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Visual Social Media

9781509534388 InstagramCoverMy research on visual social media originated from early interest in meme culture and also from a project that Tim Highfield and I worked on in 2013/14 looking at the way ultrasound/sonogram photos were being shared on Instagram. We developed a unique methodology and tool for extracting Instagram media and metadata for analysis, only to have the technical elements of method become redundant after Instagram completely change how its APIs (the rules for third parties pulling data in and out of their platform) worked! Thankfully, many other tools have since emerged, but after this experience we shifted our focus on to the more qualitative and theoretical explorations, which led to our 2016 article ‘ Instagrammatics and digital methods: Studying visual social media, from selfies and GIFs to memes and emoji’. This work led in a number of new directions, which, in terms of Instagram, has culminated in the 2020 book Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures which I co-authored with Tim Highfield and Crystal Abidin.

Currently I’m interested in the visual social media landscape more broadly, and in addition to continuing work focused on Instagram, I am also involved in projects focused on YouTube and TikTok.


Sharp, G., Fardouly, J., Bromberg, M., Leaver, T., & Gerrard, Y. (2021, September 29). Comment aider les ados à surmonter les complexes créés par les réseaux sociaux. Retrieved September 29, 2021, The Conversation, http://theconversation.com/comment-aider-les-ados-a-surmonter-les-complexes-crees-par-les-reseaux-sociaux-168620

Sharp, G., Fardouly, J., Bromberg, M., Leaver, T., & Gerrard, Y. (2021, September 23). Instagram can make teens feel bad about their body, but parents can help. Here’s how. The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/instagram-can-make-teens-feel-bad-about-their-body-but-parents-can-help-heres-how-168093

Leaver, T. (2021, 3 August). Instagram’s privacy updates for kids are positive. But plans for an under-13s app means profits still take precedence. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/instagrams-privacy-updates-for-kids-are-positive-but-plans-for-an-under-13s-app-means-profits-still-take-precedence-165323

Leaver, T., Highfield, T. and Abidin, C. (2020) Instagram: Visual Social Media Cultures. Polity Press. https://amzn.com/1509534393/

Leaver, T., Abidin, C., & Highfield, T. (2020, October 5). Happy birthday Instagram! 5 ways doing it for the ’gram has changed us. The Conversation. http://theconversation.com/happy-birthday-instagram-5-ways-doing-it-for-the-gram-has-changed-us-147039

Leaver, T. (2020, 2 October) Facebook is merging Messenger and Instagram chat features. It’s for Zuckerberg’s benefit, not yours, The Conversationhttps://theconversation.com/facebook-is-merging-messenger-and-instagram-chat-features-its-for-zuckerbergs-benefit-not-yours-147261

Leaver, T., & Highfield, T. (2018). Visualising the ends of identity: pre-birth and post-death on Instagram. Information, Communication & Society, 21(1), 30–45. https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118X.2016.1259343.

Leaver, T. and Abidin, C. (2017, 2 May) When exploiting kids for cash goes wrong on YouTube: the lessons of DaddyOFive. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/when-exploiting-kids-for-cash-goes-wrong-on-youtube-the-lessons-of-daddyofive-76932

Highfield, T., & Leaver, T. (2016). Instagrammatics and digital methods: Studying visual social media, from selfies and GIFs to memes and emoji. Communication Research and Practice, 2(1). http://doi.org/10.1080/22041451.2016.1155332.

Highfield, T., & Leaver, T. (2015). A methodology for mapping Instagram hashtags. First Monday, 20 (1). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v20i1.5563.

