Published> A very public cull – the anatomy of an online issue public

Twitter

I am pleased to share that an article I co-authored with Rebecca Sandover (1st author) and Steve Hinchliffe has finally been published in Geoforum. I would like to congratulate my co-author Rebecca Sandover for this achievement – the article went through a lengthy review process but is now available as an open access article. You can read the whole article, for free, on the Geoforum website. To get a sense of the argument, here is the abstract:

Geographers and other social scientists have for some time been interested in how scientific and environmental controversies emerge and become public or collective issues. Social media are now key platforms through which these issues are publicly raised and through which groups or publics can organise themselves. As media that generate data and traces of networking activity, these platforms also provide an opportunity for scholars to study the character and constitution of those groupings. In this paper we lay out a method for studying these ‘issue publics’: emergent groupings involved in publicising an issue. We focus on the controversy surrounding the state-sanctioned cull of wild badgers in England as a contested means of disease management in cattle. We analyse two overlapping groupings to demonstrate how online issue publics function in a variety of ways – from the ‘echo chambers’ of online sharing of information, to the marshalling of agreements on strategies for action, to more dialogic patterns of debate. We demonstrate the ways in which digital media platforms are themselves performative in the formation of issue publics and that, while this creates issues, we should not retreat into debates around the ‘proper object’ of research but rather engage with the productive complications of mapping social media data into knowledge (Whatmore, 2009). In turn, we argue that online issue publics are not homogeneous and that the lines of heterogeneity are neither simple or to be expected and merit study as a means to understand the suite of processes and novel contexts involved in the emergence of a public.

(More) Gendered imaginings of automata

My Cayla Doll

A few more bits on how automation gets gendered in particular kinds of contexts and settings. In particular, the identification of ‘home’ or certain sorts of intimacy with certain kinds of domestic or caring work that then gets gendered is something that has been increasingly discussed.

Two PhD researchers I am lucky enough to be working with, Paula Crutchlow (Exeter) and Kate Byron (Bristol), have approached some of these issues from different directions. Paula has had to wrangle with this in a number of ways in relation to the Museum of Contemporary Commodities but it was most visible in the shape of Mikayla, the hacked ‘My Friend Cayla Doll’. Kate is doing some deep dives on the sorts of assumptions that are embedded into the doing of AI/machine learning through the practices of designing, programming and so on. They are not, of course, alone. Excellent work by folks like Kate Crawford, Kate Devlin and Gina Neff (below) inform all of our conversations and work.

Here’s a collection of things that may provoke thought… I welcome any further suggestions or comments 🙂

Alexa, does AI have gender?


Alexa is female. Why? As children and adults enthusiastically shout instructions, questions and demands at Alexa, what messages are being reinforced? Professor Neff wonders if this is how we would secretly like to treat women: ‘We are inadvertently reproducing stereotypical behaviour that we wouldn’t want to see,’ she says.

Prof Gina Neff in conversation with Ruth Abrahams, OII.

Predatory Data: Gender Bias in Artificial Intelligence

it has been reported that female-sounding assistive chatbots regularly receive sexually charged messages. It was recently cited that five percent of all interactions with Robin Labs, whose bot platform helps commercial drivers with routes and logistics, is sexually explicit. The fact that the earliest female chatbots were designed to respond to these suggestions
deferentially or with sass was problematic as it normalised sexual harassment.

Vidisha Mishra and Madhulika Srikumar – Predatory Data: Gender Bias in Artificial Intelligence

The Gender of Artificial Intelligence

Chart showing that the gender of artificial intelligence (AI) is not neutral
The gendering, or not, of chatbots, digital assistants and AI movie characters – Tyler Schnoebelen

Consistently representing digital assistants as femalehard-codes a connection between a woman’s voice and subservience.

Stop Giving Digital Assistants Female Voices – Jessica Nordell, The New Republic

“The good robot”

Anki Vector personal robot

A fascinating and very evocative example of the ‘automative imagination’ in action in the form of an advertisement for the “Vector” robot from a company called Anki.

How to narrate or analyse such a robot? Well, there are lots of the almost-archetypical figures of ‘robot’ or automation. The cutesy and non-threatening pseudo-pet that the Vector invites us to assume it is, marks the first. This owes a lot to Wall-E (also, the robots in Batteries Not Included and countless other examples) and the doe-eyed characterisation of the faithful assistant/companion/servant. The second is the all-seeing surveillant machine uploading all your data to “the cloud”. The third is the two examples of quasi-military monsters with shades of “The Terminator”, with a little bit of helpless baby jeopardy for good measure. Finally, the brief nod to HAL 9000, and the flip of the master/slave that it represents, completes a whistle-stop tour of pop culture understandings of ‘robots’, stitched together in order to sell you something.

