20170224_140106I was part of a great WA Communication Culture Media panel today on the theme of feedback and was specifically asked to comment on receiving and giving feedback on journal articles (mainly via peer review). It was a great and wide-ranging conversation, and clearly applicable well beyond the immediate audience, so I thought I’d post my tips for journal feedback here.

Receiving Feedback via Peer Reviews

[1] Be Humble. Your peer reviewers are almost always providing free labour when undertaking peer reviews. Sometimes they’ve been mentored and have a great and encouraging system for giving feedback that makes it easy to receive. Often, however, they’re replicating a model of peer review that’s more combative. Either way, most peer reviews (even the dreaded ‘Reviewer 2’) have something useful in them. Be humble and try and find those useful points. That doesn’t mean taking all criticism to heart. Nor does it mean your peer reviews are necessarily right. Be they do exist, and someone took the time to write them, so try and find what’s valuable in them, even if you have to read around sometimes unnecessarily combative language and framing.

[2] Know The Limits of What You Are Willing to Change. Often peer reviews will suggest an article demonstrate more familiarity with a field, or engage with more specific work. Even if this feels unnecessary, it’s probably worth doing. However, if a review rejects your overall argument, or frame, it’s good to have decided how much you are willing to change, and how much you won’t. How important is it to you or your career to publish in this journal? Which line don’t you want to cross in terms of changing your framework or argument? If the reviews ask too much, and the editors want those reviews taken as a blueprint for change, then sometimes it’s okay to pull the article and find somewhere more appropriate. Just know where that line is for you. Peers are humans, too; sometimes their reviews do ask more than is reasonable for what you want an article to achieve.

[3] Use Your Response Meaningfully (& Follow the Instructions for Revision!). After you’ve received peer reviews and are invited to revise your article, you’ll usually be asked to provide a summary of what you’ve changed in the article. This is also your chance to dialogue with the editors and peer reviewers (if it’s going to have a second round of review). If your reviews have been contradictory, or you’ve deliberately not followed specific suggestions, explain your rationale here. Editors and reviewers aren’t machines, and will often agree with your thinking (not always, I should add, but often). Equally, if you get specific instructions – for example, to use tracked changes or highlighting to immediately make alterations obvious – then follow these precisely! For editors and reviewers, it can be very frustrating trying to see what’s been changed if that’s not clearly flagged!

[4] Be timely. While reviews and revisions should be taken seriously, and everyone has many things to do, it’s best to fit these revisions in as soon as you can. This expedites things from the journal’s perspective and your own! The best articles are finished ones!

Giving Feedback and Writing Peer Reviews

[1] Be timely. Peer review is usually free labour provided by scholars. Know how much you can reasonably and meaningfully review in a given year. But once you accept the role as reviewer, please stick to the requested reviewing timeline if you possibly can. Journal editors struggle to find enough peer reviewers, and hate having to chase reviewers for late reviews. More to the point, it can lead to stagnation in scholarship if an article takes 6 or 9 months for the first round of review. So, only commit if you know you’ve got time, but once you’re committed to a peer review, make the time to do it.

[2] Be generous. Generosity doesn’t mean accepting articles that aren’t ready for publication. It does mean, framing all feedback constructively and, ideally, positively. If you’re rejecting a paper outright, giving the author a roadmap to improve that article and become a better scholar is still important (indeed, perhaps more important than the acceptances or minor review recommendations). Equally, don’t be the person who responds by saying ‘Well, if I was writing on this topic I’d have done it this way.’ You didn’t write it. Does the article add to scholarship on its own terms? Academia has far too many versions of combative review. Peer reviews can always be generous of spirit, even if they’re ultimately not recommending publication. Reviews aren’t just reviews; they’re a form of mentorship.

[3] Be precise. The most frustrating comments (wearing either my editor or author hat) are the ones that make broad statements without being precise. ‘The argumentation is unclear.’ ‘Needs to engage with the core scholars in X field.’ If the argument needs work, try and indicate where. If there are 4 key scholars you think an article needs to dialogue with, mention their names. While it might not suit everyone, I’ve started giving all peer review feedback as a series of specific and clear numbered points; a checklist of changes, essentially. In my opinion, a clear and precise roadmap to what you think would make the article better is the most useful thing a peer review can provide.

Feedback Doesn’t Stop Once an Article or Publication is Out!

