Targeted PhD Projects with Scholarship in Internet Studies @ Curtin Uni (to start 2021, applications close 1 Sept 2020)

Opportunities exist to apply for a range of targeted PhD scholarships located within the Internet Studies Discipline at Curtin University. The window of opportunity for these is short, so if you’re interested, please email the contact person listed in the specific project pages as soon as you’re able!

If folks could share these opportunities with current and recent Masters and Honours completions (and those completing this year), we would be grateful!

The projects available:

1. An Ethnography of Influencers and Social Justice Cultures https://scholarships.curtin.edu.au/Scholarship/?id=4270
2. Analysing Virtual Influencers: Celebrity, Authenticity and Identity on Social Media https://scholarships.curtin.edu.au/Scholarship/?id=4324
3. Climate Action and the Internet https://scholarships.curtin.edu.au/Scholarship/?id=4285
4. Digital Disability and Disability Media https://scholarships.curtin.edu.au/Scholarship/?id=4318
5. Digital Disability Inclusion across the Lifecourse https://scholarships.curtin.edu.au/Scholarship/?id=4291
6. Digital intimacies and social media https://scholarships.curtin.edu.au/Scholarship/?id=4286
7. Diversity, Equity and Impact: Exploring the Open Knowledge performance of Universities https://scholarships.curtin.edu.au/Scholarship/?id=4341
8. Ethical and Sociocultural Impacts of AI/Autonomous Machines as Communicators https://scholarships.curtin.edu.au/Scholarship/?id=4360
9. Tracking Australia’s Research Response to the COVID Pandemic https://scholarships.curtin.edu.au/Scholarship/?id=4347
10. The Audio Internet https://scholarships.curtin.edu.au/Scholarship/?id=4322

To apply for these project opportunities applicants must submit an email to the contact Project lead listed on the project listing. The email must include their current curriculum vitae, a summary of their research skills and experience and the reason they are interested in this specific project.

The Project Lead will select one preferred applicant for this project and complete a Primary reference on their behalf.

After confirmation from the Project Lead that they will receive a primary reference for this project the applicant must submit an eApplication [https://study.curtin.edu.au/applying/research/#apply] for admission into the applicable HDR course no later than 1st September 2020.

All applicants must send an external referee template [https://scholarships.curtin.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/sites/8/2020/07/RTP2021-Round-2-External-Referee-Report.pdf] to their chosen external reference.

All references are confidential and must be submitted by the referee directly to HDRSCH-applications@curtin.edu.au no later than 1st September 2020.

Scholarship applications submitted without a primary reference or a completed application for admission will be considered incomplete.

For further information on the application process or for more RTP2021 Round 2 scholarship project opportunities visit: https://scholarships.curtin.edu.au/hdr-scholarships-funding/rtp-policy/

Thanks for sharing!

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Hybrid Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Pre-Date the Pandemic

One of the most tiresome things about thought pieces on the future of universities pumping out at the moment is the constant presumption that a move to a ‘hybrid’ model of teaching (ie mixing face-to-face and online learning) is something new to everyone. It’s not. As just one example, Internet Studies has taught both face-to-face and online versions of all the units in our major for more than 15 years, both at Curtin University and via Open Universities Australia. Students have *chosen* whichever mode fit their lives best, and students can excel in either.

Also deeply disheartening is the presumption that online teaching is intrinsically less impactful than face-to-face. It’s not. But it takes significant work in curriculum design and learning & teaching modes (yes, even via lectures) to engage online learners. Despite workload models that presume the opposite, teaching units online well takes more time, not less, & it’s rare that just one platform (or ‘learning’ management system) offers enough to encompass that learning. Multiple tools work if there is sufficient support for each. Shifting learning material online at very short notice (because of a pandemic) does not equal online learning, it’s making the best of a bad situation (& colleagues across the sector have done so much more than that), but this isn’t the benchmark against which online learning should be judged.

And despite unprecedented pandemic times, hybrid teaching, online teaching, or even face-to-face teaching that is mindful of the complicated context learners are living in, can clearly be better designed by consulting the mountains of work & research on each of these modes. The pandemic has challenged higher education in profound ways, but we have to do what we do best: build our responses on the research, scholarship & best practice that already exist. We know better than reinventing the wheel in any other context, let’s remember it in this one, too.

