Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Power as a linkage Between Politics and Social media

Jamileh Kadivar is a student in the Social Media MA at the University of Westminster.

As a person who has studied Political science before and is familiar with some terms and aspects of politics, finding a way to make a connection between my previous knowledge and experience with new studies of social media seemed difficult at the beginning.

At first, I thought that I had started in a completely new era with new terms which are completely different from what I knew. In some aspects this view was correct and I felt like Alice in Wonderland, but I found the missing linkage between these two different eras in “power”. I learnt about surveillance, especially government surveillance, internet surveillance and counter-surveillance in social media, and I understood that social media can be useful for political analysis too.

“Power” plays a key role in politics and many scholars believe politics is a science of power; power to control others. In social media, and the internet and web 2.0 also, power is an important factor. Boersma has stressed many writers and scholars believe that it is important to go beyond dystopian and utopian approaches and see the internet as a field that is shaped by power and conflicting interest. (2012, 300) New media restructured the way panoptic power works and is executed. Castells believes internet surveillance is a technology of control (Castells 2001, 171).

As Fuchs et al. have stressed "the working of web 2.0" is based on the collection, storage, usage, and analysis of a huge amount of personal data. Therefore discussing privacy, - and surveillance- implications of web 2.0 and political, economic, and the cultural dimensions of privacy and surveillance on web 2.0 becomes an important task (2012, 5). Many people may think that only citizens in authoritarian regimes are living under surveillance and all aspects of their lives are under the gaze and control of the police and security forces. But, nowadays it is obvious that surveillance without informed contest is pervasive and universal in the real and virtual world. Mathiesen has mentioned what is new now is surveillance that is hidden, unseen, and impossible to trace. (2012, xix) The internet leads to more surveillance of various forms. (Boersma 2012, 305)

The more we know about surveillance, the more we fear and worry about our privacy and also our security. I was triggered many times by these questions: who has access to my information and the contents of my platforms? How is this information collected, classified and sorted? What aspects of this information are used by them? Why do they use my private information? Who has access to my information in different platforms? And for whom is this information being collected?

And finally, my questions are being led back to the key term that I mentioned in the beginning; “power” which is hidden in the hands of the governments or big companies. We prepare contents free for them and are happy that they have created these platforms freely for us!


Fuchs, Christian et al. (2012) Internet and Surveillance, London: Routledge.

Castells, Manuel. (2001) The Internet Galaxy. Oxford: Oxford university press.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Blurring the limits between personal and professional life

María Belén Conti is a student in the Social Media MA at the University of Westminster.

As a journalist, I usually find myself in a difficult situation when it comes to social media: would it affect my job opportunities if I openly express my opinion of certain topics online as my friends do? Should I always be professional because if anything personal is filtered I will lose my credibility (major asset for a journalist)?

Some may say that the best solution is to have two different profiles, one for personal and other professional proposes (EFE, 2011; Restrepo, 2012). But again, the personal profile is there and the chance of information, opinions or photos filtering to audiences we don’t want to reach is still high.

“You have one identity...The days of you having a different image for your work friends or co-workers and for the other people you know are probably coming to an end pretty quickly... Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity”, said Mark Zuckerberg (quoted in Meikle and Young, 2012, p.129). But is that really the case?

As Erving Goffman (1959) points out in his book The presentation of self in everyday life, we are always performing different roles to different audiences: “When an individual appears in front of others, he knowingly and unwillingly projects a definition of situation, of which a conception of himself is an important part” (p.234-235).

In other words, we won’t show the same persona in our work, in front of our family or with our friends. And that doesn’t make us lose our integrity, even if Zuckerberg doesn’t agree. Those different audiences have different expectations of us, and therefore we will highlight those aspects that better fit the “front” we want to show in each performance.

