re-make/re-model (2015 edition)

In 2015, I’ll be starting a brand new research project in my new position as a Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow at QUT:

Visual Cultures of Social Media

The new project will bring to the fore some of the supporting strands of my recent research: in particular, ideas around play, humour, parody, and irreverence on social media, which have formed a secondary thematic arc in several papers, will help to direct this research.

I’ll continue researching popular culture and fandom, for instance, but also consider online and platform fandom – that is, the fandom of social media and its practices, the ritualisation of practices, of tropes and gifs, of memes and macros, of selfies and self-awareness and meta-commentary, how visual media and non-textual elements are central to such practices. This will encompass platforms such as Instagram (continuing the work I’ve been doing with Tama Leaver) and Tumblr, as well as the platforms we’ve covered in depth such as Twitter, as part of the digital and social media ecology – and indeed what else may come over the next three years.

This is just the starting point too, for there is obviously so much that needs studying around visual media and cultures online – if you are working in this area, and would like to collaborate – whether it’s through conference panels, research grants and collaborative projects, workshops, symposia, special issues, or chats over coffee – I would love to hear from you! And indeed, if you know someone who is thinking about doing a PhD on related topics, then QUT and Brisbane are wonderful places to do that (that’s the now-finished call for this year, but it’s a start for thinking about next year!)…

I’ll still be heavily involved with the Social Media Research Group (indeed, probably even more involved), and I’m so lucky to get to work with such a wonderful collection of researchers – they and the Creative Industries Faculty at QUT have been very supportive and patient with me during a difficult year, and hopefully with this project I can reward this backing.

A lot of the collaborations and exciting projects I’m currently involved with won’t change, then. However, this new position does highlight a change in my personal research agenda; my upcoming book is synthesising my recent work into politics and social media, especially Twitter, and while I’ll continue to work on political topics – and the Mapping Movements project with Sky Croeser will continue doing important research in this regard – this new project will also be covering very different contexts. I’m really excited to try out a new research direction with the VCRF, and to continue and extend QUT’s innovative work in digital methods and analysis.

There are a few more side-projects I’m looking to unleash in the next few months too; more details on those to follow!


A year has gone by, somehow, and I completely neglected to update this space with what’s been happening. It’s been an odd twelve months, rather transitional (which is to be expected), sometimes absolutely brilliant, other times not-so-fantastic – there have been some personal issues over the last year, which has made 2014 feel like a not-particularly successful time, but you know what? It’s actually been quite productive, bizarrely, and I’ve really appreciated how amazing my friends and colleagues are, during some tough times of my own creation.

Anyway, since I never actually announced it on here: 2014 started with accepting an offer of a post-doctoral position working with Axel Bruns on his Future Fellowship project around intermedia news flows and social media, and so in April I moved back to Brisbane to work on campus at QUT once more and be more of a part of the Social Media Research Group. I’ve been working on that project and a few others (as noted below) throughout 2014 – but brace yourselves, a twist is coming.

There has also been a lot of travel (I write this from Munich, where Axel and I are participating in the latest round of workshops with our colleagues at LMU), and conferencing (including some truly awesome conferences with wonderful people in Amsterdam and Daegu especially), so even though it feels like I haven’t done much this year (and I’ve presented fewer papers than I might normally) it’s been a very busy time. So, here we go, the collected outputs for 2014 across projects and themes:


Mapping Movements

Mapping Movements has had a quiet year in terms of new case studies, but Sky Croeser and I have been working on writing up and presenting our research so far. Our first article from the project, covering our first case study on Occupy Oakland, came out in March: ‘Occupy Oakland and #oo: Uses of Twitter within the Occupy movement’, published in First Monday.

Meanwhile, our second case study, on the Greek antifascist movement and its activities in March and April 2013 (based on fieldwork by Sky and digital data capture during this period), formed the basis of a presentation by Sky at the Citizen Lab summer school, and a paper Sky presented at the Social Media and Society conference in Toronto in September:


We also have a couple of additional papers currently under review from Mapping Movements, with more updates to follow hopefully! Sky’s book also came out this year, and you should totally check it out!


The Ends of Identity

This year also saw the first outputs from the work Tama Leaver and I have been doing around identity – particularly pre-birth and post-death – on social media, focusing initially on Instagram. We’ve been developing new methods and dealing with methodological and ethical questions with this research, which were the subjects of our first presentations.

In March, we presented our preliminary methodological work at the Digital Humanities Australasia conference in Perth:


Then, in July, Tama presented the conceptual and methodological outline for the project at ANZCA in Melbourne (while I was still en route to the conference, having been delayed by flight problems):


As with Mapping Movements, this project has papers under review and currently being drafted, so there will be more happening in 2015 – especially given what else is coming next year!


Social media and politics

The big news in this aspect of my research has been the book: Social Media and Everyday Politics. This is under contract to Polity, with the manuscript due to the publishers in early 2015. Tying together a lot of my research over the past five years, it’s wrapping up several threads – more details will come in the new year.

Meanwhile, my article on Twitter and Australian politics, focusing on #auspol, #wapol, and the online commentariat, was published in the International Journal of e-governance (6(4), pp. 342-360. doi:10.1504/IJEG.2013.060648). Technically a 2013 publication but it appeared early in 2014, this paper is the final version of my presentation at the Réseau DEL symposium in Paris in June 2013, and forms part of a DEL special issue arising from the symposium. For a bonus feature, this journal and another French-language special issue featuring other papers from the symposium were launched at an event in Paris late in 2014, and which you can view here.