Edit: On Facebook Mark Pegrum pointed me to work that frames going online for teaching during the pandemic as ERT, or emergency remote teaching, which is quite compelling terminology. I particularly like this quote:

In contrast to experiences that are planned from the beginning and designed to be online, emergency remote teaching (ERT) is a temporary shift of instructional delivery to an alternate delivery mode due to crisis circumstances.

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Approaching Instagram: New Methods and Modes for Examining Visual Social Media

Due to the global pandemic, this year’s International Communication Association conference was held online. This post shares the abstracts and short videos made for our roundtable on ‘Approaching Instagram: New Methods and Modes for Examining Visual Social Media’. Hopefully it might prove useful to those studying Instagram and thinking about methodologies. The participants in this roundtable were Crystal Abidin (Curtin University), Tim Highfield, (University of Sheffield), Tama Leaver, (Curtin University), Anthony McCosker (Swinburne University of Technology), Adam Suess, (Griffith University), Katie Warfield (Kwantlen Polytechnic University) and Alice Witt (Queensland University of Technology).

The Panel Overview

Instagram has more than a billion users, yet despite being owned by Facebook remains a platform that’s vastly more popular with young people, and synonymous with the visual and cultural zeitgeist. However, compared to parent-company Facebook, or competitors such as Twitter, Instagram has been comparatively under-studied and under-researched. Moreover, as Facebook/Instagram have limited researcher access via their APIs, newer research approaches have had to emerge, some drawing on older qualitative approaches to understand and analyse Instagram media and interactions (from images and videos to comments, emoji, hashtags, stories, and more). The eight initial participants in this roundtable, from Australia, Canada, Finland and the United Kingdom, roundtable have pioneered specific research methods for approaching Instagram (across quantitative and qualitative fields), and our intention is to broaden the discussion moving beyond (just) methods to larger questions and ideas of engaging with Instagram as a visual social media icon on which larger social, cultural changes and questions are necessarily explored.

Contributions set the scene for a larger discussion, examining the invisible labour of the ‘Instagram Husband’ as a highly important but almost always hidden figure, particularly mythologized by online influencers. Broader conceptual questions are also raised in terms of how the Instagram platform reconfigures time from 24-hour Stories, looping Boomerangs, to temporality measured relative to when content was posted, with Instagram becoming the centre of its own time and space. Another contributor argues that Instagram users are always creating and fashioning each other, not just themselves, using the liminal figures of the unborn (via ultrasounds) and the recently deceased as case studies where Instagram users are most obviously creating other people in the feeds. Another contributor asks how the world of art is being reconfigured by the aesthetics and practices of being ‘insta-worthy’. Another contribution asks how to move beyond hashtags as the primary method of discovering collections of content. On a different note, the practices of commercial wedding photographers are examined to ask how weddings are being reimagined and renegotiated in an era of social media visuality. Finally, important questions are raised about the content that is not visualized and not allowed on Instagram at all, and how these moderation practices can be mapped against the ‘black box’ of Instagram’s algorithms.

  

[1] The Instagram Husband / Crystal Abidin, Curtin University

Social media has become a canvas for the commemoration and celebration of milestones. For the highly prolific and commercially viable vocational internet celebrities known as Influencers, coupling up in a relationship is all the more significant, as it impacts their public personae, their market value to sponsors, and their engagement with followers. However, behind-the-scenes of such young women’s pristine posturing are often their romantic partners capturing viable footage from behind-the-camera, in a phenomenon known in popular discourse as “the Instagram husband”. These (often heterosexual male) romantic partners toggle between ‘commodity’ on camera to ‘creator’ off camera. Although the narrative of the Instagram Husband is usually clouded in the notions of sacrificial romance, the unremunerated work is wrought with strain. Between the domesticity of Influencers’ romantic coupling and the publicness of their branded individualism, this chapter considers the labour, tensions, and latent consequences when Influencers intertwine commodify their relationships into viable entities. Through traditional and digital ethnographic research methods and in-depth data collection among Singaporean women Influencers and their (predominantly heterosexual) partners, the chapter contemplates the phenomenon of the Instagram Husband and its impact on visual representations of romantic relationships online.

