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Indigenous Digital Lifeworlds

Indigenous Digital Lifeworlds – Andrew Farrell
Abstract: Social media enables critical forms of visibility and representation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ+ peoples. Pride in identity for Queer mob translates from political and social geographies and histories into the digital age through individual and collective profiles, accounts and handles. Through tactical, creative and collaborative emphasis of complex and intersecting identities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ+ peoples bolster community pride through assertive and personal accounts of Indigeneity, gender, and sexuality. Jessica Johnson argues that, “for Indigenous Queers, [pride] is not just a party for us – it’s our life, and there’s a lot of us fighting to survive.” In this paper I will explore the various strategies of pride in identity employed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ+ people as modes of survival and examine how the intimate life worlds of Queer mob impact the social and political landscape and (re)constitute LGBTIQ+ identity in Australia.

Campus Gossip as Molecular Assemblages of Drama Ryan Frazer
Abstract: Research on conflict among young people on social media has tended to reify simple, normative models of perpetrator and victim. In mainstream media, Indigenous social media users are often framed as vulnerable to violence, particularly attacks of racism, abuse and bullying. In this paper, we look at practices of ‘gossip’ among young Indigenous university students living on campus. Their stories vivify the drama of online sociality—the mix of joy and hurt, the moral ambiguity, the distributed agencies—and trouble any neat account of Indigenous experiences of online conflict.

Indigenous Digital Lifeworlds – Bronwyn Carlson
Abstract: This paper draws on recent research findings into Indigenous use of dating applications. There is no level playing field when it comes to love for marginalised groups and especially Indigenous women and Indigenous LBGTQI+ people. The same colonial structures of heteropatriarchy and sexualised violence that plague settler regimes exist in the world of digital intimacy as does colonial thinking when it comes to desire and sexual preferences. One of the main themes that emerges is the concept of preference. This includes sexual preference as well as the ability to have a preference or the way in which our preferences are impacted by colonialism. Two contrasting positions emerged. Firstly, Indigenous users of dating apps questioned whether they themselves had internalised colonial ideas of what and who is desirable. On the other side of the same coin Indigenous users of dating apps wanted to assert their body sovereignty as an act of resistance to the dominant power enjoyed by white men on Tinder and Grindr particularly.

Community, Crisis, Connection

Digital Hostility, Connectivity, Wellbeing: New Directions in a Time of Communication Crisis – Rob Cover
Abstract: Acts and experiences of online hostility verifiably increase during instances of social crisis. For example, from early in the COVID-19 pandemic, public figures, health communicators, politicians, entertainers, influencers, scholars, celebrities and journalists were subject to increased rates hostility, including twitter pile-ons, doxxing, deep-fake news circulation, trolling, hate speech, and public shaming. In many cases, there is evidence of a politicised motivation (anti-vaccination beliefs, conspiracy theory beliefs, white supremacist affiliations, populist alt-right political affiliations, etc.). Both an extension of, and different from, cyberbullying, digital hostility has become a framing factor in the reduction of quality of public debate at a social level and, at an individual level, has been cited as responsible for withdrawal, disconnection and negative impact on health and mental health. In some cases, the intensive rates of digital hostility have resulted in suicide attempts by public figures. The form and rate of digital hostility has arguably become significant enough that moderation in online sites, report-and-intervention schemes and autonomous circulation controls are not able to keep up; service providers are often unprepared for the high increases in times of social crisis when factual, ethical communication, intimate digital relationality and social harmony are essential for liveable lives and healthy citizenship. Making sense of the support needs of individuals and communities in the context of hostility and injurious speech/conduct is a significant issue for ensuring general population wellbeing during social and health crises. Drawing on early samples from digital ethnographic research, this presentation theorises some of the approaches to addressing management of digital hostility and online injurious speech in the failure of ethical communication and good digital citizenship. It reports some of the ways in which participants consider alternative forms of support and connectivity, perceptions of the impact of hostility on wellbeing and, using new critical-cultural approaches to resilience, re-thinks practices and processes of self-management among those who experience hostility online.

When the tides turn: Examining “imaginaries of care” for international students in Australia during COVID-19 – Earvin Cabalquinto, Benjamin Hanckel, Natalie A. Hendry & Jasbeer Musthafa Mamalipurath
Abstract: The ‘international student’ has appeared as a central figure in debates about the future of higher education, as well as an emerging ‘problem’ within government COVID-19 advice and news media accounts. In response, a rhetoric of ‘care’ has emerged from various sectors and stakeholders to prioritise the safety of individual international students–over 600 thousand people in Australia in 2020 (Department of Education Skills and Employment, 2020)–while also maintaining a business-as-usual modality. Using an emerging theory of ‘imaginaries of care,’ we examine how care is embedded in the online assemblages of several institutions in Australia engaged with international students. We draw on Mol et. al’s (2015) work that positions care as complex and often enacted through an ecosystem composed of technologies, objects, social systems, and people. We problematise how care is articulated by examining selected case studies of Australian institutions and how they visibilise, imagine and manufacture digital ‘care’ support for international students in crisis. Drawing on Appadurai’s (1996) work on imagination that highlights how imaginaries are often culturally organised as social practices tied to political economy, we tease out the ruptures within care rhetoric and the (im)possibilities embedded in these imaginaries. We show how care is orchestrated through limited digital narratives during a crisis that reiterate broader systems of imagined (and limited) support. ‘Imaginaries of care’ thus envisage a sense of intimate and sustained connections. Yet these imaginaries construct reductionist or homogenised portraitures of the lived experiences of certain individuals and groups. Care thus becomes an individual responsibility and locates both the problem and solution with international students themselves. We illuminate what is made visible and invisible by institutions in crafting digital narratives of ‘being there’ for international students.

Intra-active gendered smartphone practices before, during and after crisis – Caitlin McGrane
Abstract: This paper draws on digital ethnography fieldwork taken from a larger study conducted in Victoria, Australia initially in November 2019 before the bushfire crisis, and then by virtually revisiting the same participants in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. While conducting the initial fieldwork, I could not have anticipated the catastrophes that were about to unfold in Victoria and across the world. This paper shows how participants negotiate and navigate their smartphone practices before, during and after crisis. Visual diary data reveals the gendered affects of these practices and shows how the phone can play an agential role in the material (re)making of participants’ placeworlds. The project’s main theoretical framework draws on intra-action (Barad, 2003), which privileges actions over dialogue to argue these performative discourses create worlds and modes of engagement. Following Barad (2003), all human and non-human actors play a performative and agential role in the world’s iterative becoming. I draw on this theory to demonstrate how participants used photos to capture moments of quotidian emotional reflection and contemplation, and why these moments matter. Smartphones often functioning as what I call a “joyful companion” in everyday inter and intra-actions with the world. While participants spoke of gendered affects of using a smartphone including anxiety, stress and frustration, they nevertheless considered it impossible to seriously contemplate life without one. In the original interviews, participants expressed some concern about the reach and pull of their devices. In 2020, these concerns have been amplified, with significant changes to social and individual mobility adding layers of complexity as we have increasingly relied on the digital. I therefore revisited the participants to ask them what had changed about their placeworlds and the photos they took with their smartphones. The differences and similarities between the two field visits will be presented in this paper. Barad, K. (2003). Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3): 801-831.