[1] Share Widely! Most journals will let an author archive a pre-print (ie the submitted version of an article, before peer review) and, after a time delay, a post-print (the peer reviewed but not paginated version). Use this to populate your open access institutional repository, personal website archive, or elsewhere. If your journal allows it, post to academic social networks like Academia.edu and ResearchGate.

[2] Publicise on Social Media. Increasingly, academics find out about each other’s work through social networks as much as searches and alerts. If you’re using Twitter or Facebook or other online platforms to engage with your academic peers, then share links to your work there. Point to the pre-prints when they’re posted, and point to the final published versions once they’re up online. Celebrate your publications, and celebrate (and retweet) great work by your peers and colleagues! If you get meaningful questions, comments or offers of collaboration, that’s pretty decent feedback, too!

[3] Engage Beyond the Ivory Tower. One of the skills scholars often lack is translating their work for audiences beyond academia. Yet press releases, or writing short summary pieces, such as those in The Conversation, can make your work far more accessible, and ensure it can have the widest possible engagement and impact. This sort of engagement does take some work, but if you’ve just written the most amazing article ever, and you want an audience, then engaging publicly will make your work available to the widest audience.

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Call For Papers:

Gaming Disability: Disability perspectives on contemporary video games

Edited by Dr Katie Ellis, Dr Mike Kent & Dr Tama Leaver
Internet Studies, Curtin University

Abstracts Due 15 February 2017

Video games are a significant and still rapidly expanding area of popular culture. Media Access Australia estimated that in 2012 some twenty percent of gamers were people with a disability, yet, the relationship between video gaming, online gaming and disability is an area that until now has been largely under explored. This collection seeks to fill that gap. We are looking for scholars from both disability studies and games studies, along with game developers and innovators and disability activists and other people with interest in this area to contribute to this edited collection.

We aim to highlight the history of people with disabilities participating in video games and explore the contemporary gaming environment as it relates to disability. This exploration takes place in the context of the changing nature of gaming, particularly the shift from what we might consider traditional desktop computer mediation onto mobile devices and augmented reality platforms. The collection will also explore future possibilities and pitfalls for people with disabilities and gaming.

Areas of interest that chapters might address include

  • Disability narratives and representation in gaming
  • Accessibility of gaming for people with disabilities
  • Mods, hacks and alterations to games and devices for and by people with disabilities
  • Augmented reality games and disability
  • Disability gaming histories
  • Mobile gaming platforms and disability
  • Specific design elements (such as sound) in terms of designing accessible games
  • Gaming, television and disability
  • Future directions for disability and gaming

Submission procedure:

Potential authors are invited to submit chapter abstracts of no more than 500 words, including a title, 4 to 6 keywords, and a brief bio, by email to Dr Mike Kent <m.kent@curtin.edu.au> by 15 February 2017. (Please indicate in your proposal if you wish to use any visual material, and how you have or will gain copyright clearance for visual material.) Authors will receive a response by 15 March 2016, with those provisionally accepted due as chapters of approximately 6000 words (including references) by 15 June 2016. If you would like any further information, please contact Mike Kent.

About the editors:

The editors are all from the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University and have a history of successfully publishing edited collections in the areas of and gaming, disability, and new media.

Dr Katie Ellis is an Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University. Her research focuses on disability and the media extending across both representation and active possibilities for social inclusion. Her books include Disability and New Media (2011 with Mike Kent), Disabling Diversity (2008), Disability, Ageing and Obesity: Popular Media Identifications (2014; with Debbie Rodan & Pia Lebeck), Disability and the Media (2015; with Gerard Goggin), Disability and Popular Culture (2015) and her recent edited collection with Mike Kent Disability and Social Media: Global Perspectives (2017).

Dr Mike Kent is a senior lecturer and Head of Department in the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University. Mike’s research focus is on people with disabilities and their use of, and access to, information communication technology and the Internet. His other area of research interest is in higher education and particularly online education, as well as online social networking platforms. His book, with Katie Ellis, Disability and New Media was published in 2011 and his edited collection, with Tama Leaver, An Education in Facebook? Higher Education and the World’s Largest Social Network, was released in 2014. His latest edited collection, with Katie Ellis, Disability and Social Media: Global Perspectives is available 2017, along with his forthcoming edited collections Massive Open Online Courses and Higher Education: What went right, what went wrong and where to now, with Rebecca Bennett and Chinese Social Media Today: Critical Perspectives with Katie Ellis and Jian Xu.

