November 4, 2016 § Leave a comment
Thinking Beyond ‘Free Speech’ in Responding to Online Harassment just came out in issue 10 of Ada: a journal of gender, new media, and technology. This article is an attempt to consider what it might mean to take the possibilities and challenges of intersectionality seriously in our approaches to online harassment/abuse. In particular, I argue that it means being prepared to question whether ‘free speech’ should be the unquestioned basis of discussions about online safety.
Issue 10 of Ada also has a bunch of other great work, including articles on ‘revenge porn’, Black Lives Matter, the politics of Black visibility online, rap music, dating, university life, online dating, and superheroes. I’m looking forward to reading through it.
October 13, 2016 § Leave a comment
Over the last few days, I’ve been thinking more about the idea of ‘belonging’ in academia, following on from my reflections post-AoIR. The converse of not having a single place that feels, unproblematically and fully, like my academic home, and the place where I belong, is that I get to have many spaces where I get energy and inspiration, where I connect well with a few people, and where I find ideas and frameworks that stretch me to think about my research in news ways.
I think about the activism and academia pre-AoIR satellite event, where people were crossing different approaches (the gaps between ‘activism’ and ‘civil society’; between anti-capitalist and more reformist perspectives; between different ways of seeing governance). About conversations I had this year at AoIR about content moderation, feminist research methods, teaching, and finding different ways to fit within academia. About the first time I went to AoIR, and my excitement at finding so much space for critical methodologies, and for women’s voices, and for connecting the personal and the political. About last year’s AoIR, and the attention paid there to how we engage with the broader politics of the world (also a theme this year).
Every conference and symposium I’ve been to has had these kinds of moments. Sometimes it’s only a few talks that shift my understanding in a key way, sometimes I meet people who are working on radically different areas but still offer me a new way to think about research, or about my negotiations with academia. Collaborations that help me link my work with others.
And then there interviews and protests, where I get to learn more about how activism works in practice. Or workshops where my research intermingles with people’s daily experiences, and always changes. Talking at a huge event in Athens, and dancing with friends there afterwards, because that’s important too. Adacamp and Barcamp unconferences, World Social Forums, and other events. And threaded through them all, conversations with people who are changing the world in so many ways.
And, when I go home, my department, and my gradual exploration since returning to Perth of the other researchers at Curtin who are working on overlapping areas. Because Internet studies is a jumble of areas, I’m often working on very different issues to my colleagues, but I’m learning so much from starting to read more of their work. More importantly, it’s been a space within academia where I feel like I can be honest about who I am and what I care about, and where I can find support.
I may not have a clear academic home, but I’m grateful for all these overlapping spaces.
October 9, 2016 § 2 Comments
A lot of people attending talk about having found their academic ‘home’, or about having found their ‘people’. This is understandable: AoIR is an eclectic space, full of amazing, interesting people who are tackling important new problems (and often having to create new methodologies in order to do so).
It’s not my home, though. Except insofar, perhaps, as there’s often a significant gap between idealised images of home and many places in which I’ve actually lived. I’ve gone to quite a few different conferences, across a number of different fields, and I’ve never found ‘home’. I’ve always felt a little out of place, a little unsure about where my work fits in, a little like everyone else seems to know each other and I’m the one standing awkwardly at the edge of groups at social events wondering if I should just give up and go home.
Conferences are a challenge because of this, but still valuable. I’ve met a lot of good people, heard about interesting work that is mostly a few steps away from my own, and occasionally prodded other people’s ideas in the direction of new approaches that I think are important. I think a lot about cross-pollination.
AoIR felt especially hard this year. Part of that was the fact that I’m at a low ebb in terms of energy. In the last few months I’ve moved house, had a rather intense teaching semester, and had some health issues that left me feeling more exhausted than I can ever remember being before. The couple of years before that already depleted my reserves: they’ve been tremendously difficult on a personal level. But part of it was also the strangeness of feeling out of place amidst this narrative of AoIR as home, as ‘our people’. It’s especially jarring to feel my usual awkwardness as so many other people are talking about their sense of belonging.
