processes?

Tarot and Social Media?

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 10:42:38 +0000

The next speaker in this Social Media and Society session is Karen Gregory. Her past research has been with esoteric practitioners in New York City, in the wake of the global financial crisis: these were women who learnt tarot card reading as a new profession in an unstable job market. Tarot itself can be understood as a social medium: it was played by nobles in the 15th century as a game that enabled social interaction; it is used today as a self-help technique that serves as a social commentary and 'has a bit of Facebook built into it', Karen suggests.

Whether people believe in tarot hardly matters in this context: the cards are an aleatory technology, and prompt self-reflection; there is a temporality involved in the repeated card-flipping, as contained in every flip is the past, present, and possible future. More recently, tarot learner communities have moved online and onto Facebook, and are now sharing their ideas and knowledge through this medium, and indeed this has provided them with a new space to advertise their services, share their esoteric knowledge, and market themselves.

They refer to themselves in part as the 'Oprah generation', because they are influenced by the way Oprah's guests market themselves through networks. Karen points to the 'tarot diva' Sasha Graham as a typical example for this self-promotion through social and online media: this is the establishment of a public persona as a tarot reader.

These personal narratives are stories of emotional, immaterial, affective, entrepreneurial, and hope labour in an economy dominated by casino capitalism: these people, whose lives have been disrupted by the financial crisis, are speculatively reinventing themselves as tarot readers in hopes of making this persona professionally and financially viable. This itself is an enormous card flip.

The Transformative Capacity of Social Media Research

Wed, 13 Jul 2016 10:06:39 +0000

Helen Webb starts off the next session of Social Media and Society, and begins by suggesting that social media have a transformative capacity for social research as well. To begin with, social media research challenges established conceptual and methodological approaches: they enable us to explore and revise existing theories of social interaction and self-presentation, for instance; or to review patterns and sequences of interaction in order to develop new views on conversational processes.

Second, social media research also tends to introduce greater interdisciplinary and postdisciplinary dimensions. The challenge here is that the fields we are based in do not provide all the skills and knowledge that are required for this research – and so we must move between disciplines as a necessity in order to do the work we want to do. This creates new challenges of finding the appropriate training, and finding the appropriate ways to conduct and present our research.

Third, social media research introduces significant new ethical questions. How, for example, can we uphold the principle of informed consent if we are dealing with large-scale social media data that are gathered from open, broadly public platforms such as Twitter? It would be impractical to ask tens and hundreds of thousands of users covered by large datasets for their informed consent; but this does not relieve us of our ethical responsibilities in analysing and presenting our research findings, especially when it comes to presenting actual social media messages (even if they were in principle public in the first place).

Some of us are in the strange situation of being able to show newspaper articles that quote tweets, but of being unable to quote those same tweets directly in our own publications. We also usually cannot know whether the users whose posts we are working with are humans, are able to give informed consent, and are therefore appropriate to cite if we apply conventional ethics rules.