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Julia DeCook

Julia DeCook

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January 31, 2018

Networks of Ideology

January 31, 2018 | By | No Comments

For the second part of the CHI fellowship, I’ve proposed a project that would map out an ideological network of celebrities in the “alt-right.” Of course, the term “alt-right’ is an umbrella catch-all term that has been proposed not only by the members of the movement itself but also the media and other institutions that inform the public. As such, the alt-right is merely a descriptor of a group of loosely connected political organizations and movements that have similar goals. There are even differentiations to the levels to which an organization can fall under this umbrella, and “alt-lite” has emerged as a way to identify some of these groups that are similar to the alt-right but have differences that are distinct enough that they do not fall under the term completely.

The first project is going to be constructing a network of celebrities that are active in the alt-right and which organizations that they are connected to. Some of these celebrities act as brokers between organizations that may not otherwise be connected, and the goal is to be able to visualize how celebrities have a broad reach and influence across the groups. For instance, Milo Yiannopoulos is a “celebrity” not only with the GamerGate crowd but also with the Manosphere. Jordan Peterson is also a celebrity within the movement, as are figures like Stefan Molyneux, Gavin McInnes, and others. Using data from the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League, Wikipedia, and other numerous sources, I will hopefully not only visualize the ideological network but also be able to provide some information when the nodes themselves are clicked on.

The outcome of the project is a first step towards visualizing how all of the groups are connected on the basis of their ideology and goals. Starting with the celebrities, I will house the project on a website and will continue to add new networks as time goes on.

I’ve been attempting to scrape my own data but I think just creating the network with already existing information may be the best way to go. A similar project, the Alt Right Open Intelligence Initiative, has done a lot of research in visualizing the discourse and content and can serve as a starting ground for some of this ideology network visualizing. The research done by the initiative has focused primarily on the social media platforms that these organizations use and how they are connected through their content. I am hoping to add to this research by looking specifically at the celebrities and how they are mentioned and talked about by the groups, and thus how they are affiliated along similar ideological lines.

I’m still working out some kinks in how I will go forth with the project but have decided that rather than reinventing the wheel and collecting all of my own data, using already existing data is the better way to go considering the time frame that I have. I hope that this will be the first of a line of projects that will aid in visualizing political extremism in the U.S. and beyond.

Julia DeCook

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December 1, 2017

User Generated Archives as Sites of Knowledge

December 1, 2017 | By | No Comments

The cliché of “the Internet never forgets” and my own work has gotten me thinking about how the Internet itself and its functionalities serve as a giant archive for the netizens that inhabit it. Even if the materials themselves aren’t necessarily being carefully selected, curated, and organized according to archival logic, the way that the Internet allows for users to generate their own content and have it exist for as long as that platform does (or if they choose to remove it) positions it as just one large archive with different sections and materials.

Of course, there is the Internet Archive, whose sole purpose is to share access to materials like books, movies, etc. as well as billions and billions of web pages. But the Internet Archive is just one kind of archive, and it seems as though it serves as more of a catch-all place to remember as opposed to some user-generated communities and archives that serve as a space of socialization. Reading Doreen Lee’s book Activist Archives and then seeing materials on FemTechNet and even smaller subreddits that create their own archives for their members to access, reference, and use to help maintain a political movement is what I want to focus more of my attention on.

How do we conceptualize archive in a place where the very modality of communication and sharing can be thought of as an archive itself? When we think about our own bodies and experiences, do we in our minds maintain an archive of ourselves? In what way are political movements using net-based archives for their cause, and how are they being used to socialize (and sometimes indoctrinate) old and new members? In a lot of ways, I guess the Internet and user-generated archives disrupt previously held conceptions of what an archive is and how it “should” be organized and how it should serve others. One commendation of the Internet was how it would serve as a space to democratize knowledge, but if the epistemic violence that exists in [particularly colonial] archives just follows us from the physical to the digital, is this really knowledge democratization or does it just reifies social institutions that already exist?

I’m not going to say that the Internet hasn’t given people access to unprecedented amounts of knowledge – of course it has – but beginning to analyze Internet archives as merely mirrors to already existing archival logic has made me think of the many ways in which the Internet is a space that is embedded with its own biases in how it is developed and maintained. Is knowledge really democratized when it’s inaccessible by most of the world? Is knowledge really “more” accessible when it functions similarly to “physical” archives in that there are still gatekeepers, violence, and oppression that lie underneath the surface of a “free and open” space?

