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Digital Participation abstracts

Information inequalities in an era of digital citizenship

Presenter: Karen Mossberger

Digital citizenship is the ability to participate in society online, necessary for democratic practice and equality of opportunity. It requires regular access to the internet and skills for effective use (Mossberger, Tolbert and McNeal 2008).  Internationally there is a growing body of evidence that internet use matters for political participation and civic engagement in a variety of ways; especially online news, which has often demonstrated more pronounced effects on political participation than offline media.  Inequalities in digital citizenship are related to disparities in access, but also disparities in skill.  In the U.S., differences in use of online news track other social inequalities – not only across demographic groups, but also across major cities, suggesting disadvantages in political representation for these communities.  Beyond access or use of the internet for news, however, new challenges are emerging that put an ever-higher premium on information literacy, which is a critical component of the skills for digital citizenship.  Ironically, some of the properties of online news and information that have been linked to its effects on political participation can also increase the impact of misinformation. Drawing on the literature on the internet and political participation, as well as the requirements of information literacy, it is possible to identify priorities for public policy as well as needs to address misinformation and unequal capacities in the information age.

Bloody Ads!: How more cost effective online advertising has contributed to information inequalities

Presenter: Dan Andrew

New technologies available for buying advertisement placements online, in particular the use of programmatic advertising and Real-Time Bidding (RTB) have resulted in greater advertising efficiencies for advertisers who are able to by-pass the wastage of advertising on mass audience media platforms by targeting relevant consumers individually. These developments have resulted in a double-edged sword for online content providers who are now able to compete against traditional mass media platforms, (television, radio and print), for advertising revenue but are having to compete with websites that use dumbed down stories, misleading headlines, clickbait and fake news stories to attract audiences to sell to advertisers through programmatic advertising. This paper will describe the evolving online audience marketplace and its role in contributing to a less effective online democracy.

Time to bury fake news: A case study of ABC's Planet America in the rise of misinformation and its uses in the US

Presenter: Zorana Kostic

Since the election of US President Donald Trump in 2016 this phenomena has been heavily scrutinized. According to commentators like Novak (2017) ‘President Donald Trump’s attacks on the news media continue to spook journalists, First Amendment defenders and government ethics experts. His comments are scaring the media and generally are unprecedented in U.S. history’. While in Australia, fake news has become firmly embedded in political discourse (Dezuanni 2017; Bruns 2017). Without any doubt, ‘fake news’ has become a global phenomenon in the contemporary digital media ecology with mainly negative consequences for the role of journalism and the media.

This paper employs a case study model (Remenyi 2012; Harrison, Birk, Franklin and Mills 2017) utilizing both quantitative and qualitative data. I examine the correlation between fake news and information abundance in the digital age through the use of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) online services. More broadly I question whether social media users are ‘tech-savvy’ enough to be aware of the potential risks in exposing private information for misuse on the Internet and its correlation to manipulating outcomes in international politics. In this analysis, I also refer to digitally altered images, and techniques in how to quickly identify photo authenticity.

Chinese Language Media in Australia: Diaspora Media as a form of Political Influence

Presenters: Michael Jensen & Titus Chen

This research investigates differences in Mandarin language news reporting between Australia’s Special Broadcast Service (SBS) and news targeting Australian audiences published on the popular Chinese (People’s Republic of China – PRC) platform, WeChat. We find significant differences in the news content between these two platforms with SBS providing more political informational content on politics and public affairs in Australia whereas official accounts on WeChat pages tend to focus more on cultural productions from the PRC. The implication of these pages is that the content produced by SBS tends to both inform and cultivate democratic political identities and identifica-tion with the Australian political system whereas WeChat tends to differentiate the Chinese diaspora from the wider Australian community.