But, what happens when social and networked media mix those audiences? What if they get access to the back stage that we want to keep private? After all, as Goffman points out, usually we relax when we know we are not being watched. However, with the increased visibility online, those chances are reduced. As Meikle and Young (2012) explain, “convergent media make the invisible visible” (p.129). So that brings me back to the beginning of this post: how does that affect our lives? Are the limits between professional and personal life blurred?

To address this issue, the concept of Foucault’s Panopticon is useful. It implies that the permanent visibility make us modify our behaviour, being more cautious than what we would be if not being watched (Thompson, 1995; Meikle and Young, 2012). I find it interesting that a study among long-distance students (Bregman and Haythornthwaite, 2003) -whose assignments include regular blogposts - confirm that we pay more attention to what we say and how we say it when we know we are being observed and that our contributions may be searched later:

“Every opinion, however well expressed, every joke, turn of phrase, and typographical error remains preserved, leaving a written legacy of an individual’s persona and style” (p.124-125).

The same can be said about photos, videos and opinions we publish online. If something is on the Internet, you cannot be sure it won’t be filtered. Even if we have good management of our privacy settings, our friends may comment or share that post and they may have different privacy settings than ours. So if we don’t want to risk something becoming publically available perhaps we better not publish it anywhere on the Internet.


Bregman, A. and Haythornthwaite, C.(2003). Radicals of presentation: visibility, relation, and co-presence in persistent conversation. New Media & Society, 5 (1), 117-140. [online] Available from: Sage Publications. < http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=> [Accessed 30 November 2013]

EFE News Agency. (2011). Guía para empleados de EFE en redes sociales (Guide for EFE’s employees in social media). [online] Available from: <http://www.efe.com/FicherosDocumentosEFE/Gu%C3%ADaEFE-Redes.pdf> [Accessed 1 December 2013]

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life, Harmondsworth: Penguin

Meikle, G. and Young, S. (2012). Media convergence: networked and digital media in everyday life, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Restrepo, H (2012). Borrador manual de estilo en redes sociales (Draft style guidelines for social media). [online] Available from: <http://es.scribd.com/doc/113601191/Borrador-Manual-de-Estilo-en-Redes-Sociales-Hernan-Restrepo> [Accessed 30 November 2013]

Thompson, J. (1995). The media and modernity: a social theory of the media, Cambridge: Polity Press

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

An Interview with Steve Jones: An Editor’s Viewpoint on Research and Social Media

By Janet Salmons, PhD  #einterview

We have heard researchers’ voices throughout NSMNSS events, Tweetchats and blog posts. Students, alt-academic independent researchers, respected scholars and research institute staff have discussed wide-ranging methodological and ethical issues associated with media-related research. Publication is an important next step for any researcher, one we have not yet explored in the NSMNSS project. To introduce an editor’s perspective into the mix I asked New Media & Society editor Dr. Steve Jones to share some insights.

New media was indeed new in 1999 when Dr. Jones and colleagues Nicholas Jankowski, Rohan Samarajiva and Roger Silverstone launched New Media & Society. With appreciation for the potential of emerging ways and means of communication they sought to create an international, interdisciplinary journal that could “contribute to the social, cultural and political understanding of new media and information technologies” (Jankowski, Jones, Samarajiva, & Silverstone, 1999, p. 5).  Entering its fifteenth year and Volume 16, this Sage Publications journal is going strong.

I initiated the conversation with a broad question: “From your view as editor, what trends do you see in terms of methodology and methods represented in submissions?” Dr. Jones noted that serving as an editor has been “a fascinating position, since when New Media & Society began, social media and networking did not exist.” The editors saw research about MySpace and Friendster, from no particular methodological or disciplinary position. As time passed, research mirrored trends for new media adoption in different parts of the world. Dr. Jones observed an interesting pattern, since much of the submitted research was motivated by the ways the researchers themselves used technology. Researchers wanted to probe more deeply into the new media platforms they used, meaning they had an a priori investment to better understand the online environments where they were already immersed. However, NM & S has not been flooded with manuscripts on each emerging technology trend. While conference presentations tend to center on the latest popular technology, manuscripts submitted have covered a “huge variation of topics and platforms.”

