Notes from Twitter and Microblogging: Political, Professional and Personal Practices. 10 April

These are notes from the Twitter and Micro-blogging conference at Lancaster University.  The full programme can be found on Lanyard. The Twitter hastag is #LUTwit

Introduction started from @JuliaGillen with the general acknowledgements, thanks and background to the conference. In particular, the conference emerged from the interests of the Linguistics dept in social media and some concerns of commercial capture of analysis of social media and companies striving towards linguistic analysis without really understanding what it is or might be.

Just going through the programme for the next couple of days.

First up is Lee Salter from University of the West of England  speaking at the Plenary on: online freedom and repressive law. His research  interests are in social media, journalism and protest movements. Author, with Janet Jones, of Digital Journalism.

His interest in SoMe is the relationship to trad journalism and paradoxes related to uses of SoMe and the responses form trad journalism and also from the state.

Twitter is “lots of different things to lots of different people” including as hub for reporting popular protests.

Seeking a middle way between journalist opposition to SoMe while also avoiding the hyperbole. Use of SoMe emerges from particular disasters of the Tsunami and the London bombings rising profile of twitter for news. This was cemented by the use of Twitter in reporting popular protests around the world providing news hours before broadcast news.

Criticisms of Twitter concern its lack of structure, fragmentation and incremental addition of information to fill the 24hour demand. Key criticism is that Twitter reconfigures relationship between journalist, audience and subjects (protestors).

Has Twitter changed communicative power relations and empower protestors or not. Journalists acting as gatekeepers and filters of news content as institutionalised relations of power. Argument that these relations are being undermined by SoMe – its immediacy and interactional nature. This includes that SoMe undermines the temporal structuring of the news cycles and so influence how news may be reported and by whom – so news comes form non-elite reporters. So disrupts temporality and in terms of power relations.

But is that correct? Influence on SoMe depends on the resource base of the reporter – that Twitter is used by a small minority who actually used Twitter and those that do are generally affluent (in UK) – while in US are more likely to be female and black/ hispanic and have fewer than 50 followers.

Study of Twitter use in Australian elections was dominated by established journalists with agenda reflecting traditional power relations. Online activists engaged in loosely coupled (competitive and fluid assemblages) relationships with traditional reporters. News continues to be dominated by small elites – business as usual.

The use of Twitter in news discourses is under-researched but research of BBC website and wiki news comments found commentary filtered to privilege the ‘middle ground’ – reinforcing the notion and assumption of traditional journalistic neutrality.

Traditional news providers integrated use of twitter as a linear narrative yet Twitter does not have a linear discursive structure.

In protest movements eg, Egypt, Tunisia, Syria seen as examples of SoMe in use of SoMe (albeit overrated) yet Bahrain ignored. SoMe used to explain what going on – to communicate to the outside world and bounce back through mainstream media. So media discourses integrated in a way that didn’t happen in Bahrain & Saudi Arabia.

Twitter influence reflects and replicates power of traditional media – Piers Morgan was the most popular (cited?) journalist on Twitter on the London riots.

Shown a couple of clips showing journalists engaging with and supportive of Arab Spring protestors yet dismissive of student protestors in London.

Moving on to why SoMe not shut down by authorities and suggesting that the internet is perceived as an ‘act of nature’ and “just there”! Lawrence Lessig argues on one hand have state regulation, on another is economic regulation and on another hands are norms (hegemony). So a regulatory regime occurs that means overt state regulation is less important. Cites the case of Paris Brown and Paul Chambers on the public private dichotomy breaking down in peoples minds yet the legal frameworks have failed to keep-up with changes in technology and practices. In particular, argues that e-communications are more stringently regulated in law than the traditional press, ie, for inappropriate use – but what is appropriate use of Twitter. Points to cases of people being imprisoned for incitement on SoMe.

Points out that for the London riots, alternative explanations of the riots and rioters fail to reach the mainstream media. The idea that SoMe transforms power relations is clearly questionable. Furthermore, that SoMe was more used in post-riot clean-ups rather than in the actual riots.

A further function of SoMe is its use by the police (in UK) for intelligence gathering and to use it to engage with protest “leadership” – even if reality is that there was no leadership while police continue to assume there ‘must be’!

Police use of SoMe in riots a combination of information, calls to stay calm, to seek information, to name and shame, to threaten rioters.

Overall points to emergence of Foucault notion of governmentality – that SoMe spaces are self governed.

Anonymous cited as a ‘proper’ cyber movement yet full of paradoxes: if anonymous, how can you be sure about anything they do; also against the mainstream while reliant on the mainstream as seek to influence that mainstream. Anonymous is a leaderless network that can only be understood if we set aside notions of centralisation [who or what is the actor here?]. But [unsurprisingly] such groups are excluded/ dismissed from the mainstream – as a discursive exclusion.

Twitter not address discursive exclusions and not part of the mainstream of news reporting and g=hegemonic aspects of news reporting has not really been challenged. SoMe normalised into the mainstream but that the law have failed t respond to these developments – see Leveson inquiry










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