Post-Truth Politics and the Unfinished Communications Revolution

Presenter: John Keane

President Obama's International Strategy for Cyberspace (2011) described the Internet as a self-organising, democratic community whose 'norms of responsible, just and peaceful conduct among states and people have begun to take hold'. Since that time, the decadent counter-trends of the unfinished communications revolution have become obvious. The market dominance of Silicon Valley technology giants, large-scale data harvesting, hacking and information warfare, and the emergence of an alternative China model of cyber-sovereignty are among the many worrying trends. Organised 'post-truth' disinformation that harnesses such techniques as message testing, mobile ID matching and facial recognition software is another trend, and the focus of this presentation. It explores the contours of the current 'post-truth' public controversy and its connection with the unfinished digital communications revolution now affecting everyday life and practically all institutions of actually existing democracies. Special attention is paid to the orthodox claim that ‘post-truth’ is a style of politics that results in the burying of ‘objective facts’ by an avalanche of ‘appeals to emotion and personal belief’ (OED). The contribution probes the writings and speeches of the critics of ‘post-truth’, who warn of the dangers of political lying, media silence and populists’ talk of ‘fake news’. It shows how and why they call for a recovery of ‘truth’, 'facts' and 'objectivity' in public life. It sketches the need for a new geography and history of truth. And the contribution poses a series of challenging questions: how credible is the appeal by journalists, public commentators and others to recapture ‘truth’ in public life? What exactly is meant by truth, and why is it deemed important? Or is truth not as politically important as is often imagined? Does truth-telling have its limits? All things considered, might truth be fading from people's lives and, from the point of view of democracy, might bidding ‘farewell to truth’ (Gianni Vattimo) even be desirable?

Revitalising Intra-Party Democracy through Digital Democratic Innovations: The case of Danish Political Party Alternativet

Presenter: Nikolai Glad

The Danish political party Alternativet constitutes a recent example of an emerging political party that claims to promote and practice new and inclusive ways of doing politics, experimenting with digital technologies for this purpose. In this respect, they share many characteristics with other emerging, European political parties, including the Pirate Parties in Germany, Iceland and elsewhere, Podemos in Spain, and M5S in Italy. Similarly, to these parties, Alternativet also experienced electoral success relatively quickly and has been represented in parliament since 2015. Thus, Alternativet, like similar emerging parties, is an attempt to combine democratic innovations with party politics and traditional political institutions in liberal representative democracies. This is interesting considering how democratic innovations are often conceptualised in contrast to classic representative political institutions, and these parties’ potential ability to provide consequentiality to citizen participation.

In my PhD, I explore how digital democratic innovations are used in Alternativet, to involve members and supporters directly in intra-party policy formation and decision-making. Based on semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders in Alternativet, I identify four different models of intra-party democracy promoted by the party elite; each with their own justifications for and aims of involving people in party politics. These include an aggregative crowd sourcing model, a participatory DIY model, a deliberative model, and a more traditional delegation model. I theorise that different digital technologies utilised by the party, each cater for different models of intra-party democracy, and test this through a membership survey.

Local participation and the Five Star Movement’s results in the 2018 general election

Presenter: Francesco Bailo

This paper uses social media data to provide a quantitative interpretation of the results of the Five Star Movement (M5S) in the 2018 Italian general election. The dominant reading of the M5S unprecedented success (33% at the national level) sees unemployment as the prominent explanatory factor. This interpretation is motivated by two elements: first, the M5S results in the southern regions, where unemployment is significantly higher, have been up to 20 percentage points higher than in the northern regions, and, second, the introduction of a form of guaranteed minimum income was the flagship campaign proposal of the M5S.

In this paper, I use spatiotemporal data collected from to test with a multivariate analysis whether patterns of local participation show a correlation with the electoral results. The Five Star Movement has been using to allow the decentralised organisation of local meetings since 2005. The public API of offers detailed information on meetings. I use the density of meetings in the three months preceding the election in the vicinity of about 8,000 geographic areas as an explanatory variable for the local electoral result of the M5S. Results indicate that, in the South — where the M5S support has dramatically increased since the last general election — if the presence of meetings in the area is significantly (and positively) associated with local electoral support for the M5S, unemployment is not.