Leaver, T. (2015, November 10). When authenticity and advertising collide on social media. The Conversationhttps://theconversation.com/when-authenticity-and-advertising-collide-on-social-media-50397

Leaver, T. (2013). Olympic Trolls: Mainstream Memes and Digital Discord? Fibreculture Journal, (22), 226–243, http://twentytwo.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-163-olympic-trolls-mainstream-memes-and-digital-discord/

Leaver, T. (2013). Selling an Australian Cinderella? YouTube Stories. In T. Dalziell & P. Genoni (Eds.), Telling Stories: Australian Life and Literature 1935–2012 (pp. 573–578). Melbourne: Monash University Publishing

Talks & Conference Proceedings

Berryman, R., Abidin, C., & Leaver, T. (2021). A Topography of Virtual Influencers. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.5210/spir.v2021i0.12145 [Video: https://youtu.be/DFvbacRJvnc]

Hendry, N. A., Tiidenberg, K., Abidin, C., Kaye, D. B. V., Zeng, J., Wikstrom, P., Bucher, T., Highfield, T., Leaver, T.,Qiu, J. L. (2021). Platform Specificites: The Platform Book Panel. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research. https://doi.org/10.5210/spir.v2021i0.12115 [Video: https://youtu.be/V6LdbC5FOr8]

Abidin, C., van der Nagel, E., Johns, A., Bailo, F., Rodriguez, A., Valdovinos-Kaye, B., Wikstrom, P., Gerrard, Y., & Leaver, T. (2020). ‘PLEASE READ THE COMMENTS’: COMMENTING CULTURES ACROSS PLATFORMS. AoIR Selected Papers of Internet Research, 2020. https://doi.org/10.5210/spir.v2020i0.11109

Leaver, T. (2019) Virtual Influencers / Real Connections, Fame and Fandom: Functioning On and Offline Conference, University of Western Australia, 9 December 2019. [Invited Keynote] https://www.slideshare.net/Tama/virtual-influencers-real-connections

Leaver, T., Highfield, T. and Abidin, C. (2019, October 2-5). Framing Instagram: Methods and Approaches. Paper presented at AoIR 2019: The 20th Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers. Brisbane, Australia: AoIR.

Leaver, T.  and C. Abidin (2018) From YouTube to TV, and Back Again: Viral Video Child Stars and Media Flows in the Era of Social Media, Internet Research 2018, Selected Papers of #AoIR2018, Montreal, Canada, 10-13 October. https://spir.aoir.org/ojs/index.php/spir/article/view/10491/8360

Leaver, T. (2018, December 6)  Virtual Influencers and Real Connections, Digital Intimacies 4, Perth, Western Australia.

Abidin C. & Leaver, T. (13 September 2017), From YouTube to TV and Back Again: Viral video child stars and media flows in the era of social media , Digitising Early Childhood Conference, Perth, Australia, https://www.slideshare.net/Tama/from-youtube-to-tv-and-back-again-viral-video-child-stars-and-media-flows-in-the-era-of-social-media

Highfield T. & Leaver, T. (2016)  “Instagrammatics – analysing visual social media workshop”, CCI Digital Digital Methods Summer School, QUT, Kelvin Grove, 15-19 February 2016, http://www.ccidigitalmethods.org/

Leaver, T. “Framing & Balancing Big Data for Humanities Research Using TrIMSA and Instagram”, Mega Data Cluster, Curtin University, Perth WA, 2 November 2015, https://megadatawa.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/next-event-2nd-november/  (Invited talk.)

Leaver, T. “Framing & Balancing Big Data for Humanities Research Using TrIMSA and Instagram”, Mega Data Cluster, Curtin University, Perth WA, 2 November 2015, https://megadatawa.wordpress.com/2015/10/02/next-event-2nd-november/  (Invited talk.)