Dr Tama Leaver is an Associate Professor in the Department of Internet Studies at Curtin University. He researches online identities, digital media distribution and networked learning. He previously spent several years as a lecturer in Higher Education Development, and is currently also a Research Fellow in Curtin’s Centre for Culture and Technology. His book Artificial Culture: Identity, Technology and Bodies was released through Routledge in 2012 and his edited collections An Education in Facebook? Higher Education and the World’s Largest Social Network, with Mike Kent, was released in 2014 through Routledge, and Social, Casual and Mobile Games: The Changing Gaming Landscape, with Michele Wilson, was released through Bloomsbury Academic in 2016.

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For Kath: How to replace every mention of “Internet of Things” with “Skynet” and vice versa in your Chrome browser.

  1. In Chrome, install the Word Replacer 2 plugin.
  2. Click the plugin settings, select settings.
  3. Click ‘new’ on the left and enter your item name (I’ve called mine “Internet of Things” in the left box, “Skynet” in the box next to it on the right.)
  4. At the top of the right pane, select ‘Swap’ (or just ‘Simple’ if you just want “internet of things” replaced, but IOT mentions of Skynet turing into Internet of Things).
  5. Type “internet of things => skynet” into the right pane’s text box, and hit return/enter.
  6. Click Export (ensuring the tickbox is still selected on the left next to your new item).
  7. The instruction will be made into code, and shown to you. Something like this …Fullscreen capture 17032016 103325 AM.bmp
  8. Click ‘Apply to selected’ after the code has appeared.
  9. Click the ‘x’ to close the settings window.
  10. Click on the Word Replace II icon and ensure it’s enabled (the term enabled will be green).
  11. Search for “Internet of Things” and see if it works. (If it doesn’t, I’d blame Skynet.) Also, checking the “Internet of Things” Wikipedia page becomes amusing.
  12. PS If it is working, this post clearly won’t make sense anymore! Winking smile
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Here’s the Call for Papers (well, call for Abstracts, initially) for a special issue of Social Media + Society I’m editing with Bjorn Nansen:

Dear colleagues,

Special Issue of Social Media + Society

Infancy Online

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

Abstracts of 300 words should be submitted to both Tama Leaver t.leaver@curtin.edu.au  and Bjorn Nansen nansenb@unimelb.edu.au  by Friday, 1 April. Where appropriate, please nominate an author for correspondence.

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.

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11323618746_e0edcba834_zIn reflecting on the year and my quite sporadic blogging (and that’s being generous), it occurred to me that this is in large part because of the amount of time and energy that goes into talking with journalists in the last few years. In 2014 I provided commentary for 31 media stories: 7 newspaper or online stories; 4 TV interviews; and 18 radio interviews. I also wrote a couple of Conversation pieces, and a story for Antenna. This is definitely my preferred ratio: the more radio the better, as it’s almost always live and I feel a lot more in control of the way what I say is actually reported! While is seems a bit boring and self-serving to continually report here when I’ve provided press comments (and something better suited to Twitter), I’ve nevertheless added a media section above so that my public comments are at least available in a central place beyond my CV.

My 2014 output was actually down a bit on 2013, when I was interviewed for 38 media stories (19 were print or online; 15 radio interviews; and 4 TV spots). In 2014 I was probably a little pickier about which stories I spoke on, which was influenced both by the rougher media experiences in 2013 as well as me doing a more strategic job of marking out times to focus on my academic writing only. As 2015 kicks off, I’m still going to try and be available to talk about online communication with the press, as I still firmly believe it’s important for academics to try and be public facing and engage with public debate. I’m sure I’ll tweet the better stories, but I’ll also try and keep the media section more or less up to date.

[Photo by reynermedia CC BY]

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By Tama Leaver, Curtin University and Emily van der Nagel, Swinburne University of Technology

Having some form of anonymity online offers many people a kind of freedom. Whether it’s used for exposing corruption or just experimenting socially online it provides a way for the content (but not its author) to be seen.

But this freedom can also easily be abused by those who use anonymity to troll, abuse or harass others, which is why Facebook has previously been opposed to “anonymity on the internet”.

So in announcing that it will allow users to log in to apps anonymously, is Facebook is taking anonymity seriously?

Real identities on Facebook

CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been committed to Facebook as a site for users to have a single real identity since its beginning a decade ago as a platform to connect college students. Today, Facebook’s core business is still about connecting people with those they already know.

But there have been concerns about what personal information is revealed when people use any third-party apps on Facebook.

So this latest announcement aims to address any reluctance some users may have to sign in to third-party apps. Users will soon be able to log in to them without revealing any of their wealth of personal information.