My multivariate analysis raises interesting questions on the role of local (that is, onsite) participation in the age of Internet-mediated communication. Why does local participation still matter? I argue that local groups of political activists should not be intended as directly causing a stronger than average electoral support. Instead, local and direct participation in the M5S loose network of meetups is a proxy variable for distrust towards traditional (social, economic and political)  institutions, which is especially strong in the South.

Social media as the fifth estate in Nigeria: an analysis of the 2012 Occupy Nigeria protest

Presenter: Temple Uwalaka

This study examines the role that social media played in the organisation of the 2012 Occupy Nigeria protest and in holding mainstream media accountable during the protest. Using a mixed methods research design, the researcher interviewed 19 students from two Nigerian universities who participated in the protest. The researcher also analysed 13,031 contents from protesters’ Facebook posts and tweets of the Occupy Nigeria protests. His data reveal that social media platforms were used most by the protesters to plan and organise for the 2012 Occupy Nigeria protest. His findings also show that the local mainstream media acquiesced to the pressure from government officials by refusing to cover the protest at its inception until they were forced to do so by the protesters. This perceived inaction by the local mainstream media was cited by some of our interview participants as a source of motivation to participate in the protest. Using social capital theory, this paper argues that social media – fifth estate, brought about interaction, socialisation, collective engagement, and liberation that was not present in the mainstream media.

Campaigning without media: indigenous politics in a non-indigenous setting

Presenter: Eli Skogerbø

Norway is, together with Sweden, Finland and Russia, home to the Sami, the indigenous people of Northern Europe. Although a small and scattered population, in three Nordic countries Sami citizens have been recognized as a group with indigenous rights to representation. In Norway, the Sami Parliament – Sámediggi, which has administrative and consultative powers, – was set up in 1989, in Sweden in 1993, and since then elections have been held every four years.  Since 2009, the elections and election campaigns of the Sámediggi have been studied, including research on media coverage and political communication patterns.

The Sámediggi election campaigns are carried out in public spaces almost without media, or more correctly, without news media that cover them. Quite a high percentage of Sami voters cast their ballot in constituencies without any Sami traditional settlements. Still, in these constituencies many political parties stand for election and they return a substantial number of members of the Sámediggi, generating the question: How do parties and candidates run a campaign in a constituency where the public sphere for Sami voters and their candidates is hardly existent and no news media cover the campaign regularly? How do candidates and parties obtain the visibility that is critical for winning votes? How important are social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other online and social media platforms? When, where and why, if at all, do we find the spaces where parties, candidates and voters communicate?

The studies combine insights from qualitative interviews with candidates and qualitative and quantitative analyses of media and social media data and the findings suggest that campaigning was highly informal. Although all traditional campaigning methods would be used, reliance on the candidates’ personal and social networks and social media accounts seems to have been fundamental. The results are not statistically generalizable to other settings but can inform theorizing and conceptualization of how silent voices and invisible citizens can be understood as parts of the political public spheres.

How do Data Come to Matter? Living and Becoming with Personal Data

Presenter: Deborah Lupton

An expanding array of technologies are directed at monitoring aspects of human lives and rendering them into digital data sets. People’s encounters and interactions with digital technologies generate reams of digitised information about their bodies, habits, preferences and social relationships. This information is often referred to as ‘small data’, but when they are aggregated, small data become big data. Many of these data traces are collected, accessed and exploited by other actors and agencies, often without people’s knowledge or consent. In some cases, however, people can view and use the data thus produced about them. They may choose to actively collect digitised information about themselves using devices and software specifically designed for this purpose, such as self-tracking apps, platforms and wearable devices. People can also sometimes review data about themselves collected by other actors, such as social media metrics, employee dashboards, educational outcomes, medical records and so on.