And in academia, belonging is important. I’ve helped build some collaborations with other early-career scholars that I’ve found tremendously valuable, but I haven’t found mentors to help with some of the tougher aspects of navigating academia. I do okay at publishing, I think, but grants are hard to navigate when you don’t have more established scholars to include you on their projects so you can get your own track record.
I’ve had some very generous advice provided by older academics, but because they’re not quite in my area, it’s not always easy to implement: ‘Believe in your work!’ (I do!) ‘Try applying for grants x and y, they’re low-hanging fruit!’ (Their terms specifically prohibit the kind of research I’m most excited about.) I’m still trying to make these connections, but it’s hard to continually approach more senior academics with a lot of demands on their time and ask: can you help me?
I don’t know if there’s a place in academia that would fit me in the way that AoIR seems to fit others. Much of the work at AoIR is very close: there’s a significant concern with critiquing power structures and creating change in the world, albeit often coming with a different set of assumptions to my own. I met many wonderful people who I hope to stay in touch with, even if I often felt like I was getting in the way of them talking to people more important for their work. I also missed a few chances to meet and talk with others working in similar areas – perhaps in other, less exhausted years, I will be better at finding these connections.
But for others who might have felt the same way as I did at AoIR, worried that we weren’t belonging in the ways that others seem to, I wanted to write this. To remind myself, too, that it’s okay if there isn’t already a perfect home for me in academia. To remind myself that it’s okay to be at the margins. That sometimes even though it would be good to have a place already waiting to accept me, I just have to keep working at building communities where I can fit. Finding people, stitching networks, helping others who also feel out of place, questioning the assumptions that other people are working within. Sometimes, perhaps even often, remaining awkward, and doing my best to make the most of that space on the edge.
October 8, 2016 § Leave a comment
This was a fascinating session run by The Fourchettes collective, with a focus on un-block-boxing, thinking about it through axes of power, and by recognising spaces of invisibility (and the importance of preparing them). It was facilitated by Alison Harvey (University of Leicester, United Kingdom), Mary Elizabeth Luka (York University, Canada), Jessalynn Keller (University of Calgary, Canada), Tamara Shepherd (University of Calgary, Canada), and Mélanie Millette (Université de Québec à Montréal, Canada).
I’m afraid my notes are rather partial here, as I’m not always good at balancing participation with note-taking in the enlarged-fishbowl-more-of-a-pond format.
Tamara Shepherd’s introduction was very effective in setting the context for the discussion, noting the need for critical approaches to methodology, and the complications and ambiguities in developing those approaches.
Mary Elizabeth Luka talking about some of the ways in which an ethics of care is useful for thinking more deeply about methods. The ethics of care approach allows us to think about how ethics protocols obfuscate and manage different bodies of research. Building communities and networks is important, but this is often actually used with reference to ‘impact’ (in the ways it’s measured for academic work).
Mélanie Millette spoke on the paradoxes of balancing her personal experiences of research and the limitations of the formal ethics approach.
Jessalynn Keller talked about research pollination. Her research looks as how girls and women use digital technologies to challenge rape culture online, including their experiences and feelings around this kind of practice. This involves collecting a wide variety of materials across platforms. In constructing an archive of this material, it’s challenging to balance different priorities (including requirements as a junior researcher, and the desire to centre young women’s voices).
Alison Harvey talked about the obsession that develops in academia with typologies, and the benefits of taking individual words and thinking more deeply about them. Words that are very normalised in everyday practice, like, ‘data’ are beginning to feel uncomfortable. Her participants are experts sharing their stories, and talking to them doesn’t feel like, ‘data collection’. But we can’t just change these words, because we’re working within particular contexts. We also need to remember that no methodology is necessarily feminist. Feminist research approaches need to engage critically with the epistemological underpinnings of the process of research.
To give a very rough overview of some of the discussions that came up (perhaps more as a reminder to myself than anything else), with apologies for not being able to keep track of speakers:
- Citation practices: who do we cite? Do we try to take texts that aren’t overtly feminist and try to read them against themselves? When we’re citing important contributions, including conference papers, how do we also protect people who may have been obfuscating their arguments for reasons like safety?
- How do we support alternate citing practices as journal reviewers?
- How do we find sources beyond the cannon? Especially when most of the tools we use (like Google Scholar and our internal library research) embed the existing status quo?
