At this week’s fantastically engaging CCI Digital Methods Summer School held at Swinburne University in Melbourne, Tim Highfield and I presented a workshop about analysing visual social media, focusing on Instagram data collection and anaylsis. It was based, in part, on our recent First Monday paper, but also looked beyond that at ways of surfacing research questions and approaches. We were pleased with the interest in the workshop, and really positive responses to it, so we’ve shared the slides here:
There will be more on Instagram from us later this year, but if you’re working on Instagram I’d love to hear what you’re doing; either leave a comment here or ping me an email if you want to get in touch.
In 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.
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”.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
However, in contrast, another version appears in print on the other side of the country in the Tasmanian Sunday:
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.
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
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
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?
While 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.
This 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.
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!
Late last year I was interviewed about online teaching by the team UNSW’s COFA team for their Learning to Teach Online project which aims to build a rich library of resources for teachers working online in various forms. You can find my talking head peppered throughout a number of their video episodes, but the main one, and one I’m really pleased to see up, is all about Understanding Creative Commons for education. I’ve embedded the video below, but you can also get a printable resources hand-out over and the Learning to Teaching Online page.
Incidentally, it’s worth mentioning that this video is about both how teachers and use Creative Commons licenses, but also, and quite importantly, about how students can use CC licenses when producing their own worth, be that text, photos, video or other combinations of media. If you’re an educator interested in this area, you might also enjoy the short paper I wrote a few years ago called ‘The Creative Commons: An Overview for Educators’.
I’ve got a new column up over at Flow called ‘The Anti-Social Network’ about The Social Network film and how Zuckerberg is treated as a metaphor for all Facebook users. Here’s the introduction:
A film about writing a piece of software and two lawsuits about who really owns that software doesn’t sound like blockbuster material, but that’s exactly the premise behind The Social Network (2010) penned by Aaron Sorkin, of West Wing fame, and directed by David Fincher, best known for Fight Club (1999). Despite the seemingly dry premise, powered by Sorkin’s amazing dialogue and Fincher’s eye for pacing and casting, the film has done remarkably well, largely embraced by critics, and for a film in which nothing blows up and no one gets shot at, it has taken an impressive $175 million (U.S.) at the global box office thus far. Of course, the real story is about Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s creator and co-founder, and how more than half a billion people have voluntarily used the software he wrote to share their personal details and lives, in the process making Zuckerberg a billionaire many times over. It’s fair to say that the portrayal of Zuckerberg is far from sympathetic, but what’s a little more disturbing is how the depiction of Zuckerberg’s social awkwardness and moral ambiguity seems designed to paint all Facebook users with the same generational brush.
Obama’s victory has people celebrating across the world for so many reasons, but given my preoccupations, it should come as no surprise that part of my joy comes from his decidedly forward-thinking policies toward digital culture. As, for example, Barry Saunders has argued in his ABC story:
Obama’s online success dwarfed his opponent’s, and proved key to his winning the presidency. Volunteers used Obama’s website to organize a thousand phone-banking events in the last week of the race — and 150,000 other campaign-related events over the course of the campaign. Supporters created more than 35,000 groups clumped by affinities like geographical proximity and shared pop-cultural interests. By the end of the campaign, myBarackObama.com chalked up some 1.5 million accounts. And Obama raised a record-breaking $600 million in contributions from more than three million people, many of whom donated through the web. … In many ways, the story of Obama’s campaign was the story of his supporters, whose creativity and enthusiasm manifested through multitudes of websites and YouTube videos online. It even resulted in volunteer contributions like the innovative Obama ’08 iPhone and iTouch application that enabled owners to mobilize their friends and contacts in battleground states through the Apple devices.
Perhaps of more concern for the hip and ironic youth of today is a piece by Dan Kois in the NY Times’ Culture Vulture asking ‘Can ‘The Daily Show’ Survive the Barack Obama Presidency?‘ What will Jon Stewart and his team satirize in a hopeful, forward-thinking, globally-minded American under Obama? I suspect there’ll still be a few things worth making fun of, but I’m sure Jon Stewart would agree, if it came down to The Daily Show or Obama, Stewart would still be voting Obama! Besides which, plenty of Americans are still doing really stupid things; drowned out by all the celebrations was the fact that in the same electoral process, Californians voted to remove the rights of gay people to marry; I think The Daily Show team might just have some new targets!
I haven’t been blogging much recently, but I have the best reason of all: Emily and I are absolutely delighted to announce the arrival of our son, Henry Alexander. He arrived in the world a tiny little thing, but he’s the most amazing sight we’ve ever seen and, as I’m sure every parent thinks, he’s the most beautiful little man in the entire world! The word hardly does the experience justice, but we’re are both euphoric beyond belief!
Oh, and blogging may just be a bit sporadic for a while!