Witnessing & Calling Out

Not so wholesome anymore: exploring the downfall of the Bon Appétit brand and a fandom in crisis – Kyla Allison & Madison Hichens
Abstract: Mirroring the state of the world in 2020, social media has seen a multitude of competing trends, movements, and ‘tags’ circulate during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the biggest trends during global lockdown has been a rise in ‘wholesome’ content showcasing intimate moments of everyday life, from the hoards of locked down citizens breaking into song and dance from their tiny balconies, to the flood of home baked sourdough on our newsfeeds. The virtue of ‘wholesomeness’ is by no means new to social media (or ‘the Internet’ at large), and can be traced back to what Alice Marwick calls the “revolutionary rhetoric” (Marwick 2013, p. 22) of Web 2.0, whereby the potential for the Internet to present a democratic, “participatory culture” (Jenkins 2009) that could dismantle the top-down structure of traditional media was celebrated by scholars such as Henry Jenkins and Axel Bruns. While such idealized visions of Web 2.0 have long been challenged and replaced with more cynical takes on immaterial labour and exploitation, some residual “technological utopianism” (Marwick 2013, p. 22) can still be found in the affective circulation of ‘wholesome’ content on social media. This paper is interested in the affective mobilisation of wholesomeness and intimacy across the popular Conde Nast cooking publication and YouTube channel, Bon Appetit. Our key research questions concern how wholesomeness has been co-opted by global media companies and their subsidiaries as a way to promote profitable engagement via the maintenance of imagined communities and parasocial relationships (Horton & Wohl 1956). Exploring the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen videos made before and during lockdown, and the subsequent undoing of the Bon Appetit (BA) ‘brand’ amidst allegations of a racist and toxic work environment, we seek to examine the trend in consumer culture that sees wholesomeness mobilised as a tool to promote a specific ‘brand’ of performed intimacy — one that circulates as an affective intensity through social media. Ultimately, we are not concerned as much with what wholesomeness online ‘is’ or what it looks like, but with what wholesomeness can do — or in the case of Bon Appetit, undo.

Intimacy as Activism: #BlackOutTuesday on Instagram in the Food Blogging Community – Tisha Dejmanee
Abstract: In May 2020, the murder of Black man George Floyd by police in Minneapolis triggered a fresh wave of Black Lives Matter protests unprecedented in their scope and scale. As a prominent example of the personalisation of politics, where individualised collective action is facilitated through social media (Bennett, 2012; Bennett & Segerberg, 2013), Black Lives Matter has grown as a social justice movement since its inception in 2013 (Jackson, Bailey & Foucault Welles, 2020). However, a defining feature of this movement in the contemporary moment has been the active engagement with Black Lives Matter rhetoric by brands and corporations. How does the potential of personalised politics shift when adopted by digital influencers whose brands are inextricable from the intimate performances of digital self-presentation? I explore this tension through an analysis of 167 Instagram posts by food bloggers, whose brands are built upon the labor of publishing digital food content that is embedded within intimate performances of domesticity. Posts were collected between 30 May-16 June, coinciding with the day of action for #BlackOutTuesday and its aftermath, and coded to explore the actions recommended and demonstrated within these posts. I explore how posts addressed tensions around the binaries that structure the commercialisation of this community, notably the convention that the food blogosphere is an ‘apolitical’ space, that Instagram is an inherently superficial platform for protest action. My findings are that platform-based protest actions – including education, amplifying/muting content, and financial support – were far more popular than traditional civic actions such as voting, protesting and calling representatives. I explore the implications of this for connective action movements and civil rights in the contemporary age. References: Bennett, W. L. (2012). The Personalization of Politics: Political Identity, Social Media, and Changing Patterns of Participation. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 644(1), 20–39. Bennett, W.L. & Segerberg, A. (2013). The Logic of Connective Action: Digital Media and the Personalization of Contentious Politics. New York, NY: Cambridge. Jackson, S. J., Bailey, M., & Foucault Welles, B. (2020). #HashtagActivism: Networks of Race and Gender Justice. Boston, MA: MIT.

Covid Contacts and the Remote Intimacies of Drone Witnessing – Michael Richardson
Abstract: During the coronavirus pandemic, drones have flickered in an out of view. While their actual and potential use as tools of social control and surveillance have grabbed headlines, drones have also produced hauntingly beautiful images of urban spaces with few traces of human movements and moments of whimsy when walking dogs or delivering love letters. Drones enable a remote form of witnessing the pandemic: spatial separation collapses as the remotely piloted remote sensor offer an aerial vantage on distant happenings. As nonhuman agents of technological perception, drones transect space and time to simultaneously draw us nearer to people and places and amplify or highlight our separation. Drone witnessing enables mediated intimacy with distant events, yet it also reinforces remoteness, placing the viewer in an uncanny relation to what enters the frame of the drone’s camera. This paper explores the remote intimacies that drone witnessing has enabled in the coronavirus pandemic. Having positioned drone vision in relation to the history of the view from above (Kaplan 2018) and the affects of aerial life (Adey 2010), the paper then traces a series of covert contacts in covid times: videos marvelling at modern cities with few or no people on the streets, a drone walking a dog, a woman in China scolded by flying loudspeaker. Reflecting on these instances, it considers how drone witnessing enables a different order of remote intimacy than is accounted for in conceptions of media witnessing (Frosh & Pinchevski 2009). While largely traditional in format, this paper will be backed by a video montage that aims to bring the remote intimacies of the drone witnessing of covid contacts into the space of the conference.


Trust, risk and digital media: Australians’ experiences of the COVID-19 crisis – Deborah Lupton
Abstract: In moments of crisis, knowing ‘who to trust’ becomes a highly affective mode of being and doing. This paper discusses findings from the “Australians’ Experiences of the COVID-19 Crisis” project. The project involved telephone interviews with 40 Australians across the country about their experiences of the COVID-19 crisis. These were conducted between May and July 2020, a period in which Australians were grappling with the impacts on their lives of government-imposed restrictions to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. This paper focuses on participants’ accounts of finding and responding to information about COVID across digital media sources, the agents of trustworthy information they identified and how they negotiated feelings of risk, fear and uncertainty as the pandemic emerged and lockdown conditions were imposed in Australia.

The moments you missed: Exploring the digital intimacies of telehealth psychology consults during the COVID-19 crisis – Leanne Downing
Abstract: During the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Australian Federal Government made an unprecedented decision to allocate Medicare-funding for psychology consults conducted over telehealth. While this was great news for both psychologists and clients who needed to self-isolate, the rapid transition to ‘on-line therapy’ also bought with it a range of questions around how the emotional intimacies and points of connection fostered within face-to-face therapeutic relationships might play out over digital platforms. To date, little sustained research has focused on the sensory and affective interactions that take place between therapists and clients online. Drawing on our latest sociological research into digital technologies and therapeutic holding environments during the COVID-19 crisis, this presentation explores the rapidly changing intersection of digital intimacies and therapeutic connections. In particular, it looks at how critical non-verbal work practices such as reading body language, noticing small tears, and responding to facial gestures are experienced differently (and sometimes missed) over the flat screen mediated dynamics of teleconferencing. Delivery mode: This paper will be presented as an on-line ‘fire-side chat’ between Dr Leanne Downing and Ms Heather Marriott. Rather than delivering a formal paper, we propose an informal chat structure in which we set the tone for the discussion and invite interactive, real-time questions (via Zoom chat function) from the audience. While we hope to attend the symposium in person (with others logging in from elsewhere as needed), we can easily run the entire session over Zoom in the event that we are unable to travel to Sydney.

Crisis and the body: the digital health entanglements of COVID-19 – Marianne Clarke
Abstract: The extraordinary conditions of the COVID-19 crisis have reconfigured daily physical activity routines and altered our relationships with everyday spaces, places, and technologies. This paper draws from a digital ethnographic study of Australians’ movement practices during the COVID pandemic, to explore the intimate affordances of digital technologies such as mobile apps and video-communication platforms used for physical activity purposes in crisis conditions. Specifically this paper examines the role of these technologies in facilitating new relationships between people and their own bodies at a time when notions of ‘health’ and ‘illness’ are surfaced and brought into focus.