Keeping things hidden third-party apps on Facebook. Flickr/Christoph Aigner, CC BY-NC-ND

That does not mean they will be anonymous to Facebook – the social media site will still track user activity.

It might seem like the beginning of a shift away from singular, fixed identities, but tweaking privacy settings hardly indicates that Facebook is embracing anonymity. It’s a long way from changing how third-party apps are approached to changing Facebook’s entire real-name culture.

Facebook still insists that “users provide their real names and information”, which it describes as an ongoing “commitment” users make to the platform.

Changing the Facebook experience?

Having the option to log in to third-party apps anonymously does not necessarily mean Facebook users will actually use it. Effective use of Facebook’s privacy settings depends on user knowledge and motivation, and not all users opt in.

A recent Pew Research Center report reveals that the most common strategy people use to be less visible online is to clear their cookies and browser history.

Only 14% of those interviewed said they had used a service to browse the internet anonymously. So, for most Facebook users, their experience won’t change.

Facebook login on other apps and websites

Spotify uses Facebook login. Spotify

Facebook offers users the ability to use their authenticated Facebook identity to log in to third-party web services and mobile apps. At its simplest and most appealing level, this alleviates the need for users to fill in all their details when signing up for a new app. Instead they can just click the “Log in with Facebook” button.

For online corporations whose businesses depend on building detailed user profiles to attract advertisers, authentication is a real boon. It means they know exactly what apps people are using and when they log in to them.

Automated data flows can often push information back into the authenticating service (such as the music someone is playing on Spotify turning up in their Facebook newsfeed).

While having one account to log in to a range of apps and services is certainly handy, this convenience means it’s almost impossible to tell what information is being shared.

Is Facebook just sharing your email address and full name, or is it providing your date of birth, most recent location, hometown, a full list of friends and so forth? Understandably, this again raises privacy concerns for many people.

How anonymous login works

To address these concerns, Facebook is testing anonymous login as well as a more granular approach to authentication. (It’s worth noting, neither of these changes have been made available to users yet.)

Given the long history of privacy missteps by Facebook, the new login appears to be a step forward. Users will be told what information an app is requesting, and have the option of selectively deciding which of those items Facebook should actually provide.

Facebook will also ask users whether they want to allow the app to post information to Facebook on their behalf. Significantly, this now places the onus on users to manage the way Facebook shares their information on their behalf.

The New Facebook Login

In describing anonymous login, Facebook explains that:

Sometimes people want to try out apps, but they’re not ready to share any information about themselves.

It’s certainly useful to try out apps without having to fill in and establish a full profile, but very few apps can actually operate without some sort of persistent user identity.

The implication is once a user has tested an app, to use its full functionality they’ll have to set up a profile, probably by allowing Facebook to share some of their data with the app or service.

Taking on the competition

The value of identity and anonymity are both central to the current social media war to gain user attention and loyalty.

Facebook’s anonymous login might cynically be seen as an attempt to court users who have flocked to Snapchat, an app which has anonymity built into its design from the outset.

Snapchat’s creators famously turned down a US$3 billion buyout bid from Facebook. Last week it also revealed part of its competitive plan, an updated version of Snapchat that offers seamless real-time video and text chat.

Introducing chat for Snapchat.

By default, these conversations disappear as soon as they’ve happened, but users can select important items to hold on to.

Whether competing with Snapchat, or any number of other social media services, Facebook will have to continue to consider the way identity and anonymity are valued by users. At the moment its flirting with anonymity is tokenistic at best.

The Conversation

Tama Leaver receives funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Emily van der Nagel does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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

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My Sunday began with a twinge of disappointment as I found out that an interview I’d given to a local reporter had been used to give credence to an awfully sensationalist moral panic piece about young people, sexting, and anonymous messaging apps (mainly Snapchat and Facebook’s new Poke). While The Sunday Times isn’t exactly a bastion of investigative journalism, I was nevertheless disappointed since I’d tried to provide a bit of context for these apps, emphasising that in the vast majority of cases the material being sent was harmless, but that when more intimate material was shared, the most important dynamic was trust between the people communicating, not the nitty gritty technical details of the app itself (if someone really wants to find a way around deleting online material, they will). I know academics should always be wary of journalists reporting on sensationalist topics, and to be fair I’m not actually misquoted, just used to add support to an otherwise pretty vacuous piece, but it nevertheless smarts to be associated with a story using the headline ‘Teen Sext Trap’ in giant letters.

