I am very happy to see the Internet Research Ethics books in print – as well as freely available in a variety of digital formats. I am even more happy to have contributed to this excellent volume (if I may say so myself), which details some of the current challenges with regards to – you guessed it – ethics that researchers interested in the Internet frequently have to deal with. In my chapter, I approach these issues based on my own experience with “big data”-type research, discussing methodological challenges in tandem with those of the ethical variety. To be a bit more specific, I argue for what could be labeled as a hashtag-based approach to data collection on Twitter. Briefly put, by focusing only on tweets that contain specific thematic keywords, we can be quite certain that the senders involved intended for their tweets to be visible in a certain context – of interest to researchers. Of course, while such an approach might be considered as ethically sound, it also means that any twitter activity of relevance not including the hashtag under study would not be included. This is of course problematic, especially in an international perspective, where ethical recommendations are often more relaxed – essentially meaning that researchers in many countries have broader opportunities for procuring full samples of social media traffic.
The latest issue of The Journal of Media Innovations is now live, hot off the digital press. This is the largest issue published by the Journal so far – with seven full papers, two research briefs and two book reviews, covering a wide array of issues all related to the overarching topic of innovative practices related to the media (industry), there’s bound to be something for interested researcher and practitioners here. Moreover, the issue features an editorial introduction penned by yours truly. Essentially, then, this introduction features summaries of the featured articles and briefs. I also briefly discuss the common themes and topics raised. As such, it could be a suitable starting point for those of you who might be looking for an overview of what’s going on in the current issue. Of course, chances are you’ll jump straight to one of the articles instead. Anyway, on behalf of myself and the rest of the editorial team at The Journal of Media Innovations, we hope you enjoy the featured articles. And hey, it’s free. Check it out, and consider to submit your own work!
… On a personal note, a big thank you to Charles Ess for allowing me to play a large part in the culling together of this issue. Also, thanks to Anders Fagerjord for putting together the nice article template. Hope you like the looks of the Journal as well!
I was asked to review Nick Couldry’s Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice for European Journal of Communication. Below you will find the pre-print version (also available at academia.edu and ResearchGate).
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The broader field of media and communication studies incorporates a vast array of theoretical perspectives that have been and still are applied to further our understanding of what the media are, how they function and what results (or even ‘effects’ – if there ever was a value-laden word within the field, this is it) our everyday interactions with and through media could be expected to have. Undergraduates are – or at least I was – brought up learning the early history of the field as an almost steady march from “All-powerful media”, understood theoretically through metaphors of ‘hypodermic needles’ or magic bullets’, to latter periods where such power was vested in the recipients of media content – power to the people, if you will. Theories like Uses and Gratifications, for example, suggested that the preferences and goal orientations of individual media consumers would lead them to specific media content, rather than consuming any content that came into their path (e.g. Blumler and Katz, 1974).
In his book Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice, Nick Couldry embarks and expands on a somewhat similar approach. Specifically, Couldry makes the case for what he labels as a ‘practice approach’ to media and communication studies. He notes that while the aforementioned Uses and Gratifications perspective largely focused on individual, personal uses of specific media content in specific media channels, these diverse media channels or outlets have today become interlocked to the point where the only suitable starting point for an endeavor such as this would be ‘the media environment’, not specific media considered in isolation from each other. Similarly, while individual use is still of the utmost relevance for Couldry, he suggests an approach more akin to a macro level rather than the micro variety often focused on in combination with the Uses and Gratifications approach. Essentially, then, the practice approach, or media practice theory, suggests a focus on questions like “what are people doing that is related to the media?” (Couldry, 2012:35). Couldry does an excellent job at contextualizing what could perhaps be understood as a re-conceptualization of audience studies by suggesting that practice theory be understood as socially oriented media theory – one of four overarching perspectives of media and communication research (the other four being the political economy of media, medium theory and textual analysis). These four are outlined in a helpful graph included at the beginning of the book, which provides a suitable point of entry into Couldry’s thinking and suggestions about the larger areas of the field.