Leaver, T. and Highfield, F. TrISMA & Instagrammatics: Framing & Balancing Big Data for Humanities Research, The Social Life of Big Data Symposium,  Perth, Western Australia, 2 June 2015. [Invited presentation.] http://www.slideshare.net/Tama/trisma-instagrammaticsframing-balancing-big-data-for-humanities-research

Leaver, T. and Highfield, F. (2015) Instagramming The Ends of Identity: Pre-birth and post-death identity practices mapped via the #ultrasound and #funeral hashtags, 12th ICA Mobile Pre-Conference, From Womb to Tomb: Mobile Research Across Genders, Generations, Ethnicities, Cultures, and Life Stages, San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 20-21, 2015 http://www.slideshare.net/campoalto/instagrammingthe-ends-of-identity-prebirth-and-postdeath-identity-practices-mapped-via-theultrasound-and-funeral-hashtags

Leaver, T. (2014) Captured at Birth? Presence, Privacy and Intimate Surveillance, Presence, Privacy and Pseudonymity Panel, Internet Research 15,  Selected Papers of Internet Research 15.0, Daegu, South Korea, 23 October 2014, https://spir.aoir.org/ojs/index.php/spir/article/view/8798

Leaver, T. and Highfield, T.  ‘Mapping the Ends of Identity on Instagram’, presented at the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA) Annual Conference, Swinburne University, Melbourne, 9 July 2014, http://slidesha.re/1oyDVl7

Highfield, T. & Leaver, T. ‘A Methodology for Mapping Instagram Hashtags’, presented at Digital Humanities Australia 2014, University of Western Australia, 20 March 2014, http://slidesha.re/1iJlgnd


Interviewed in Cam Wilson, Who is winning the TikTok election? Both parties are trying it’s voter content that hits home, Crikey, 25 April 2022. https://www.crikey.com.au/2022/04/25/tiktok-federal-election-australia/

Interviewed in Andrew Lloyd, The Backrooms: How a Creepy Office Photo Became an Internet Bogeyman, Vice, 29 March 2022, https://www.vice.com/en/article/5dga98/is-the-backrooms-real

Interviewed in Nick Bonyhady and Tom Compagnoni, ‘TikTok war’: Ukraine’s online battle a winning formula, The Sydney Morning Herald, 4 March 2022, p. 14. https://www.smh.com.au/technology/there-s-a-video-war-and-ukraine-is-winning-20220301-p5a0n1.html

Interviewed in Michelle Elias, Ukraine invasion misinformation is spreading on TikTok. Who will stop it?, The Feed SBS, 3 March 2022, https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-feed/article/war-misinformation-is-spreading-on-tiktok-can-it-be-curtailed/thquf9enu

Interviewed by Melanie Scott, TikTok Challenges Out of Control, The Wire, 2SER 107.3, 21 February 2022, 6.09pm. https://2ser.com/tiktok-challenges-out-of-control/ [Radio]

Interviewed in Riley Stuart, A man’s death became a gruesome viral sensation — and it says a lot about us, ABC News, 19 February 2022. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-02-19/sydney-shark-attack-viral-videos-say-a-lot-about-us-analysis/100842388

Interviewed in Nick Bonyhady, ‘TikTok is basically in control’: How clothing ‘hauls’ run teen fashion, The Age, 30 January 2022, https://www.theage.com.au/technology/tiktok-is-basically-in-control-how-clothing-hauls-run-teen-fashion-20220127-p59rsh.html

Interviewed in James Purtill, Facebook’s terrible 2021: Will a year of scandal be the catalyst for regulation?, ABC Science, 21 December 2021. https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2021-12-21/facebook-year-in-review-2021-annus-horribilis-laws-regulation/100683410

Interviewed in James Ried, Instagram for kids paused over potential mental health concerns, The New Daily, 28 September 2021, https://thenewdaily.com.au/life/tech/2021/09/28/instagram-kids-mental-health/

Interviewed by Dee Dee Dunleavy, Child Influencers on Instagram, 3AW Melbourne, Afternoons, 2 June 2021. 2.07pm. [Radio]

Interviewed by Alexandra Barwick, Sharing Kids Photos Online, ABC Alice Springs, Drive, 8 December 2020, 4.08pm. [Radio]

