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Crypto-Discourse, Internet Freedom, and the State  

Isadora Hellegren

Internet freedom is a process. Internet freedom takes place through a myriad of practices, such as technology development, media production, and policy work, through which various actors, existing within historical, cultural, economic, and political contexts, continuously seek to determine its meaning. Some of these practices take place within traditional Internet governance structures, yet others take place outside of these. Crypto-discourse refers to a partially fixed instance of the process in which actors seek to construct the meaning of Internet freedom that mainly takes place outside of traditional Internet governance structures. Crypto-discourse describes a process in which specific communities of crypto-advocates (groups of cryptographers, hackers, online privacy advocates, and technology journalists) attempt to define Internet freedom through community practices such as technological development and descriptive portrayals of encryption within interconnected communities that seek to develop and define encryption software, as well as through the dissemination of these developments and portrayals within and outside of these communities. The discursive work of the cypherpunks, interrelated discourse communities, and related technology journalism is at the core of crypto-discourse. Through crypto-discourse, crypto-advocates employ encryption software as an arena of negotiation. The representation of encryption software serves as a battlefield in a larger discursive struggle to define the meaning of Internet freedom. Crypto-discourse illustrates how social practices have normative implications for Internet governance debates regarding Internet freedom and in particular expectations for state authorities to uphold online rights. The relationship between freedom and the state that these crypto-advocates articulate as a response to specific events excludes other possible positive notions of Internet freedom in which the state has an obligation to ensure the protection of online rights.

Article

Cybervetting  

Brenda L. Berkelaar and Millie A. Harrison

Broadly speaking, cybervetting can be described as the acquisition and use of online information to evaluate the suitability of an individual or organization for a particular role. When cybervetting, an information seeker gathers information about an information target from online sources in order to evaluate past behavior, to predict future behavior, or to address some combination thereof. Information targets may be individuals, groups, or organizations. Although often considered in terms of new hires or personnel selection, cybervetting may also include acquiring and using online information in order to evaluate a prospective or current client, employee, employer, romantic partner, roommate, tenant, client, or other relational partner, as well as criminal, civil, or intelligence suspects. Cybervetting takes advantage of information made increasingly available and easily accessible by regular and popular uses and affordances of Internet technologies, in particular social media. Communication scholars have long been interested in the information seeking, impression management, surveillance, and other processes implicated in cybervetting; however, the uses and affordances of new online information technologies offer new dimensions for theory and research as well as ethical and practical concerns for individuals, groups, organizations, and society.

Article

Governance by and of Algorithms on the Internet: Impact and Consequences  

Michael Latzer and Natascha Just

Internet-based services that build on automated algorithmic selection processes, for example search engines, computational advertising, and recommender systems, are booming and platform companies that provide such services are among the most valuable corporations worldwide. Algorithms on and beyond the Internet are increasingly influencing, aiding, or replacing human decision-making in many life domains. Their far-reaching, multifaceted economic and social impact, which results from the governance by algorithms, is widely acknowledged. However, suitable policy reactions, that is, the governance of algorithms, are the subject of controversy in academia, politics, industry, and civil society. This governance by and of algorithms is to be understood in the wider context of current technical and societal change, and in connection with other emerging trends. In particular, expanding algorithmizing of life domains is closely interrelated with and dependent on growing datafication and big data on the one hand, and rising automation and artificial intelligence in modern, digitized societies on the other. Consequently, the assessments and debates of these central developmental trends in digitized societies overlap extensively. Research on the governance by and of algorithms is highly interdisciplinary. Communication studies contributes to the formation of so-called “critical algorithms studies” with its wide set of sub-fields and approaches and by applying qualitative and quantitative methods. Its contributions focus both on the impact of algorithmic systems on traditional media, journalism, and the public sphere, and also cover effect analyses and risk assessments of algorithmic-selection applications in many domains of everyday life. The latter includes the whole range of public and private governance options to counter or reduce these risks or to safeguard ethical standards and human rights, including communication rights in a digital age.

Article

Political Economies of Media Technologies  

Vincent Mosco

Political economy approaches examine the power relations that are embedded in the production, distribution, and exchange of resources. They are distinguished from economics by a deeper concern for history, the social totality, moral philosophy, and praxis. Numerous schools of thought mark these approaches including early conservative, communitarian, and Marxian perspectives. Today, neoconservative, institutional, neo-Marxian, feminist, environmental, and social movement-based approaches offer a wide variety of political economies. Communication scholars have drawn on political economy approaches to carry out research on media technologies, including broadcasting, telecommunications, and computer communication. In doing so they have developed distinctive geographic perspectives covering North America, parts of Asia, Europe, and the less developed world. Political economy approaches are built on specific philosophical assumptions including a range of epistemologies that, on one end of a continuum, accept the reality of concepts and observations and, at the other, claim that concepts and observations are the social constructions of language. Political economy approaches also range from perspectives that emphasize social change, social processes, and social relations to those that focus on social structures and institutions. Political economists tend to concentrate on three processes that make up the main starting points for political economy research on media technologies. Commodification is the process of transforming things valued for their use into marketable products that are valued for what they can bring in exchange. This can be seen, for example, in the process of turning a story that friends tell one another into a film, a book, or even a virtual experience, to be sold in the marketplace. Spatialization is the process of overcoming the constraints of geographical space with media and technologies. For example, social media surmounts distance by bringing images of world events to every part of the globe, and companies use media technologies, now typically composed of cloud computing, big data analytics, the Internet of Things, and telecommunications networks, to build global supply chains. Finally, structuration is the process of creating social relations, mainly those organized around social class, gender, and race. With respect to social class, political economy approaches describe how access to the mass media and new communication technologies is influenced by inequalities in income and wealth, which enable some to afford access and others to be left out. Political economy approaches are evolving in response to challenges from cultural studies approaches. Political economies of media technologies are now placing greater emphasis on international communication, on communication history, on standpoints of resistance, on new media technologies, and on new media activism.