The suggested practice approach is arguably the key contribution of Couldry’s ambitious and meticulously researched text. Throughout the book, the author draws extensively on scholarship from a series of different academic traditions – most notably sociology and media and communication studies – to build his case. The concept of media practice wishes to uncover the ways in which people integrate media into their everyday lives in almost tacit, implicit ways – in order to meet our many diverse human needs. For Couldry, the media are (almost) everywhere, a line of thought that – with some obvious variation – has been touched upon recently also by others (e.g. Deuze, 2012). However, Couldry also makes his case by providing a series of theories more applicable with regards to empirical research, thereby making the book an even more interesting read. Given the authors interest in the humdrum of everyday life in relation to media use, I was nevertheless somewhat surprised to find very little reference to the work of scholars related to the Birmingham school – such as Stuart Hall, Richard Hoggart or Raymond Williams. Given their interest in the role of media institutions within complex issues like these, their perspectives could have strengthened Couldry’s case even further. Moreover, given my own personal research interests, I particularly enjoyed what I perceived as a tastefully critical stance from Couldry with regards to the consequences often thought to follow from whatever media format or channel is the ‘newest’ one at the present time. As one of many examples dealt with in the text, the author shows how despite much of the hype surrounding new opportunities for media consumption, the influence of television will most likely remain large for the foreseeable future, while the machine itself – the television – might converge beyond recognition.
While I agree that the practice approach championed in Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice seems like a suitable way forward for research into the uses of media, I would argue that the need for more technically informed research is also a clear and present one. This is in some way touched upon by Couldry in the aforementioned model he uses to contextualize his theorizing, but we might want to take the actions made available by new media – their affordances, if you will (e.g. Gibson, 1977; Leonardi, 2011) – into clearer account. While novel technologies often carry with them the potential to change user practices or even overarching structures of use or “produsage” (Bruns, 2008) in relation to the media, empirical research from a number of different contexts has proven that most uses are of the more traditional variety. With this in mind, while Couldry’s admittedly elegant focus on the overarching level seems suitable, I worry that such an approach might miss out on some elusive detail that emerges in relation to whatever media format, service or platform is ‘all the rage’ this month. Such a more artifact-oriented view, detailing what is technically possible or not, is perhaps better understood as the topic of another book.
Blumler J.G. & Katz, E. (1974). The uses of mass communications: Current perspectives on gratifications research. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Bruns, Axel (2008). Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond. From Production to Produsage. Peter Lang.
Couldry, N. (2012). Media, Society, World: Social Theory and Digital Media Practice. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity.
Deuze, M. (2012). Media Life. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity.
Gibson, J. J. (1977). The theory of affordances. In R. Shaw & J. Bransford (Eds.), Perceiving, acting, and knowing: Toward an ecological psychology (pp. 67–82). Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Leonardi, P. M. (2011). When flexible routines meet flexible technologies: Affordance, constraint, and the imbrication of human and material agencies. MIS Quarterly, 35(1), 147–167
I’m happy to report that the article “‘Of course we are on Facebook’: Use and non-use of social media among Swedish and Norwegian politicians” was apparently the most-read article from the European Journal of Communication during January 2015. The article, which I co-authored with Bente Kalsnes, deals with adoption and use rates of social media by Swedish and Norwegian politicians. The abstract is available below:
While plenty of research has provided important insights into the uses of the Internet by politicians during elections, a relatively scarce amount of work has looked into these uses outside of such parliamentary events. This article seeks to remedy this lack of research by presenting a study on the ‘routine’ uses of two of the currently most popular social media services – Facebook and Twitter. Focusing on politicians elected to the national parliaments of Norway and Sweden, the article employs novel methodologies for data collection and statistical analyses in order to provide an overarching, structural view of the day-to-day social media practices of Scandinavian politicians. Findings indicate that use levels are rather low for both services – the median amount of tweets sent and messages posted on Facebook is close to one per day. Further analyses reveal that the most active politicians could be labelled as ‘underdogs’, as they are more likely to be younger, in opposition and out of the political limelight.