In terms of research approaches, while there is a general awareness of Netnography and online interviews, NM & S submissions tend to use traditional methods such as content analysis, discourse analysis or surveys.  Dr. Jones pointed out that “it is not typical to see innovative methods. I would like to see a greater variety… there could and should be greater awareness of methods used in disciplines other than one’s own, and efforts at complementarity by using multiple methods.

I asked him why he thought researchers use traditional methods to study new, technology-infused topics? He speculated that the importance of journal impact factors for use in evaluating tenure and promotion decisions in an increasingly competitive job market may influence researchers to use known approaches. It can often take more time to do a study using multiple methods, and given the pressures under which young scholars operate it can be difficult to decide to do anything that would take more time. He suggested that in some ways it is unrealistic to expect younger scholars—the ones in the most precarious positions—to move things forward, in the context of disciplinary and institutional conservatism.

Clearly innovation is hard and takes time, but when taking a long view Dr. Jones was heartened by increasing openness towards new methods and theories and greater willingness to use theories from other fields or disciplines.

Changing the subject slightly, I asked Dr. Jones what he looks for and how evaluates quality in research on or about social media? As editor, he relies on reviewers who are dedicated to supporting a community of scholars. When he reads the submissions and reviews, he looks for three main things:

      1. Did the writer follow the guidelines, word limits etc.? The journal is published in print as well as online, so word limits must be upheld to allow for 8 articles in each issue.

 2. To what degree does the research use or advance theory? NM & S still receives submissions that simply describe the phenomenon, without scholarly attention to theory and methods.

 3. Does the article contribute new knowledge to the field? Of the hundreds of good studies that could pass peer review many make no new points and basically say the same thing. Is the work original, with original ideas, or just a snapshot? In 8 issues with 64 articles per year, space is limited so he looks for articles that contribute in a meaningful way.
Given the competitiveness of the selection process, I asked what advice would benefit potential writers. Dr. Jones emphasized that they should “keep going.” Follow the guidelines and “put their best foot forward.” It is unfortunate to see a potentially good submission that with more work could have avoided rejection. “Get the work fully baked, even if that means taking longer. Get informal reviews from peers before submitting.” Get involved by participating, including offering to review.

My take-aways from this conversation with Dr. Jones include a respect for New Media & Society’s mix of new thinking and traditional expectations for solid, high-quality research.  Use the comment area to share your thoughts!

Friday, 10 January 2014

Upcoming Events and Conferences in 2014

14 March, 2014: Market Research Society, Annual Conference. Includes sessions related to social media, and registration is now open. 

23-25 April, 2014: British Sociological Association, Conference on ‘Changing Society’ at Leeds University. Registration open- sessions on social media research. http://www.britsoc.co.uk/events/bsa-annual-conference.aspx 

16 May, 2014: Social Research Association, call for papers for fourth annual all-day Social Media in Social Research conference. Scheduled for Friday, 16 May at the British Library in London.
Submissions to: admin@the-sra.org.uk | Deadline: 10 March 2014  |  www.the-sra.org.uk

30 June, 2014: Mashable’s World Social Media Day http://mashable.com/smday/

10-11 July, 2014: European Conference on Social Media. Registration to attend is open for this event, hosted in Brighton, UK. http://academic-conferences.org/ecsm/ecsm2014/ecsm14-registration.htm

Do you know of any other relevant events, conferences or workshops coming  up? Contact nsmnss@natcen.ac.uk to tell us about them and we will publicise them on this blog.

Reflections on the influence of social media on privacy

Akin Olaniyan is a student in the Social Media MA at the University of Westminster. 