Interviewed in Gian De Poloni, Coronavirus made them social media superstars, but can likes translate to votes?, ABC News, 9 August 2020, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-09/how-covid-19-has-turned-politicians-into-social-media-superstars/12528148

Interviewed by Jessica Strutt, Trump, K-Pop and Social Media Activism, Focus, ABC Radio Perth, 10.40am, 24 June 2020. [mp3]

Interviewed in Chris Stokel-Walker, Will Instagram filters alter our view of beauty and who we are?, New Scientist, 26 February 2020, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24532710-400-will-instagram-filters-alter-our-view-of-beauty-and-who-we-are/ [PDF]

Interviewed by Gillian O’Shaughnessy, Viral Videos, ABC Radio Perth, Early Afternoons, 3 February 2020, 1.07pm. [mp3]

Interviewed by Jenny Seaton, Streaming Vs Broadcast Media, Curtin FM, Afternoons, 21 January 2020, 12.25pm. [Mp3]

Interviewed by Olivia Ovenden, The Pull Of The Past: How We All Got Hooked On Nostalgia In The 2010s, Esquire UK, 24 December 2019, https://www.esquire.com/uk/culture/a30283630/nostalgia-tv-facebook-instagram-on-this-day-reboots-remakes/

Interviewed by Di Darmody, Social Media Influencers and Paid Advertising in Australia, WA Afternoons, ABC Radio Perth, 12 December 2019, 3.23pm. [Radio] [Mp3]

Interviewed in Chris Stokel-Walker, Why Instagram Hiding Likes Will Make Your Feed Less Awful, Esquire UK, 25 November 2019, https://www.esquire.com/uk/design/a29948262/why-instagram-hiding-likes-good-thing-make-your-feed-better/

Interviewed in Ariel Bogle, Facebook is hiding the number of ‘likes’ on posts in Australia, ABC News, 27 September 2019, https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2019-09-27/facebook-follows-instagram-and-hides-likes-in-australia/11554046

Interviewed by Hilary Harper, The rise of YouTube influencers, ABC Radio National, Life Matters, 18 September 2019, 9.32am [Radio] https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/the-rise-of-youtube-influencers/11515842

Interviewed by Alex Barwick, Removing Likes from Instagram, ABC Alice Springs, Drive, 18 July 2019, 4.20pm. [Radio]

Interviewed by Danielle Benda, Invisible Likes, ABC Perth, WA Afternoons, 18 July 2019, 3.10pm. [Radio]

Interviewed by Mikayla Floriano, Memes and Area51, 2SER, Drive, 16 July 2019, 4.33pm. https://2ser.com/memes-and-area-51/ [Radio]

Interviewed by Belicia Tjendera, Instagram trial removes likes from the public eye, Western Independent, 2 May 2019, https://westernindependent.com.au/2019/05/02/instagram-trial-removes-likes-from-the-public-eye/

Interviewed in Sarah Steger, Facebook merge a ‘threat to privacy’, The West Australian, 1 April 2019, p. 3, https://thewest.com.au/technology/mark-zuckerberg/facebook-merge-with-whatsapp-and-instagram-a-threat-to-privacy-says-uwa-expert-ng-b881132141z

Interviewed by Richelle Hunt, Influencers, Authenticity and Fishgate, Afternoons ABC Radio Melbourne, 27 March 2019, 3.10pm. [Radio]

Interviewed in Tara Cosoleto, Expert calls for ‘clearer rules’ around sponsored social media posts, SBS News, 25 January 2019,  https://www.sbs.com.au/news/expert-calls-for-clearer-rules-around-sponsored-social-media-posts

Interviewed by Vanessa Mills, Social Media and Community Perceptions of Crime, ABC Kimberley, Mornings, 23 January 2019, 10.18am. [Radio]

Interviewed by Annie Gaffney, Deepfakes, National Afternoons, ABC Sydney (and Nationally), 4 January 2019, 2.20pm. [Radio]

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