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Article

Todd L. Sandel and Bei "Jenny" Ju

Social media encompass web-based programs and user-generated content that allow people to communicate and collaborate via mobile phones, computers, and other communication technologies. Unlike other media linked to a particular technology, social media are a phenomenon associated with a set of tools, practices, and ideologies for connecting and collaborating. Social media blur distinctions between one-to-many and face-to-face communication. They allow individuals and groups to connect across boundaries of space and time, both synchronously and asynchronously. Afforded by changing technology, social media are ever-expanding as users develop novel uses and creative content. Scholars have studied social media across a range of topics, including such issues as message content and construction, identity formation, relationship development, community development, political activism, disinformation, and cyber threats. Social media vary culturally. For instance, in China social media are impacted by internet censorship, including not only the kinds of apps that are used in China—WeChat and Weibo instead of Facebook and Twitter—but also forms of expression and online activities. While Chinese social media can be a site for political activism, and creative, humorous, and satirical messages, they are constructed in ways that avoid online censorship. Social media also afford the construction and maintenance of local communities and cultural identities. For instance, users with a shared interest, occupation, activity, or offline connection, such as a hometown, may communicate online using a shared language, vocabulary, or code. Hence, unlike mass media that can promote a collective, national identity, social media may facilitate the re-emergence and construction of local and diverse identities. Finally, social media can empower subaltern individuals and groups to mobilize and effect change through collective action. Yet social media, when employed by the state and/or neoliberal corporate powers, can work to suppress subaltern groups by co-opting social media as a technology that affords surveillance. They may also be used to spread misinformation or extremism by both state-sponsored and non-state actors.

Article

Tamara Shepherd

Privacy rights are controversial in communication processes and entail varying levels of disclosure of sensitive personal information. What constitutes such personal information and how it should be accessed and used by various actors in a particular communicative exchange tends to be dependent on the situation at hand. And yet, many would argue that a baseline level of privacy should be expected by individuals as part of maintaining human integrity and personal control over information disclosure. Different frameworks exist for thinking about privacy as a right, and these frameworks further suggest different mechanisms for the control of information and the protection of privacy rights in changing communication environments. For example, the main shift in communication processes from the pre-Internet era to a networked world has brought with it renewed debates over the regulation of privacy rights. How would privacy rights be evoked in the face of rapidly changing technologies for networked surveillance, biometric identification, and geolocation? And moreover, how would these rights be applied differently to distinct populations based on class, nationality, race, gender, and age? These questions form the core of what is at stake in conceptions of privacy rights in contemporary communication.

Article

Axel Heck

The term security has its origins in the Latin word securitas, which could be translated as “without care” or “without worries.” Security as a concept used in social sciences indicates a specific political condition or social constellation under which an individual, larger group, or state routinely exists without the worry of being physically harmed, attacked, or otherwise injured. In times of crisis, where civil wars threaten the stability and the security of whole regions, where terrorists aim to kill civilians and millions of refugees leave their homes searching for more secure places, it is no wonder that the concept of security has gained much attention and is debated in political and academic circles. Taking a closer look at the academic debates in political science and communication studies reveals different ontological understandings about what “security” is and a variety of epistemological approaches how to study it. While positivists take security as a fact and an objective condition that can be measured and clearly defined, critical approaches question that security is an objective or given fact. In critical security studies, security and especially insecurity are understood as social and discursive practices. If security and insecurity are not taken as objective facts, but as the result of social constructions, the question arises of how, and under which conditions, security and insecurity are socially constructed and who or what contributes to these discourses in a meaningful way. While the significance of language for the discursive construction of security is well researched in social sciences, the visual dimension of security discourses has caught particular attention in the last decade in political and communication studies. This has occurred because where, what, and how we see (media reports, pictures of catastrophes and war, street crime, violence, suspects, terrorists etc.) significantly shape our understanding of security and insecurity. Alternatively, or more precisely, security discourse is hard to imagine without reference to some sort of visual communication. Communication studies and political science (especially the subdiscipline critical security studies, or CSS) have focused on the nexus between visuality and security for many years now—but in interdisciplinary coexistence rather than in exchange. This article intends to bridge this gap between the disciplines by introducing theoretical concepts and paths in literature of both research traditions. In particular, the concept of visual securitization might be an interesting toehold, as it sheds light on the question of how visual communication (media images, television, films, and other media) contribute to the discursive construction of threats, dangers, and insecurities, thereby enabling extraordinary political measures (from public surveillance to so-called enhanced interrogation techniques and military interventions) to secure the endangered referent object.

