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Digital Wildfire


The overall aim of the project is to build an empirically grounded methodology for the study and advancement of the responsible governance of social media. This objective relates to three research themes of the call: legitimacy, agency, and temporality. Temporality is at the core of ‘deciphering’ the unfolding structure of (mis)information flows in social media; agency is implied in our hypothesis that much of social media reality is already steered by different stakeholders’ capacities to demonstrate self-regulatory activities and to promote these in others; the legitimacy of any new or additional governance mechanism may be enhanced if it respects and builds on such extant self-governance techniques.

Realising this aim entails the following objectives: 

  1. Describe and analyze the communicative affordances of social media compared to traditional ones. This includes understanding the ways in which different stakeholders engaged online interpret these affordances, and design their conduct accordingly.

  2. Describe and analyze the temporal structures of (mis)information flows in social media. This focus includes actual (historical) and potential (looming, averted) digital wildfires.

  3. Understand and conceptualize the relationship between online and offline practices and harm (content going ‘viral’ on and offline, back and forth).

  4. Identify the presence and limitations of self-regulation in relation to acid tests of open digital communication and, therefore, the necessity for official intervention to reduce any harmful consequences of this communication.

  5. Develop an ethical security map based on a mixed-methods approach (e.g. a ‘policy Delphi’, ethnographic fieldwork) employed for identifying and comparing different stakeholders’ perspectives on, and practical experiences with governing social media.

  6. Complement this ethical security map with a range of outputs for broader impact, such as, a reflection and training module on digital wildfire for schools, and interdisciplinary training modules with computational techniques to analyse social media and ‘big data’.

  7. Advance theories and methods for tackling ‘big data’ questions across the social sciences and computer science; establish the concept of self-governance, and an understanding of its empirical contexts, in the growing research and policy field of responsible innovation (RI).

Principal investigator: Marina Jirotka  University of Oxford

Co-investigators:    Matthew Williams   University of Cardiff
                               William Housley     University of Cardiff 
                               Pete Burnap           University of Cardiff
                               Omer Rana            University of Cardiff;  
                               Adam Edwards      University of Cardiff;  
                               Rob Procter           University of Warwick
                               Bernd Stahl           De Montfort University  

Research Associate Helena Webb University of Oxford

Artist in Residence Barbara Gorayska 

You can find out more about the project here and follow us on Twitter @EthicsWildfire


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