I assume that the Vector actually still does the kinds of surveillance it is sending up in the advert, but I have no evidence – there is no publicly accessible copy of the terms & conditions for the operation of the robot in your home. However, in a advertorial on ‘Robotics Business Review‘, there is a quote that sort of pushes one to suspect that Vector is yet another device that on the face of it is an ‘assistant’ but is also likely to be hoovering up everything it can about you and your family’s habits in order to sell that data on:

“We don’t want a person to ever turn this robot off,” Palatucci said. “So if the lights go off and it’s on your nightstand and he starts snoring, it’s not going to work. He really needs to use his sensors, his vision system, and his microphone to understand the context of what’s going on, so he knows when you want to interact, and more importantly, when you don’t.”

If we were to be cynical we might ask – why else would it need to be able to do all of this? –>

Anki Vector “Alive and aware”

Regardless, the advert is a useful example of how the bleed from fictional representations of ‘robots’ into contemporary commercial products we can take home – and perhaps even what we might think of as camouflage for the increasingly prevalent ‘extractive‘ business model of in-home surveillance.

New journal article> A very public cull: the anatomy of an online issue public

Twitter

I am pleased to share that a paper that Rebecca Sandover, Steve Hinchliffe and I have had under review for some time has been accepted for publication. The paper comes from our project “Contagion”, which amongst other things examined the ways issue publics form and spread around public controversies – in this case the English badger cull of 2013/14. The research this article presents comes from mixed methods social media research, focused on Twitter. The methods and conversation have, of course, moved on a little in the last two years but I think the paper makes a contribution to how geographers in particular might think about doing social media-based research. I guess this, as a result, also fits into the recent (re)growth of ‘digital geographies’ too.

The article is titled “A very public cull: the anatomy of an online issue public” and will be published in Geoforum in the not-too-distant future. Feel free to get in touch for a pre-print version.

Abstract:

Geographers and other social scientists have for some time been interested in how scientific and environmental controversies emerge and become public or collective issues. Social media are now key platforms through which these issues are publicly raised and through which groups or publics can organise themselves. As media that generate data and traces of networking activity, these platforms also provide an opportunity for scholars to study the character and constitution of those groupings. In this paper we lay out a method for studying these ‘issue publics’: emergent groupings involved in publicising an issue. We focus on the controversy surrounding the state-sanctioned cull of wild badgers in England as a contested means of disease management in cattle. We analyse two overlapping groupings to demonstrate how online issue publics function in a variety of ways – from the ‘echo chambers’ of online sharing of information, to the marshalling of agreements on strategies for action, to more dialogic patterns of debate. We demonstrate the ways in which digital media platforms are themselves performative in the formation of issue publics and that, while this creates issues, we should not retreat into debates around the ‘proper object’ of research but rather engage with the productive complications of mapping social media data into knowledge (Whatmore 2009). In turn, we argue that online issue publics are not homogeneous and that the lines of heterogeneity are neither simple, or to be expected, and merit study as a means to understand the suite of processes and novel contexts involved in the emergence of a public. 

Reblog> session on feminist digital geographies at AAG conference April 2019

Women Who Code

Via Gillian Rose. If you’re going to the AAG – this session is sure to be a good one.

Session on feminist digital geographies at AAG conference April 2019

This is a call for papers for a session at the next conference of the American Association of Geographers annual meeting in Washington DC 3-7 April next year on feminist digital geographies, organised by Agnieszka Leszczynski (Western University) and me. It’s sponsored by both the Digital Geographies and the Geographic Perspectives on Women Speciality Groups of the AAG.

In the context of a flurry of activities coalescing around digital geographies, we invite papers that consider the “enduring contours and new directions” of feminist theory, politics, and praxis for geographies concerned with the digital (Elwood and Leszczynski, 2018). We broadly welcome interventions that proceed from, utilize, and advance feminist epistemologies, methodologies, theory, critical practice, and activism.