- Open Humanities Press is a useful place to look for resources, in particular Photomediations.
- How do we escape marginal spaces within academia? (For example, not getting stuck within ‘work on queer issues’, ‘work on country x’.) How do we as readers help in this (remembering that an article or conference presentation on India or Poland may still be relevant)?
- Emma Lawson? ‘Publish and perish’ talks about the challenges of making research more open.
- We need to think about how industries surrounding academia (like publishing) can also be engaged in this work.
- How do we use our privilege, including our privilege as researchers, to create change?
- When we think about what communities we work with want, we need to keep asking what will be useful. The answers are surprising: sometimes it is to publish academic articles. How do we ask what communities want at scale? Or when we’re bringing communities into being through our research?
- When we’re working with ‘unlikeable’ movements, often we don’t want to point the ethics of care in their direction: we might be researching movements that we know don’t want to be researched, but their desires aren’t the most ethically pressing.
- How do we use a feminist ethics of care when doing larger-scale research?
- How do we use teaching to create change? Whose texts do we foreground? How do we make students pay attention to the authors of texts (many students assume that authors are white men)? What teaching practices create change?
AoIR2016: Forced migration and digital connectivity in(to) Europe – communicative infrastructures, regulations and media discourses
October 8, 2016 § Leave a comment
Mark Latonero (USC Annenberg School) spoke on they ways in which data is being collected around forced migration flows. Latonera is interested in the technologies that are being used to track and managed refugees’ movements across borders. People were stopping at the short border between Serbia and Croatia for a variety of reasons, including to get medical treatment, food, money transfers, and wireless access.
As we research these infrastructures, we also need to examine which actors are inserting themselves into these flows (or being drawn into them). Platforms like Facebook, Whatsapp, and Viber are being used to organise travel, while others, including Google and IBM, are developing responses aimed at supporting refugees or managing refugee flows. Coursera is offering online study for refugees, and there are also other edutech responses.
Aid agencies like UNHCR are teaming up with technology companies to try to develop support infrastructures: the World Food Program, for example, is coordinating with Mastercard. The ‘tech for good’ area, including techfugees, is also getting involved. Latonera is deeply doubtful that a lot of the hackathons in the West are going to produce systems that can help in meaningful ways.
We need to think about the social, political, and ethical consequences of the ways in which these technological structures of support, management, and surveillance are emerging.
Paula H. Kift (New York University, NY) In search of safe harbors: privacy and surveillance of refugees at the borders of Europe
There are two important EU regulations: Eurosur (drone and satellite surveillance of the Mediterranean sea), and Eurodac (which governs biometric data).
At the moment, the EU engages in drone and satellite surveillance of boats arriving, arguing that this doesn’t impinge on privacy because it tracks boats, not individuals. However, Kift argues that the right to privacy should impact on non-identifiability as well, and the data currently being gathered does have the ability to identify individuals in aggregate.
There are claims that data on boats may be used for humanitarian reasons, to respond to boats in distress, but the actual regulations don’t specify anything about how this might happen, or who would be responsible, which suggests that humanitarian claims are tacked on, rather than central to Eurosur.
Similarly, biometric data is being collected for indefinite storage and collection, and this is justified with claims that it will be used to help deal with crime. This is clearly discriminatory, as refugees are no more likely to be involved in crime that citizens. Extensive biometric data is now being collected on children as young as six. This is particularly worrying for people who are fleeing government persecution.
The right to privacy should apply to refugees: blanket surveillance is discriminatory, has the potential to create serious threats to refugee safety, and is frequently being used for surveillance and control rather than any humanitarian purposes.
Kift suggests that the refusal to collect personally identifiable information can also be seen as problematic: states are refusing to process refugee claims, which creates further flow-on effects in terms of a lack of support and access to services.
Emerging coordination with tech firms creates further concerns: one organisation suggested creating an app that offered to give information on crossing borders and resettlement, but actually tracked refugee flows.
