Archive for the 'Debates' Category

From Facebook to ‘fakebook’ – who controls the information on social media?

By Alison Major, on 20 January 2017

Today’s guest blog is by Xinyuan Wang of UCL’s Department of Anthropology. She is author of Social Media in Industrial China

屏幕快照-2014-08-27-下午1.55.34-3-496x290Mark Zuckerberg finally said that Facebook plans to have a more effective control of misinformation, which is a sharp reversal in tone from the comment he made immediately after the US election that the “the idea that fake news on Facebook…influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea.” The fake news that circulated widely on Facebook is believed to have influenced the US election. It is reported that some fake news was created by teenagers in Macedonia who cashed in by catering fake news to demand, and many more were posted by ‘alt-right’ people who cooked up stories on platforms such as 8chan, 4chan, and social media.

The story of how fake news circulated on Facebook reminds me of what I have witnessed about the information consumption on social media among Chinese factory workers during my 15 months of field work in a small factory town in southeast China. Certainly, in many ways the two cases are incomparable, whereas the pattern of information dissemination seems to bear certain similarities.

For Chinese factory workers whose average education level is below middle school (most of them dropped out of school before the age of 17), social media has become the most important, if not the only, information resource. Therefore, social media actually plays an extremely important role in those less-educated people’s communication and (informal) education. What are the consequences of people being dependent on social media as their major information resource? Well, first of all, there will be a higher chance that the information people get will become unbalanced. For people who simultaneously consume news from other traditional media with ‘gatekeepers’, such as TV, newspapers, and magazines, social media is only one of the tools to get news. Therefore, even if there are fake news stories on social media, the reliability of that news will be constantly tested in a more rounded information environment and any possible hazard of fake news will be diluted in a more balanced ‘informational ecology’ – just like natural purification. However, if social media has become the only or the major information resource, the risk of fake news can be amplified. Generally speaking, the higher education people receive, the lower the chance that social media will become their only or major information resource.

To add another layer to the problem. Unlike traditional media where information is distributed in a relatively neutral way, information on social media is not only filtered by customised algorithms based on users’ personal information, but is also filtered by people’s personal social network online – that is to say, each social media contact is a potential news agent who feeds you news on a daily basis. To give an example, as written in the book Social Media in Industrial China based on my research, a comparison of the shared postings on 145 social media profiles of factory workers and 55 profiles of middle-class Chinese in Shanghai shows that there is almost no information flow between two different social groups. Over a period of four months only one out of 6,000 articles (0.03 per cent) was found to have been shared in both groups, though 5.1 per cent of articles were shared within the factory workers group and 1.6 per cent within the Shanghai group. In the case of factory workers, the possibility of the same information being shared within the social group with similar social-economic status is 170 times higher than the possibility of it being shared across groups with different socio-economic statuses.

Also, the amount of fake news I encountered on factory workers’ social media profiles was much more than that on the profiles of middle-class Chinese. Most of the fake news were sensational and dramatic stories about conspiracy, romance, or crime. Even though a few factory workers commented that they could imagine that there were certain ‘untruth’ elements in those news items, most people who shared the news believed the news was based on true stories and those who were not 100% sure certainly enjoyed the reading – as a kind of entertainment. “I would say there must be some truth in it (fake news) otherwise there won’t be so many people sharing it, right? Well, at least I feel for the story, that matters,” a 25-year-old male factory worker told me.

So while there is now the debate about how a social media company can take responsibility to control fake news on social media, for all intents and purposes one also has to acknowledge that in many cases, the most powerful information control comes from people’s sociality – on social media there is a certain truism: ‘who you know may decide what you know’. Among like-minded friends, on social media one receives news that is in most cases only confirming the beliefs shared by the social group one belongs to.

About the author

Xinyuan Wang has recently been awarded a PhD by the Dept. of Anthropology at UCL. She obtained her MSc from the UCL’s Digital Anthropology Programme. She is an artist in Chinese traditional painting and calligraphy. She translated (Horst and Miller Eds.) Digital Anthropology into Chinese and contributed a piece on Digital Anthropology in China. Her book,  Social Media in Industrial China, focuses on the extensive fieldwork she did with Chinese factory workers as part of the Why We Post project. To find out more about the Why We Post series at  https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/why-we-post.

This post originally appeared on the Global Social Media Impact Study blog. It has been re-posted with permission.

Social media and Brexit

By Daniel Miller, on 28 June 2016

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 14.22.03One of the common claims made about social media is that it has facilitated a new form of political intervention aligned with the practices and inclinations of the young. Last week I attended the launch of an extremely good book by Henry Jenkins and his colleagues called By Any Media Necessary which documents how young people use social and other media to become politically involved, demonstrating that this is real politics not merely ‘slacktivism’, a mere substitute for such political involvement.