A growing literature has emerged under the rubric of critical data studies, examining and critiquing the role of digital data in everyday lives and social institutions. However, the onto-epistemological dimensions of human-data assemblages and their relationship to bodies and selves have yet to be thoroughly theorised. In this paper, I draw on key perspectives espoused in feminist materialism, vital materialism and the anthropology of material culture to examine the ways in which these assemblages operate as part of knowing, perceiving and sensing human bodies. I draw particularly on scholarship that employs organic metaphors and concepts of vitality, growth, making, articulation, composition and decomposition. I show how these metaphors and concepts relate to and build on each other, and how they can be applied to think through humans’ encounters with their digital data. I argue that these theoretical perspectives work to highlight the material and embodied dimensions of human-data assemblages as they are grow and are enacted, articulated and incorporated into everyday lives. I draw on examples from my empirical studies on Australians’ engagements with their personal data to illustrate these arguments.

Enduring data: segregation, stigma, and children’s rights in records

Presenter: Nina Lewis

Childhood detention (whether enacted within immigration or justice facilities) and child protection remain areas of flawed practice, and significant sites of data injustice in Australia. This paper discusses current research at Monash University that explores digital participation in the context of recordkeeping systems and the rights of children. To be depersonalised in dealings with government agencies is not unique to out of home care. A fundamental difference here is that the individual whose personal identity is supressed is being depersonalised by the same entity that has deemed itself responsible for overseeing their childhood care and development. Our research shows that not only are there significant barriers to young people who spend portions of their childhood in care and custody obtaining data that government agencies record about them, but also that the power asymmetries evident in collection, access and use of personal data have long term effects in compounding social disengagement, intergenerational disadvantage, and psychological harm.

The Imagined Archives and Rights in Records by Design projects ask a number of research questions, including:

  • Is there sufficient transparency regarding collection, accumulation, and reuse of data about children who intersect with government services?
  • What opportunities do digital technologies afford children and young people to have greater agency in the creation and use of records that humanely and holistically document their childhood experience as it intersects with government services?
  • What kinds of governance structures are necessary to facilitate cross-jurisdictional data flows that meet corporate and civic needs while respecting the reputational and privacy rights of some of our most vulnerable youth and their families?
  • What data models might underpin the design of recordkeeping technologies that truly support the provision and demonstration of care, moving beyond transactional evidence of administration of care?
  • Can such technologies serve as an apparatus to effect deeper systemic change?

This presentation will present some of our research and open a discussion on the above issues.

The Last Post: Shadow archive and the role of commemoration in the online politics of exclusion and inclusion

Presenter: Tom Sear

Contemporary online politics in social and algorithmic visual media is often represented as an Information War. Since the development of the internet, terrorism and war itself has been increasingly diffused and activated though online platforms. Recent social media data and astroturf controversies have been presented as psychological operations with military origins. Simultaneously, forms of ‘culture’ wars and returns to the past have been adopted as ways to capture and mobilise online populations. Memory activism around nodal 20th century wars remain a vibrant focus for 21st century online politics globally. This paper explores how Australian Anzac Day social media memory activism, retellings and controversies function to both demonstrate the dynamics of chaotic pluralism, and micro participation (Margetts 2015). It also explores how in their transformation from analogue mass ceremonies into database via asynchronous habits and crises (Chun, 2016) the role of commemorations in constituting subjects is transformed from a collective ‘we’, to a connective ‘you’. Therefore, the paper considers how memory mobilisation online frames exclusion and inclusion for rights to access civic political presence. In an era where information societies consider cultural memory as storage, and online data and earlier iterations of networked identity haunt the self, the paper considers how, when sociotechnical forms of memory haunt contemporary online politics framing exclusion and inclusion to via legacy citizen identities, their incorporation transforms conceptions of society and sociality in a geopolitics of hemispherical stacks.