Çiğdem Bozdağ (Kadir Has University, Turkey) and Kevin Smets (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium and Universiteit Antwerpen, Belgium). Discourses about refugees and #AylanKurdi on Social Media
After the image of Aylan Kurdi was shared, research showed huge peaks in online discussions of refugees, and searches for information on refugees and Syria. However, these findings also raise further questions. Did this actually alter the debate on refugees? How did different actors use the impact of the image? And how did this take shape in different local and national contexts?
This research focused on Turkey and Belgium (and specifically on Flanders). Belgium has taken much fewer refugees than Turkey, but nevertheless there are significant debates about refugee issues in Belgium. In Maximiliaanpark, a refugee camp was set up outside the immigration offices in response to slow processing times.
In the tweets studied, there were a lot of ironic/cynical/sarcastic tweets, which would be hard to code quantitatively: qualitative methods were more appropriate to understanding these practices.
Among the citizen tweets studied, the two dominant narratives were refugees as victims, or refugees as threats. In Turkey, anti-government tweeters blame the government for victimising refugees, pro-government tweets blame the opposition, Assad, or humanity as a whole. In Belgium, refugees were mostly seen as victims of a lack of political action, or as the victims of instrumentalisation (by politicians, media, and NGOs). When refugees were seen as a threat, in Turkey this focused on Aylan’s Kurdish ethnicity, whereas in Belgium this drew on far-right frames.
Research also looked at reasons given for the refugee ‘crisis’: those who are against migration tended to focus on economic pull factors, those in favour tended to give more vague reasons (‘failure of humanity’). When solutions were provided, those employing a victim representation called for action and solidarity, whereas those seeing refugees as threats called for measures like closing borders.
When the image of Aylan emerged, it was usually incorporated into existing narratives, rather than changing them. The exception was ‘one-time tweeters’: people who had affective responses (a single tweet about their sadness about Aylan, and then returning to their non-refugee tweets). Both Belgium and Turkish users tended to see Gulf countries as bad ‘others’ who do not take refugees. There was little focus on Daesh.
Twitter users who were opposed to immigration tended to employ the clearest vocabulary and framework: there were very strong in oppressing what they saw as the problem, and the solutions.
Unfortunately, the conclusion is pessimistic: the power of this image (on Twitter) is limited: it didn’t disrupt existing discourses, and there were also great similarities with how refugees and refugee issues are portrayed in the mainstream media.
Eugenia Siapera (Dublin City University, Ireland) and Moses Boudourides’ (University of Patras, Greece) work looks at the representation of refugee issues on Twitter.
There are two important theoretical frameworks: digital storytelling (Nick Coludry) and affective publics (Zizi Papacharissi). Affective publics both reflect and reorganise structures of feeling: the culture, mood, and feel of given historical moments. The refugee issue is a polymedia event, but this research focuses specifically on Twitter.
What are the affective publics around the ‘refugee issue’? There wasn’t one debate, but overlapping rhythms. Here, there were four key events: the Paris attacks, the Cologne station sexual assaults, the Idomeni crisis, and the Brussels bombing.
This research used large-scale capture of relevant tweets across many different languages. The overall story is about crisis, about European countries and their response, about chilrden and human rights told in many languages. It concerns political institutions ad politicians, as well as about terrorist attacks and US right-wig politics. Canada and Australia are also very much involved.
Incidents in particular countries rapidly become entangled with narratives elsewhere, as they were incorporated into national debates. There’s a tendency for discussions on Twitter to fit into existing narratives and discourses.
Kaarina Nikunen, University of Tampere. Embodied solidarities: online participation of refugees and migrants as a political struggle
By drawing together the public and private, campaigns build affective engagement that can be thought of as media solidarities. This research looks at ‘Once I was a refugee’, where refugees use their own voice and bodies to embody solidarity.
In Finland, the refugee population is very low: since 1973, the country has only 42,000 people with refugee status. In 2015, 30,000 refugees came, which was a significant change. The refugee presence in the public debate is very small. Debates are really between politicians, and some NGOs. Refugees are silent in the mainstream media.
‘Once I was a refugee’ was initiated by two journalists, following from examples in other European countries. It began in June 2015, which was crucial timing: August and September saw attacks on several reception centres, and anti-refugee rallies calling for borders to be closed. Public debates focused on the economic cost on Finland’s welfare state. The campaign tried to build a counter-narrative to these claims.