And yet, currently I am seeing social media buzzing with young people advocating a petition to revoke the Brexit vote, which only highlights the absence of a similar ‘buzz’ prior to the vote. I await more scholarly studies in confirmation, but my impression is that we did not see the kind of massive activist campaign by young people to prevent Brexit that we saw with campaigns behind Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK.

The failure to create an attractive activist-led mass social media campaign to get young people to vote for Remain is reflected in the figures; although 18-24 year-olds were the most favourable segment towards Remain, only 36% of this group actually voted at all. As such, Brexit represents a catastrophic failure in young people’s social media, from which we need to learn. Being based in ethnography, our Why We Post project argued that we need to study the absence of politics in ordinary people’s social media as much as focusing on when it does appear. But the key lesson is surely that just because social media can facilitate young people’s involvement in politics doesn’t mean it will, even when that politics impacts upon the young.

One possibility is that social media favours a more radical idealistic agenda. By contrast, even though the impact of Brexit might be greater and more tangible, the remain campaign was led by a conservative prime minister, backing a Europe associate with bureaucracy and corporate interest, and was a messy grouping of people with different ideological perspectives, that made it perhaps less susceptible to the social media mechanisms of aggregated sharing.

At the same time I would claim that our work can help us to understand the result. My own book Social Media in an English Village is centred on the way English people re-purposed social media as a mechanism for keeping ‘others’, and above all one’s neighbours, at a distance. I cannot demonstrate this but I would argue that by supporting Brexit the English were doing in politics at a much larger scale exactly what my book claims they were doing to their neighbours at a local level: expressing a sense that ‘others’ were getting too close and too intrusive and needed to be pushed back to some more appropriate distance. And it is this rationale which may now have devastated the prospects for young people in England.

About the author

Daniel Miller is Professor of Anthropology at UCL and author of 37 books including Social Media in an English VillageThe Comfort of Things, Stuff, Tales from Facebook and A Theory of Shopping.  Find out more about the Why We Post series at  https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/why-we-post.

This post originally appeared on the Global Social Media Impact Study blog, using the title ‘Social Media and Brexit’. It has been re-posted with permission.

Housing – Critical Futures: ‘a critical issue at a critical time’

By Graham Cairns, on 17 June 2016

research programme led by AMPS (Architecture, Media, Politics, Society) and supported by UCL Press

The Housing – Critical Futures research programme confronts a critical issue at a critical time. In London, a leading capital of global finance, there is a chronic shortage of affordable housing for those that service ‘the service’ sector. The crisis is at levels not seen since World War II. In Beijing, capital of the 21st century’s political powerhouse, the displacement of long-standing communities is a daily occurrence. In Mumbai, thAmps finale biggest health risk faced by the city today has been identified as overcrowded housing, while in São Paulo, football’s 2014 World Cup took place against a backdrop of community unrest and the chronic living conditions of the poor. The private sector, the state and residents themselves are searching for solutions. Whether housing refugees in conflict areas, providing safe water to the households in the developing world, or ensuring key workers can live in the cities they support in the West, the question of housing is not only global, but critical.

In addressing these questions AMPS (Architecture, Media, Politics, Society) has partnered with institutions, organizations, individuals, activists, designers, theorists and, of course publishers. Our key publishing partner is UCL Press which has been fundamental in ensuring that the work of those we collaborate with reaches a wide and relevant audience on an open access basis. UCL Press has worked with us in developing a book series on housing that allows AMPS to bring together the ideas of diverse players internationally around the issue of housing. The Press is supportive of our interdisciplinary agenda meaning together we are able to present an amazing array of perspectives covering a range of issues. Whether it be architects dealing with design-led ideas, residents analyzing participatory processes, planners critiquing models of development, economists explaining financial frameworks at macro and micro levels, or activists campaigning for changes on government policy, UCL Press has worked with us to find dissemination routes.

The AMPS journal, Architecture_MPS is also published through UCL Press and while this is open to an interdisciplinary body of authors and is open to a much wider range of topics, UCL Press has welcomed our use of the journal to promote our housing agenda. We have developed a series of SIPs (special issue publications) with them and our first special issue, which will be published in September 2016, is focused on housing.

About the author

Graham Cairns is Director of AMPS and Executive Editor of the associated journal Architecture_MPS. He is currently based at Columbia University, New York, and is Honorary Senior Research Associate at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

More details:

Architecture_MPS journal: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/uclpress/amps

Housing Critical Futures Book Series: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/series/housing-critical-futures