[2] Examining Instagram time: aesthetics and experiences / Tim Highfield, University of Sheffield

Temporal concerns are critical underpinnings for the presentation and experience of popular social media platforms. Understanding and transforming the temporal is key to the operation of these platforms, becoming a means for platforms to intervene in user activity. On Instagram, temporality plays out in different ways. Ostensibly describing in-the-moment, as-it-happens sharing and live documentation, the Insta- of Instagram has long been complicated by features of the platform and cultural practices and norms which encourage different types of participation and temporal framing. This contribution focuses on how Instagram time is presented and experienced by the platform and its users, from how content appears in non-linear algorithmic feeds to aesthetics that suggest, or explicitly callback to, older technologies and eras. These create temporal contestation as, for example, the implied permanence of the photo stream is contrasted with the ephemerality of Stories, where content usually lasts for only 24 hours, and the trapped seconds-long loops of Boomerangs. This temporal contestation apparent between different features of the platform also plays out in Instagram’s aesthetics, which include retro throwbacks of filters to the explicit visuals of Story filters reminiscent of VHS tape and physical film. Such platformed approaches then raise questions for researchers about Instagram’s temporality, how it is experienced by its users, and how it is repositioned and reframed by the platform’s own architecture, displays, and affordances.

[Transcript]

[3] Creating Each Other on Instagram / Tama Leaver, Curtin University

While visual social media platforms such as Instagram are, by definition, about connecting and communication between multiple people, most discussions about Instagram practices presume that accounts, profiles and content are managed by individual users with the agency to make informed choices about their activities. However, Instagram photos and videos more often than not contain other people, and thus the sharing of visual material is often a form of co-creation where the Instagram user is often contributing and shaping another person or group’s online identity (or performance). This contribution outlines some of the larger provocations that occur when examining the way loves ones use Instagram to visualize the very young and the recently deceased. Indeed, even before birth, the sharing of the 12- or 20-week ultrasound photos and gender reveal parties often sees an Instagram identity begin to be shaped by parents before a child is even born. At the other end of life, mourning and funereal media often provide some of the last images and descriptions of a person’s life, something that can prove quite controversial on Instagram. Considering these two examples, this contribution argues that content creation could, and probably should, be considered visual co-creation, and Instagram should be seen as a platform on which users fashion each others identities as much as their own.

 

[4] Navigating Instagram’s politics of visibility / Anthony McCosker, Swinburne University of Technology

This contribution reflects on several research projects that have had to negotiate Instagram’s depreciated API access, and its increasingly restrictive moderation practices limiting what the company sees as sensitive or harmful content. One project with Australian Red Cross was designed to access and analyse location data for posts engaging with humanitarian activity, in order to generate new insights and information about how to address humanitarian needs particular locations. The other examined users’ engagement with content actively engaged with the depression through hashtag use. Both cases required the adjustment of methods to sustain the research beyond the API restrictions and enable future work to continue to draw insights about the respective research problems. I discuss the development of an inclusive hashtag practices method, data collaborative co-research practices, and visual methods that can account for situational and contextual analysis through a targeted sampling and theory building approach.

[5] Appreciating art through Instagram / Adam Suess, Griffith University

Instagram is an important application for art galleries, museums, and cultural institutions. For arts professionals it is a key tool for promotion, accessibility, participation, and the enhancing of the visitor experience. For arts educators it is an opportunity to influence the number of people who value the arts and seek lifelong learning through the aesthetic experience. Instagram also has pedagogical value in the gallery and is relevant for arts based learning programs. There is limited research about the use of Instagram by visitors to art galleries, museums, and cultural institutions and the role it plays in their social, spatial, and aesthetic experience. This study examined the use of Instagram by visitors to the Gerhard Richter exhibition at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (14 October 2017 – 4 February 2018). The research project found that the use of Instagram at the gallery engaged visitors in a manner that transcended the physical space, evolving and extending their aesthetic experience. It also found that Instagram acted as a tool of influence shaping the way visitors engaged with art. This finding is significant for arts educators seeking to engage students and the community through Instagram, centered on their experience of art.

