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Oxford Internet Institute

Understanding life online

Oxford Internet Institute University of Oxford

OII Newsletter October 2016

Dear friends and colleagues,

This term we have welcomed our largest ever cohort of incoming graduate students to the OII, including the first part-time students on our Masters programme. The application process for 2017 entry to our graduate study programmes is now open (note our forthcoming open days), and we’re particularly excited to be able to accept applications for a part-time offering of our Doctoral programme for the first time. We celebrated the first decade of the programme last week and it was wonderful to welcome Jonathan Zittrain — our first Director of Graduate Studies — back to the OII to give our Bellwether lecture. Over a whole day of discussion we caught up with our alumni and reflected on the last ten years. 

We’re delighted to announce that Mark Graham (our Professor of Internet Geography) has just been awarded a prestigious Philip Leverhulme Prize, which he will use to extend his research into information and internet geographies — asking who and where is made more powerful and given more voice by the digital layers of place that increasingly augment our world (a postdoc position will be advertised). Joss Wright is co-directing a new programme at the Oxford Martin School that brings together academics from conservation science, social policy and cybersecurity to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, focusing on Asia. And our work on computational propaganda, led by Phil Howard, has received lots of attention around the use of Twitter bots in the US election (more below).

November means that (as well as the US election..) OII Internet Awards season is upon us, during which we celebrate outstanding contributions to the Internet and the public good by individuals and organisations. I’m very pleased to announce that Lawrence Lessig is this year's recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award, and that we'll be enjoying a lecture by him before the reception and dinner. Our other brilliant Internet and Society Award winners will be announced on the night.

Best wishes,
Helen Margetts, Director

In this issue...

Computational Propaganda

The computational propaganda project led by Phil Howard is investigating the impact of automated scripts on public life. The team is tracking social bots, and using perspectives from organizational sociology, human-computer interaction, communication, and political science to interpret and analyze the evidence. Happily (despite the evidence of bot activity in the US election), humans are still the dominant force on Twitter, and "It's affirming that social media platforms can still present spaces where some people can have political conversations," says Howard. But while there's no suggestion that bots were generated by either official Presidential campaign group, "when nearly a quarter of Twitter activity turns out to be automated it can compound the view that politicians are out to manipulate public opinion." / @polbots

Trump's Twitter debate lead was 'swelled by bots'

"More than four times as many tweets were made by automated accounts in favour of Donald Trump around the first US presidential debate as by those backing Hillary Clinton, a study says." Feature in BBC News.

One in four debate tweets comes from a bot. Here's how to spot them.

"Philip Howard has a fancy name for partisan election bots. He calls them “computational propaganda” — and lately, he sees them a lot." Comprop is featured in the Washington Post.

Computerisation and Automation in Primary Care

How much of the work that occurs in primary care could we automate? Our new project on computerisation and automation in primary care is a collaboration between the Oxford Internet Institute, the Oxford Department of Engineering Science, and the Oxford Martin School. It seeks to understand and classify the work tasks that occur in primary care, in order to inform machine learning and artificial intelligence models for probabilities of automation. More:

Pictured are project team members Matt Willis (OII), Michael Osborne (Engineering), Eric Meyer (OII), and Angela Coulter (HSRU). @AutomateHealth

Social Network Analysis with Network Canvas

From social support to sexual health, the strength and structure of social networks can have a significant impact on wellbeing. But collecting self-reported social network data can be tedious and complicated, something we're hoping to change. In partnership with Northwestern University, the OII's Bernie Hogan and Joshua Melville have been awarded a $3.1m grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop software that can be used by researchers without technical skills to design and manage their own social network analysis studies. More about Network Canvas.

With Network Canvas, researchers will be able to design, deploy and download social network data in a visual and user friendly interface. Bernie Hogan notes that "we have already had significant interest from researchers working in fields as diverse as refugee camps, injection drug users, and social support among the elderly." Network Canvas is still in development, with beta deployment anticipated in early 2018: contact the team if you'd like to provide feedback or get involved in the meantime!

