Internet, Policy and Politics Conference in Oxford
Last week I attended a conference on Internet, Policy and Politics at the OII (Oxford Internet Institute) in Oxford. I was invited to present my paper based on my MA research conducted in Brazil, which I finished a couple of weeks ago.
It was two days social sciences based Internet research immersion and a very tight schedule of presentations by most of the attendees. The opening speech by Arthur Lupia introduced one of the main topics of the event; using the Internet to politically engage citizens. His main point was that “we”, the already politically engaged, want “them” to politically engage similarly, but that we forget that they might not want to do so. Thus, we have to improve our methods and develop a manner in which we indeed can persuade others.
Those who are interested in a more elaborated description of the many presentations on e-campaigning, e-elections and e-governments I have to refer to the conference’s papers, as I skipped most of the presentations on this topic. As the menu included a large variety of topics, I instead was more curious about online activism, virtual goods and the digital divide, my presentation being part of the latter.
Overall, not many new things were discussed and this made me realise how our New Media program in Amsterdam has a rather different and very new view on what is going on in the world. Most stick to rather dated research methods that might not apply to these new media (note, however, that the primary medium discussed was the Internet as the conference was specifically on the Internet, and little attention was there for other digital media or concepts that are related to digital technologies such as piracy, software, networks, etc.). In one presentation was brought to the fore, for instance, that all the data produced that is produced until two years ago (and thereby I mean ever and by everybody) is now produced online each two days. How do we deal with this amount of information? How do we research? One critical question indeed was whether we generalise a case study on 200 Facebook groups over the 600 million Facebook groups existent..
However, several presentations gave interesting insights, and the papers can be accessed online. Maura Conway, for instance, spoke about online terrorism and looked at the radicalisation of Youtube movies, in which she found that the most influential users of the network in fact were women. Others used DMI methods in order to trace issue networks. Keren Sereno used the issue crawler in order to map the protest network of NGOs in Israel. She found that the smaller NGOs that had a narrow focus, or aim, remained more isolated than the bigger organisations that had a broader variety of aims (human rights, gender equality, etc.). Also, many spoke about the use of Internet in non-democratic regimes or during elections. James Gomez, for instance, presented his research on opposition parties and elections and the use of new media in Singapore and Malaysia.
In my panel called digital divide, my presentation was rather different. Speaking about my fieldwork – particular examples of what people do, anecdotes of what I have seen and people have told me – was not very much like the other presentations that demonstrated digital divide statistics. For instance, one of the panel speakers presented digital inclusion rates in Chelsey (minority groups – Afro-American and Latinos – face more difficulty accessing the internet than whites and seem to have different reasons for not accessing; lack of interest, financial reasons, or lack of skills). Another presentation shed light on the relation between the digital inclusion rate in a country and the amount of political parties that have websites and use the Internet to engage with the citizens (online political parties are also unequally distributed depending on the country). Instead of critically discussing what the digital divide means and includes today, they rather dichotomously mapped access to the Internet in terms of the haves and have-nots.
After all, the conference offered me a lot of food for (critical) thought. Also, I met plenty of interesting people at this conference. It was a very international setting, as there were attendees from all over the world. Even though some research didn’t look too interesting or relevant at first sight, talking with people from all over the world that have the same interest – but, very importantly, different backgrounds and experiences – is always very fruitful. I believe that’s called networking?