WebSci21 – Video Vault No 11 – The Future of the Web and Society

Chair, Wendy Hall leads panellists, Sinan Aral, Azeem Azhar, Noshir Contractor and Jaime Teevan in a discussion no less ambitious than to summarise what we learned from the last 15 years of Web Science and to predict what the next 15 years may hold.

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Abstract

Web Science, as an interdiscipline, is celebrating its 15th year of interrogating how the Web has shaped Society and how Society, in turn, has shaped the Web. During this period, we have witnessed avalanches of disruptive “exponential” technologies emerge from tectonic shifts between four (or more!) Internets with their various sensibilities and sensitivities concerning openness, commerce, authoritarianism and human rights. The closing panel reflects on how all of these socio-cultural-political developments (re)shape the agenda for Web Science over the next 15 years and beyond. Specifically, panelists will consider the future of Web Science research and what it means for practitioners, policy makers and publics.

Summary


Chair, Wendy Hall leads panellists in a discussion to summarise what we learned from the last 15 years of Web Science and to predict what the next 15 years may hold.

About the Video Vault Series

In partnership with the ACM we are pleased to be able to release a series of videos from the most recent Web Science Conference (ACM WebSci’21) that were previously only available to attendees of the conference.

The series will be released fortnightly and will include a selection of Keynote talks and Spotlight panel discussions.

Copyright / Links

This video is (c) 2021 provided under license from the ACM.

 

WSTnet Lab Profile: Cardiff HateLab

Cardiff University is the home of a WSTNet lab with two related, but distinct groups: Pete Burnap’s Social Data Lab (based on data visualisation and analysis using COSMOS) which makes social media analysis much more accessible for non-coding academics and also Matt William’s HateLab which uses a COSMOS-based dashboard to identify and analyse hate speech structures and trends in a range of social media sources across modern forms of on-line hate including racial, political, gender and religious intolerance.  

Williams (who holds a chair in Criminology at Cardiff) has been researching the clues left in social media since 2011 but was frustrated by the lack of tools/accessibility for any but the most skilled coders and worked with Prof. Pete Burnap to develop a more user-friendly toolset called COSMOS which allows researchers to focus on the meanings and interpretations of social media data rather than the underlying technologies.

With new tools/possibilities delivered by COSMOS, new research questions began to surface and the “Hate Speech and Social media” project was launched in 2013. This led to the founding of the HateLab where Matt has been director since 2017 where his group has attracted more than £3m in funding. He has published a series of papers and in 2021 he published a summary of more than 20 years research in his book The Science of Hate

 

HateLab could be seen as something of a poster child for Web Science having been featured widely in the press and the media with HateLab research being covered in: LA TimesNew York PostThe Guardian (also here), The Times (also here and here), The Financial TimesThe IndependentTelegraph (also here), TortoiseNew ScientistPoliticoBBC NewsThe RegisterComputerWeeklyVerdictSky NewsTechWorld and Police Professional. On TV, their research underpinned an episode of BBC One’s Panorama, an episode of ITV’s Exposure and an ITV NEWS special report. HateLab is been used as part of the National Online Hate Crime Hub announced by the UK Home Secretary in 2017

HateLab collects data from several platforms including Twitter (They have also been highlighted by Twitter as a featured developer partner), 4Chan, Telegram and Reddit and the tools look for trends and patterns using AI techniques which link the timing, causality and impacts which can link physical acts of violence whilst the appearance and timing of hate speech. Williams has found certain patterns and timings in his work (he calls it the “half-life” of hate speech and this may be critical in understanding how to manage/calm/delay responses in on-line communities if strong reactions (esp. physical reactions to online hate speech) are seen to quickly fade and be much more temporary in nature than other forms of crime.

Whilst it is perhaps clear that real-world “trigger” events (such as Covid, Brexit, Trump speeches, London Bridge attacks etc.) can/do give rise to waves of on-line reactions (with hate being the least desirable of these) it is perhaps less obvious (and more interesting) to consider that a certain level and timing of hate speech might be associated with, and contribute to, higher levels of physical violence. HateLab is looking at the possibility of developing predictive models which not only allow non-academic groups how to gauge and better manage different types of hate speech and volatile communities on-line but might also help to prevent on-line hate spilling over into physical violence.

The recent case of Ex-President Trump and his on-line incitement to “march on the capital building” being a chilling example of the need for this sort of model.  

We asked Matt about his take on the new owner at Twitter and how Musk’s view on free speech might affect his research and his overall objective to reduce hate-speech …  

 “Twitter have been really busy since 2015 trying to manage the whole on-line harm issue and frankly they’ve done a pretty good job – They’ve employed huge numbers of moderators that have ensured that a lot of the more unpleasant material that is ON the platform (and that we have access to via the API for research purposes) is not VISIBLE on the platform where ordinary users can be harmed by it. There is obviously a trade-off between the notion of on-line harm and freedom of speech and we’ll have to wait and see what effect Elon’s new policies have on the resurgance of what is thought to be harmful content. Certainly we’ve seen a reduction in the amount of hatespeech across the twitter API over recent months/years but its unclear whether users have migrated to more tolerant platforms or whether the Twitter filtering is now being reflected in the API output. Overall we’ve had a very positive relationship with Twitter and we’d obviously like to continue to work with them”.

