At yesterday’s outstanding Controlling Data: Somebody Think of the Children symposium I presented the first version of my new paper “Intimate Surveillance: Normalizing Parental Monitoring and Mediation of Infants Online.” Here’s the abstract:
Parents are increasingly sharing information about infants online in various forms and capacities. In order to more meaningfully understand the way parents decide what to share about young people, and the way those decisions are being shaped, this paper focuses on two overlapping areas: parental monitoring of babies and infants through the example of wearable technologies; and parental mediation through the example of the public sharing practices of celebrity and influencer parents. The paper begins by contextualizing these parental practices within the literature on surveillance, with particular attention to online surveillance and the increasing importance of affect. It then gives a brief overview of work on pregnancy mediation, monitoring on social media, and via pregnancy apps, which is the obvious precursor to examining parental sharing and monitoring practices regarding babies and infants. The examples of parental monitoring and parental mediation will then build on the idea of “intimate surveillance” which entails close and seemingly invasive monitoring by parents. Parental monitoring and mediation contribute to the normalization of intimate surveillance to the extent that surveillance is (re)situated as a necessary culture of care. The choice to not survey infants is thus positioned, worryingly, as a failure of parenting.
Eds Tama Leaver (Curtin University) and Bjorn Nansen (University of Melbourne)
From the sharing of ultrasound photos on social media onward, the capturing and communicating of babies’ lives online is an increasingly ordinary and common part of everyday digitally mediated life. Online affordances can facilitate the instantaneous sharing and joys of a first smile, first steps and first word spoken to globally distributed networks of family, friends and publics. Equally, from pregnancy tracking apps to baby cameras hidden inside cuddly toys, infants are also subject to an unprecedented intensification of surveillance practices. Reflecting both of these contexts, there is a growing set of questions about the presence, participation and politics of infants in online networks. This special issue seeks to explore these questions in terms of the online spaces in which infants are present; the forms of online participation enabled for and curated on behalf of infants, and the range of political implications raised by infants’ digital data and its traces, for both their present and future lives. Ideally papers will focus on the impact of digital technologies and networked culture on pre-birth, birth and the early years of life, along with related changes and challenges to parenthood and similar domains.
Possible areas of focus include, but are by no means limited to: • Social media and infant presence and profiles • Cultural and national specificities of infant media use and presence • Digital media in the everyday lives of young children • The app economy, and capture of infant attention • “Mommy blogs,” and online curation • Identity and impression management • Ethics, persistence and the right to be forgotten • Geographies of infant media use • Infant interfaces and hardware • Cultural responses to parenting, “oversharing”, privacy and surveillance • Erasure of maternal bodies in digitising infancy • Apps and services targeting infants as a consumer market
On the basis of these short abstracts, invitations to submit full papers (of no more than 8000 words) will then be sent out by 15 April 2016. Full papers will be due by 1 July 2016, and will undergo the usual Social Media + Society review procedure. Please note that an invitation to submit a full paper for review does not guarantee paper acceptance.
Michele Willson and I are delighted to announce that our collection Social, Casual and Mobile Games: The Changing Gaming Landscape has been released by Bloomsbury Academic.
Here’s a quick blurb and the contents and contributors:
Social, casual and mobile games, played on devices such as smartphones, tablets, or PCs and accessed through online social networks, have become extremely popular, and are changing the ways in which games are designed, understood, and played. These games have sparked a revolution as more people from a broader demographic than ever play games, shifting the stereotype of gaming away from that of hardcore, dedicated play to that of activities that fit into everyday life.
Social, Casual and Mobile Games explores the rapidly changing gaming landscape and discusses the ludic, methodological, theoretical, economic, social and cultural challenges that these changes invoke. With chapters discussing locative games, the new freemium economic model, and gamer demographics, as well as close studies of specific games (including Candy Crush Saga, Angry Birds, and Ingress), this collection offers an insight into the changing nature of games and the impact that mobile media is having upon individuals and societies around the world.