[6] Instagram Visuality and The West Coast Wedding / Katie Warfield, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

The intersection of artsy, youthful, beautiful, and playful aesthetics alongside corporate branding have established certain normative modes of visuality on the globally popular social media platform Instagram.   Adopting a post-phenomenological lens alongside an intersectional feminist critique of the platform, this paper presents the findings of working with six commercial wedding photographers on the west coast of Canada whose photographs are often shared for clients on social media.  Via interviews, photo elicitation, and participant observation, this paper teases apart the multi-stable and manifold socio-technical forces that shape Instagram visuality or the visual sedimented ways of seeing shaped by Instagram and embodied and performed by image producers. This paper shows the habituation of these modes of seeing and argues that Instagram visuality is the result of various and complex intimate conversational negotiations between: discursive visual tropes (e.g. lighting, subject arrangement, and material symbols of union), material technological affordances (in-built filters, product tagging, and the grid layout of user pages), and sedimented discursive-affective “moods” (white material femininity and nature communion) that assemble to shape the normative depictions of west coast weddings.

[7] Probing the black box of content moderation on Instagram: An innovative black box methodology   / Alice Witt, Queensland University of Technology  

The black box around the internal workings of Instagram makes it difficult for users to trust that their expression through content is moderated, or regulated, in ways that are free from arbitrariness. Against the particular backdrop of allegations that the platform is arbitrarily removing some images depicting women’s bodies, this research develops and applies a new methodology for empirical legal evaluation of content moderation in practice. Specifically, it uses innovative digital methods, in conjunction with content and legal document analyses, to identify how discrete inputs (i.e. images) into Instagram’s moderation processes produce certain outputs (i.e. whether an image is removed or not removed). Overall, across two case studies comprising 5,924 images of female forms in total, the methodology provides a range of useful empirical results. One main finding, for example, is that the odds of removal for an expressly prohibited image depicting a woman’s body is 16.75 times higher than for a man’s body. The results ultimately suggest that concerns around the risk of arbitrariness and bias on Instagram, and, indeed, ongoing distrust of the platform among users, might not be unfounded. However, without greater transparency regarding how Instagram sets, maintains and enforces rules around content, and monitors the performance of its moderators for potential bias, it is difficult to draw explicit conclusions about which party initiates content removal, in what ways and for what reasons. This limitation, among others raised by this methodology, underlines that many vital questions of trust in content moderation on Instagram remain unanswered. 

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Talking about Coronavirus/covid19 and misinformation online

I spoke with Hilary Smale on ABC Perth Radio’s Focus program this morning about Coronavirus/ COVID19 and the challenges of misinformation (or what’s now called an ‘infodemic’ on social media).  You can hear the program here: https://www.abc.net.au/radio/perth/programs/focus/corona-reset/12046430 (I’m on at about 29.30 in the recording).

My main advice to all social media users remains: slowing down and checking in with known credible sources *before sharing* is vital in stopping misinformation spreading rapidly online (even that sharing is done with the best of intentions).

Locally, the most reliable source remains the WA Health Department, and their specific page with up-to-date COVID19 information, here: https://ww2.health.wa.gov.au/Articles/A_E/Coronavirus

Their official daily snapshot comes in a particularly shareable visual form:

WA_COVID

[Example of WA Health Department COVID-19 Infographic for 10 March 2020.]

Nationally, the Australian Government’s Department of Health website remains the best national resource for reliable information (despite, to be fair, a really unfriendly website): https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov.

Finally, the World Health Organization (WHO) not only provides a reliable global overview but also, vitally, addresses many online rumours about COVID-19 and answers with known facts! https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/advice-for-public/myth-busters

2323c-goods-manufactured-in-china-typo-corrected52mythbusters-33

[Examples of World Health Organisation Mythbusting Images, 10 March 2020.]

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Life and Death on Social Media Podcast

As part of Curtin University’s new The Future Of podcast series, I was recently interviewed about my ongoing research into pre-birth and infancy at one end, and digital death at the other, in relation to our presence(s) online. You can hear the podcast here, or am embedded player should work below:

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Facebook hoping Messenger Kids will draw future users, and their data

A Facebook logo is reflected in a person's eyeFacebook has always had a problem with kids.

The US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) explicitly forbids the collection of data from children under 13 without parental consent.

Rather than go through the complicated verification processes that involve getting parental consent, Facebook, like most online platforms, has previously stated that children under 13 simply cannot have Facebook accounts.

Of course, that has been one of the biggest white lies of the internet, along with clicking the little button which says you’ve read the Terms of Use; many, many kids have had Facebook accounts — or Instagram accounts (another platform wholly-owned by Facebook) — simply by lying about their birth date, which neither Facebook nor Instagram seek to verify if users indicate they’re 13 or older.

