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Oxford Internet Institute University of Oxford

OII Newsletter March 2017

Dear friends and colleagues,

It is with huge pleasure that we invite you to attend the Inaugural Lecture of Philip Howard, our Professor of Internet Studies, to be held in Oxford on 15 June. In his public lecture "Is Social Media Killing Democracy? Computational Propaganda, Algorithms, Automation and Public Life" he will discuss his work on automated political propaganda, and the threat it presents for democracies around the world — an important line of work in these unsettled times. His work on the US election has been covered in the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, and CBS 60 Minutes. Phil joined us last summer, but this lecture will represent his formal introduction to the University community (and wider of course: everyone is very welcome to attend!).

I’d also like to welcome some more recent additions to our research staff: Gillian Bolsover who joins us as a Researcher on Phil’s Computational Propaganda project; Bharath Ganesh, a political geographer who joins us as a Researcher working on data science and local government; Sandra Wachter, a Postdoctoral Researcher in data ethics and algorithms working on our IoT project; and Fabian Braesemann, a Data Scientist working on our Big Data for Human Development Incubator. In every newsletter I seem to say “we continue to grow“ — and it’s true. It’s incredibly exciting to welcome so much new talent — and new research areas — to the OII community.

We highlight below a few examples of our ongoing research on digital inequality, including the difficulty of tackling digital inequality in young people, a first estimate of the local geographies of digital inequality in Britain, and the risks and rewards of online gig work at the world's margins. In the next newsletter we'll highlight some of our work on health and wellbeing, including healthcare automation, child protection, self-tracking and digital detoxing: but do follow @oiioxford to get your OII updates in real-time!

Best wishes,
Helen Margetts, Director

In this issue...

Digital Inclusion and Inequality

While the UK government has financed technological infrastructure and invested in schemes to address digital inequalities, the outcomes of these schemes are rarely uniformly positive or transformative for the people involved. And despite the huge importance of the Internet in everyday life, we know surprisingly little about the geography of Internet use and participation at sub-national scales.

The below two articles come out of Google-funded work that investigated the educational impact of providing laptops and internet connection to secondary-school students; and ESRC-funded work that combined census and survey data to estimate (for the first time) the local geographies of digital inequality in Britain.

We have to think bigger about digital inequality

Huw Davies discusses why the outcomes of digital inclusion schemes are rarely uniformly positive or transformative for the people involved (read the article).

Estimating the Local Geographies of Digital Inequality in Britain

A new article by Grant Blank, Mark Graham, and Claudio Calvino proposes a novel method to calculate the local geographies of Internet usage.

Risks and Rewards of Online Gig Work

Our IDRC-funded research project on Microwork and Virtual Production Networks in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia aims understand the potential impact of the Internet on social and economic development, particularly relating to the emergence of new and transformative ‘virtual’ economic activities and work, such as online gig work. Our practitioner report on the Risks and Rewards of Online Gig Work at the Global Margins aims to help platform operators improve their positive impact, help workers improve their situations, and prompt stakeholders to revisit regulation.

Read about the findings in Wired: The hidden dangers of the global gig economy, and New Scientist: Pay crash expected in online gig economy as millions seek work.  

Mark Graham presents the report on online gig work at the 4th UNI Africa Conference in Dakar, Senegal, where he discussed concrete solutions centred around creating bargaining power for digital platform workers. View the article presented and the practitioner report: Risks and Rewards of Online Gig Work.

Graduate Study

The admissions process for 2017/2018 entry to our graduate study programmes has just closed -- once again, we had a huge number of excellent applications, including for our part-time Masters and Doctoral programmes. The interview and selection process is still ongoing, but we look forward to welcoming the successful candidates to the OII in October! In the meantime, you can find out more about the programmes in the words of our alumni below, including a write-up of our latest careers day.

Where Are Our Alumni Now?

Alumni returned to the OII to share their career experiences with our current MSc students.

