CuRAtOR: Challenging online feaR And OtheRing

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Engineering and Environment

Abstract

Cultures of fear can be spread, either deliberately or otherwise, by a wide range of agents including the media, government, science, the arts, industry and politics. The ease of which fear can be generated means that today's society remains inordinately fearful of improbable harms and dangers. A good deal of societal fear stems from mistrust of 'the Other': a term used to describe individuals or groups that are, quite simply, 'not like us'. In this project, we explicitly explore this notion of 'Othering' as it occurs in situations where 'the Other' are seen as "anomalous," "peculiar," or "deviant" and hence negatively perceived, stigmatised, excluded, marginalised and discriminated against. Recent high-profile examples of practices of Othering in the UK include the exclamation that "tens of thousands of eastern Europeans" would enter the UK when immigration restrictions were lifted at the beginning of 2014 resulting in, for instance, a "crime wave", and the "poverty-porn" portrayal on broadcast television of seemingly whole communities of "benefit claimants living off of taxpayers' earnings". Such practices can lead to a lack of tolerance, respect and inclusion, as well as actual fear, mistrust and marginalisation of whole communities; these effects have severe and well-known implications for local communities as well as for national social cohesion.

There are significant unanswered questions regarding how acts of Othering translates into effects on real populations and in real contexts, and what role online digital media can have in propagating cultures of fear and mistrust. With online social media, no longer is fear delivered exclusively in a top down manner, (e.g. from government and the mainstream media). Instead it is now also delivered from the grassroots level and therefore insidiously present in the user-generated social data streams that we absorb from our encounters with the web, and, in particular, with platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. Recent observations of social media discussions of the Channel 4 documentary Benefits Street have, for instance, highlighted the high levels of antipathy, anger and abuse directed at the community portrayed within the programme. Fear may also be unwittingly, yet pervasively, propagated by the plethora of emerging digital apps, data and services that promise to improve our lives; for instance, the release of open crime data is meant to increase confidence in our law enforcement agencies, yet its actual effect is to increase fear of crime and, yet again, stigmatise communities.

The focus of this project are the cultures of fear that are propagated through online Othering and how this leads to subsequent mistrust of groups or communities. Our research will generate an understanding of how the deliberate design of online media services and platforms can influence and oppose cultures of fear and result in cultures of empathy that can actively, and strategically, reduce or eliminate mistrust and negative consequences of Othering. We will actively collaborate with stakeholders to co-design new digital services that facilitate wide-scale empathy with specifically chosen often-Othered groups. This will include active collaboration with broadcast media organisations to develop a range of interactive, digital online experiences delivered alongside traditional media. We will also undertake online ethnographies and data collection, where prior or existing activities have portrayed a group in ways that actively provoke Othering as evidenced through discourse on social and traditional media; in this instance we will design and deliver a set of digital services to counter this in a deliberate manner.

Planned Impact

First, the primary beneficiaries of this project will be those INDIVIDUALS and GROUPS that have been, are being or likely to be subject to 'Othering' through processes of fear generation on-line. We recognise one way of understanding their situation, of accessing their perspectives and indeed to inform relevant interventions is through the support and advocacy groups that seek to represent them. Linking with these people and with those that seek to represent them is essential to address the aims of this project: to understand how these processes happen, how the characteristics of online interaction may intensify or attenuate these processes and how to design and deploy digital interventions that can create empathy with, rather than fear about, these individuals and groups. As such, these individuals and groups will benefit from the development of technologies that promote awareness of, access to and use of alternative representations that have the capacity to reduce fear and othering against them and form new relationships across social and cultural groups.

Second, further beneficiaries come in the form of BROADCAST MEDIA SECTOR, especially those who are publicly funded, who have a remit to represent culturally diverse and balanced accounts of British social life and current affairs. Organisations such as the BBC (one of our project partners) and Channel 4 are increasingly exploring and exploiting the potential offered by social and hyper-local media technologies. Therefore, there is a recognised need within this sector to increase understanding of how the use of these new types of participatory media can have positive and negative effects on audiences and the segments of the population represented on broadcast programming.