Domestic Life

Intimate dynamics of inclusion and exclusion: Low-income households, online schooling and COVID-19 – Jenny Kennedy & Indigo Holcombe-James
Abstract: As school doors closed in response to local outbreaks of COVID-19, and education moved online, schooling became increasingly intimate (Flack et al., 2020). Teachers peered both figuratively and literally into their students’ households, and their students looked right back into theirs. These intimacies, however, were dependent on access to infrastructures and devices that were not experienced evenly. For students in low-income households already confronting the limitations of digital exclusion, this shift to online delivery exacerbated existing dynamics of inclusion and exclusion. Through a research project circumstantially launched immediately prior to the COVID-19 closures, we were able to engage with students, their families, and their school community as they grappled with this crisis. Telstra’s Connected Students program aimed to address these digital disadvantages. Working in partnership with Greater Shepparton Secondary College, the program provided 100 students and their households a laptop and free access to broadband internet connection for up to two years. Reporting on the experiences of those involved in the program, we describe how low-income households experienced the intersection of digital exclusion and COVID-19. Although the program mitigated the digital exclusion of the participating student, this did not necessarily extend to the household, resulting in the development and upholding of intimate dynamics of inclusion and exclusion. Where some households enacted complex sharing practices, others drew strict boundaries. In describing these dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, we identify a conflict between the digital inclusion of the individual and that of the collective household (Helsper, 2017). We draw on this conflict to consider the consequences of persistent focus on the individual within digital inclusion research and initiatives.

Beyond assistants: New ontologies for human and conversational AI interaction during lockdown – Indra Mckie & Bhuva Narayan
Abstract: Have you heard of the child who addresses her smart speakers as Uncle Google and Auntie Alexa (Mckie & Narayan, 2018)? When this child says “Auntie Alexa, call Auntie Bhuva” what are we to make of it? What kind of digital intimacy does this happy child experience? In times of extreme physical isolation and confinement to our homes there is an opportunity to investigate the connection or disconnection we have with other human beings, but also the socio-material connections we may be building with and through machines that reside in our homes. This paper aims to present new ontologies that are emerging as a result of the connections between humans and conversational artificial intelligence (henceforth conversational AI) such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and Apple’s Siri. Research in this area has put forward varying conceptualisations of social AI, from bad personal assistants (Luger & Sellen, 2016), servants (Schweitzer et al., 2019), butlers (Chen et al., 2019), to pets (Burton & Gaskin, 2019). As users adapt and assign social roles to social AI based on their conversational interactions and organisational needs, these non-human but human-like entities are challenging traditional ontological dichotomies of living/non-living and human/machine (Festerling, 2020). This paper aims to examine opportunities of being for conversational AI beyond how we currently may conceptualise them. In times of crisis, how can we utlise these machines to fulfil a sense of connection with the AI or with other human beings? By presenting literature in this area, in combination with our own authoethnographic experiences during lockdown, new ontological opportunities can be shared to enhance the human experience during similar global crises.

Being together in crisis: digital co-presence and intimacy during COVID-19 – Ash Watson
Abstract: The pandemic has highlighted the importance of everyday digital technologies for communicating and connecting with loved ones. This paper presents findings from the “Living with Personal Data: Australians’ Understandings and Practices” DP project, drawing from virtual home visits completed using the video ethnography method. It examines the novel ways people engaged with/through digital devices at home in lieu of proximate encounters with close friends and family during lockdown, such as participating in video calls and digital weddings. Attending to temporal complexities and the layering of sensory affordances, this paper considers how intimacy and sociality may be expanded and intensified via the digital at a distance.

The paradoxes of platform ambivalence: A case study of hobby sewists on Instagram – Kate Mannell
Abstract: In their study of smartphone resisters, Ribak and Rosenthal (2015) use the term “media ambivalence” to describe the condition of being both a frequent user and resistant sceptic of particular digital technologies. Media ambivalence is an experience that has become particularly salient during COVID, as we are at once grateful for the connections and diversions that digital platforms allow, and frustrated by their limitations and trade-offs. In this paper, I investigate the dynamics of media ambivalence through a case study of an Instagram sewing community. On one hand, this community is heavily invested in Instagram as the platform provides a valued means of building relationships and sharing knowledge. Norms include a high frequency of posting, amassing large followings, and liberal use of features like hashtags and stories to gather, share, and archive information. On the other hand, some of the ethics of this community are at odds with those of Instagram. Like many hobbyist communities, sewists have a strong open-source philosophy of freely sharing knowledge and resources. Further, for many people sewing clothing provides a form of resistance against capitalist imperatives, both as a hobby enjoyed purely for pleasure and as a way of avoiding the waste and exploitation associated with fast fashion. There is also a growing move towards intersectional politics, driven in part by the centrality of the body to the practice of garment sewing. In this paper, I map the expressions of media ambivalence that arise from this tension between the ethics of hobby sewists and the political economy of Instagram. I also reflect on my own experiences within this community by considering the paradoxes involved in using a platform that I might otherwise leave in order to participate in a community that is similarly ambivalent about the platform. Through this discussion, I build on prior research in this area by analysing how media ambivalence plays out at a community level, and by considering how the concept of media ambivalence might speak to our current joys and frustrations around digitally mediated connection.


Cultural Industries

“Everything is cancelled. Now what?”. Live-streaming and virtual concerts as opportunities for digital engagement and connection in music industry – Sophie Freeman
Abstract: In the last few months, the music industry has been hard hit by the global COVID 19 pandemic. Already so reliant on ticket and merchandise sales in lieu of any substantial revenue from streaming platforms, many artists have lost their incomes, let alone the ability to connect with audiences and fans. Without live music, fans miss out on a ritual experience of listening to music in space with others, as well as an opportunity to support bands, artists and the music industry more broadly. The global COVID-19 pandemic has seen a surge in attempts to connect, project and share music through live-streaming, virtual concerts and other offerings like Instagram music lessons and back-to-back (B2B) battles. For example, Isolaid festival has run every weekend on Instagram since the beginning of lockdown, with Australian artists live-streaming consecutive 20-minute sets from their homes and bedrooms. This paper presents a cross-platform analysis of this phenomenon, focusing on both local and international live-streaming efforts on video and streaming platforms including Instagram & Twitch, as well as the creative use of non-music platforms such as gaming sites Minecraft & Fortnite to host virtual concerts. By analysing these key events as case studies this paper asks, as musicians and fans, what does it mean to share virtual space and sound with each other? What opportunities do these events present to artists, labels and fans? How do established platform politics of accessibility, visibility and copyright impede attempts to stream and interact? It’s as yet unclear how this emerging phenomenon will affect the music industry financially, or persist in the long term, but it is evidence of vernacular affordances (McVeigh-Shultz & Baym, 2015), in which fans and artists express a desire and appropriate streaming media in creative ways to connect and to enact live music culture.