Within a few days, many young Finns shared their photos on the site: there are now 172 stories on the Facebook site. The format for stories is the same: “Once I was a refugee, now I’m a …” The site gained national attention, including in the mainstream press. It provided alternative images of labour, education, and value. The narratives are united by optimism: while they may have a sense of struggle, they highlight successful integration.
Most end with gratitude: “thank you, Finland”. This highlights the sense that refugees had (and have) of having to earn their citizenship. Uniforms are used to signal order and belonging. In particular, there are many images of people wearing army uniforms – these also gain the most shares. This can be seen as an attempt to counter claims of ‘dangerous’ refugee bodies.
Responses sometimes drew divisions between these ‘acceptable’ refugees and the need to refuse others. We should also recognise that the campaign requires former refugees to become vulnerable and visible: this is clear from the ways in which images become the focus of discussion for those against immigration. The campaign didn’t disrupt the narrative of refugees as primarily an economic burden which needed to be dealt with (merely promising
However, ‘Once I was a refugee’ did open space where refugees spoke up in their defence (when others weren’t), emphasising their value and agency, and engaging in the national political debate.
October 7, 2016 § Leave a comment
Digital Unmasking: the Ethical Issue of Crowd Surveillance
Mathias Klang, University of Massachusetts Boston
[This talk opened, rather jarringly, with a quotation from a guy who recently left ToR after multiple accusations of long-term predatory behaviour. I admit that this unsettled me substantially and probably didn’t help with my note-taking.]
Is there a right to protest anonymously? Anti-masking laws suggest otherwise. This is, in most jurisdictions, no legal right to anonymity, but there are some cases in which we’ve developed a commitment to anonymity, for example, in voting. Anonymity in voting shouldn’t be taken for granted: it was characterised as ‘cowardly’ in US history. We have this idea that democracy should be open.
If every device has politics, what is the politics of a device that captures mobile data? This is a technology that silences uncomfortable discourse.
Bryce Newell, Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society
Some key questions about body cameras and automatic license plate recognition systems (ALPR). Newell cited several examples of the tracking of police behaviour, and videotaping of police killings. Police talk about feeling victimised, or about a ‘witch-hunt’ against them. In interviews around the filming of police violence, themes around context and control. This is also leading to attempts by police to try to limit access to footage.
In other jurisdictions, police are making data more available instead, for example, putting bodycam footage online. However, this leads to its own issues, including ‘collateral visibility’, as citizens interacting with police have their interactions shared online.
Data privacy in commercial uses of municipal location data
Meg Young, University of Washington
This research asks about how data privacy is enacted by Seattle’s municipal government. Data collection drew on interviews, focus groups, and other ethnographic research. In Seattle, the state freedom of information law is grounded in a strong presumption of citizen’s right to know.
The Acyclica company collects data (MAC addresses), aggregates this data, and uses it to track travel patterns within the city. If the raw data was a public record, it would be requestable. Since it’s outsourced, it’s not. But analysis of the contract suggests that the data can be resold. Data collecting for this was rationalised in a variety of ways. For example, one employee said that people were ‘opting-in’ by having their phones’ wifi turned on in public space.
Sandra Braman provided some closing comments. One key question: what would you do (as an individual activist and as a community), assuming all of this is true, to be as politically effective as possible? We have to recognise that no matter what we do, it will be unpredictable. Activists can use big data (and other) analysis as well as researchers. [And somewhere in there discussion shifted to another skeevy JA from the tech activist world and I unfortunately ran entirely out of energy].
October 7, 2016 § Leave a comment
Cyberlaw 3.0 – Global Law of Internet Governance?
Thomas Streinz New York University School of Law, United States of America
Streinz talked about the cyberlaw debate as frequently polarised between ‘anarchists’ like Barlow and those arguing for state regulation, like Goldsmith and Wu. Streinz argues for a position somewhere in the middle (which he says is possibly where Lessig can be placed). Cyberlaw is one potential approach to this, but is often thought of with reference to treaties and custom. But this is a very slow approach to building law. Free trade agreements also increasingly touch on data flows.