Third, the outcomes of the work will be of interest to GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES, POLITICIANS and POLICY THINK-TANKS implicated in the 'open data' movement (e.g., data.gov.uk, the Open Data Institute). We expect that the findings of our work will raise implications for the ways in which statistical data on health, wellbeing, crime (and more) are published online and made available for aggregating with other data sets. This may include highlighting unexpected consequences for the publishing of data that can be related to specific locations and members of society, and also providing access to new tools that allow the aggregating and presentation of open data sets in new ways that counter-act these challenges.

Fourth, the project will be of interest to providers of online social media services-such as Twitter and Facebook. A significant amount of recent publicity has surrounded the use of social media and its negative social side-effects in relation to acts of online bullying and harassment and proliferation. This has notable consequences for these commercial organisations, such as reduced income from advertisers and greater pressure from government and pressure groups to implement more robust privacy and counter-harassment measures. As such, we expect both our analysis of online discourse and the design features embedded within our critical and adversarial technologies to be of great interest to such companies, with a view to implement aspects of designs in their own services.

Finally, another set of core beneficiaries will be organisations with an interest in ONLINE INFLUENCE, behaviour change, and persuasion. This will include governmental research organisations (such as DSTL) and a range of government departments and agencies to whom changing behaviour is part of their core business. We have particular links with policy officials working in this area at Defra and the Food Standards Agency

Publications

10 25 50

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/M003574/1 31/08/2014 31/10/2015 £773,384
ES/M003574/2 Transfer ES/M003574/1 01/11/2015 30/04/2018 £560,913
 
Description Findings to-date are limited specifically to (A) the scoping and exploratory work around existing cases of Othering online (B) outcomes of sandbox trials. The project is still ongoing and we are working through our final trials at the moment.

A. Findings around understanding online 'second-screening' social media discussion around Benefits Street can be found in [2]; in summary we found that discussion during, and in-between, TV broadcasts was characterised by distinctly different qualities, topics and user behaviours and that, as perhaps expected and as hypothesized by the Project, these findings offer design opportunities for social media services to (i) support more balanced real-time commentaries of politically-charged media, (ii) actively promote discussion to continue after, and between, television programming; and (iii) incorporate different motivations and attitudes towards socio-political concerns, as well as different practices of communicating those concerns. Findings around understanding of obesity discussion online can be found in [1]; in summary we found that stigma and othering as a performative act, was visible in the content and form of what people say online and how they say it, and additionally (as in [2]) we noted strong potential for software design and activism to work together through "adversarial design" to counter Othering in this context. Finally preliminary findings around observing exiting activism to counter online Othering can be found in [3]; in this work we found that digital platforms utilisation was informed by the norms of a campaign's target audience, and that varied techniques exist for exerting power over and controlling online discussion. Each set of findings are therefore supportive of the Project's central thread that Othering might be countered - or at least mediated - by deliberate design of social/digital activities, platforms and services.

B. Findings around understanding how to design smartphone apps that facilitate and promote more critical live-viewing of reality TV can be found in [4]. In summary, we found that we could facilitate and promote critical viewing of TV by giving the users designs that involved purposeful interaction with friction; these designs wanted to cause the user trouble. Users became more deeply engaged with the content of the show because they had to make trade-offs between responding to content on the app and watching the broadcast. Similarly, when instructed to be reflective on the app content that was presented to them alongside the broadcast, the limited amount of context available made this challenging, but undoubtedly hard work.

