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

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 Challenging online feaR And OtheRing (CuRAtOR) was a 3 year multi-partner, multi-disciplinary, research project which investigated the cultures of fear that are propagated through online Othering, mistrust and stigmatization of communities. The Project explored how online othering takes place, but also how new interactive digital experiences might be designed to counteract the resultant problematic outcomes of Othering, and lead to more critical and balanced online debate around contemporary socio-political issues. The project was led by Northumbria University in collaboration with partners at the University of Bath, Newcastle University, and the University of Nottingham. Below are the main emergent findings of the project and their relevant publications.
Findings around understanding how to design smartphone apps that facilitate and promote more critical live-viewing of reality/documentary TV can be found in [1] and [2]. In summary, we found that we could facilitate and promote critical viewing of TV by giving the users designs that involved purposeful interaction with "frictionfull interfaces". 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.
This work builds on [3] where we reveal how online discussion during, and in-between, TV broadcasts around poverty and welfare was characterised by distinctly different qualities, topics and user behaviours. 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, programming; and (iii) incorporate different motivations and attitudes towards socio-political concerns, as well as different practices of communicating those concerns.
Drawing on all our work, in [4] we recently present a new method for analysing social media data and demonstrate how a longitudinal analysis of user-timelines provides rich resources that facilitate a more nuanced understanding of user engagement in everyday socio-political discussions online.
Our findings around online engagement with news stories specifically related to stigma are given in [4] where we showed that the design of typical news commenting platforms prevents counter-narratives from challenging the dominant framing. We show how weight stigma is propagated through online media, and how users' comments intersect with the affordances of the platform itself.
Building on the [5], our findings on how to redesign social engagement with online news and how to break so-called filter bubbles and echo chambers can be found in [6]. Motivated by common practices of annotating, defacing and scribbling on physical newspapers, we built a mobile app that supported co-annotation, in the form of graffiti, on online news articles. Our findings highlight how the re-design of interactive online news experiences can facilitate more directed, "in-the-moment" critique of online news stories as well as encourage readers to expand the range of news content they read.
We provide deep investigation of both online and offline activism that has been used to counter problematic poverty and welfare discourse in [7] and reveal how activists use different platforms to carefully control and contest discursive spaces, and the ways in which they utilise both online and offline activities in combination with new and broadcast media to build an audience for their work.

[1] Feltwell, Tom, Wood, Gavin, Long, Kiel, Brooker, Phillip, Schofield, Thomas, Petridis, Ioannis, Barnett, Julie, Vines, John and Lawson, Shaun (2017) "I've been manipulated!": Designing Second Screen Experiences for Critical Viewing of Reality TV. In: Proceedings of CHI 2017. ACM Press.
[2] Feltwell, T., Wood, G., Rowland, S., Long, K., Brooker, P., Mahoney, J., Vines, J., Barnett, J. and Lawson, S. (in preparation) "Here we go with the class divide banter": Social Co-Selection and Critical Co-Viewing of Reality TV" to be submitted to Human-Computer Interaction.
[3] Brooker, P, Vines, J., Sutton, S., Barnett, J., Feltwell, T, Lawson. S. (2015) Debating Poverty Porn on Twitter: Social Media as a Place for Everyday Socio-Political Talk. in Proc of ACM CHI 2015.
[4] Brooker, P., Barnett, J., Vines, J., Lawson, S., Feltwell, T., Long, K. and Wood, G., 2018. Researching with Twitter timeline data: A demonstration via "everyday" socio-political talk around welfare provision. Big Data & Society, 5(1), .
[5] Brooker, P., Barnett, J., Vines, J., Lawson, S., Feltwell, T., & Long, K. (2017). Doing stigma: Online commenting around weight-related news media. (in print)) New Media & Society, doi.org/10.1177/1461444817744790.
[6] Wood, G., Long, K., Feltwell, T., Rowland, S., Brooker, P., Mahoney, J., Vines, J., Barnett, J. and Lawson, S., 2018, April. Rethinking Engagement with Online News through Social and Visual Co-Annotation. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conf on Human Factors in Computing Systems (p. 576). ACM.
[7] Feltwell, T., Vines, J., Salt, K., Blythe, M., Kirman, B., Barnett, J., Brooker, P. and Lawson, S., 2017. Counter-Discourse Activism on Social Media: The Case of Challenging "Poverty Porn" Television. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), 26(3), pp.345-385.
Exploitation Route Project has just finished - this section will be updated as we monitor impact going forward.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://CuRAtOR.ac.uk
 
Description EU H2020 SU-BES01-2018-2019-2020
Amount € 2,500,000 (EUR)
Funding ID 833870 - PERCEPTIONS (funded under H2020 SU-BES01-2018-2019-2020) 
Organisation EU-T0 
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 09/2019 
End 08/2022
 
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