My first instinct was to be very annoyed with the journalist, Katie Robertson, who I’ve provided comments for in the past. However, after searching the web, I was swiftly reminded that journalists are but one (small) cog in the machinery of sensationalism. This became evident when I found several versions of the same story, in different locations all owned by Murdoch’s NewsCorp (as is the Sunday Times).

Take a look, for example, at the Sunday Times version:

Sunday Times Version

(You can see article on the Sunday Times front page in all its glory.) An online version under the headline ‘Teenagers embrace new secret sexting craze on smartphones’, with the same text from the Sunday Times version, also appeared on the Perth Now website, and The Australian website.

However, in contrast, another version appears in print on the other side of the country in the Tasmanian Sunday:

Sunday Tasmanian Version

The Tasmanian Sunday version, written by the same reporter, released on the same day, is far more balanced and does justice to what I’d mentioned in her interview. I suspect  – and haven’t yet asked – that this second version is closest to the article  originally written, and that the Sunday Times (and online) version has seen a lot more input from editors seeking to increase sales. This is always the case – that the editors overrule the journalists – but often this input is, initially, invisible. Now I’ve been reminded, I’ll do a better job of remembering that even when you feel a decent rapport with a journalist, they often won’t have control of the words that are released under their name. That said, I do think it’s very important that academics engage with the press since it’s often in that arena where the public come across important information. For me, it just means being a little more wary (and possibly sticking to radio whenever possible).

In terms of this story, it’s the last few lines of the Tasmanian Sunday version that I think matter the most, and since they’re my words, I thought it would be worth posting them here. With regard to Snapchat, Facebook’s Poke or any other self-deleting messaging app that comes along:

There will always be safeguards in place, but you can almost always get around them if you try. Any form of communication online has to involve a level of trust. In 99.9 per cent of cases, though, the fact that it is deleted will mean it is deleted. … But parents should always have a chat with their kids about anything shared online as it has the potential to last forever.

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While I set up a page for my new book, and told Twitter and Facebook a while ago, I realised I never actually blogged about my book finally coming out! So, without any ado at all, here’s the announcement:

Artificial Culture: Identity, Technology, and Bodies (Routledge, 2012)
Tama Leaver, Curtin University

Amazon http://amzn.to/wRe4PN
Routledge: http://bit.ly/mivLzx

Artificial Culture is an examination of the articulation, construction, and representation of "the artificial" in contemporary popular cultural texts, with a focus on science fiction films and novels, but also addressing digital culture more broadly including analysis of Wikileaks, the Visible Human Project and the emergence of synthespians. The book argues that today we live in an artificial culture due to the deep and inextricable relationships between people and technology, with human bodies as a key marker of these symbiotic connections. While the artificial is often imagined as outside of the natural order and thus also beyond the realm of humanity, paradoxically, artificial concepts are simultaneously produced and constructed by human ideas and labor. The artificial can thus act as a boundary point against which it is possible in some respects to measure what it might mean to be human. More importantly, the artificial often blurs the boundary between humans, technology and the environment at large in often purposefully unsettling ways.

The core texts analysed in the book are: 2001 A Space Odyssey; the four Terminator films; Greg Egan’s novels Permutation City and Diaspora; The Visible Human Project; William Gibson’s bridge trilogy (Virtual Light, Idoru, and All Tomorrow’s Parties); Wikileaks; The Matrix films and franchise; WETA’s digital effects in the Lord of the Rings films, with a particular focus on the synthespian Gollum; the Spider-Man trilogy; Wall-E; and Avatar.


Part1: Artificial Intelligence
   1. Early Artificial Intelligence Films: ‘When are you going to let me out of this box?
   2. "I am a machine!": Artificial Intelligences in Contemporary Cinema
Part 2: Artificial Life
   3. From Digital Genesis to the Artificial Other
   4. Diasporic Subjectivities: Not Quite ‘Beyond the Infinite’
Part 3: Artificial Space
   5. The Fortification of Place in the Digital Age
   6. Resistance is Spatial
   7. The Infinite Plasticity of the Digital?
Part 4: Artificial Culture
   8. Matrices of Embodiment
   9. The Symbiosis of Special Effects
Part 5: Artificial Culture
   10. Before the Mourning
   11. Artificial Mourning: Spider-Man, Special Effects and September 11

For slightly more information (and colour versions of the images used in the book) please visit http://www.tamaleaver.net/artificial-culture/ . My apologies that the book on the expensive side; if you have access to a university library, perhaps recommend they purchase it in the first instance.