As it has been said time and time again, for those of us in the world who are on the Internet, the Internet is merely a reflection of social actors and does not exist as a separate space – even though it does provide the affordance of being able to transcend space and time for human interaction and access to events, knowledge, etc. But the Internet, like the archive, is built upon a certain kind of logic that privileges certain kinds of knowledge above others, and algorithms function in this regard as well because they are made by people. Has it made knowledge more accessible? I guess it depends on what kind of knowledge we’re talking about.

Julia DeCook

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November 10, 2017

Ethics of digital data collection: The debate continues

November 10, 2017 | By | No Comments

The conversation around digital data collection and ethics behind it often default to rules/laws that exist in “face-to-face” data collection: if it’s in a public arena, then the rules are the same for observing people in physical public spaces. However, as many within the realm of digital data know, the idea of “public” can vary in the virtual sphere, and further, questions have been raised whether or not we as researchers have the right to use posts and other digital artifacts posted by users if they posted them without the intention of the posts being discovered and used without their consent by researchers. Basically, if someone knew that eventually their content would be used in research, would they have posted it at all? It’s the digital Hawthorne Effect.

This brings up a few issues with the approach of studying online communities, particularly on Reddit where they have the option to go private and the larger issue of there being Discord Servers, IRC channels, Slack channels, etc. where the members congregate. This then brings up the issue of gaining consent from every single member that frequents those closed access communities, and even on Facebook there are a number of closed groups that require membership to view their content. Although we can all agree that when something is closed it is no longer in the “public sphere” of the Internet, there’s one thing that I’ve grappled with in terms of looking for things using hashtags – if I happen to come across, say, an Instagram account because they used a hashtag once, can I then look at their account and use other posts by them if there are no hashtags on any of their other posts?

Basically – is visibility and “searchable”-ness (through hashtags) a facet of what constitutes “public” data, or is the mere fact that the account itself is public (i.e., not locked down and private) sufficient? If it doesn’t have a hashtag, does it exist in the public sphere?

Digital research can become incredibly messy, not just because of the types of content that exist online that help to paint a picture of social and cultural life through multiple modalities, but also because of the questions of ethics that arise throughout these processes. Postill and Pink (2012) talk about “hashtag sociality” in their work discussing ethnographies in virtual environments, and that hashtags are not merely a part of online culture but serve as an organizing function for topics like a web forum does (Solis, 2011). This still complicates my earlier question in whether or not content from an account that has hashtags on some posts but not others are still “public”.

The Intenet as a public sphere has been a topic of discussion for decades now, but laws surrounding internet privacy and mobility still challenge the status of “public-ness” and “open-ness” that the Internet is typically known for. It is more complex, and because of its ever-changing nature, constantly being differentiated from traditional notions of public-ness.

Hashtags are now ubiquitous in online interactions, and may be complicating some of the questions of ethics surrounding what data is “open” and “public” and what is not. I wonder where these conversations surrounding digital data ethics will go, especially since now there are so many concerns about how so much of our lives have gone digital and the risk of privacy involved in using this data in research without the person’s knowledge (not necessarily consent, but maybe even consent). There are clear and defined expectations and rules for what is public and private (open versus closed group), but what is someone just posts something without granting it discoverable markers? Is it still public then? I don’t know if this adds an unnecessary complciation to the ethics debate, but it is one that I’ve been curious about throughout my own research.

Julia DeCook

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October 12, 2017

Cat memes and Identity – Archives and Digital Worlds

October 12, 2017 | By | No Comments

The reason why I wanted to do this fellowship was not only to expand my knowledge of computational/digital methods of approaching cultural heritage questions but also to have this methodological knowledge situated in appropriate theoretical and philosophical frameworks. Particularly, something I have noticed often in data-driven approaches to research within my own discipline is the lack of positioning – what does this data mean? How did it come to be, and what does it signify for larger historical, cultural, and social realms?

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Julia DeCook

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September 22, 2017

Introduction to Julia DeCook

September 22, 2017 | By | No Comments

Hello, everybody! My name is Julia DeCook and I am a fellow in the Cultural Heritage Informatics fellowship initiative for the 2017-2018 school year. I am a 3rd-year doctoral student in the Infomation and Media Studies Ph.D. program, which is housed in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences. My research focuses on online communities and how identity, ideology, and culture are created in digital spaces. My background is in Mass Communications, and so understanding the role of media in the spread of propaganda and reinforcement of a collective culture has always been an interest of mine.

The projects that I have been working on tend to fall within the realm of critical/cultural studies of media, however, I have long been wanting to apply more computational methods and approaches to gather data to conduct these analyses. Although I have a little bit of background in coding, my skills are incredibly limited, and so I am hoping through this fellowship that I gain the knowledge that I need to be able to do the research that I want to.

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