The Netflix of Porn: Pink TV and ethical business models for digital pornography – Alan McKee
Abstract: The coronavirus lockdown of 2020 has been characterised both by increasing consumption of digital pornography, and by journalistic coverage of this trend worrying about its effects on consumers’ capacity for intimacy – see for example Quek and Tyler’s “When staying home isn’t safe: COVID-19, pornography and the pandemic of violence against women” ( While academic research does not support the idea that consuming digital pornography lessens the ability to engage in intimate human relationships, we must attend to concerns about the ethical context of production and consumption of digital pornography. In this paper I review the impact of the coronavirus lockdown on the business models of digital pornography, including increasing the drive to monetising social media, camming and OnlyFans. It also considers the case of Pink TV, the closest thing currently on the Internet to a “Netflix of porn” (sites such as PornHub do not rely on subscriber model, and do not pay creators for use of their material). Based on this information I propose that increasing use of digital pornography during the lockdown may speed disruption of the porn industry in ways that privilege ethical forms of production and distribution, and should not be of concern in terms of decreased capacity for intimacy.

“ZONE is love, ZONE is life”: Community and Connection in the Freeplay ZONE – Taylor Hardwick
Abstract: This paper reflects on an ethnographic study of Freeplay Independent Games Festival, which in 2020 took place solely online through a combination of YouTube streaming and a game-like space called the Freeplay ZONE. In the ZONE, attendees could select an avatar, move about multiple spaces including a ‘screening room’ which was streaming YouTube-based speaker sessions, and interact with other participants through text chat. In 2020, videogames events and communities around the world are finding innovative solutions to the issue of being unable to gather together in one location during COVID-19 by utilising digital spaces such as the ZONE to foster participation, connection and intimacy. The ZONE was described by attendees as the “next best thing” to gathering in-person and involved moments of cosiness and connection that felt akin to being together IRL (in real life). However, not all digital spaces were considered by the community as intimate, with multiple comparisons being made between the ZONE’s cosiness and the impersonal nature of social media platforms such as Twitter. As Kitchin and Dodge (2011, pp.74-75) argue, digital spaces are “diversely peopled”, and therefore different spaces have different impacts and experiences for the communities within them. These spaces can be constructed to meet diverse needs, and to allow communities to connect in times of crisis. This paper will explore the possibilities for feeling connected to a community within digital spaces as a necessary alternative to co-present spaces, using Doreen Massey’s understanding of space as a framework. Massey (2005) describes ‘space’ as the product of interactions, embedded practices and interrelations constructed by the identities of the individuals within them. This is a helpful framework for examining the capacity for diversely-peopled digital spaces such as the Freeplay ZONE to emulate co-present spaces for community, intimacy and connection.

Safety, Risk & Justice

Evaluating Safe Sistas: Educating young Indigenous women on privacy, risk and consent online – Bronwyn Carlson & Madi Day
Abstract: Young Indigenous women are readily communicating and sharing online. Safe Sistas is a program funded by Facebook, and developed by the Alannah & Madeline Foundation. This program delivers workshops to students in the Stars Foundation, a mentor program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young women at schools in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Victoria. Safe Sistas aims to increase young Indigenous women’s awareness and education about privacy, risk, and informed decision-making about sharing intimate images. The workshops also aim to improve school participation for those who have experienced non-consensual sharing of their intimate images, by exploring the issue of shame. In early 2020, the Department of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University conducted an evaluation of Safe Sistas. The evaluation focused on the design, process and outcome of the Safe Sistas program, as well as the impact on participants where possible. The evaluation provided baseline data regarding young Indigenous women and their experience of mobile phone usage for online activities, particularly the sharing of images, and their awareness of image-based abuse, its impacts, prevalence and other related measures. This evaluation also provided important insights as to how Safe Sistas and other education programs can further promote respectful and safe digital behaviours and relationships.

Digital Intimacy, Image-Based Abuse and COVID-19 – Asher Flynn & Anastasia Powell
Abstract: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we were unprepared for how our lives would change. The closure of borders – internal and external to countries – workplaces, schools, restaurants, pubs and playgrounds, affected us in unprecedented ways. In this setting, digital technologies become the central form of communication for all aspects of our lives, and the exchange of nude and sexual images became a common way for us to express intimacy with others. Unfortunately, this meant that perpetrators had greater access to victims’ images to threaten and abuse them. Image-based abuse happens when an intimate image, screenshot or video is created, shared or threatened to be shared, without the consent of the person pictured. According to Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, more than 1,000 reports of image-based abuse were received by their Office between March and May 2020. This represented a 210% increase on the average weekly number of reports they received in 2019. There was also a huge spike over the Easter weekend, where there was an almost 600% increase on usual reporting figures. The problem is not limited to Australia. In the United Kingdom, the Revenge Porn Helpline similarly reported double the amount of cases in April 2020, compared to April 2019. In this paper, we will present some ideas on the ‘why’ behind the increase in image-based abuse perpetration during COVID-19, and problem solve ways we could better address, prevent and disrupt image-based abuse, particularly at a time when we are using technology in ways to consensually express intimacy in an otherwise quite isolated setting. In particular, we explore how education and improved understandings of the harms of image-based abuse, combined with safe bystander intervention, appropriate victim supports and ensuring the ‘blame’ for this abusive behaviour sits squarely with the perpetrators and not the victims, could help address image-based abuse behaviours.

#Fired! An analysis of news stories on people being fired from their jobs over social media posts: Intimate boundaries, privacy, visibility, and justice – Brady Robards & Darren Graf
Abstract: The normalisation of social media use over more than a decade has raised challenging questions around the boundaries between work and ‘private lives’. Should employers be able to fire employees for posting about their personal views on social media? What if those views are racist, transphobic, or misogynistic? Should a religious school be able to fire a teacher who supports marriage equality, because that view contradicts their own position? Should people in some professions be always held to account over their private views, personal character, and activities? In this paper we examine a corpus of 358 news stories over ten years from around the world, centred on narratives of people being fired from their jobs as a result of a social media disclosure. Stories range from high profile events that sparked mass protests and calls for deep structural reform in justice systems after the police killing of George Floyd (“4 US cops fired after video shows one kneeling on neck of black man who later died”) through to more everyday clashes between corporate reputational interests and personal freedoms of expression (“Canada Pacific Rail fires conductor… after sexy social media pictures and posts” and “QLD MP’s son fired after Facebook posts… [including] inappropriate memes”). Our analysis shows a surge in news stories about people being fired over social media posts in recent years, and a concentration of stories on employees in specific professions, such as law enforcement, medicine, education, hospitality, and the media. While most firings were the result of the individual’s own post/s, a number were also fired after third parties (friends, strangers on the street, customers/clients) made visible the actions or behaviour of the person who was fired. We suggest that visibility here is a double-edged sword: invasive and violent in some cases and for some people; but also liberating and enabling justice, accountability, and transparency in other scenarios and for other actors. Central to our emerging analysis here is a consideration of power, social context, ‘intimacy boundaries’, and reputation. On the one hand, a rail company firing a conductor over a sexy selfie on Facebook or a school firing a teacher for coming out on Instagram as bisexual can be read as violations of personal liberties. On the other hand, the sharing of videos of police brutality have led to widespread protests and calls for structural reforms that would not have achieved traction or public visibility in a pre-social media, pre-smartphone era. We attempt to grapple with these implications through our analysis of these news stories.