Many children have utilised some or all or Facebook’s features using their parent’s or older sibling’s accounts as well. Facebook’s internal messaging functions, and the standalone Messenger app have, at times, been shared by the named adult account holder and one or more of their children.

Sometimes this will involve parent accounts connecting to each other simply so kids can Video Chat, somewhat messing up Facebook’s precious map of connections.

Enter Messenger Kids, Facebook’s new Messenger app explicitly for the under-13s. Messenger Kids is promoted as having all the fun bits, but in a more careful and controlled space directed by parental consent and safety concerns.

To use Messenger Kids, a parent or caregiver uses their own Facebook account to authorise Messenger Kids for their child. That adult then gets a new control panel in Facebook where they can approve (or not) any and all connections that child has.

Kids can video chat, message, access a pre-filtered set of animated GIFs and images, and interact in other playful ways.

Parental controls on Facebook's Messenger Kids.PHOTO: The app has controls built into its functionality that allow parents to approve contacts. (Supplied: Facebook)

In the press release introducing Messenger Kids, Facebook emphasises that this product was designed after careful research, with a view to giving parents more control, and giving kids a safe space to interact providing them a space to grow as budding digital creators. Which is likely all true, but only tells part of the story.

As with all of Facebook’s changes and releases, it’s vitally important to ask: what’s in it for Facebook?

While Messenger Kids won’t show ads (to start with), it builds a level of familiarity and trust in Facebook itself. If Messenger Kids allows Facebook to become a space of humour and friendship for years before a “real” Facebook account is allowed, the odds of a child signing up once they’re eligible becomes much greater.

Facebook playing the long game

In an era when teens are showing less and less interest in Facebook’s main platform, Messenger Kids is part of a clear and deliberate strategy to recapture their interest. It won’t happen overnight, but Facebook’s playing the long game here.

If Messenger Kids replaces other video messaging services, then it’s also true that any person kids are talking to will need to have an active Facebook account, whether that’s mum and dad, older cousins or even great grandparents. That’s a clever way to keep a whole range of people actively using Facebook (and actively seeing the ads which make Facebook money).

Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan sit on a couch next to each other while reading to their son Max.
PHOTO: Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan read ‘Quantum Physics for Babies’ to their son Max. (Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg)

Facebook wants data about you. It wants data about your networks, connections and interactions. It wants data about your kids. And it wants data about their networks, connections and interactions, too.

When they set up Messenger Kids, parents have to provide their child’s real name. While this is consistent with Facebook’s real names policy, the flexibility to use pseudonyms or other identifiers for kids would demonstrate real commitment to carving out Messenger Kids as something and somewhere different. That’s not the path Facebook has taken.

Facebook might not use this data to sell ads to your kids today, but adding kids into the mix will help Facebook refine its maps of what you do (and stop kids using their parents accounts for Video Chat messing up that data). It will also mean Facebook understands much better who has kids, how old they are, who they’re connected to, and so on.

One more rich source of data (kids) adds more depth to the data that makes Facebook tick. And make Facebook profit. Lots of profit.

Facebook’s main app, Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp (all owned by Facebook) are all free to use because the data generated by users is enough to make Facebook money. Messenger Kids isn’t philanthropy; it’s the same business model, just on a longer scale.

Facebook isn’t alone in exploring variations of their apps for children.

Google, Amazon and Apple want your kids

As far back as 2013 Snapchat released SnapKidz, which basically had all the creative elements of Snapchat, but not the sharing ones. However, their kids-specific app was quietly shelved the following year, probably for lack of any sort of business model.

A teen checks her Twitter notifications.
PHOTO: The space created by Messenger Kids won’t stop cyberbullying. (ABC News: Will Ockenden )

Since early 2017, Google has also shifted to allowing kids to establish an account managed by their parents. It’s not hard to imagine why, when many children now chat with Google daily using the Google Home speakers (which, really, should be called “listeners” first and foremost).

Google Home, Amazon’s Echo and soon Apple’s soon-to-be-released HomePod all but remove the textual and tactile barriers which once prevented kids interacting directly with these online giants.

A child’s Google Account also allows parents to give them access to YouTube Kids. That said, the content that’s permissible on YouTube Kids has been the subject of a lot of attention recently.