By means of funding provided by my department, we’ve been able to make the paper available for everyone – also for those interested who might happen to reside outside of paywalls, the proprietors of which make Rupert Murdoch look like a socialist.
The first of what I hope will be a series of publications dealing with various social media activities during the 2014 Swedish elections has been accepted for publication in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. The paper, titled “Going Viral? Comparing Parties on Social Media During the 2014 Swedish Election”, makes a case for comparing the oft-studied Twitter platform with the more seldom studied Facebook variety in this regard. You can find the accepted pre-print version on academia.edu or ResearchGate. Moreover, thanks to my department, the paper will be made available open access through the SAGE Choice program. The abstract is inserted below:
While research has provided useful insights into political party use of Twitter, comparably few efforts have focused on the arguably more popular Facebook service. This paper takes both platforms into account, detailing similar functionalities and providing analyses of the social media activities undertaken by Swedish political parties during the 2014 elections. Moreover, the types of feedback received by the parties on these platforms are gauged. Findings suggest that while sizeable parties are not necessarily the most ardent at using social media, they do receive the most attention. In essence, then, party size matters – however, the role of the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats is clearly felt throughout, suggesting the apparent prowess of controversial parties in the online context.
Employing such a comparative approach brings with it a series of challenges – how to present activities undertaken by the parties in a way that makes it easy (or at least relatively easy) to assess both services? Employing my previously discussed suggestions on how to compare Twitter and Facebook, I used the model previously suggested in a more empirical sense. Using the Tableau application, I graphed the types of feedback received by the parties in two graph, one for each service. As an example, the graph depicting Facebook activity is included below, together with an excerpt from the paper itself. The remainder of the analysis is of course available in the paper itself.
Figure Three. Average feedback received per post on Facebook. Horizontal axis indicates M of Comments/post; Vertical line indicates M of Shares/Post; Node size and label indicate M of Likes/Post.
The results presented in Figure Three suggest a linear tendency among the represented parties – meaning here that as the average statistic for the redistributive type of feedback for Facebook (shares) increase, so does also that same statistic for interactive feedback (comments). Given the sizes of the nodes and their corresponding labels, this tendency of increasing averages as we move diagonally from the downward left corner to the upward right can be discerned also here. Indeed, correlation analyses using Spearman’s Rho proved correlations between all three involved variables to be significant (p =<.000 for all correlations) and comparably strong with Rho varying between .779 and .871 for all correlations. With this in mind, it would appear that while the Social Democrats – marked as ‘S’ in the Figure – only amassed the fourth highest amount of ‘Facebook fans’ on the service at hand (see Table One), these fans appear to have put in quite an effort to make the specified account visible. This seems especially true in terms of Shares (M = 547, Std. dev. = 442) and Likes (M = 6162, Std. dev. = 5128), where high standard deviations nevertheless suggest a considerable spread around the reported means. Similar claims appear as valid for the average number of comments received (M = 368, Std. dev = 323). Focusing on the content provided through the account, the most Liked (N of Likes = 28810) post offered by the Social Democrats is coincidentally also the most commented (N of Comments = 2361). This post, penned late election night, features party leader Stefan Löfven giving thanks to party supporters and staffers after the party had been declared victorious . The most shared content from the Social Democratic account is posted on August 27th – the very same day that advance voting possibilities opened for the upcoming election. Consequently, this post urges supporters to vote in advance and to share the post itself in order to spread the message about this possibility . This tendency of popularity of posts that encourage supporters to vote and to share this encouragement using the redistributive functionality of Facebook is visible also for other parties, such as the Conservatives (M) and the Environmental Party (Mp), although not for the other stand-out party as visible in Figure Three – the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats. Here, the most shared as well as the most commented post is offered on September 4th and features sneak premiere of an election commercial to be broadcast on Swedish commercial television the following day . Their most successful post in terms of Likes (N of Likes = 9648) was made available on August 20th and deals with the controversy started when the party wanted to place their admittedly polarizing political advertisements on Stockholm public transport buses .