‘Viral vigilantism in COVID-19: doxxing as justice potential’ – Briony Anderson
Abstract: To doxx someone is to release identifying information that compromises their anonymity on an online platform. Doxxing can take many forms, but most commonly entails the release of someone’s name and address, or workplace. The existing scholarly engagement with doxxing is scant, couched within the legal frameworks of harm, harassment and privacy (McIntyre, 2016; Corbridge, 2018; Moreham, 2014). In my presentation, I will reimagine doxxing as an act invested with justice potential, by operationalising digital space as something that allows users to “redraw the boundaries between themselves and others” in agentic, and empowering, ways (Keller et al, 2018: 23). By subverting doxxing from an issue of justice into a tool of justice, I will complicate the framing of doxxing as a harm experience. This complication is a productive undertaking, providing insight into the ways that technology pivots between the synchronised facilitation of harm and justice potentials. In my presentation, I will present and reflect upon a selection of Twitter threads that doxx landlords in the COVID-19 rental apocalypse. By engaging dynamically with Twitter threads as living narratives, I will mark the escalations and shifts of communications between users, as well as the outcomes of doxxing. I am chiefly interested in exploring the following questions: under what guise is doxxing used as a technique of citizen and vigilante justice? When, and for what purposes, is doxxing undertaken by users to procure and bring about community justice needs? Drawing on the Digital Intimacies 2020 theme of ‘Connection in Crisis’, I hope to complicate our existing models of procedural justice, which we have seen collapse and atrophy under the pressures of COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movements in 2020. In the absence of an effective and timely legal response, where can citizens turn to? I put forward that doxxing, as an alternative in-road to justice in the COVID-19 crisis, is a creative effort to ‘crowd-source’ justice outcomes when the law is unable, or unwilling, to meet the needs of its citizens.

Community Support

“It’s Terrible That Some People Have 300 Siblings But You Can Make A Really Funny Meme About National Sibling Day”: Bonding Around Donor Conception Memes – Giselle Newton
Abstract: Discovering you were donor-conceived as an adult can cause an identity ‘crisis’ for some donor-conceived people which may be complicated by not knowing other people who have had similar experiences. Facebook groups represent a valuable resource for many donor-conceived people to access information, seek advice and share their experiences with their peers. One type of Facebook groups that donor-conceived people participate in are meme groups where individuals share humorous image-text combinations. While the phenomena of creating and sharing memes has been widely documented by social media scholars, little is known about the role of humour in online donor conception communities. In this ‘work in progress’ I report on initial findings from semi-structured interviews (n=30) with users of Facebook groups for donor-conceived people from across Australia. For donor-conceived people interviewed, memes provided a way to make light of serious personal issues such as finding out they have dozens of siblings or having had their medical records destroyed, while connecting with their peers. Participants also noted that this form of humour would only be understood by people in the donor conception groups and would be lost on other people within their personal networks. By analysing participants reflections of meme sharing in donor conception online communities, I consider the role of humour in bonding between peers.

It felt safe enough to post: Facebook groups, affective posting and feeling(s) online – Sab D’Souza
Abstract: This paper investigates the interlinked community-building practices of women and non-binary People of Colour in closed Facebook groups. For women, LGBTQI+, Disabled, Black, First Nations, and People of Colour early cyberspace offered fluidity to play, negotiate and, at times, hide their identities in order to foster intimate connections with others at a ‘safe’ distance. Today, digital platforms persist as vital sites of gathering, with the proliferation of ‘public by default’ social media (such as Facebook and Instagram). However, new risks emerge as algorithms emulate offline encounters between previously networked users, threatening the perceived safety of marginalised identities who strategically keep these networks separate. This paper uses data from interviews with six members of an Australian-based Facebook group for women and non-binary people of colour (known as The Women of Colour Web) to consider the affective cultures of closed Facebook groups. I focus upon two interlinked community-building practices I categorise as discursive and affective posting. ‘Discursive posting’ refers to content shared by participants with the intention of generating discussion between peers. While ‘affective posting’ refers to encounters propelled by a desire to disclose, validate and witness difficult emotions. Participants refer to sharing intimate experiences of racism, sexism alongside the lingering ‘difficult feelings’ that accompanied them. These experiences were deemed too private by participants in their physical spaces of dwelling, and yet were freely shared on a semi-public platform. I draw upon existing literature on digital affective cultures and community-building to illustrate how the groups affective network was built through participants perceived technical and discursive enforcement of safety. I propose that emergent digital community-building practices can be understood and lived through acts of feeling— online. Participant accounts of closed Facebook groups call for further (web)site-specific investigations into the social and technical construction of safety online and its impact on marginalised identities.

YouTubing homo with COVID-19: South Korean LGBTQ+ YouTubers’ reaction to homophobia around the Itaewon COVID-19 outbreak – Jin Lee
Abstract: Breaking the downward trend of COVID-19 in South Korea, a new cluster broke out in May in a multicultural and club district, Itaewon. This new cluster sparked homophobic backlash, as a Christian church-founded newspaper, Kukmin Ilbo reported that the infected person had visited gay clubs. In turn, homophobic discourses proliferated online: e.g. blaming ‘selfish’ gays who refuse COVID-19 test for fear of being outed or stereotyping male gays as ‘sexual predators’ referring to the ‘AIDS=gay disease’ discourse. I explore Korean LGBTQ+ YouTubers’ reactions to such homophobic discourses around the ‘Itaewon outbreak’ during their YouTube live streaming. Live streaming has been popular in South Korea since the early 2000s and is commonly used by young LGBTQ+ YouTubers, albeit not many, who publicly disclose their sexual orientations on their YouTube channels. These LGBTQ+ YouTubers live stream on YouTube frequently (e.g. four times a week) and for a long time (e.g. from one hour to even four hours). It is worthy to study how these people live stream and make their online presence visible and cope, while striving as queers in such a homophobic society in COVID-19. I argue that queer live streaming serves as a locus to build a sense of intimacy and community between LGBTQ+ YouTubers and their audiences and subvert heteronormativity with frivolity, albeit momentarily, which is corroborated by the collaborative labor of live streaming, provided by both YouTubers and audiences within the “connected economy.” This study will allow us to see how sexual minorities make their own lives in digital cultures, responding to the global pandemic that intersects with the sexuality system.


Coconuts, Custom-Play and COVID-19: An Island Walking Tour through Social Isolation and Personas in Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Chris Comerford
Abstract: This presentation discusses Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ (ACNH) release during the COVID-19 pandemic, articulating how its players construct and enact a sense of self. A combination of the game’s elements promotes this construction, including its comforting aesthetic, participatory community, financial mechanics and goal-setting, all of which are crucial during the COVID-19 upheaval. In contrast to other life simulator games such as The Sims, the timing of ACNH’s release makes its substitution efforts more adoptable. The game encompasses casual and dedicated players, serving both as a partial substitute for complex face-to-face interactions during self-isolation. Concurrently, the game’s offer of stability and routine presents a simulacrum of real life (though one that is comparatively exaggerated and narrowed in scope) promoting transference of regularity into the digital space, in contrast to the intense disruption of the everyday by the pandemic, and augmenting that transference with a focus on player agency and self-determination of playstyle. Players’ shared affinities (Ito et al. 2018) and game engagement as a form of serious leisure (Stebbins 1982 and 2006) create persona that conform to existing academic player-character profiles (Milik 2017) but also offer a divergent range of roles that are not mutually-exclusive – the social player, the turnip trader, the gardener, the artisan – allowing players to adopt multiple specializations within an expansive social environment (Scott 2012). To illustrate these personas and their digital emergence during the physical disconnections of COVID-19, this hybrid paper fuses a traditional verbal discussion alongside a real-time walking tour of my ACNH island. In-person and digital attendees will experience the gameplay of ACNH and see the ideas being these personas’ social connectivity firsthand, and I intend for a small group of players to “attend” the conference on my island to help demonstrate these ideas. It will not be necessary for attendees to own or bring a Nintendo Switch for this presentation.