In short, if dark parodies of Peppa Pig where Peppa has her teeth painfully removed to the sounds of screaming is going to upset your kids, it’s not safe to leave them alone to navigate YouTube Kids.

Nor will the space created by Messenger Kids stop cyberbullying; it might not be anonymous, but parents will only know there’s a problem if they consistently talk to their children about their online interactions.

Facebook often proves unable to regulate content effectively, in large part because it relies on algorithms and a relatively small team of people to very rapidly decide what does and doesn’t violate Facebook’s already fuzzy guidelines about acceptability. It’s unclear how Messenger Kids content will be policed, but the standard Facebook approach doesn’t seem sufficient.

At the moment, Messenger Kids is only available in the US; before it inevitably arrives in Australia and elsewhere, parents and caregivers need to decide whether they’re comfortable exchanging some of their children’s data for the functionality that the new app provides.

And, to be fair, Messenger Kids may well be very useful; a comparatively safe space where kids can talk to each other, explore tools of digital creativity, and increase their online literacies, certainly has its place.

Most importantly, though, is this simple reminder: Messenger Kids isn’t (just) screen time, it’s social time. And as with most new social situations, from playgrounds to pools, parent and caregiver supervision helps young people understand, navigate and make the most of those situations. The inverse is true, too: a lack of discussion about new spaces and situations will mean that the chances of kids getting into awkward, difficult, or even dangerous situations goes up exponentially.

Messenger Kids isn’t just making Facebook feel normal, familiar and safe for kids. It’s part of Facebook’s long game in terms of staying relevant, while all of Facebook’s existing issues remain.

Tama Leaver is an Associate Professor in the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia.

[This piece was originally published on the ABC News website.]

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Reflections and Resources from the 2017 Digitising Early Childhood Conference

Last week’s Digitising Early Childhood conference here in Perth was a fantastic event which brought together so many engaging and provocative scholars in a supportive and policy/action-orientated environment (which I suppose I should call ‘engagement and impact’-orientated in Australia right now). For a pretty well document overview of the conference itself, you can see the quite substantial tweets collected via the #digikids17 hashtag on Twitter, which I’d really encourage you to look over. My head is still buzzing, so instead to trying to synthesise everyone else’s amazing work, I’m just going to quickly point to the material that arose my three different talks in case anyone wishes to delve further.

First up, here are the slides for my keynote ‘Turning Babies into Big Data—And How to Stop It’:

TL_KeynoteIf you’d like to hear the talk that goes with the slides, there’s an audio recording you can download here. (I think these were filmed, so if a link becomes available at some point, I’ll update and post it here.)  There was a great response to my talk, which was humbling and gratifying at the same time. There was also quite a lot of press interest, too, so here’s the best pieces that are available online (and may prove a more accessible overview of some of the issues I explored):

While our argument is still being polished, the slides for this version of Crystal Abidin and my paper From YouTube to TV, and back again: Viral video child stars and media flows in the era of social media are also available:

This paper began as a discussion after our piece about Daddy O Five in The Conversation and where the complicated questions about children in media first became prominent. Crystal wasn’t able to be there in person, but did a fantastic Snapchat-recorded 5-minute intro, while I brought home the rest of the argument live. Crystal has a great background page on her website, linking this to her previous work in the area. There was also press interest in this talk, and the best piece to listen to (and hear Crystal and I in dialogue, even though this was recorded at different times, on different continents!):

Finally, as part of the Higher Degree by Research and Early Career Researcher Day which ended the conference, I presented a slightly updated version of my workshop ‘Developing a scholarly web presence & using social media for research networking’:

Overall, it was a very busy, but very rewarding conference, with new friends made, brilliant new scholarship to digest, and surely some exciting new collaborations begun!

Keynotes

[Photo of the Digitising Early Childhood Conference Keynote Speakers]

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Three Upcoming Infancy Online-related events

Over the next month, I’m lucky enough to be involved in three separate events focused on infancy online, digital media and early childhood. The details …

[1] Thinking the Digital: Children, Young People and Digital Practice – Friday, 8th September, Sydney – is co-hosted by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner; Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University; and Department of Media and Communications, University of Sydney. The event opens with a keynote by visiting  LSE Professor Sonia Livingstone, and is followed by three sessions discussing youth, childhood and the digital age is various forms.  While Sonia Livingstone is reason enough to be there, the three sessions are populated by some of the best scholars in Australia, and it should be a really fantastic discussion.  I’ll be part of the second session on Rights-based Approaches to Digital Research, Policy and Practice. There are limited places, and a small fee, involved if you’re interested in attending, so registration is a must! To follow along on Twitter, the official hashtag is #ThinkingTheDigital.