Graduate Study: Applications Now Open!

Our MSc in the Social Science of the Internet is offered to students interested in careers in the technology industry, consulting, government, non-profit organizations, or going on to further study, while our DPhil in Information, Communication and the Social Sciences allows students to develop an original research project under the supervision of faculty working at the cutting edge of Internet research. Both are offered part-time.

If you’re interested in rigorous Internet-related study and research, and want to join a challenging but friendly intellectual community, then the OII could be the place for you!

What are the current “Grand Challenges” of Internet research?

Phil Howard, Vicki Nash, and Joss Wright discuss some of the "Grand Challenges" of Internet research that will be faced by our students during their time with us.

Congratulations Carl Öhman: winner of OII MSc thesis prize!

Carl Öhman's thesis on the political economy of death in the age of information wins our 2016 thesis prize. Judith Dada's was highly commended.

Interested in studying at the OII? Come and meet us at our next open day: Thurs 17 November! If you can't get to Oxford: follow our Virtual Open Day on 6th December.

OII Students at the Alan Turing Institute

Over the summer, OII DPhil Students Yin Lu and Bertie Vidgen participated in the Alan Turing Institute's summer programme, learning new skills and applying these to faculty research projects. Yin (below) worked on a project led by the OII's Scott Hale that analysed different methods of communicating (phone, email, chat, forum) with a leading youth-support charity. Bertie worked on the citizen science project Cloudy with a Chance of Pain, which investigates the links between the weather and chronic pain.

We're also very pleased that OII doctoral students Corinne Cath and Odysseas Sclavounis have been awarded doctoral studentships at the ATI. Corinne is undertaking a comparative political and institutional analysis of human rights in ICANN and the IETF; Odysseas is examining the governance of technical protocols.

Latest Webcasts

Recent webcasts include the following — and 580 more are available on our website!

Jonathan Zittrain Lecture: The Future of Academia

Compelling talk on the challenges facing academia as a knowledge producer, consumer, and curator. (Watch this!)

Qualitative Data Analysis: OII MSc Methods Option Course

Analysis of qualitative data requires a set of specialized skills and an understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of qualitative approaches to social research.

Rise of Online Work is Captured in a New Online Labour Index

Vili Lehdonvirta discusses the OII's Online Labour Index — a tool that measures the utilisation of online labour markets in near realtime. More from the iLabour project.

What Happens After You Both Swipe Right: A Statistical Description of Mobile Dating Communications

Taha Yasseri's "Fellow Short Talk" recorded at the Alan Turing Institute.

New Books! Biomedical Big Data / Self Tracking

Mittelstadt, B.D. and Floridi, L. (eds) (2016) The Ethics of Biomedical Big Data. Springer. ISBN: 9783319335230.

Neff, G. and Nafus, D. (2016) Self-Tracking. MIT Press. ISBN: 9780262529129.

The Ethics of Biomedical Big Data

Brent Mittelstadt and Luciano Floridi (eds) present cutting edge research on the new ethical challenges posed by biomedical Big Data technologies.


Gina Neff and Dawn Nafus describe what happens when people turn their everyday experience—in particular, health and wellness-related experience—into data.

Forthcoming Events

3 November 2016
Clive Gringras: Don't shoot the {digital} messenger

11 November 2016
OII Internet Awards 2016

17 November 2016
Student Open Day

6 December 2016
Virtual Student Open Day

8 December 2016
Greg Elmer: Financing Social Media: Beyond the Economy of Attention

We recently celebrated ten years of the doctoral programme! Gathered around the cake are DPhil alumni Scott Hale, Daniel Villar-Onrubia, and Ulrike Deetjen; current Director of Doctoral Studies, Vili Lehdonvirta; OII Director, Helen Margetts; and former Director of Graduate Studies, Jonathan Zittrain. We currently have 30 doctoral students, and 25 doctoral alumni. Find out more about doctoral study at the Oxford Internet Institute.

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