Early investigations into the Steam platform and its construction of the ‘player’ – Tathagata Mukherjee
Abstract: In a context of continued social isolation and lockdown during a global disease epidemic, videogames have a part to play in the continuation of socialised forms of leisure. This paper argues that the subject position of Steam’s ‘user’ is variably constituted as a player, subscriber, community member, or purchaser, an identity that Steam has changed as it engages in global expansion. This paper maps out how these relationships have evolved since Steam’s inception in 2003. Steam’s effective monopoly over videogame distribution allows it to create and commodify the identity of the player-consumer subject that is not merely an anglophone concern. Steam has significantly expanded into non-anglophone markets; with this global expansion represented by Steam offering regional pricing in five currencies in 2014, and thirty-nine by 2020. Existing literature addresses similar neo-colonial practices quite precisely (Dyer-Witherford and de Peuter, 2009; Jin, 2010; Mukherjee, 2015), and this project is in conversation with these debates, while being informed by the work of post-colonial scholars located outside media studies (Hardt and Negri, 2000; Smith, 2007). Steam has constructed a global gamer subject which this paper interrogates through a close analysis of seventeen years of subscriber agreement policy documents, informed by the scholarship of Carol Bacchi (1999, 2009; Bacchi and Goodwin, 2016). These documents are triangulated against press releases, interviews, and archived data to map out the construction of this identity.

What can we learn from livestreamers? Teaching, researching, and the dynamics of videogame livestreaming – Nathan J Jackson, Mark R Johnson & Lachlan Howells
Abstract: Videogame livestreaming is a well-established practice, with tens of thousands of streamers and millions of daily users on website alone (Perez, 2018). In fact, this year’s global pandemic has seen an increase in the number of users accessing livestreaming platforms (Stephen, 2020), with sites like Twitch ranking among the most stable social spaces. Intimacy and interpersonal connection persist in this mode thanks to its features and affordances, which encourage ongoing active engagement. These connections suggest that there is much to be gleaned from the practice of livestreaming, particularly as we are thrust into similar conditions as educators and researchers. Bingham (2020) makes an argument for a normative theory of livestreaming, and with academic praxis moving into this territory, we suggest that elements of this theory are transferable. In this presentation, we draw upon our expertise as livestreaming researchers to examine the practice’s success in a pandemic, and discuss how we can all learn from the successes and failures of streamers in order to improve both our approaches to pedagogy and the dissemination of research as an academic community. We consider how streamers sustain themselves through long streams (contrasting with how emotionally draining online teaching and meetings can be) and how livestreamers mobilise other platforms to maintain asynchronous off-stream contact with their audience. Together we identify the potential for growth that livestreaming offers the academy in the wake of the current global pandemic.

Platforms & Transnationalism

Research platforms but not on platforms – Fan Yang
Abstract: This paper provides a critical methodological reflection on the research that I conducted for my PhD project – News Manufactory: WeChat Official Accounts as ethno-transnational media in Australia. This paper reveals complex ethical dilemmas surrounding consent, state censorship, corporate and governmental surveillance, and traceability on platforms that researchers have been facing while there is little specific guidance provided in the literature. My PhD project examines how WeChat, the primary digital communication platform among Mandarin-speaking communities, shapes and is shaped by the news content publishers in Australia through semi-structured interviews and a modified walkthrough method with content creators under the framework of ethnographic observation. The project examines WeChat, however, communication processes between the researcher and participants are required to steer away from the platform due the ethical concern that research activities conducted on WeChat would attract unwanted governmental attention and therefore impose potential risks on researchers and informants. At the time of submission, the pandemic led by COVID-19 has engineered much academic research to be conducted online predominantly via Zoom. The video conferencing platform, allegedly being subject to governmental bodies, is now becoming a trend where online teaching and fieldwork take place. This paper does not have a conclusive argument; instead, I would like to provide two propositions in relation to the ethical dilemmas of research practices on platforms. Firstly, the dichotomy separating platforms between state and market, between West versus non-West does not productively translate what is happening within the platform assemblage where the nation-state and transnational actors entangle. We are witnessing the state’s ongoing redefinition on network geographies that it can neither contain nor be contained by. In the light of this, secondly, while conducting research on platforms which are not neutral or autonomous, how would platform researchers think about ethics and deal with ethical concerns in their research?

Vlogging life in Australia: Chinese transnational video creators’ use of platforms during COVID-19 lockdown – Ziying Meng
Abstract: Based on a digital ethnography of young video creators from China living in Australia, this paper explores these creators’ experience of coping with the opportunities and constraints of video production and digital communication during COVID-19 lockdown. It investigates these Chinese creators’ cross-platform practices, social media identities and their navigation of creator industries and platform governance. These creators are transnational in terms of their mobility between China and Australia, and their use of Chinese and Western platforms, including Douyin/TikTok, Bilibili, Weibo, Xiaohongshu, YouTube, and Instagram. This paper uses digital ethnography as the main approach, collecting different sets of data through interviews, online observation, qualitative content analysis and autoethnography. The findings suggest that these creators are inspired by the lockdown, making content related to domestic life and exploring tactics of managing multiple platforms. Their cross-platform practices can be seen as a form of platform migration, in which they learn to move within and across platforms to ensure they create the optimal conditions for the content to spread and be viewed. Based on the migratory practices on platforms and across cultures, creators also develop a single online identity with cosmopolitan Chinese characteristics, while negotiating between technical, social, cultural, economic and political dimensions of online video space.


TikTok during COVID19: digital intimacy in times of crisis – Milovan Savic & Crystal Abidin
Abstract: TikTok, a short-video app, is currently the fastest growing social media platform. While only a year ago it was unknown to most adults, in 2020 TikTok is the most downloaded app, as well as the most controversial app on the market. Even more, once obscure app, TikTok became a space for connection, fun, social and political activism, and even raising awareness in difficult times. Interestingly, one of the key drivers to TikTok’s success is attributed to the COVID-19-induced boredom. The COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown measures impacted many areas of social lives and particularly ways in which users engage with and perceive social media. TikTok was no exception. It suddenly took on the role of socially connecting physically distant people, while at the same time entertaining users who found themselves confined to their homes. While people around the globe saw lockdown as an opportunity to learn a new skill, be creative or just kill the boredom. Often, TikTok was at the centre connecting people through easy access to the content resonating with user content preferences. At the peak of the pandemic trending hashtags on the platform included #quarantine #happyathome #boredathome and such. Whatever the hashtag, TikTok’s lip-syncing, dance or tutorial-based videos laced with humour validated people’s need to be seen and heard in times of physical isolation, by building intimacy and social connections among users. In this experimental paper, we will scope out waves of discourse around uses of TikTok during COVID-19, especially about everyday boredom and domestic intimacies within the realm of households. We intend to present a curated playlist of TikTok videos and popular media articles, accompanied by brief commentary analysing the role of these videos in establishing and maintaining digital intimacy in times of crisis.

Leave a like if I’m on your #FYP: TikTok’s (shared) algorithmically curated content – Aleesha Rodriguez & D. Bondy Valdovinos Kaye
Abstract: TikTok is a short-video digital media platform that encourages users to create and share audio-visual content between 15-60 seconds long. A key appeal of TikTok is its algorithmic curation system that matches content to users preferences based on a wide and opaque array of factors. Previous studies on algorithmic imaginaries (Bucher, 2017), algorithmic gossip (Bishop, 2019), and algorithmic lore (Bishop, 2020) illustrate how users seek out various understandings of black box algorithms. TikTok creators who aspire to amplify their following and visibility often study the algorithmically curated homepage called the ‘For You Page’(FYP) and engage in practices and strategies to increase their chances of appearing on it. In June 2020, TikTok (2020) issued a press release revealing some of the factors that are used to determine FYP recommendations, including geographic location, trending content, and social dimensions. According to the release, users’ recommendations are shaped by content viewed or liked by friends or followers. This has resulted in vast constellations of unique subcultures and communities on TikTok formed by like-minded users sharing appealing content. In this presentation we explore the shared subcultures, communities, and content between different TikTok users in what is intended to be a deeply personalised, algorithmically curated FYP. Acting as an ‘experiment in participation’ (Lezaun, Marres, & Tironi, 2016), we asked different TikTok users’ who were geographically close, to scroll through the first ten videos that appeared on the FYP. We requested these TikTok users to take a screenshot of each video to help capture and describe the content being recommended. The videos acted as a ‘cultural probe’ (Gaver, Dune, & Pacenti, 1999) to prompt reflection by each TikTok user of their personal FYP and this allowed us to consider the similarities and differences in TikTok’s recommended content.