Making sense of the obvious tension between online visibility and privacy is never going to be a straightforward thing for me. Having worked as a reporter and a corporate communication specialist for more than two decades, I have some sense of dealing with public scrutiny of my work. Until now, social media was just for me another platform. If you know newspapers, I used to think, you shouldn’t have problems functioning in the new environment that digital convergence has created.

Or so I thought.

Just weeks after arriving for the Social Media MA at Westminster University, I have come to agree with danah boyd that being visible through social media can both complicate and enrich our lives (boyd, 2012). Social media networking sites like Facebook and Twitter offer new ways of engagement that have collapsed the walls of privacy, sometimes with terrible consequences. Henry Jenkins captures this well when he says, ‘when people take media into their own hands, the results can be wonderfully creative; they can also be bad news for all involved.’ For me, herein lies the irony; the thought that we would be willing to trade off a slice of our privacy for a chance to make ourselves ‘visible.’

The culture of sharing that is one of the tenets of the convergent media environment may be fraught with minefields, but Castells’ point, that, ‘In our society, the protocols of communication are not based on a sharing of culture but on the culture of sharing’ (Castells, 2009) is useful here. The new environment has given us ‘power’ to determine what we create, remix, share, anytime we want and with those we choose.

True, in the social media environment, ‘the media are no longer what just what we watch, listen to or read – the media are now what we do’ (Meikle and Young, 2012). Oh! How we enjoy the newfound freedom, to do away with the middleman and reach out in our network. Never mind that I performed a similar role in a newspaper. Maybe it sounds out of place to ask whether social media serves a critical need. The status updates, the likes and the sometimes, meaningless chatter all serve a need. They bind us together. “Our playful conventions and in-jokes may create insider symbols that help groups to cohere’ as Baym (2010) notes very well.

Notwithstanding, it looks to me like Rosen’s description of the people formerly known as the audience is rather too ‘romantic’. For one, corporate media may no longer ‘own the eyeballs’ as he states but in this process of becoming more active, we lose something important as well. Given what I have leant in just a few weeks, boyd’s argument that, ‘when people assume you share everything, they don’t ask about what you don’t share’ (boyd, 2012), for me, sounds frightening even in the era of ‘Big Brother’. We all have a way of ignoring ‘Big Brother’ until we’re caught in uncompromising positions.

My mind went to Boyd’s position the story of the UK university students whose Facebook profiles were swiped by ratemash.com and published without permission, in the latest example of third party misuse of online data. The all pervasive power of both Facebook and Twitter, to be able to remove whatever exists of the thin line between the private and the public has got me taking a second look at my accounts on social media platforms.

My goal? Cut out all but the most important of my engagements online. Every text, every image and ever engagement is an opportunity to say something and connect. As Baym (2010) says, “…as people appropriate the possibilities of textual media to convey social cues, create immediacy, entertain, and show off for one another, they build for themselves, build interpersonal relationships, and create social concepts….” 

I realize as I do this though, that there’s a chance that I may miss out in other ways but the thought that my profile and other data can be taken, remixed and shared sounds worrying.

Maybe I’m old fashioned but I strongly think there’s a creepy feeling to having a text, say, an unflattering selfie made available on the scale that convergent media makes possible. But having seen the reaction of some of the students whose profiles were swiped by ratemash.com, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be embarrassed unless they were in showbiz.

boyd, d. (2012): Participating in the always-on lifestyle. In: Mandiberg, M (ed.) The social media reader. New York/London: New York University Press, Pp 71-76

Jenkins, H. (2008): Convergence culture: Where old media and new media collide. New York/London: New York University Press

Castells, M. (2009): Communication power. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Meikle, G. and Young, S. (2012): Media convergence: Networked Digital media in everyday life. London: Palgrave

Baym, K. N. (2010): Personal connections in the digital age. Cambridge: Polity

Rosen, Jay: The people formerly known as the audience. In: Mandiberg, M (ed.) The social media reader. New York/London: New York University Press, pp. 13-16