Press Coverage: AI, Bots, Propaganda, Gig Work

Given the recent and upcoming elections, the work undertaken by our Computational Propaganda project continues to attract a lot of attention, including coverage in the recent Observer piece on Robert Mercer: the big data billionaire waging war on mainstream media, and in the Washington Post: As a conservative Twitter user sleeps, his account is hard at work. Phil Howard has also discussed the issue of automated political propaganda on the BBC’s News at Ten, and for CBS’s flagship investigative programme 60 Minutes.

Our work on the online gig economy has been covered by Wired: The hidden dangers of the global gig economy, and New Scientist: Pay crash expected in online gig economy as millions seek work. Other highlights include coverage of a study by Milena Tsvetkova, Ruth García-Gavilanes, Luciano Floridi, and Taha Yasseri: When bots go bad: how Wikipedia’s helpers ended up locked in conflict (the Guardian) and Internet bots fight each other because they’re all too human (Wired). Viktor Mayer-Schönberger has discussed AI and The last things that will make us uniquely human (BBC Future), and Luciano Floridi has also called for some serious thought about what we really want to do with AI: Philosophy, public services and artificial intelligence (UKAuthority).

Earlier coverage of work by Andy Przybylski found that It Turns Out Staring At Screens Isn’t Bad For Teens’ Mental Wellbeing (BuzzFeed) and 257 minutes: the time teens can spend on computers each day before harming wellbeing (The Telegraph). Work by Scott Hale on multilingual content has been covered in Slator: A Third Rely on Translation to Make E-commerce Decisions — Oxford Study.

Five Pieces You Should Probably Read On: The US Election

James Williams, Sam Woolley, Phil Howard, and Helen Margetts discuss clickbait, social media and bots.

Five Pieces You Should Probably Read On: Fake News / Bubbles

Bernie Hogan, Luciano Floridi, Philip Howard, Brent Mittlestadt, Heather Ford, and Helen Margetts discuss facts, "alternative facts", and filter bubbles.

The OII Colloquia: New Seminar Series

The OII Colloquia are a new series of talks that bring senior speakers from other Oxford departments to the OII to spark conversation around the Internet and society, and strengthen our ties with scholars around topics of shared interest. This term we reached out to speakers from the Said Business School, and the Dept of Computer Science. If you missed them, videos are available below!

Simulating Social Mechanisms

Felix Reed-Tsochas of the Said Business School discusses how to simulate social mechanisms to solve the puzzle of online collective behaviour.

Security and Privacy Risks to Our Presence in Cyberspace

Jason Nurse of the Department of Computer Science discusses privacy and security risks in cyberspace.

Latest videos

What makes cities successful? A complex systems approach to modelling urban economies

Neave O'Clery of Oxford's Mathematical Institute presents as part of our long-running ICT4D seminar series.

Spatializing publics: mobile social media, urban sociability and the materiality of civic engagement

Wendy Willems of the LSE presents as part of our long-running ICT4D seminar series.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger: International Law and the Future of Online PsyOps

Tim Hwang discusses state and non-state actor use of online psyops to undermine other states.

Foreign-language Reviews: Help or Hindrance? (CHI2017)

Scott A. Hale uses an experiment to test the impact of foreign-language online reviews on the perceived helpfulness of all reviews (see full article).

Memory Institutions as Knowledge Machines

Keynote by Professor Eric Meyer at the National Digital Forum Conference, 21 - 23 November 2016 in New Zealand.

The Problem of Governance in Distributed Ledger Technologies

Vili Lehdonvirta discusses a fundamental paradox of the governance of distributed ledger technology.

Forthcoming Events

Rebecca MacKinnon: Ranking Digital Rights: Building a global standard for ICT sector accountability on privacy and freedom of expression
5 April 2017

Siva Vaidhyanathan: The Incomplete Political Economy of Social Media
6 April 2017

Erik Brynjolfsson: The second wave of the second machine age
20 April 2017

Professor Philip Howard's Inaugural Lecture
15 June 2017

Conference: Connected Life 2017: Digital Inequalities
19 June 2017

Phil Howard (left) with Scott Pelley, anchor of CBS 60 Minutes, one of America's leading investigative news programmes. In their recent report on fake news, Phil discussed the findings from the OII's Political Bots project, which is investigating how computational propaganda and misinformation on social media affect democracies around the world.

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