TikTok for Mental Health: LGBTQ+ young people’s peer support – Paul Byron
Abstract: This paper reports on survey findings from the Digital Peer Support study, in which LGBTQ+ young people discuss their uses of a range of platforms for mental health support – in terms of both giving and receiving support, and also feeling supported in in digital spaces. While the survey is still underway, current responses indicate that Instagram is the most favoured platform for mental health support (mostly through connection with friends), followed by TikTok. For participants who named TikTok as the most supportive platform, connections are mostly between strangers, and often involve no direct interaction. While media commentary has discussed the significance of ‘Gay TikTok’, my focus looks beyond identity-based communities to explore how TikTok works as a site for LGBTQ+ mental health support. I note two separate but related aspects of support – practices of giving and/or receiving support, and also feeling supported. This second aspect highlights the affective aspects of TikTok and its use, as a site that can offer support that is sometimes hard to articulate. Participants refer to TikTok as more ‘real’, ‘authentic’ or ‘sincere’ than other platforms, and a space that ‘feels warm’ or feels ‘like home’. TikTok content is described as ‘easy to relate to’ and produced by ‘communities’ that offer key ‘mental health education’. For some, TikTok is a platform that is ‘always there to make me laugh’, or can ‘just makes me smile’ or know that ‘everything will be ok.’ This paper considers these statements to examine TikTok as a significant site of care among intimate and invested strangers. It is also a site that reflects and expands upon pre-existing practices of digital care and support.

The affective atmospheres of lockdown TikTok – Clare Southerton
Abstract: This paper explores the tension and layering of ordinary and extraordinary in COVID-19 lockdown TikToks using the affective atmospheres approach. Intimacy brings together these affects, as the hashtags cultivate collective affects that are both personal – intimate moments shared – and impersonal because they belong not to subjects or objects but to the relations in between.



Lockdown horniness, intimate partners, and nudes: Social media sex in a global pandemic – Emily van der Nagel
Abstract: In 2020, the contexts in which we find, talk about, and engage in sex have changed. Flirting, nude pics, hookups, and dating have all taken on different dynamics as the world shifted to slow the spread of COVID-19. In Melbourne, Australia, the city has been in some form of lockdown since March. So how have people negotiated their intimate lives over social media? This talk builds on the arguments against the deplatforming of sex that Katrin Tiidenberg and Emily van der Nagel set out in their book, Sex and Social Media. What’s changed for social media sex in the face of the global pandemic? Is everyone feeling the same ‘lockdown horniness’? How have new rules around limiting contact impacted discussions around hookups and relationships? Is sexual harassment still present in this hyper-mediated context? How are people finding ways to make social media sex more intimate? Emily will present some initial survey and interview results that demonstrate that there are new opportunities for sex, alongside challenges – both emerging and deeply entrenched.

The uses of beauty for women in a classed context – Emma Phillips
Abstract: This paper considers the structural and classed ways in which beauty is managed by reporting on data created by the photographic collaborations of a professional photographer (myself) and a number of sexy-selfie taking women. I argue that it is possible to think about ways that beauty is productive rather than destructive to women, particularly in digital networks and that feminism must consider its own forms of symbolic violence through the concept of taste, which marginalise working class women’s sexualities. Despite popular criticism, women who are engaged in sexy-selfie making and concomitant beauty practices exist in strong and supportive communities of like-minded women. These networked communities produce a type of female solidarity which is a counter to popular, neoliberal discourses of self-interest (as it pertains to selfies); to middle class aesthetic standards; and to feminist concerns that beauty practices are necessarily harmful. I also argue that where popular discourses regarding women’s uses of beauty suggest that women are in competition with each other, there is supportive evidence for employing a more nuanced appreciation of women’s continued engagement with beauty.

Just an orgasm gizmo? Sexual self-conception and optimization in times of crisis – Belinda Middleweek
Abstract: This pilot research project aims to investigate sexual self-conceptions among users of Lioness, the world’s first bio-feedback smart vibrator that enables the self-tracking of intimate data. Despite the potential for such devices in a $30 billion market, there is a scarcity of empirical data and scholarly research about sexual products, their users, uses and outcomes (Döring and Pöschl 2018: e51). This research is particularly relevant given we now live in a world more global in connection but crippled by the twin crises of isolation and loneliness, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Using the notion of ‘sexual self-concept’ construction (Winter 1988), the study will involve an in-app survey of anonymous Lioness users to consider their attitudes to sex and sexual exploration now optimized through bio-tracking data. The results of the study, combined with the screening of users’ de-identified “artgasm” pics, suggest that Lioness bio-feedback contributes to users’ sense of agency over their bodies. In all, this research will offer empirical insights into the impact of technology on sexual self-conception at a time when personal preventative measures for disease control have increased social disconnectedness.

Jagged Love: Narratives of Romance on Dating Apps during COVID-19 – Lisa Portolan & Jodi McAlister
Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic and its lockdowns have had profound impacts on people seeking relationships: if you can’t physically meet up, then what do you do? how is the romance to progress? This paper combines the expertise of a scholar of dating apps with that of a scholar of popular narratives of romance in order to explore the ways in which people navigate and negotiate trying to fall in love in a pandemic. Drawing on case studies developed from interviews with users of dating apps, this paper will highlight key themes in people’s approach to romance in the time of corona, and read them against common popular narratives of romance: for instance, the strong desire to find an “iso-partner” evident in many of the case studies can be linked to the popular “snowed-in”/“desert island” romance trope. As a counterpoint to Zygmunt Bauman’s (2003) notion of “liquid love”, this paper will theorise that in 2020, many people are experiencing “jagged love” – a series of staccato and sometimes extreme shifts in their feelings of being in love and their attitudes towards dating app, which stands in contrast to the grander ideas of romance and the cohesive love story many have internalised. This can engender a strong sense of ambivalence, both towards the self and the notion of romance, as participants negotiate their desire for a love story with their sense that they have not and are not embodying it correctly.