I have just returned home from a week spent in Zürich as a participant in the New Perspectives on Populist Political Communication workshop and launch event of the COST Early Stage Researchers Think Tank, neatly organized by Sven Engesser and Nayla Fawzi. This was a chance for me to relate more clearly to a topic I’ve been approaching over the last couple of years. In my more general studies of political actors online, the results almost always indicated a stand-out role in some regard for actors that could, by the rationale of your choice, be singled out as populist. Consider, for example, the role of the Norwegian Progress Party during the 2013 elections, or the enormous online popularity enjoyed by the Sweden Democrats. As such, the Zürich meeting gave me a chance to re-focus some of my empirical material to focus more specifically on these types of actors – an enjoyable exercise indeed. These were productive and enjoyable days, and I hope that the group convened in Zürich will have the opportunity to meet again.
Recently accepted for publication in European Journal of Communication, “Birds Of A Feather Flock Together? Party Leaders On Twitter During The 2013 Norwegian Elections” will probably be my last research contribution delving into the 2013 Norwegian elections. But then again, a couple of ideas are brewing in the back of my head, so you never know. Anyway, the paper at hand, co-authored with the illustrious Øyvind Ihlen, studies the Twitter use Norwegian party leaders during said election. While previous research has largely found Twitter to be somewhat of an ‘elite medium’, our findings suggest changes in this regard. Indeed, the party leaders make use of Twitter’s @reply functionality to higher degrees than would have been expected from previous scholarship. Nevertheless, this type of communicative behaviour is mostly undertaken in unique clusters of users featuring little overlap. As we suggest towards the end of the paper,
In one sense then, it could be argued that the findings strengthen the idea of the existence of echo chambers, of actors seeking together to have their views reinforced with the assistance of like-minded actors. The researched party leaders have their own clusters of users they choose to communicate with, including some citizens. Thus, Twitter probably functions to maintain good relationships with, literarily, followers. As, pointed out by Davis (2010), online politics of this type may encourage a trend where “tightly linked, cross-referencing and self-regarding” networks alienate others (p. 113). Viewed differently, however, the Twitter exchanges could also be seen as serving as inter-group honing of political arguments before taking part in the wider political discussion. Twitter is, after all, just one of several public spheres where politics is discussed.
Thanks to my department, the paper will be made available open access through the SAGE Choice program. Until then, the preprint version can be accessed at academia.edu or ResearchGate.
While the previous post compared the overall uses of #val2010 and #val2014, two hashtags dealing with the Swedish elections of 2010 and 2014 respectively, the current post deals with the latter of the two elections. Specifically, I will offer an initial analysis of what users enjoyed the most popularity under the selected hashtag. While popularity on Twitter can certainly be defined and operationalized in a number of ways – number of followers, for instance – I would argue that the degree to which an account is retweeted in a consistent manner is a complimenting, if not even better measure. With this in mind, the network graph below, produced in Gephi, gives us an overview of who enjoyed plenty of retweets under the heading of the specified hashtag – and who appears to have been especially active in sending those retweets.
The graph (please click it to enlarge it) consist of a series of nodes, each representing an account. The larger the node, and the label identifying it, the more that particular user was retweeted. The darker red the color of the node, the more active that particular user had been at sending retweets. Moreover, using Gephi’s Force Atlas algorithm, the graph has been delimited to show only the top users in these ways. As such, many of the nodes (accounts) that contributed to the sizes of the other nodes have been omitted so as to only focus on those highly active users. The table below identifies some of the very top users in terms of receiving retweets for #val2014, and compares this distribution with that of the #val2010 hashtag. The latter of these two election hashtag was studied in this paper (pdf).
