Interviews by Chris Till with researchers of all areas of digital culture and society.
Digital Sociology Podcast Episode 23: Elinor Carmi, content moderators, telephone operators and politics of "listening"
In this episode I am talking to Elinor Carmi who is a Postdoc Research Associate in Digital Culture & Society at the University of Liverpool. She tells me about how her experience of working in radio and music production and as a feminist has influenced her current analysis of digital media work. In particular we discuss her comparison and analysis of early 20th century telephone operators and contemporary online content moderators. Elinor suggests that there are similarities between the ways in which (usually female) telephone operators were not only responsible for connecting calls but for maintaining the smooth front end experience for callers. One of the key tasks required of them was to distinguish between "message" and "noise" and remove the latter. Content moderators have to make similar distinctions in with online content by removing violent, sexual and other content which doesn't fit with the values which the platform wishes to present. The power of this analysis is made stark through the example of how Facebook considers male nipples to be "message" and female nipples "noise".
You can follow Elinor on Twitter
You can read Elinor's article 'The Hidden Listeners: Regulating the Line from Telephone Operators to Content Moderators' in the International Journal of Communication
Elinor's article 'Cookies – More than Meets the Eye' in the journal Theory, Culture & Society
Digital Sociology Podcast Episode 22: Susan Halford, the semantic web, symphonic social science and how sociologists can work with computer scientists
In this episode of the Digital Sociology Podcast I spoke to Susan Halford who is Professor of Sociology at the University of Bristol and the President of the British Sociological Association.
Amongst other things she explains the emergence "semantic web" to me and we discuss why this is of interest to sociologists and what sociology my have to offer in understanding it. If the web is a massive database of documents then the semantic web is a way of identifying and connecting "entities" within those documents (WolframAlpha is an example of a basic version of the semantic web). Susan says that this is a significant ontological task of identifying what kinds of things do and do not exist in this space. For the semantic web to develop huge amounts of data on all kinds of topics would need to be gathered and analysed which would also require decisions to be made about what kinds of data to include and exclude.
We also discuss about the benefits and challenges of working working across the social sciences and computer sciences.
I ask Susan about a paper she wrote with Mike Savage in which they outline a fascinating reading of the work of Thomas Piketty, Robert Putnam and Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett. They propose the approach taken by these authors can be applied as "symphonic social science" which could be used to approach big data.
Susan also offers some of her opinions on why sociologists are sometimes a bit scared to work with "big data" and how we might be able to overcome this.
Digital Sociology Podcast Episode 21: Huw Davies, young people, technology and social class
In this episode of the Digital Sociology Podcast I am talking to Huw Davies who is a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford.
Huw tells me about his research into young peoples' use of technology (and particularly the internet). His research has shown that there are significant social class differences between how young people of different social class backgrounds tend to use technologies. However, this doesn't always follow the patterns we might expect. He has found from his detailed research with young people that many might not be engaging with the school curriculum on digital literacy (for instance) but nevertheless have sophisticated skills and are quite entrepreneurial with online and creative activities.
The two papers of Huw's we discussed were:
Davies HC and Eynon R (2018) Is digital upskilling the next generation our ‘pipeline to prosperity’? New Media and Society. DOI: 10.1177/1461444818783102.
Davies HC (2018) Learning to Google: Understanding classed and gendered practices when young people use the Internet for research. New Media & Society 20(8): 2764–2780. DOI: 10.1177/1461444817732326.
Huw is one of the conveners of the British Sociological Associations's Digital Sociology study group (along with me and a few others) which you can follow on Twitter @bsadigitalsoc
Digital Sociology Podcast Episode 20: Jess Drakett, memes,working in tech, sexism and humour
On the latest Digital Sociology Podcast I am talking to Dr Jess Drakett who is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Leeds Beckett University. Jess shares some fun and fascinating insights from her PhD research into representations of gender in meme culture and sexism in the tech industry. She conducted qualitative, discourse analysis of probably the most commonly used memes - "image macros". These are usually an image with white writing overlaid at the top and bottom. The research looked into how humour is used in the very rule bound world of memes both by applying the format of a particular image macro to a new and context, subverting the form or commenting on it (as with the one above). A big part of the analysis was how memes create collective identities for those who know the rules and the references but are also exclusionary for those who don't and if they are the target of the memes with many being sexist and misogynistic. The other part of Jess's research was into the use of humour in a workplace context in the programming industry. She found similar kinds of humour used in the tech industry and memes themselves as facilitators of this with image macros being pasted up on workplace walls. Jess talks a bit about the challenges of conducting research on memes but also that some of the most useful resources are ones which academic researchers wouldn't usually draw on like the "Know Your Meme" database: https://knowyourmeme.com/ You can read Jess's paper on her meme research 'Old jokes, new media – Online sexism and constructions of gender in Internet memes' in the journal Feminism & Psychology https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0959353517727560 However, that version doesn't include images (due to the copyright concerns of the publishers) but the pre-print version of the paper does: http://eprints.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/4406/ You can follow Jess on Twitter @jessicadrakett You can listen to the podcast on Anchor or download and subscribe on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever else you get podcasts.
Episode 19: Nick Couldry, Data Colonialism and the mediated construction of reality
For this episode of the Digital Sociology Podcast I spoke to Nick Couldry who is Professor of Media, Communication and Social Theory at the London School of Economics
He suggests that digital platforms are appropriating "human life without limit" as all aspects of our life become transformed into data. Nick and his co-author Ulises A. Mejias describe this as a form of big data colonialism as it is a process through which our lives are deemed apt for extraction and appropriation without payment (like the raw materials of the new world were by colonisers).
We also talked about Nick's book The Mediated Construction of Reality, written with Andreas Hepp, which suggests ways in which we can take proper account of the role which media play in the ways in which we understand the world. In particular, we focused on how data is shaping our experience and understanding of reality.
Here is the website for Nick's forthcoming book is:
Nick Couldry and Ulises A. Mejias 'Data Colonialism: Rethinking Big Data's Relation to the Contemporary Subject' Television & New Media
Nick Couldry and Andreas Hepp The Mediated Construction of Reality
Episode 18: Frank Pasquale, big data, algorithms and discrimination in the black box society
In this episode I am speaking to Frank Pasquale who is Professor of Law at the University of Maryland. We talk about his work which has addressed the impact of big data and algorithmic processing on reputation, search and finance. We discussed how the data we generate an hour every day lives has enabled a drive to assess, rank and judge ourselves and others. He offer some insight as to why and how credit rating agencies have become so powerful and what impact they have. Frank also warns that critiques of data driven analysis and ranking can often just lead to more surveillance.We talk about the how big data can create discrimination as conclusions from one type of data can be applied to other areas of our lives. Frank stresses The importance of keeping human input into rankings and ratings.
You can follow Frank on Twitter @FrankPasquale and see his website at http://www.frankpasquale.com/ The abstract to Frank's book The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms that Control Money and Information is here:
You can listen to the episode on the Anchor site and download or subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you usually get podcasts.