Article

The widespread diffusion of social media in recent years has created a number of opportunities and challenges for health and risk communication. Blogs and microblogs are specific forms of social media that appear to be particularly important. Blogs are webpages authored by an individual or group in which entries are published in reverse chronological order; microblogs are largely similar, but limited in the total number of characters that may be published per entry. Researchers have begun exploring the use and consequences of blogs and microblogs among individuals coping with illness as well as for health promotion. Much of this work has focused on better understanding people’s motivations for blogging about illness and the content of illness blogs. Coping with the challenges of illness and connecting with others are two primary motivations for authoring an illness blog, and blogs typically address medical issues (e.g., treatment options) and the author’s thoughts and feelings about experiencing illness. Although less prevalent, there is also evidence that illness blogging can be a resource for social support and facilitate coping efforts. Researchers studying the implications of blogs and microblogs for health promotion and risk communication have tended to focus on the use of these technologies by health professionals and for medical surveillance. Medical professionals appear to compose a noteworthy proportion of all health bloggers. Moreover, blogs and microblogs have been shown to serve a range of surveillance functions. In addition to being used to follow illness outbreaks in real-time, blogs and microblogs have offered a means for understanding public perceptions of health and risk-related issues including medical controversies. Taken as whole, contemporary research on health blogs and microblogs underscores the varied and important functions of these forms of social media for health and risk communication.

Article

Brenda L. Berkelaar and Millie A. Harrison

Information visibility refers to the degree to which information is available and accessible. Availability focuses on whether people could acquire particular information if they wanted. Accessibility focuses on the effort needed to acquire available information. In scholarly, industry, and popular press, people often conflate information visibility with transparency, yet transparency is generally a valued or ideological concept, whereas visibility is an empirical concept. Growing interest in studying and managing information visibility corresponds with the rapid growth in the use of digital, networked technologies. Yet, interest in information visibility existed prior to the introduction of networked information and communication technologies. Research has historically focused on information visibility as a form of social control and as a tool to increase individual, organizational, and social control and coordination. As a research area, information visibility ties to classic communication and interdisciplinary concerns, as well as core concerns of contemporary society including privacy, surveillance, transparency, accountability, democracy, secrecy, coordination, control, and efficiency. An emerging research area with deep historical roots, information visibility offers a promising avenue for future research.

Article

Digital technologies are frequently said to have converged. This claim may be made with respect to the technologies themselves or to restructuring of the media industry over time. Innovations that are associated with digitalization (representing analogue signals by binary digits) often emerge in ways that cross the boundaries of earlier industries. When this occurs, technologies may be configured in new ways and the knowledge that supports the development of services and applications becomes complex. In the media industries, the convergence phenomenon has been very rapid, and empirical evidence suggests that the (de)convergence of technologies and industries also needs to be taken into account to understand change in this area. There is a very large literature that seeks to explain why convergence and (de)convergence phenomena occur. Some of this literature looks for economic and market-based explanations on the supply side of the industry, whereas other approaches explore the cultural, social, and political demand side factors that are important in shaping innovation in the digital media sector and the often unexpected pathways that it takes. Developments in digital media are crucially important because they are becoming a cornerstone of contemporary information societies. The benefits of digital media are often heralded in terms of improved productivity, opportunities to construct multiple identities through social media, new connections between close and distant others, and a new foundation for democracy and political mobilization. The risks associated with these technologies are equally of concern in part because the spread of digital media gives rise to major challenges. Policymakers are tasked with governing these technologies and issues of privacy protection, surveillance, and commercial security as well as ensuring that the skills base is appropriate to the digital media ecology need to be addressed. The complexity of the converged landscape makes it difficult to provide straightforward answers to policy problems. Policy responses also need to be compatible with the cultural, social, political, and economic environments in different countries and regions of the world. This means that these developments must be examined from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and need to be understood in their historical context so as take both continuities and discontinuities in the media industry landscape into account.