The day before this event, Sonia Livingston is also giving a public seminar at WSU’s Parramatta City campus if you’re in able to attend on the afternoon of Thursday, 7th September.

[2] The following week is the big Digitising Early Childhood International Conference 2017 which runs 11-15 September, features a great line-up of keynotes as well as a truly fascinating range of papers on early childhood in the digital age. I’m lucky enough to be giving the conference’s first keynote on Tuesday morning, entitled ‘Turning Babies into Big Data–And How to Stop it’.  I’ll also be presenting Crystal Abidin and my paper ‘From YouTube to TV, and Back Again: Viral Video Child Stars and Media Flows in the Era of Social Media‘ on the Wednesday and running a session on the final day called ‘Strategies for Developing a Scholarly Web Presence during a Higher Degree & Early Career’ as part of the Higher Degree by Research/Early Career Researcher Day.  It should be a very busy, but also incredibly engaging week!  To follow tweets from conference, the official hashtag is #digikids17.

[3] Finally, as part of Research and Innovation Week 2017 at Curtin University, at midday on Thursday 21st September I’ll be presenting a slightly longer version of my talk Turning Babies into Big Data—and How to Stop It in the Adventures in Culture and Technology series hosted by Curtin’s Centre for Culture and Technology.  This is a free talk, open to anyone, but please either RSVP to this email, or use the Facebook event page to indicate you’re coming.

ACAT Poster

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When exploiting kids for cash goes wrong on YouTube: the lessons of DaddyOFive

A new piece in The Conversation from Crystal Abidin and me …

File 20170502 17277 1wirwwy

DaddyOFive parents Mike & Heather Martin issue an apology for their prank videos. / YouTube

Tama Leaver, Curtin University and Crystal Abidin, Curtin University

The US YouTube channel DaddyOFive, which features a husband and wife from Maryland “pranking” their children, has pulled all its videos and issued a public apology amid allegations of child abuse.

The “pranks” would routinely involve the parents fooling their kids into thinking they were in trouble, screaming and swearing at them, only the reveal “it was just a prank” as their children sob on camera.

Despite its removal the content continues to circulate in summary videos from Philip DeFranco and other popular YouTubers who are critiquing the DaddyOFive channel. And you can still find videos of parents pranking their children on other channels around YouTube. But the videos also raise wider issues about children in online media, particularly where the videos make money. With over 760,000 subscribers, it is estimated that DaddyOFive earned between US$200,000-350,000 each year from YouTube advertising revenue.


Philip DeFranco / WOW… We Need To Talk About This…

The rise of influencers

Kid reactions on YouTube are a popular genre, with parents uploading viral videos of their children doing anything from tasting lemons for the first time to engaging in baby speak. Such videos pre-date the internet, with America’s Funniest Home Videos (1989-) and other popular television shows capitalising on “kid moments”.

In the era of mobile devices and networked communication, the ease with which children can be documented and shared online is unprecedented. Every day parents are “sharenting”, archiving and broadcasting images and videos of their children in order to share the experience with friends.

Even with the best intentions, though, one of us (Tama) has argued that photos and videos shared with the best of intentions can inadvertently lead to “intimate surveillance”, where online platforms and corporations use this data to build detailed profiles of children.

YouTube and other social media have seen the rise of influencer commerce, where seemingly ordinary users start featuring products and opinions they’re paid to share. By cultivating personal brands through creating a sense of intimacy with their consumers, these followings can be strong enough for advertisers to invest in their content, usually through advertorials and product placements. While the DaddyOFive channel was clearly for-profit, the distinction between genuine and paid content is often far from clear.

From the womb to celebrity

As with DaddyOFive, these influencers can include entire families, including children whose rights to participate, or choose not to participate, may not always be considered. In some cases, children themselves can be the star, becoming microcelebrities, often produced and promoted by their parents.

South Korean toddler Yebin, for instance, first went viral as a three-year-old in 2014 in a video where her mom was teaching her to avoid strangers. Since then, Yebin and her younger brother have been signed to influencer agencies to manage their content, based on the reach of their channel which has accumulated over 21 million views.


