Has the game changed?

I really am an omnivore when it comes to conferences. I attend ones on political communications, ones on research methods, ones on doctoral education, and ones on digital sociology. Among all these and more, I must admit that I find myself feeling most comfortable at events for “internet researchers“. Probably I identify with that label most closely.

In that circle, if your work is described as being technologically deterministic, that’s never a compliment. “The internet is like a knife”, people used to howl. Or you can replace the word internet with whatever the next new thing is. Twitter, smartphones, blockchain, you name it.

If it were a binary opposition and I had to pick one over the other, I would also be on Team Social Constructivists. However, it is in fact never a binary opposition, is it? I am glad that even in my naïve years I appreciated that a real-life situation would always be somewhere in-between.

It feels like the field itself seems to be sliding back and forth too, depending on the characteristics of a given epoch. What I am hearing more and more these days is that there has been some fundamental change to our ways of being, and that change is as much from technology itself as from the social.

On a related note, here are some interesting reads for my own reference.

— It’s the (democracy-poisoning) golden age of free speech (Zeynep Tufekci, Wired, 16 January 2018)

YouTube, the great radicalizer (Zeynep Tufekci, The New York Times, 10 March 2018)

— How social media makes fascists of us all (Jamie Bartlett, UnHerd, 28 August 2018)

— RT @JamieJBartlett One of the overlooked, but discombobulating, things about social media is the way delightful stories appear directly next to tragic, or trivial, or infuriating ones. With no time to process the emotion, we bounce directly from delighted to outraged, totally rudderless. (12 August 2018)

— RT @JJRodV My *least* favorite part of social media culture is the assumption that if you aren’t posting about what’s happening you don’t care/are too privileged to notice. Some folks aren’t posting because they are sitting with folks who are processing what’s happening in the world. (18 March 2019; see also Giglietto & Lee, 2017; Robards & Lincoln, 2017)

Speculative thoughts about the phenomenology of digitalisation (Mark Carrigan, 27 February 2017)

Rather, I’m interested in understanding the character of my <b>frustration</b> at being unable to find what I was looking for through digital means. […] In both cases, my behaviour revealed an implicit expectation concerning the <i>extent of digitalisation</i>.

Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound. (Maryanne Wolf, The Guardian, 25 August 2018)

When are readers likely to believe a fact-check? (Jianing Li & Michael W. Wagner, Tech Stream, 27 May 2020)

— “We have become a spectator culture where “reality TV” has replaced reality.” (Bradley D. Wright, Small Group Success: Changing Lives One Group at a Time, 2015).

— RT @JamieJBartlett Meanwhile in the Ukraine, democracy takes another absurdist turn. Anti-establishment Volodymyr Zelensky currently leads the polls for Sunday’s presidential election. His day job? A comedian & actor who plays an anti-establishment president on TV. (30 March 2019)

— Town hall? 120 people. Live-streamed chicken dinner? 257,000 views on Facebook (Michael Scherer, The Washington Post, 10 December 2018); as summarised by @declan_djmn1, we are witnessing a move to a new ground [‘private’ platforms such as WhatsApp and Instagram] and a politics of intimacy.

— RT @davies_will Something like the People’s March is an example of the post-representational politics that now dominates. Not direct democracy but not representational democracy either. I discuss in Nervous States here:

When politics becomes infused by the logic of crowds, it becomes less about peaceful political representation, and more about mobilisation. Whether on the street or online, crowds are not a proxy for something else, as, for example, a parliament is meant to be a proxy for its electorate or a judge is the face of the justice system. They don’t purport to <i>represent</i> society as a whole, in a way that a ‘representative sample’ is treated by an opinion pollster as a means of discovering what the whole nation thinks. If crowds matter at all, it is because of the depth of feeling that brought so many people into one place at one time. As in the wars that dominate the nationalist imagination, crowds allow every individual to become (and feel) part of something much larger than themselves. This needn’t be a bad thing, but it carries risks and plays on our nerves. […] The critical political question is who or what has the power to mobilise people. […]

— [cont’d] One word for it is ‘presentational democracy’: the people are just presented, but without that being a way of settling an argument. Big data suffers the identical problem, and it’s the entangling of those two things that accounts for where we are right now.

— [cont’d] Another thing to add on this: ‘presentational democracy’ does not look good when it is led by professional *representatives*. Remain urgently needs political outsiders. (21 October 2018)

— How much of the internet is fake? Turns out, a lot of it, actually. (Max Read, Intelligencer, 26 December 2018).

Not only do we have bots masquerading as humans and humans masquerading as other humans, but also sometimes humans masquerading as bots […].

You can’t believe a word any of these people is saying – that’s the ‘deep fake’ era for you (Jamie Bartlett, The Guardian, 16 June 2019)

The main effect of deep fakes in our politics therefore will not be to spread lies, but, rather, confusion and apathy.

Political ads are all over Facebook. But voters are in the dark about where they come from (Martin Moore, 4 August 2019)

— RT @JamieJBartlett Fake news is less about ‘misinformation’ and more about people using carefully selected ‘true news’ to create a coherent yet misleading personal reality. (16 July 2019)

— RT @JamieJBartlett Can I elaborate. Feelings can overrule facts sometimes – the problem is when feelings become the chief arbiter of morality & desert. Which is what is happening. (6 August 2019)

— “Designed addiction” (Online Harms White Paper, DCMS, April 2019, pp.26-27)

— RT @Pedantrynmotion We’re susceptible to what we want to believe. Older generations want to believe that they can get free money. Younger generations want to believe that they’re interesting and that people want to look at them. (18 July 2019)

Why conservatives are winning the internet (Sean Illing, Vox, 3 June 2019)

— Populist technologies and the new spectacle of finance (UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, 3 July 2019)

The Left Behind: a chilling film that digs into the deep roots of the far right (10 July 2019)

“The perception of the far right in this country is outdated,” says Alan Harris, the writer of a provocative new drama, The Left Behind. “We think of skinheads and National Front marches. But things have changed – especially in terms of the online influence.”

The phrase “far right” tends to conjure up visions of organised groups: Britain First in the UK, the marchers on Charlottesville in the US. Yet the reality can be far more diffuse.


[The team] sought to create a drama that dug into the roots of far-right extremism, using literature from Hope Not Hate and speaking to Prevent consultants and academics. They soon found that much of the far-right activity was concentrated in the “left-behind” areas – post-industrial towns and cities suffering the sting of austerity and income inequality.

— RT @AreeqChowdhury Students chant “f**k the algorithm” in protest against the Government’s decision to use computer-generated exam grades. (17 August 2020)

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