ACM Web Science 2018 Conference – Events Day

There was a full day with various themed events which could be attended, ranging from the dark web to ethics. There was a PhD symposium also, where students presented on their thesis topics.

The digital sociology event which I attended, titled Understanding the political economy of digital technology, is associated with the British Sociological Association Digital Sociology Study Group. There was an amazingly diverse range of papers during this day-long session, and the papers were really thought-provoking. The talk that stayed with me all day was by Pip Thornton (@Pip_T) from Royal Holloway University of London titled ‘The political economy of a large-scale hypertextual Web search engine: a critique of linguistic capitalism and the side effects of Google’s advertising empire’. Pip spoke about auctioning off of words that are searched online on search engine platforms like Google. She mentioned the ‘So-called dementia tax’ as a case study which was a phrase purchased by the Conservative party during the General election as it because a really hot topic debated. The purchased results are pushed to the top of the search page, and the natural search results are pushed to the bottom of the search page, or the next page, which aren’t as frequently seen. The logic behind it is similar to the way that words are marketed and advertised by the commerce sector: controlling the flow of data. The political market is almost a side effect to the existing structured sale of word, which impacts the conversations being had elsewhere. Pip suggested that Google has allowed money to control its searches, much like Orwell’s neo-liberal thought police. The most fascinating part of the talk was when Pip spoke about the commodity of words. Following this thought, she had entered the poem Daffodils by Wordsworth into Google AdWords and displayed the results in the form of a receipt. The worth of the words had a monetary value, and the people in the room asked why some words were worth so much. Pip had looked into this and some were acronyms, like IT, and were worth more to businesses so are rated as a higher value. Pip had her receipt printer with her and had some receipts to hand out and review.

The rest of the afternoon was a poster session. Some of the posters will remain up until tomorrow, where the best one can be voted on. People met and mingled and discussed the amazing things that they had listened to. A fantastic first day!