1. Social networks, casual games and mobile devices: the shifting contexts of gamers and gaming / Tama Leaver and Michele Willson Part I: The (New?) Gaming Landscape 2. Who are the casual gamers? Gender tropes and tokenism in game culture / Lina Eklund 3. Between aliens, hackers and birds: non-casual mobile games and casual game design / Brendan Keogh 4. Casual gaming: the changing role of the designer / Laureline Chiapello 5. Discussions with developers: F2Play and the changing landscape of games business development / Tom Phillips Part II: Reasons to Play 6. The sociality of asynchronous gameplay: social network games, dead-time and family bonding / Kelly Boudreau and Mia Consalvo 7. Digital affection games: cultural lens and critical reflection / Lindsay Grace 8. Mobile games and ambient play / Larissa Hjorth and Ingrid Richardson 9. Affect and social value in freemium games / Fanny Ramirez Part III: Locative Play 10. Riding in cars with strangers: a cross-cultural comparison of privacy and safety in Ingress / Stacy Blasiola, Miao Feng and Adrienne Massanari 11. Playful places: uncovering hidden heritage with Ingress / Erin Stark 12. Rewriting neighbourhoods: Zombies, Run! and the runner as rhetor / Jamie Henthorn 13. The de-gamification of Foursquare? / Rowan Wilken Part IV: New Markets 14. Social games and game-based revenue models / Mark Balnaves and Gary Madden 15. Angry Birds as a social network market / Tama Leaver 16. From premium to freemium: the political economy of the app / David Nieborg Part V. Cheating, Gambling and Addiction 17. Social casino apps and digital media practices: New paradigms of consumption / Cesar Albarran-Torres 18. Cheating in Candy Crush Saga / Marcus Carter and Staffan Bjork Afterword 19. Reflections on the casual games market in a post-Gamergate world / Adrienne Shaw and Shira Chess
Michele and I would like to publicly thank all of our wonderful contributors, the folks at Bloomsbury, and Troy Innocent for the rather nifty cover image. For the book’s launch Bloomsbury are offering 40% off the normal price, which makes the eBook version actually affordable for humans, not just libraries! Details here: http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/social-casual-and-mobile-games-9781501310584/
Finally, here are the very generous cover jacket reviews:
“This book is an exciting rogue’s gallery of authors, games and topics at the forefront of modern gaming. The inclusion of issues discussing not only recent developments in design, playfulness and the definition of who plays games, but also attending to the darker aspects of contemporary gaming cultures such as the transition to Freemiun, cheating and GamerGate is an important step in examining new pathways into games and gaming culture. Social, Casual and Mobile Games: The Changing Gaming Landscapedemonstrates through an impressive series of chapters how this genre of games needs to be taken seriously as a cultural marker of today’s players and the games they engage with.” – Esther MacCallum-Stewart, Research Fellow, Digital Cultures Research Centre, University of the West of England, UK
“Social, Casual and Mobile Games captures a wide array of scholarship from all corners of Game Studies. The authors explore, from a variety of empirical and theoretical perspectives, a rich tableau of games and players that often disappear from dominant narratives about what makes a game or a game player.” – Casey O’Donnell, Associate Professor of Media and Information, Michigan State University, USA, and author of Developer’s Dilemma
“This terrific and timely book is an invaluable guide to the profound ways in which gaming – in all its casual, mobile, and social glory – will never be the same again. Critical research for the rest of the (gaming) world has finally arrived.” – Gerard Goggin, Professor of Media and Communications, The University of Sydney, Australia
So 2016 seems to be all about the workshops and Summer School so far!
On 1 February, my first day back from leave, I presented “Developing a Scholarly Web Presence and Using Social Media for Research Networking” at the Perth Research Bazaar (ResBaz) held at Murdoch University (slides available here). The talk was vey well received, with some great questions. Also, kudos to the organizers for the ease of parking!
Last week I had the great pleasure in facilitating several workshops with my collaborator Tim Highfield, updating our “Instagrammatics: Analysing Visual Social Media Workshop” (slides here) for the 2016 CCI Summer School on Digital Methods hosted by the fabulous folks at the QUT Digital Media Research Centre. This was a fabulous event, with participants from across the world, all exploring the nuances of Digital Media methods and research. Tim and I learnt just as much from our participants as we brought to the table, which makes events like this so very rewarding. And there may have been one or two moments of levity, too!
My chapter is a key part of my Ends of Identity project; here I start to think about ‘intimate surveillance’ which is where parents and loved ones digitally document and survey their offspring, from sharing ultrasound photos to tracking newborn feeding and eating patterns. Intimate surveillance is a deliberately contradictory term: something done with the best of intentions but with possibly quite problematic outcomes. Here’s the full abstract:
The moment of birth was once the instant where parents and others first saw their child in the world, but with the advent of various imaging technologies, most notably the ultrasound, the first photos often precede birth (Lupton, 2013). In the past several decades, the question is no longer just when the first images are produced, but who should see them, via which, if any, communication platforms? Should sonograms (the ultrasound photos) be used to announce the impending arrival of a new person in the world? Moreover, while that question is ostensibly quite benign, it does usher in an era where parents and loved ones are, for the first years of life, the ones deciding what, if any, social media presence young people have before they’re in a position to start contributing to those decisions.
This chapter addresses this comparatively new online terrain, postulating the provocative term intimate surveillance, which deliberately turns surveillance on its head, begging the question whether sharing affectionately, and with the best of intentions, can or should be understood as a form of surveillance. Firstly, this chapter will examine the idea of co-creating online identities, touching on some of the standard ways of thinking about identity online, and then starting to look at how these approaches do and do not explicitly address the creation of identity for others, especially parents creating online identities for their kids. I will then review some ideas about surveillance and counter-surveillance with a view to situating these creative parental acts in terms of the kids and others being created. Finally, this chapter will explore several examples of parental monitoring, capturing and sharing of data and media about their children, using various mobile apps, contextualising these activities not with a moral finger-waving, but by surfacing specific questions and literacies which parents may need to develop in order to use these tools mindfully, and ensure decisions made about their children’s’ online presences are purposeful decisions.