We are open to submissions offering empirical, theoretical, critical, and methodological contributions across a range of topics, including but not limited to:

  • big data
  • digitally-mediated cities
  • artificial intelligence and algorithms
  • social media
  • feminist/digital/spatial theory
  • progressive alternatives and activism
  • feminist histories and genealogies

Please submit abstracts of no more than 200 words by October 15thto aleszczy@uwo.ca and gillian.rose@ouce.ox.ac.uk. Please include a title, your name, affiliation and email address in the abstract. We will respond to authors with confirmation by November 1st.

Reference:

Elwood S and Leszczynski A (2018) Feminist digital geographies. Gender, Place & Culture25(5): 629-644.

WhatsApp Research Awards for Social Science and Misinformation

A person removing a mask

Via Moira Weigel. Deadline is 12/08/2018.

WhatsApp Research Awards for Social Science and Misinformation

WhatsApp cares about the safety of our users and is seeking to inform our understanding of the safety problems people encounter on WhatsApp and what more we can do within WhatsApp and in partnership with civil society to address the problem. For this first phase of our program, WhatsApp is commissioning a competitive set of awards to researchers interested in exploring issues that are related to misinformation on WhatsApp. We welcome proposals from any social science or related discipline that foster insights into the impact of technology on contemporary society in this problem space. The WhatsApp Research Awards will provide funding for independent research proposals that are designed to be shared with WhatsApp, Facebook, and wider scholarly and policy communities. These are unrestricted monetary awards that offer investigators the freedom to deepen and extend their existing research portfolio. Applications are welcome from individuals with established experience studying online interaction and information technologies, as well as from persons seeking to expand their existing research into these areas.

Core Areas of Exploration

We will seriously consider proposals from any social science and technological perspective that propose projects that enrich our understanding of the problem of misinformation on WhatsApp. High priority areas include (but are not limited to):

  • Information processing of problematic content: We welcome proposals that explore the social, cognitive, and information processing variables involved in the consumption of content received on WhatsApp, its relation to the content’s credibility, and the decision to promote that content with others. This includes social cues and relationships, personal value systems, features of the content, content source etc. We are interested in understanding what aspects of the experience might help individuals engage more critically with potentially problematic content.
  • Election related information: We welcome proposals that examine how political actors are leveraging WhatsApp to organize and potentially influence elections in their constituencies. WhatsApp is a powerful medium for political actors to connect and communicate with their constituents. However, it can also be misused to share inaccurate or inflammatory political content. We are interested in understanding this space both from the perspective of political actors and the voter base. This includes understanding the unique characteristics of WhatsApp for political activity and its place in the ecosystem of social media and messaging platforms, distribution channels for political content, targeting strategies, etc.
  • Network effects and virality: We welcome proposals that explore the characteristics of networks and content. WhatsApp is designed to be a private, personal communication space and is not designed to facilitate trends or virality through algorithms or feedback. However, these behaviors do organically occur along social dimensions. We are interested in projects that inform our understanding of the spread of information through WhatsApp networks.
  • Digital literacy and misinformation: We welcome proposals that explore the relation between digital literacy and vulnerability to misinformation on WhatsApp. WhatsApp is very popular in some emerging markets, and especially so among new to Internet and populations with lower exposure to technology. We are interested in research that informs our efforts to bring technology safely and effectively into underserved geographical regions. This includes studies of individuals, families and communities, but also wider inquiries into factors that shape the context for the user experience online.
  • Detection of problematic behavior within encrypted systems: We welcome proposals that examine technical solutions to detecting problematic behavior within the restrictions of and in keeping with the principles of encryption. WhatsApp’s end-to-end encrypted system facilitates privacy and security for all WhatsApp users, including people who might be using the platform for illegal activities. How might we detect illegal activity without monitoring the content of all our users? We are particularly interested in understanding and deterring activities that facilitate the distribution of verifiably false information.

Program Format

Our preference is for proposals based on independent research, in which the applicant develops conceptual tools, gathers and analyzes data, and/or investigates relevant issues. Each awardee will retain all intellectual property rights to their data and analyses. WhatsApp staff may provide guidance, but investigators are responsible for carrying out the scope of work.

The program will make unrestricted awards of up to $50,000 per research proposal. All applications will be reviewed by WhatsApp research staff, with consultation from external experts. Payment will be made to the proposer’s host university or organization as an unrestricted gift.