Baby Yebin / Mom Teaches Cute Korean baby Yebin a Life Lesson.

As viral videos become marketable and kid reaction videos become more lucrative, this may well drive more and more elaborate situations and set-ups. Yet, despite their prominence on social media, such children in internet-famous families are not clearly covered by the traditional workplace standards (such as Child Labour Laws and that Coogan Law in the US), which historically protected child stars in mainstream media industries from exploitation.

This is concerning especially since not only are adult influencers featuring their children in advertorials and commercial content, but some are even grooming a new generation of “micro-microcelebrities” whose celebrity and careers begin in the womb.

In the absence of any formal guidelines for the child stars of social media, it is the peers and corporate platforms that are policing the welfare of young children. As prominent YouTube influencers have rallied to denounce the parents behind the DaddyOFive accusing them of child abuse, they have also leveraged their influence to report the parents of DaddyOFive to child protective services. YouTube has also reportedly responded initially by pulling advertising from the channel. YouTubers collectively demonstrating a shared moral position is undoubtedly helpful.

Greater transparency

The question of children, commerce and labour on social media is far from limited to YouTube. Australian PR director Roxy Jacenko has, for example, defended herself against accusations of exploitation after launching and managing a commercial Instagram account for her her young daughter Pixie, who at three-years-old was dubbed the “Princess of Instagram”. And while Jacenko’s choices for Pixie may differ from many other parents, at least as someone in PR she is in a position to make informed and articulated choices about her daughter’s presence on social media.

Already some influencers are assuring audiences that child participation is voluntary, enjoyable, and optional by broadcasting behind-the-scenes footage.

Television, too, is making the most of children on social media. The Ellen DeGeneres Show, for example, regularly mines YouTube for viral videos starring children in order to invite them as guests on the show. Often they are invited to replicate their viral act for a live audience, and the show disseminates these program clips on its corporate YouTube channel, sometimes contracting viral YouTube children with high attention value to star in their own recurring segments on the show.


Sophia and Rosie Grace featured on Ellen after their viral Nicki Minaj video.

Ultimately, though, children appearing on television are subject to laws and regulations that attempt to protect their well-being. On for-profit channels on YouTube and other social media platforms there is a little transparency about the role children are playing, the conditions of their labour, and how (and if) they are being compensated financially.

Children may be a one-off in parents’ videos, or the star of the show, but across this spectrum, social media like YouTube need rules to ensure that children’s participation is transparent and their well-being paramount.

Tama Leaver, Associate Professor in Internet Studies, Curtin University and Crystal Abidin, Adjunct Research Fellow at the Centre for Culture and Technology (CCAT), Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Saving The Dead? Digital Legacy Planning and posthumous profiles

On Friday, 7 April at 4pm I’ll be giving a public talk entitled “Saving the Dead? Digital Legacy Planning and Posthumous Profiles” as part of the John Curtin Institute of Public Policy (JCIPP) Curtin Corner series. It’ll touch on both ethical and policy issues relating to the traces left behind on digital and social media when someone dies. Here’s the abstract for the talk:

Wifi_Tombstone

When a person dies, there exist a range of conventions and norms regarding their mourning and the ways in which their material assets are managed. These differ by culture, but the inescapability of death means every cultural group has some formalised rules about death. However, the comparable newness of social media platforms means norms regarding posthumous profiles have yet to emerge. Moreover, the usually commercial and corporate, rather than governmental, control of social media platforms leads to considerable uncertainty as to which, if any, existing laws apply to social media services. Are the photos, videos and other communication history recorded via social media assets? Can they be addressed in wills and be legally accessed by executors? Should users have the right to wholesale delete their informatic trails (or leave instructions to have their media deleted after death)? Questions of ownership, longevity, accessibility, religion and ethics are all provoked when addressing the management of a deceased user’s social media profiles. This talk will outline some of the ways that Facebook and Google currently address the death of a user, the limits of these approaches, and the coming challenges for future internet historians in addressing, accessing and understanding posthumous profiles.

It’s being held in the Council Chambers at Curtin University. If you’d like to come along, please do, registration is open now (and free).

Update (10 April 2017): the talk went well, thanks to everyone who came along. For those who’ve asked, the slides are available here.

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