The answer, of course, is both. And 19-year-old Instagram model Essena O’Neill’s very public rejection of the inauthentic nature of social media last week can been read through both lenses.
On the one hand, O’Neill deleted her heavily trafficked Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr accounts, and re-directed her audience to her new blog decrying the artificiality of social media life. She was embraced by many for revealing the inner workings of a poorly understood social media marketplace. Deleting accounts with more half a million followers certainly does make a statement.
On the other hand, O’Neill’s actions have also been interpreted as a rebranding effort, shifting away from the world of modelling toward a new online identity as a vegan eco-warrior.
Influencing the influencers
O’Neill was – and largely remains – what is referred to by marketers as an “influencer” or by some academics as a “microcelebrity”.
Given the large numbers of followers, they are very attractive platforms for brands and marketers wanting to reach these “organic” social media audiences. Yet, while these social media channels often depict idyllic lives, O’Neill’s dramatic revelations have raised questions about the authenticity of many influencers.
Or, more specifically, questions about exactly what sort of money is changing hands, and how visible sponsored and paid posts ought to be on social media.
Clashes between authenticity and commerce have a long history on social media. A notable example occurred in 2009 when Nestlé courted influential “mommy bloggers”, effectively dividing the community between those happy to be flown to a Nestlé retreat and those who argued Nestlé’s history of unethical business practices in relation to breastfeeding were unforgivable.
More recently, influential YouTube star and fashion blogger Zoe “Zoella” Sugg faced a backlash following the revelations that her best-selling debut novel, Girl Online, was written at least in part by a ghostwriter.
Recognising these various tags and indicators requires a level of Instagram literacy that regular viewers will likely develop, but casual audiences could easily miss. Indeed, as Abidin and Mart Ots have argued, this lack of transparent standards can be understood as “the influencer’s dilemma”.
As Singaporean influencers have been around for a decade, some have aged sufficiently to shift from their own sponsored posts to endorsements featuring their children, becoming what Abidin describes as micro-microcelebrities.
Australia also has its own infant influencers, the most visible being PR CEO Roxy Jacenko’s daughter, four year old Instagram star Pixie Curtis. As a second generation influencers emerge, clear social norms about sponsorship and advertising transparency on Instagram become more pressing.
Australian newly launched marketing company Tribe has positioned itself as a broker between influencers – “someone with 5000+ real followers” on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – and brands.
As Tribe notes, the ACCC does not currently require individuals on social media to reveal paid posts. However, it does recommend influencers add #spon to sponsored posts to flag identify paid content.
The difference between a recommendation and a rule aside, while a quick search reveals some 47,000 Instagram images tagged with #spon, many of these are not sponsored posts.
Of the top #spon tagged posts on Instagram yesterday (9 November), they feature influencers spruiking tea, videogames, resorts, beer and a mobile service provider along with two pets sponsored by a dog show and, as seems fitting, a dog food company.
An explicit marker like #spon would at least make sponsored posts identifiable, but no such norm currently exists, and even Tribe only “strongly recommends” rather than mandates its use.
In a post ironically titled “How To Make $$$ on Social Media”, Essena O’Neill notes that she was charging A$1,000 to feature a product on her Instagram feed, a fact she did not disclose until her recent rejection of her social media modelling past.
O’Neill’s own authenticity might not be helped by the fact that she took to Vimeo – another social media platform – and her own blog, to denounce social media.
This could be read as a clear reminder that social media isn’t inherently morally charged: the value of communication platforms depends in large part on what’s being communicated.
Moreover, as O’Neill’s actions have inspired other Instagram users and influencers to add “honest” captions about the constructedness of their images, if nothing else O’Neill has provoked a very teachable moment, potentially increasing the media literacy of many social media users.
Traditional media industries have long had regulations that ensure advertising and other content are clearly differentiated. While regulating social media is challenging, calling for social media influencers to self-regulate should not be.
Far from damaging their influence, such transparency may just add to what audiences perceive as their authenticity.
At this year’s Association of Internet Researcher’s Conference (#ir16) in Phoenix, Arizona, Tim Highfield has kindly presented our collaborative work looking at birth and death on Instagram via the #ultrasound and #funeral hashtags.
The ‘beginnings’ issue of the M/C Journal, edited by Bjorn Nansen (University of Melbourne) and me, has just been published. We’re really pleased with how this issue has turned out: a number of articles engage with the beginnings of life — from pregnancy apps to social media microcelebrity infants to infant media use – but there are also some fantastically creative engagements, from the beginnings of spreadsheets in terms of both history and practice through to the rhetoric beginnings of new technologies such as smart contact lenses. As with all issues of M/C, the content is free and open access.