‘Audio templates’ as Identity and Intimacy on TikTok – Crystal Abidin & D. Bondy Valdovinos Kaye
Abstract: TikTok is a short-video digital media platform where users create and share audio-visual content between 15-60 seconds long. It facilitates seamless content creation through innovative re-use, where users can create their own videos using the “templatability” (Leaver, Highfield, & Abidin, 2020) of audio or visual formats through practices of mimicry. Whereas visual social media such as Instagram tend to focus on images over text (Leaver et al., 2020), we argue that TikTok privileges sounds over images. On TikTok, ‘audio memes’ and the texture of sound take on an intimate disposition, requiring care, tact, and wit to situate and decipher: TikTokers often rely on the lyrics of specific songs to tell a story (e.g. when the lyrics are central to lipsyncing, when the punchline of a video is a specific lyrical line in the song); consider the musical and rhythmic shape of a tune to advance the storyline of their video (e.g. when a beat ‘drops’, when a song transitions to ‘bad recorder playing’); complement or juxtapose audio memes against video content and textual captions (e.g. song to provide ambience for the storytelling, song to change the tonality of storytelling to sarcasm or parody); or organize and streamline content into specific silos. In addition to reusing and remixing audio clips and music, TikTokers also engage with other original audio templates through ‘duets’ and ‘replies’. In some instances, TikTokers have dedicated accounts to generate original audio clips with the intention of having others use them in their videos. In other instances, TikTokers have circumvented being ‘catalogued’ or ‘streamed’ into the silos of ‘audio meme’ templates by strategizing around refusal, manipulation, soundjacking, and other practices. This has included competitive ‘chart jacking’ to register higher up in an audio template tag, conflict around impropriety and ownership of original audio memes, and specific platform norms around the attention economies of sound on TikTok. In this study, we build on previous research on sound and intimacy – namely voice-mediated sex cultures like phone sex and audio smut (Selmi, 2012), postcasting (McHugh, 2016), and audio ASMR communities (Andersen, 2015) – to understand cultures of audio templates for identity-making and intimacy on TikTok.

WhatsApp with Facebook

What personalisation can do for you!; Or, how to do racial discrimination without “race” – Thao Phan & Scott Wark
Abstract: Between 2016 and 2020, Facebook allowed advertisers in the United States to target their advertisements using three broad “ethnic affinity” categories: “African American,” “U.S.-Hispanic,” and “Asian American.” Superficially, these categories were supposed to allow advertisers to target demographic groups without using data about users’ race, which Facebook explicitly does not collect. This paper uses the life and death of these “ethnic affinity” categories to argue that they exemplify a novel mode of racialisation made possible by machine learning techniques. We use this case study to illustrate how racialization is an ongoing crisis for people who live under the sign of “raced.” Adopting Wendy H. K. Chun’s conceptualisation of race “and/as” technology as an analytical frame, this paper focuses on what these categories use race to do. These categories worked by analysing users’ preferences and behaviour: they were supposed to capture an “affinity” for a broad demographic group, rather than registering membership of that group. That is, they were supposed to allow advertisers to “personalise” content for users depending on behaviourally determined affinities. We argue that, in effect, Facebook’s ethnic affinity categories were supposed to operationalise a “post-racial” mode of categorising users. But the paradox of personalisation is that in order to apprehend users as individuals, platforms must first assemble them into groups based on their likenesses with other individuals. This paper uses an analysis of these categories to argue that even in the absence of data on a user’s race—even after the demise of the categories themselves—users can still be subject to techniques of inclusion or exclusion for discriminatory ends.

Virtual Reality as Social Media: The Facebook / Oculus Imaginary – Ben Egliston & Marcus Carter
Abstract: In popular media and academia, Virtual Reality (VR) is typically discursively constructed as an entertainment technology. Doing so, we argue, obscures the role and implications of Facebook’s 2014 acquisition of Oculus, and subsequent (re)construction of VR as part of Facebook’s wider suite of social software, or what Mark Zuckerberg calls a new kind of “social computing platform”. Via a close reading of Oculus developer conferences, this work will describe the ‘Oculus Imaginary’; the narrative produced by Facebook about the Oculus as integrated into and enhancing the experience of Facebook’s wider suite of social software, part of a wider move on the company’s part to aim to use computers for “human”, “social rituals” facilitated through “feeling … more present with the people we are interacting with”. We argue that Facebook moves beyond generalised views of immersion and affectivity that have long been associated with VR, since its construction as a possible consumer technology in the 1980s and 1990s (Chesher, 1994). Rather, the purpose of Facebook’s discursive construction of the VR medium is to ‘sell’ a Facebook-specific vision of VR’s potentials – one that is appealing both to end-users and complementors – and moreover, a vision that appears to be conducive to Facebook’s current methods for accumulating data, profit and power. It stresses the intimate connection of end-users and the connection of end-users with businesses and developers, while also minimising critical discussion of data ethics, focusing instead on privacy and security from malicious, non-corporate actors. References Chesher C (1994) Colonizing virtual reality: construction of the discourse of virtual reality. Cultronix 1(1): 1-27.

‘Connecting the World Privately’: Do WhatsApp privacy affordances increase safety for intimate publics? – Amelia Johns, Ariadna Matamoros-Fernandez & Emma Baulch
Abstract: WhatsApp has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing platforms. Founded in 2009, WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook in 2014, and is now the preferred instant messaging platform in more than 100 countries around the world (Sevitt, 2017). Contributing to this rise has been increased user desire to avoid the collapsing contexts and datafied interactions of open platforms. This has ushered in new communicative logics, rupturing those high level affordances normally associated with the social media platforms, such as searchability, persistence and visibility (boyd, 2010), and introducing new ones, such as invisibility, privacy and intimacy. WhatsApp’s motto of “connecting the world privately” (WhatsApp Blog, 12 Feb, 2020) perfectly aligns with Facebook Inc’s vision to capitalise on social media’s shift towards more private, ephemeral communication, a vision which saw the company move to introduce end-to-end encryption on the platform in 2016. Nonetheless this move also complicates one of the main challenges of social media: content moderation. This paper will examine these tensions, firstly, by considering WhatsApp as a key piece of Facebook Inc’s “privacy-focused vision for social networking” (Zuckerberg, 2019), as reflected in plans to merge WhatsApp and the company’s other digital platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Messenger – into a more integrated service or ‘super app’, similar to China’s WeChat (Chen, Mao & Qiu 2018). Secondly, it will examine tensions that have arisen between WhatsApp’s privacy- affordances and public demands for greater content moderation. This will be done via an empirical analysis of activist and everyday uses of WhatsApp in Malaysia— specifically news-sharing practices and political organising. Focusing on a singular case study allows us to understand how previously mentioned tensions manifest in local contexts, with WhatsApp’s privacy affordances (specifically encryption) providing a safety and anonymity guarantee for Malaysian political activists, while also contributing to the circulation of misinformation and hateful speech, a phenomenon that was observed to increase around the time of the Malaysian election of 2018, with consequences for user safety and democracy.


After Intimacy: A research agenda for post-pandemic digitality – Suneel Jethani
Abstract: While there’s much to be said about studying the role of digital entanglements while living under conditions of lockdown, isolation, social distancing and public health vigilance, what are the methodological contours of digitality after intimacy? The study of intimate and embodied digital technology is often marred by the decay and obsolescence of materials that grant us a critical retrospective view of technology and sociotechnical practices after they have had their moment. In this paper, I argue that the study of sociotechnical practices that reflect the conference theme, “connection in crisis” is also reflected in traces and “web[s] of activities that surround objects rather than the things themselves” (Prior, 2003, p. 2) that can have just as much to do with documentation and archival as it does with ethnography and observation. This requires careful assembly from pre-existing resources. Things like patents, news releases, instructional videos, datasets and artistic works for instance are invaluable assets in qualitative inquiry into digital cultures. The analysis of these traces is partly an analysis of embodied practice (and discourse) and partly one that considers the nature of the documents themselves. But it is also an approach that is ethnographic in spirit. With these ends in mind, this paper concludes with a call to action. I propose that the participants of Digital Intimacies 6 jointly curate a collection of documents uncovered in their own research for the papers presented at the meeting for Decimal Lab’s FABRIC of digital life archive. References: Decimal Lab, FABRIC of Digital Life Archive Prior, L. (2003). Using documents in social research. Sage.

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