By Stefania

Davide in Lugano with paper on algorithms as online discourse (January 30)

Davide Beraldo will be in Lugano, Switzerland, to present a paper on ‘Algorithms as Online Discourse. Exploring topic modeling and network analysis to study algorithmic imaginaries’, co-authored with Massimo Airoldi (Lifestyle Research Center, (EMLYON Business School). The paper is a contribution to the ‘Rethinking Digital Myths. Mediation, narratives and mythopoiesis in the digital age’ workshop hosted at the Università della Svizzera Italiana.

new article out: “Enter the WhatsApper: Reinventing digital activism at the time of chat apps” (First Monday)

Our first article of 2020 is out! Entitled “Enter the WhatsApper: Reinventing digital activism at the time of chat apps”, it reflects on the evolution of political participation and digital activism at the time of chat applications. It is part of a special issue of the open access journal First Monday dedicated to the (first) ten years of WhatsApp. The abstract is below. The article can be read at this link.

This paper investigates how the appropriation of chat apps by social actors is redesigning digital activism and political participation today. To this end, we look at the case of #Unidos Contra o Golpe (United Against the Coup), a WhatsApp “private group” which emerged in 2016 in Florianópolis, Brazil, to oppose the controversial impeachment of the then-president Dilma Rousseff. We argue that a new type of political activist is emerging within and alongside with contemporary movements: the WhatsApper, an individual who uses the chat app intensely to serve her political agenda, leveraging its affordances for political participation. We explore WhatsApp as a discursive opportunity structure and investigate the emergence of a repertoire specific to chat apps. We show how recurrent interaction in the app results into an all-purpose, identity-like sense of connectedness binding social actors together. Diffuse leadership and experimental pluralism emerge as the bare organizing principles of these groups. The paper is based on a qualitative analysis of group interactions and conversations, complemented by semi-structured interviews with group members. It shows how WhatsApp is more than a messaging app for “hanging out” with like-minded people and has come to constitute a key platform for digital activism, in particular in the Global South. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v25i12.10414

Cite as 

Milan, S., & Barbosa, S. (2020). Enter the WhatsApper: Reinventing digital activism at the time of chat apps. First Monday, 25(1). https://doi.org/10.5210/fm.v25i12.10414

***hot off the press*** Working Paper “Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda”

What would datafication look like seen… ‘upside down’? What questions would we ask? What concepts, theories and methods would we embrace or have to devise? These questions were at the core of the two-day immersive research workshop ‘Big Data from the South: Towards a Research Agenda’ (University of Amsterdam, 4-5 December 4-5 2018). The event was the third gathering of the Big Data from the South Initiative (BigDataSur), a research network and program launched in 2017 by Stefania Milan (University of Amsterdam) and Emiliano Treré (Cardiff University).

The workshop report has finally been released and is ready for download! Special thanks go to the workshop participants, the authors of the thematic areas Anna Berti Suman (Tilburg University), Niels ten Never, Guillén Torres, Kersti R. Wissenbach and Zhen Ye (University of Amsterdam), and to Tomás Doods, Jeroen de Vos and Sander van Haperen for the editorial assistance.

We take the opportunity to once again thank the sponsors that made the event possible, namely the European Research Council (grant agreement No 639379-DATACTIVE; https://data-activism.net), the Amsterdam Center for Global Studies, the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis and the Amsterdam Center for European Studies. Our gratitude extends also to SPUI25, the University of Amsterdam and Terre Lente for hosting us.

Stefania in Tel Aviv for the workshop “Algorithmic Knowledge in Culture and in the Media” (October 23-25)

On October 23-25, Stefania will be in Tel Aviv to take part in the international workshop “Algorithmic Knowledge in Culture and in the Media” at the Open University of Israel. The invitation-only workshop is organized by Eran Fisher, Anat Ben-David and Norma Musih. Stefania will present a paper on the ALEX project, DATACTIVE’s spin-off, as an experiment into algorithmic knowledge.

Unpacking the Effects of Personalization Algorithms: Experimental Methodologies and Their Ethical Challenges

Stefania Milan, University of Amsterdam

With social media platforms playing an ever-prominent role in today’s public sphere, concerns have been raised by multiple parties regarding the role of personalization algorithms in shaping people’s perception of the world around them. Personalization algorithms are accused of promoting the so-called ‘filter bubble’ (Pariser 2011) and suspected of intensifying political polarization. What’s more, said algorithms are shielded behind trade secrets, which contributes to their technical undecipherability (Pasquale 2015). Against this backdrop, the ALgorithms EXposed (ALEX) project, has set off trying to unpack the effects of personalization algorithms, experimenting with methodologies, software developments, and collaborations with hackers, nongovernmental organizations, and small enterprises. In this presentation, I will reflect on four aspects of the ALEX project as an experiment into algorithmic knowledge, and namely: i) software development, illustrating the working of the browser extensions facebook.tracking.exposed and youtube.tracking.exposed; ii) experimental collaborations within and beyond academia; iii) methodological challenges, including the use of bots; and iv) ethical challenges, in particular the development of data reuse protocols allowing users to volunteer their data for scientific research while individual safeguarding data sovereignty.

two new articles out

We are happy to announce the publication of two new open access contributions:

Stefania at Science Foo

On July 12-14 Stefania will be at X in Mountain View, in Silicon Valley, as one of the invitees to Sci Foo. Science Foo is a series of interdisciplinary conferences organized by O’Reilly Media, Digital Science, Nature Publishing Group and Google. It is an “unconference focused on emerging technology, and is designed to encourage collaboration between scientists who would not typically work together”. Stefania plans to propose a session on ‘decolonizing data’.

Stefania at IAMCR in Madrid

On July 8-11, Stefania will be in Madrid for the annual conference of the International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR). She will present some preliminary findings of her new research on feminist and postcolonial theories of change in data activism; participate in a roundtable on Big Data from the South, featuring Monika Halkort, Patricia Peña, Emiliano Treré, Nick Couldry and Ulises A. Meijas; take part in a roundtable on smart cities, in conversation with Matthew Bui (Annenberg at USC), and participate in the launch of ‘Hybrid Activism’ (Routledge, 2019) by Emiliano Treré.