[1] Phil Brooker, Julie Barnett, John Vines, Tom Feltwell & Shaun Lawson (2015) Online Talk Around Obesity-Related News Media: Connecting Information Delivery with Public Perception, 3rd Annual Weight Stigma Conference, 18-19 September, Reykjavik, Iceland
[2] Phil Brooker, John Vines, Selina Sutton, Julie Barnett, Tom Feltwell, and Shaun Lawson. 2015. Debating Poverty Porn on Twitter: Social Media as a Place for Everyday Socio-Political Talk. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '15). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 3177-3186. DOI=10.1145/2702123.2702291.
[3] Tom Feltwell, John Vines, Ben Kirman, Karen Salt, Mark Blythe & Shaun Lawson "Counter-Discourse Activism on Social Media: The Case of Challenging "Poverty Porn" Television" accepted for publication in Computer Supported Cooperative Work (Springer).
Tom Feltwell, Gavin Wood, Kiel Long, Phil Brooker, Tom Schofield, Ioannis Petridis, Julie Barnett, John Vines, Shaun Lawson. (2016) "I've been manipulated!": Designing Second Screen Experience for Critical Viewing of Reality TV. Accepted for publication in 35th Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '17), Denver.
Exploitation Route It is too early to say at present.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://CuRAtOR.ac.uk
 
Description Article in "The Conversation" (Dec 2016): Where is the 'alt-left' on social media? 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The article, by Co-I Julie Barnett and RA Phil Brooker from Bath, discussed the "alt-right"'s use of blogs, tweets, hashtags, memes, and trolling to provide a legitimised voice to far-right ideas - and to use that voice to speak to huge amounts of people and contrasted this with left wing activity and - in particular - related these issues to the work of the CuRAtOR project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://theconversation.com/where-is-the-alt-left-on-social-media-70290
 
Description Participation in "Digilantism and Crowd-Justice Follow-Up Workshop" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This was a workshop organised by the Social Innovation Group of the Personal Data and Trust Network on the theme of 'Digilantism and Crowd-Justice'. It was held on Thursday 14th July at the Digital Catapult Centre in London. CuRAtOR investigators Shaun Lawson and Karen Salt attended. The main purpose of this event was to follow on from the initial workshop held in October, with the express aim of developing specific project ideas to take forwards towards potential funding bids and moving forwards with discussions that were had at a previous event in October 2015.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.paccsresearch.org.uk/blog/personal-data-and-trust-network/
 
Description Participation in "Digital dE-BiAsing Techniques for an Engaged Society (DebaTES) Conference" (May 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact CuRAtOR researcher Tom Feltwell and PI Shaun Lawson presented and sat on expert panel at this conference at Northumbria University (18th May 2016) which was was centred on the understanding and mitigation of negative online behaviours such as cyberbullying, extremism and belief in conspiracy theories. Other speakers included Carl Miller (Research Director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media (CASM) at Demos) and Heidi Julien (Professor and Chair of the Department of Library & Information Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.northumbria.ac.uk/about-us/news-events/events/2016/05/debates-conference/
 
Description Participation in CHI 2016 workshop on "Everyday Surveillance" (San Jose, May 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact CuRAtOR researcher Tom Feltwell presented onthe potential negative affect that surveillance may have on the minority populations, a topic which is aligned with CuRAtOR's themes
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://openlab.ncl.ac.uk/everydaysurveillance/
 
Description Participation in event: "An introduction to tools for social media research" (October 2016, London) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact CuRAtOR Postdoc researcher Phil Brooker (Bath) presented at this event on 11th October 2016 (London) organised by the New Social Media, New Social Science network (sponsored by the Social Research Association) on "Doing social media analytics with Chorus" which was a practical talk about methods used on the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://nsmnss.blogspot.nl/p/tuesday-11th-october-2016-location.html
 
Description Workshop: "Setting Requirements for Digital Qualitative Research" (Bath, June 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Several members of the project team (in collaboration with other EMoTICON network members) successfully applied for EMoTICON seed funding for a workshop entitled: "Setting Requirements for Digital Qualitative Research", held at the University of Bath on the 23rd and 24th June 2016. This workshop gathered UK and international researchers and specialists across a range of disciplines and institutions both in and outside of academia - participants included digital qualitative researchers, computer scientists, software developers, social media marketing consultants and product specialists from QSR/NVivo and Atlas.ti. The workshop was designed to explore the technical requirements for digital qualitative researchers in terms of supporting the advancement of the field with bespoke software data collection and visualisation/analysis tools. The outcomes of this workshop are currently being further developed, through supplemental funding from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, which is being used to bring together a selection of workshop participants to write a collaborative paper on the topic of digital qualitative research requirements.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://twitter.com/hashtag/digiqual