||Social democratic party
||Liberal debater, PR consultant
||PSB election feature
||Anonymous, Immigration critic
||Politician, Pirate party
||Politician, Pirate party
The table shows how the dominance of journalists and Pirate party associates in 2010 appears to have been broken for the period leading up to the 2014 elections. Indeed, while the Pirate party account is featured also among the 2014 roster of high-end users, and while two journalists did indeed make their mark in this regard (niklassvensson and Pihlblad), the distribution for 2014 appears as more varied than for 2010. Much like for top @reply receivers discussed previously, we see media organizations (such as Expressen), rather than a multitude of journalists, emerge as successful in gaining retweets. Moreover, the presence of a well-known comedian – ozznujen – reflects another tendency identified by similar research, where celebrities gain leverage in online political discussions (see Larsson and Moe, forthcoming). Finally, two anonymous users succeeded in getting their tweets redistributed to high degrees in 2014. The person or persons behind the MXCartoons account provide a statement basically saying that the tweets will feature “common sense over political correctness”, which is instated by largely discussing and criticizing Swedish immigration policy. Perhaps more interestingly, the influence of the user jonssonjessica appears to have emanated from one tweet only. As in the case of the 2013 norwegian election, one such well-formulated and likewise timed tweet can gain attention – if ever briefly. Much like for the Norwegian case, this particular tweet was sent on election night – lamenting the fact that the incumbent liberal-conservative government appeared to have lost the popular vote. As such, while the comparably large node representing jonssonjessica might suggest an influential user, the placement of the node, relatively isolated from the others, suggest that this was largely a ‘one-off’.
As part of my collaboration with Hallvard Moe, we are now looking at data on Twitter use from the recently held 2014 Swedish elections. We are thus in a position to compare various aspects of Twitter use from two elections – 2010 and 2014. The table below features some of the overarching characteristics of the major hashtags employed for each election – #val2010 and #val2014.
|Type of tweet
||60 088 (60.2)
||89 747 (36.5)
||+ 29 659
||32 780 (32.8)
||146 487 (59.6)
||+ 113 707
||6 964 (7)
||9 411 (3.8)
||- 2 447
||99 832 (100)
||245 645 (100)
||+ 145 813
Looking first at the row providing the “TOTAL” amounts of tweets for both elections, we can see that the traffic more than doubled in 2014 when compared to 2010 – from 99 832 tweets during the month leading up to the former election to 245 645 tweets during the same time period four years later. This growth was perhaps to be expected, given the overall increase of media coverage devoted to Twitter, as well as the more modest increase – but still an increase – in actual Twitter use. A change that was less expected was the shift regarding the most common form of tweets sent. In 2010, just over sixty per cent of tweets were undirected – tweets sent without any intended recipient. In 2014, retweets – redistributed messages originally sent by some other user – make up for about the same percentage level, effectively becoming the most common type of tweet sent. For @replies, signalling discussions on the platform at hand, we see an increase in numbers of such messages sent from the 2010 to the 2014 period. Looking at percentages, however, these numbers indicate a distribution diminished by almost half, decreasing from seven per cent in 2010 to just under four per cent in 2014.
So what does this all mean? One initial, tentative interpretation goes as follows. The dominance of undirected messages during the 2010 election period would seem to indicate a ‘megaphone’-like application of the service at hand. In other words, Twitter was here used primarily in order to ‘get the message out’ rather than for interaction or dialogue. The prevalence of retweets in the 2014 sample suggests that such practices might have changed. Perhaps due to the increased use levels of social media by political actors – a tendency which is sometimes discussed in relation to the overarching idea of political professionalization processess – the results presented above could be an indicator that such actors (and those similar to them) are successful in assessing the viral qualities of the platform. Plenty of retweets means plenty of spread for your message. Indeed, the patterns discussed here do not reveal which users enjoyed the most retweets. Initial data analysis regarding is coming up in a couple of days.