The global administrative space includes a wide variety of institutions, from international organisations and treaties through to private governance institutions. Global administrative law brings many of the principles behind national governance to the international level: this is something Streinz has been trying to bring to ICANN over the last couple of years. How can ICANN become more transparent and participatory?
There’s an interesting tension emerging between multistakeholder governance and other models. Barlow’s ‘anarchist’ idea that governments should not be involved in Internet governance still lives on with many people, even if the actual system works quite differently. Global administrative law principles – transparency, participation, and review – can be applied to help build legitimacy.
The responsibilities of platforms: a new constitutionalism to promote the legitimacy of decentralized governance
Nicolas Suzor Queensland University of Technology, Australia
This presentation focuses on three key points:
1. Internet governance is decentralised.
2. We know very little about how that’s done.
3. We need better theory to understand it.
Governance, broadly defined, is “the management of the course of events in a social system” (Burris et al. 2008) – this allows us to move beyond understanding governance as only enacted by the state. Suzor refers to ‘nodal governance’ (Burris, Drahos, & Shearing) in particular, which focuses on the interrelationship of actors.
In practice, a very wide range of intermediaries govern online behaviour. Almost everything we know about the internal governance of platforms, and how they’re relating to other organisations, comes from anecdotes, leaked evidence, and lobbying documents. Platforms themselves are engaging in multiple regulatory games around the world.
There’s also increasing pressure from civil society groups for intermediaries to resist state pressure and become more independent. At the same time, many civil society groups (sometimes the same groups) are putting pressure on platforms to take more responsibility for governing the content on their sites.
The liberal division between public and private spheres makes it hard to talk about ‘rights’ in this context. So how do we apply the rule of law when governance is decentralised? There are four core values to start articulating key tensions:
1. Meaningful consent,
3. Equality and predictability,
4. Due process.
Terms of service are not good constitutional documents. They’re not designed to govern communities. Increased pressure on platforms has lead to more readable terms of service, but there’s little other improvement: no commitment to meaningful consent and transparency around terms of service changes, and all terms of service have some kind of allowance for the platform’s absolute discretion in making decisions.
There’s a range of research being undertaken by others in the research team to start understanding existing governance processes more deeply (sadly I didn’t catch all the names here). There’s still more work that needs to be done on theorising and regulating power. This is a genuinely complex issue, and there isn’t consensus around what constitutes legitimate governance. Even once ideas emerge about what constitutes legitimate governance, we have very little idea about how to get platforms to follow principles.
Free trade agreements and internet rules: new actors, new agendas
Christopher Foster (University of Sheffield, United Kingdom), Shamel Azmeh (London School of Economics, United Kingdom)
TTIP, TTP, and other less-known global trade deals are multinational, multilateral agreements, often with a regional dimension. They’re often characterised as ’21st century trade deals’, with some focus on digital data.
There’s been significant critique and protest around these trade deals from grassroots movement, often focusing on the lack of transparency involved in shaping them and the ways in which they benefit particular economic interests. There have also been critiques of their intellectual property components from a FOSS perspective, as well as of other digital issues.
However, these critiques often have quite a narrow focus: rather than focusing only on specific clauses, we need to think about them in a more holistic way. We also need to develop a less Western-centric, nationalistic perspective to evaluate them from a broader perspective that considers the global public good. Recently, a number of rounds of WTO negotiations have failed, in part because poorer nations have been pushing back against unfair proposals.
Trade deals have frequently been seen within frameworks that conceive them as negotiations between rational actors that represent the national good. But we need to understand the broader power structures, where weaker countries feel like they need to agree to unfavourable trade terms to avoid being excluded from trading blocks. Multinational companies also have an impact on the negotiations.
Foster and Azmeh’s research focuses on the TPP. This agreement focuses in part on ‘digital barriers’ to free trade. National policymakers frequently emphasise economic impact of laws managing digital content, including localised digital content (not just issues around censorship and surveillance). The US has a fear of ‘digital protectionism’, and are using the TTP as a way to push their position.
Silicon valley tech firms are also having an impact on international trade policy. Tech business alliances are also influencing policy through reports and lobbying. This is being reflected in the TPP draft.
More attention needs to be paid to the ways in which digital issues are being addressed in international trade agreements, and by the power structures that are shaping these agreements.