Is China shaping the Internet in Africa?

There are concerns that, just as Western countries have tried to promote their models of news media in Africa, China will try to export its own. However, no studies to date have proved this to be the case. Iginio Gagliardone (University of Oxford) discusses the themes of his paper “Partner, prototype or persuader? China’s renewed media engagement with Ghana”, which proposes a framework to understand Chinese engagement in the African mediasphere in terms of its original contributions, not simply as a negative of the impression left by the West.

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Harnessing ‘generative friction’: can conflict actually improve quality in open systems?

Is conflict always bad? Or can conflict in open systems actually be productive, leading to innovative solutions to the problems encountered? In her paper “The role of conflict in determining consensus on quality in Wikipedia articles”, Kim Osman (QUT) finds that differences of opinion in Wikipedia actually spur the improvement of articles and that conflict, in contrast to earlier findings, can play a positive role in encyclopedic quality. Kim discusses her findings and what they mean for the design and governance of open, online systems.

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Uncovering the patterns and practice of censorship in Chinese news sites

China keeps sliding down the Press Freedom Index — now languishing in 174th place out of 179. While Internet censorship has attracted much attention from scholars and institutes, including IP blocking, keywords filtering and deletion in social media, censorial practices in news websites have never been comprehensively described or quantified. In their paper, “Unmasking News in Cyberspace: Examining Censorship Patterns of News Portal Sites in China” Sonya Y. Song (with Fei Shen, Mike Z. Yao, and Steven S. Wildman) present the first empirical study to systematically examine news deletion on major news portals in China.

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Predicting elections on Twitter: a different way of thinking about the data

Recently, there has been a lot of interest in the potential of social media as a means to understand public opinion. Social media monitoring, which in theory can extract information from tweets and Facebook posts and quantify positive and negative public reactions to people, policies and events has an obvious utility for politicians seeking office. Nick Anstead (LSE) co-author with Mike Jensen (University of Canberra) of a paper “Psephological investigations: Tweets, votes, and unknown unknowns in the republican nomination process” published in Policy and Internet discusses how useful these techniques are for predicting election results, and how they might be reimagined in the future.

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The complicated relationship between Chinese Internet users and their government

The Chinese government has been incredibly successful and sophisticated in the way it has established control over the Internet in China, both over web content and public discourses about the Internet’s function in Chinese society. David Herold (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) discusses the results of a research project into how students in Shanghai talk about the Internet, arguing that even when criticising government controls and censorship, they do not genuinely challenge the status quo, but accept it as unavoidable and without alternatives.

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Staying free in a world of persuasive technologies

Technologies are increasingly being designed to change the way we think and behave. While there has been excitement recently about designing information environments to ‘nudge’ us into beneficial behaviours, are we giving enough attention to their implications for individual freedom and autonomy? When does a ‘nudge’ become a ‘push’? OII DPhil student James Williams is developing a set of ethical principles for the design of persuasive technologies.

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How are internal monitoring systems being used to tackle corruption in the Chinese public administration?

Digital surveillance technologies allow for monitoring of public employees to an extent previously impossible and thus hold great promise as a cure for corruption in China: Premier Wen Jiabao estimated in 2008 that for a five-year period the amount of misused government funds was around 400 billion RMB (about 40 billion GBP). Jesper Schlæger (Sichuan University) discusses the internal anti-corruption systems that have been developed by the Chinese government over the past twenty years in order to promote transparency and “governing in the sunlight.”

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Seeing like a machine: big data and the challenges of measuring Africa’s informal economies

The mobile phone has created new channels of information about African informal economies and workers. In an era where so much of the apparatus for measuring Africa’s economies has been weakened, this kind of data reaps enormous potential for governments and private companies. Dr Laura Mann (OII) discusses the implications of big (and open) data on the research environment — as Africa becomes ‘more usable’ and ‘more legible’, she asks: for whom, by whom, and for what purpose is this data being used?

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