In addition to the award monies, WhatsApp invites award recipients to attend two workshops:

  1. The first workshop will provide awardees with a detailed introduction to how the WhatsApp product works as well as context on the focus area of misinformation. It will also enable participants to receive feedback from WhatsApp research staff and invited guests on their research proposals. We hope this will facilitate international collaborations across researchers and teams in this area. The tentative date for this event is October 29-30, in Menlo Park, CA.
  2. A second workshop will allow awardees to present their initial research findings to WhatsApp and other awardees, providing an opportunity to contextualize their findings with each other. Our hope is that upon completion of the research, award recipients will seek to share their research with the wider public. Tentative date is April 2019, exact date will be updated on this page at a later time.

WhatsApp will arrange and pay for the travel and accommodation of one representative from each awardee. This will be in addition to the research award amount.

Data

  • No WhatsApp data will be provided to award recipients;
  • All data from award research efforts will be owned by the researcher, and need not be shared with WhatsApp.

Applications, Eligibility & Participant Expectations

  • Applications must be written in English and include the following:
    • A research title, identification of the Principle Investigator (PI) and their institutional affiliation for the purposes of the proposed research;
    • A brief program statement (double-spaced, 12 point font, not to exceed 5 pages) that specifies the proposed work. This statement should include the following elements:
      • specification of question(s) being asked;
      • clear statement of the methodology together with examples of when/where this approach has given research insights;
      • plan for any data collection, analysis, and/or conceptual work;
      • description of the expected research outputs and findings;
      • relevance for our understanding of user experiences in online environments.
    • A 1-page bio and CV for the PI together with selected publication references. Summary bios of any other team members or collaborators.
    • A clear statement of the budget requested.
  • Preference will be given to research conducted in countries where WhatsApp is a prominent medium of communication (India, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, etc.).
  • Preference will be given to proposals from researchers, or collaborations with researchers, based in the country/countries being researched.
  • WhatsApp will accept applications from researchers who hold a PhD. In exceptional cases, we will review applications from individuals without PhD’s who have shown a high-level of achievement in social science or technological research.
  • The award is restricted to social science and technological research that contributes to generalized scientific knowledge and its application. Documentaries, journalism, and oral history projects are not eligible.
  • Awards will be made to an awardee’s university department, research institute or organization; all applicants must therefore be affiliated with an organization that supports research and can process external funding awards. All awards will be made in US dollars.
  • Proposals may be submitted by individuals with no prior experience in social media or Internet research. We welcome proposals from researchers who seek to expand their research portfolio into the area of information and communication technologies.
  • All award recipients are strongly encouraged to attend the two WhatsApp workshops associated with this program. Travel and accommodation will be arranged and paid for by WhatsApp.
  • The proposed research should be carried out by the date of the second workshop, in April 2019. Presentation materials that comprise the final report should be written in English and made available for WhatsApp and the other award recipients by the date of the final workshop. All rights to these materials will be held by the award recipient.
  • Once awardees have accepted their awards, WhatsApp will publicly share the details of the selected applicants by posting a summary of the results together with the PI’s name and the title of the proposal on the Facebook Research blog. This information may also be included in other presentations or posts relating to this effort.

By applying to this award, you are agreeing to the following:

  • You are affiliated with an institution that supports research and can process external funding awards.
  • If chosen, your institution will receive the award as a gift in US dollars and in the amount decided solely by WhatsApp.
  • You acknowledge that you have been invited to two, in-person, WhatsApp workshops (tentatively in October 2018 and April 2019).
  • You acknowledge that WhatsApp will publicly disclose your name and the proposal title as an award recipient.
  • You plan to attend and present the research findings at the second, WhatsApp workshop, likely to be held in Menlo Park, CA, USA in late April, 2019. The workshops and presentations will be conducted in English. Interpretation will be provided if needed. Note: airfare, hotel and transportation to be arranged and paid for by WhatsApp.

Timing and Dates

Applications are due by August 12, 2018, 11:59pm PST. Award recipients will be notified of the status of their application by email by September 14, 2018.

Questions

For all questions regarding these awards, please contact us.

Reblog> Internet Addiction watch “Are We All Addicts Now? Video

Twitter

Via Tony Sampson. Looks interesting >

This topic has been getting a lot of TV/Press coverage here in the UK.Here’s a video of a symposium discussing artistic resistance, critical theory strategies to ‘internet addiction’ and the book Are We All Addicts Now? Convened at Central St Martins, London on 7th Nov 2017. Introduced by Ruth Catlow with talks by Katriona Beales, Feral Practice, Emily Rosamond and myself…

@KatrionaBeales @FeralPractice @TonyDSpamson @EmilyRosamond & @furtherfield