DISCLOSURE:

I have to admit to being just a tiny bit disappointed that Matt is not also the brains behind HateLab: the London-based cyberpunk band which I stumbled on when googling more about his work 😉

WebSci21 – Video Vault No 10 – The Post-API Age Reconsidered

In this talk, Deen Freelon talks about research data sourced from social media platforms to support computational research approaches in social science .

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Notes

Despite its brevity, the essay “Computational research in the post-API age” (Freelon, 2018) sparked an interdisciplinary discussion about options for collecting and analyzing social media data at a time when platforms were imposing tight restrictions on their formerly open APIs or closing them altogether. This keynote will explore some of what has and has not changed in the ensuing three years for computational researchers interested in social media data. In particular, it will focus on three key issues that have increased greatly in prominence since 2018: (1) the process of collaborating directly with social media companies on research projects, (2) the ethics of hacked and leaked datasets, and (3) ethno-racial and gender inequities in web- and computational social science.

Freelon, D. (2018). Computational research in the post-API age. Political Communication, 35(4), 665-668.

Summary


Deen Freelon talks about research data sourced from social media platforms to support computational research approaches in social science and whether both accessibility and representation have changed in the intervening period since his influential 2018 paper.

About the Video Vault Series

In partnership with the ACM we are pleased to be able to release a series of videos from the most recent Web Science Conference (ACM WebSci’21) that were previously only available to attendees of the conference.

The series will be released fortnightly and will include a selection of Keynote talks and Spotlight panel discussions.

Copyright / Links

This video is (c) 2021 provided under license from the ACM.

 

Early NFT investor embarrassed by no resale interest

The recent surge in NFT coverage in tyhe technology and financial press was typified by the story of an early NFT auction in which an investor paid $2.9m for an NFT linked to Twitter Founder Jack Dorsey’s first ever Tweet on the platform. This, it was claimed, was an example of how new value could be created using NFTs and how investing in buying and selling NFTs would be the next big thing. The sales of NFTs have indeed grown large though the residual value, and ROI on the resale of NFTs have been much less impressive.

In the interim it has been widely reported not only that NFT exchanges have struggled with growing numbers or fraudulent issues, fake NFTs, market manipulation, price rigging and thefts (ironically specifically the issues that block chain technologies are intended to prevent) but also that a lot of the apparent liquidity in NFT markets (the number of buy/sell transactions) has been artificially (and illegally) inflated by the same parties being on both sides of the transaction in any attempt to give the impression that NFT are easily/quickly traded and that prices are going up.

In what must be considered a massive PR blow to the industry as a whole, the buyer of this famous first Tweet NFT, Sina Estavi has recently tried to sell what is probably the most famous NFT in existence for sale referring to it as the “Mona Lisa of the Digital World” for an eye-watering $48m on the OpenSea NFT exchange (asking more than 16x what he paid for it in March 2021) and was met with initially offers of only hunderds of dollars and at the time of writing a highest bid of just $6’800 – some 0.000141 of the asking price and barely 0.0023 of what he paid for it. Surely a “rug pull” of epic proportions.

Our condolensces go to Mr Estavi who had allegedly planned to donate about $25m of the expected proceeds to charity though we think he has badly mis-judged what he has purchased. While he claims this NFT is the “Mona Lisa of the Digital World” – something which would indeed be priceless, surely what he has actually bought is an NFT for a photo of the Mona Lisa which can be bought in any gift shop for a few dollars or downloaded from the Web for free. 

Perhaps more correctly he bought $2.9m of attention/publicity for himself and the new NFT exchange he is launching whilst the NFT that remains behind when the news stories and buzz are forgotten actually captures very little inherent value beyond the attention and novelty they generate. Who was the second woman to fly solo across the Atlantic? The second athelete to break a 4-minute mile? No-one remembers and I suspect the the second person to own this NFT might be equally forgetable.

Perhaps NFTs are becoming a new currency of the “attention economy” joining subscribers, likes and upvotes. In any case potential investors must now surely be ultra-careful about certificates pointing to notional assets that are hard (impossible) to differentiate from the free alternatives.

Elon Musk to acquire Twitter for $44bn

Despite claiming in a recent interview that “technically” he could afford to purchase Twitter personally, Musk has chosen instead to fund the $44bn (£34.5bn) takeover with $21bn of his own money plus debt structures.

The threatened poison pill response from the Twitter board appears to have been ineffective in the light of threatened legal action by Musk against the board members who, surprisingly, own virtually no Twitter stock themselves leaving themselves open to serious fiduciary malpractice suits if they had not entertained Musk’s offer as being of major benefit to the shareholders.  

Musk had publicly offered to “save $3m a year” on Twitters bottom line by not paying any board members (Musk himslef takes no salary for any of his management roles) and so it remains unclear whether the current board will simply disolve, whether founder Jack Dorsey (a friend of Musk) will now remain and who will steer the company in the short term. Musk will appear at an employees meeting to handle questions in the coming days/weeks.

Musk has made much of the need for a free speech platform for the world as a whole – calling it “the bedrock of a functioning democracy” even if that free speech may be negative or oppose our own views. He is known to prefer “timeouts” to lifetime bans similar to the one imposed on ex-president Trump.

“I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means,” he tweeted on Monday.

One critic (Robert Reich former US Secretary of Labor) alleged in the Guardian that Musk had bought Twitter “to preserve his own free speech and not free specch for other people” and so we will need to wait to see what free speech means under a new Twitter and whether Musk can live up to his ambitions for a better Twitter.