Article

Education in society occurs across both formal and informal spheres of communication exchange. It extends from schools to diverse cultural apparatuses such as the mainstream media, alternative screen cultures, the Internet, and other spaces actively involved in the construction of knowledge, values, modes of identification, and agency itself. The modern era is shaped by a public pedagogy rooted in neoliberal capitalism that embraces consumer culture as the primary mechanism through which to express personal agency and identity. Produced and circulated through a depoliticizing machinery of fear and consumption, the cultural focus on the pursuit of individual desires rather than public responsibilities has led to a loss of public memory, democratic dissent, and political identity. As the public sphere collapses into the realm of the private, the bonds of mutual dependence have been shredded along with the public spheres that make such bonds possible. Freedom is reduced to a private matter divorced from the obligations of social life and politics only lives in the immediate. The personal has become the only sphere of politics that remains. The rise of the selfie as a mode of public discourse and self-display demands critical scrutiny in terms of how it is symptomatic of the widespread shift toward market-driven values and a surveillance culture, increasingly facilitated by ubiquitous, commercial forms of digital technology and social media. Far from harmless, the unexamined “selfie” can be viewed as an example of how predatory technology-based capitalism socializes people in a way that encourages not only narcissism and anti-social indifference, but active participation in a larger authoritarian culture defined by a rejection of social bonds and cruelty toward others. As with other forms of cultural and self-expression, the selfie—when placed in alternative, collective frameworks—can also become a tool for engaging in struggles over meaning. Possibilities for social change that effectively challenges growing inequality, atomization, and injustice under neoliberalism can only emerge from the creation of new, broad-ranging sites of pedagogy capable of building new political communities and drawing attention to anti-democratic structures throughout the broader society.

Article

The presence of large-scale data systems can be felt, consciously or not, in almost every facet of modern life, whether through the simple act of selecting travel options online, purchasing products from online retailers, or navigating through the streets of an unfamiliar neighborhood using global positioning system (GPS) mapping. These systems operate through the momentum of big data, a term introduced by data scientists to describe a data-rich environment enabled by a superconvergence of advanced computer-processing speeds and storage capacities; advanced connectivity between people and devices through the Internet; the ubiquity of smart, mobile devices and wireless sensors; and the creation of accelerated data flows among systems in the global economy. Some researchers have suggested that big data represents the so-called fourth paradigm in science, wherein the first paradigm was marked by the evolution of the experimental method, the second was brought about by the maturation of theory, the third was marked by an evolution of statistical methodology as enabled by computational technology, while the fourth extended the benefits of the first three, but also enabled the application of novel machine-learning approaches to an evidence stream that exists in high volume, high velocity, high variety, and differing levels of veracity. In public health and medicine, the emergence of big data capabilities has followed naturally from the expansion of data streams from genome sequencing, protein identification, environmental surveillance, and passive patient sensing. In 2001, the National Committee on Vital and Health Statistics published a road map for connecting these evidence streams to each other through a national health information infrastructure. Since then, the road map has spurred national investments in electronic health records (EHRs) and motivated the integration of public surveillance data into analytic platforms for health situational awareness. More recently, the boom in consumer-oriented mobile applications and wireless medical sensing devices has opened up the possibility for mining new data flows directly from altruistic patients. In the broader public communication sphere, the ability to mine the digital traces of conversation on social media presents an opportunity to apply advanced machine learning algorithms as a way of tracking the diffusion of risk communication messages. In addition to utilizing big data for improving the scientific knowledge base in risk communication, there will be a need for health communication scientists and practitioners to work as part of interdisciplinary teams to improve the interfaces to these data for professionals and the public. Too much data, presented in disorganized ways, can lead to what some have referred to as “data smog.” Much work will be needed for understanding how to turn big data into knowledge, and just as important, how to turn data-informed knowledge into action.

Article

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.