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In just over a week I hop on the first of three planes and head to Seattle for Internet Research 12. I’m looking forward to seeing many colleagues I rarely get to see in the flesh, and indeed adding flesh to many folks who I only really know as Twitter or Facebook profile pictures.

The paper I’m presenting is called “The Ends of Online Identity” and is the first step in a larger research project which looks at online identities before or after they are really owned by the person to which they refer. Indeed, the many varied responses to Facebook’s upcoming shift to the new Timeline which replace profiles with a curated historical story fits in perfectly with the terrain I’m exploring, which focuses on what happens to identity online when other people are responsible for shaping it (such as parents, before someone is old enough to really manage their online self, or post-mortem when someone’s profiles and digital shadow become the memorialised self).  The project itself is only in the initial stages and this paper is more about establishing the parameters and scoping out the field, but I think there’s enough in there to make it an interesting conversation.

For those of you who might be interested, here’s the abstract:

The Ends of Online Identity?

FB_BornWhile the early years of online interaction were often framed by notions of identity play, anonymity, pseudonymity and multiplicity, the last five years have seen many of these playful boundaries collapsing with online and offline identity no longer presumed to be easily separable. The dominance of Facebook as the social networking service, and their firm insistence on ‘real’ names and identities has been one of the clearest causes and indicators of this shift. However, once online and offline identity are more firmly attached to real names, an individual’s web presence becomes harder and harder to escape. Moreover, while notions like ‘Identity 2.0’ (Helmond, 2010), ‘the networked self’ (Papacharissi, 2010) and others tend to emphasise at least some degree of agency, the persistence of digital information and the permanence of names suggests it is timely to revisit the ends of identity where the agency of the named individual is less, if at all, applicable.

At one end, identity fragments can be created even before an individual is born, from Facebook updates, blogs and photos detailing attempts to get pregnant, through to ultrasounds images and the like. Early childhood too, can often be documented online by parents who embrace every recording technology possible, both capturing and often sharing online every smile, every outfit and all those initial milestones of development. While most parents consider some degree of security when posting information about children, many of these digital traces persist and can often be easily (re-)attached to the children in question later in life. This initial digital contextualisation and the power of parents and others to ‘set up’ the initial web presence of individuals before they are active participants online deserves greater attention. Victor Mayer-Schonberger (2009), for example, has proposed that information online, including social information, should come with an expiry date, after which digital identity fragments are automatically erased. While an admirable strategy, implementation of such a proposal in a widespread enough manner to be useful would be very challenging.

At the other end of identity, the question of what happens to our digital selves when we die is also increasingly important. While our corporeal forms are subject to entropy and decay, the same is not necessarily true of online identities. From blog posts and social networking profiles to photographs and more personal files, the need to ‘do something’ with digital identity fragments is increasingly pressing. In some instances the keys to digital identities (our passwords) are being left in wills as part of individuals’ estates, but far more often this question is left unasked until an individual has died. Facebook, for example, had to institute the possibility to allow family members to memorialise or delete the Facebook profiles of deceased loved ones after many people reported Facebook suggesting they ‘reconnected’ with recently deceased relatives and friends.

FB_LostALovedOneThis paper will outline some initial ways that our ‘ends of identity’ might be conceptualised, including a brief review of current approaches, with the intention of outlining an emerging research project which examines the impact of digital identity creation which is not readily controlled by the individual whose identity is being created or transformed.


Helmond, A. (2010). Identity 2.0: Constructing identity with cultural software. www.annehelmond.nl , PDF: http://www.annehelmond.nl/wordpress/wp-content/uploads//2010/01/helmond_identity20_dmiconference.pdf.

Mayer-Schonberger, V. (2009). Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age . Princeton University Press.

Papacharissi, Z. (Ed.). (2010). A Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites . Routledge.

My presentation is part of a four-paper panel entitled “Coherency, Authenticity, Plurality and the Trace” which also features papers by Erika Pearson / @erikapearson (University of Otago), Stephanie Tuszynski (Bethany College) and Brady Robards / @bradyjay (Griffith University). Our panel is currently scheduled for Tuesday, 11/Oct/2011: 4:00pm – 5:30pm in “South” if you’ll be at IR12. I hope to post the slides before our panel session and, if I get the chance, I’ll try and capture the audio and post it some time shortly thereafter.

Any comments, thoughts or questions are most welcome! 🙂

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