I’m currently working on a series of studies dealing with the upcoming Swedish elections. This also sees a shift on my behalf with regards to the empirical focus of my work – while I have been doing research on the political uses of both Twitter and Facebook, my current projects involves a comparative aspect between the two. What follows is a draft of sorts, a way for me to try and gather my thoughts on how to approach the two services from an empirical, comparative perspective. Does this make sense? Any type of feedback would be most welcome, either as a comment or as an email.
Broadcasting, redistributive, interactive and acknowledging functionalities of Twitter and Facebook
While Twitter and Facebook are often seen as similar in terms of their usage, they are distinctly different in terms of their respective technical infrastructures, service appearance and terminology (boyd and Ellison, 2008). Nevertheless, the argument is made here that the end user of both services are faced with a series of options for usage that are somewhat similar in that they offer comparable modes of communication. The four modes – Broadcasting, Redistributing, Interacting and Acknowledging – and their distinctive counterpart on each platform is presented in the figure above.
First, the very basic notion of Broadcasting entails the act of simply sending a message to a network of followers on either service. While social media uses are sometimes suggested to have moved beyond such largely one-way practices (Honeycutt and Herring, 2009), the Broadcasting variety of social media activity is still very much common at the hands of politicians up for election.
Second, much as Twitter users can employ the retweet functionality to Redistribute a tweet sent by some other user, so can a Facebook user choose to share posts made by others – such as political parties. Indeed, the potential spread of the redistributed message is dependent on a multitude of factors – individual user security settings, platform characteristics, previous choices made et c. (Bucher, 2012). Nevertheless, from the perspective of those actors whose messages are being redistributed in retweets or shares, this type of feedback is very attractive. It allows for their dispatches to potentially spread beyond their own networks, reaching the attractive status of ‘gone viral’ (Klinger and Svensson, 2014).
Third, while Interaction has been pointed to as the defining character of the Internet, uptake of such practices among politicians and parties has been mostly slow and hesitant (Stromer-Galley, 2000, 2014), indicative of the risk of exposure and embarrassment taken when interacting as a politician (Marcinkowski and Metag, 2014). Be that as it may, the functionalities for contacting and commenting are by now a commonplace feature on each platform. For Twitter, the practice of mentioning another user by including their user name somewhere in the body of a tweet signals interaction, perhaps especially so when that mention comes in the form of an @reply, where the user addressed is mentioned at the beginning of the tweet (Twitter, 2014). Morover, both platforms offer more private settings for interaction in the form of Twitter’s Direct Messages and the Chat functionality available on Facebook. These are shown in parentheses in the figure so as to indicate their less than public nature. While citizens might not choose to engage in discussion with political actors in these ways, leaving room instead for the established “Twitterati” (Bruns and Highfield, 2013), gaining comments and @replies can be seen as indicative of having an interesting (or controversial, or both) message to convey – a message yielding reactions in terms of attempted interaction initiated by social media users.
Finally, while Acknowledging features like favorite marking a tweet or liking a Facebook post are perhaps best described along the lines of “clicktivism” (Karpf, 2010) or “slacktivism” (Morozov, 2011), the exact role of these measurements in deciding the influence of a specific user or post on either studied platform remains somewhat unclear. While the sharing or retweeting of posts and tweets are arguably more important for the coveted viral effects to occur (Socialbakers, 2013), the tracking of likes and favorites are nevertheless of interest for our current purposes as they allow us to track the different ways that Twitter and Facebook is employed in the current setting.
In closing, while the procedural definitions of the terms associated with each service might be clear, the current model cannot make any inroads with regards to what these practices entail to each specific user. For example, a retweet might indicate an expression of support for one user, while others may have ascribed different or even fluctuating meaning to this or any of the other practices discussed above (Driscoll and Walker, 2014; Lomborg and Bechmann, 2014). As such, the aggregated view championed here might not be able to delve into these intricacies. Arguably, the approach employed is nevertheless useful, as it provides an overview of actions taken and attention given – whatever form or connotation that attention might take among those giving it.
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