In June, I presented at the Social Media and the Transformation of Public Space conference in Amsterdam; this paper returned to the topic of social media and elections, but rather than just looking at politicians and associated activity, I was more interested for this study in examining how Australians tweet on election day, what practices and patterns are apparent:


Social media and popular culture

From the popular culture side of things, it’s been a quiet year; at ANZCA (when I finally got there) I presented a paper drawing together the various datasets around SBS, Twitter audiences, Eurovision, and the Tour de France:


At the AoIR conference in Daegu, South Korea, in October, Axel Bruns presented work also by Darryl Woodford, Katie Prowd, and myself, examining who is discussing which television shows within the Australian Twittersphere by mapping programme-specific discussions onto the brand new Australian Twittersphere map (you should also be checking out the amazing work Darryl and Katie are doing around new social media metrics, both around television with their telemetrics but also in other contexts, such as their collaboration with Peta Mitchell around the recent G20 in Brisbane):


Big data, social media

The map itself was then unveiled at ECREA in Lisbon in November, in a paper again presented by Axel with contributions from Darryl, Troy Sadkowsky, and myself:


And finally, next month Axel will be presenting a paper by the pair of us at ACSPRI in Sydney on big data and social media:



So, that was 2014; as I said, it’s been a weird, disjointed year, but everything seems to be looking positive and heading in the right direction for 2015. Which is nice…

(actually it’s ridiculously exciting, but that’s for another post – coming soon!)


One of the highlights of last month’s conference adventures was the IR14 roundtable ‘Twitter and Society and Beyond’, for which I was one participant among a cast of thousands a dozen or so. Not only did this roundtable gather together some really big names in Internet Research, discussing trends and future directions in Twitter and social media research, and the key questions and challenges we need to address, but it also served as the launch for the new volume Twitter and Society. The book, published by Peter Lang, is a 31 chapter extravaganza edited by Katrin Weller, Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, Merja Mahrt, and Cornelius Puschmann, and includes a great range of pieces covering different Twitter concepts, methods, perspectives, and practices; there are chapters on privacy, crisis communication, memes, quantitative and qualitative approaches to studying Twitter, politics, automated accounts, brand communication, fan practices, scholarly tweeting, journalism, and many more! The full list of chapters and contributors can be seen over at the Social Media Research Group site, while the book also has its own Twitter account: @twitsocbook (and here’s a photo, via Axel Bruns, of the panel (representing nearly a third of the total contributors!) with the new book):

Following the Yellow Jersey
I have a chapter in this volume: ‘Following the Yellow Jersey: Tweeting the Tour de France’, which expands upon some of the ideas I presented in our ECREA paper last year. It’s an exploration of the Twitter coverage of the Tour de France as both a sporting event and a media event, looking at fan-athlete connections but also examining how fans watching the television broadcast interact with the race as a text as well – in particular, I focus on the case of the Australian SBS broadcast and the tropes of tweeting along with this coverage. You can order the book as paperback and hardback through Peter Lang, Amazon, or the Book Depository, and the ebook version is coming soon!

Following the Yellow Jersey (inside the chapter)

Tim Highfield (2013). ‘Following the Yellow Jersey: Tweeting the Tour de France’. In K. Weller, A. Bruns, J. Burgess, M. Mahrt, & C. Puschmann (Eds.), Twitter and Society. Peter Lang: New York, NY. pp. 249-261.

This week, I also received another book in the post, Br(e)aking the News: Journalism, Politics and New Media; this volume, edited by Janey Gordon, Paul Rowinski, and Gavin Stewart, has some intriguing chapters and global perspectives on current journalistic practices and how news is being broken and reported – there are chapters here on the Leveson inquiry and phone-hacking, on Wikipedia, on mobile use in Nigeria, on framing of the Human Rights Act in the UK by politicians and journalists, and plenty more.

Sharing the News In this volume, Axel Bruns, Stephen Harrington, and I have a chapter entitled ‘Sharing the News: Dissemination of Links to Australian News Sites on Twitter’ – this piece again builds on work we presented last year, this time at IR13, and is an extended examination of the Australian Twitter News Index (ATNIX) work covered over at Mapping Online Publics, tracking patterns of linking to articles from different Australian news and opinion sites on Twitter. The new book is also published by Peter Lang, and can be ordered through the publisher website, Amazon, or the Book Depository.

Sharing the News (inside the chapter)

Axel Bruns, Tim Highfield, and Stephen Harrington (2013). ‘Sharing the News: Dissemination of Links to Australian News Sites on Twitter’. In J. Gordon, P. Rowinski, & G. Stewart (Eds.), Br(e)aking the News: Journalism, politics and new media. Peter Lang: New York, NY. pp. 181-209.

Twitter and Society; Br(e)aking the News


Last month, as outlined previously, I was involved in several conference papers presented in North America, first at Internet Research 14.0: Resistance and Appropriation (IR14) in Denver and then at the Compromised Data? New paradigms in social media theory and methods colloquium in Toronto. (I was also involved in a roundtable at IR14, but more on that will come in another post).

The papers I presented, both co-authored and solo, cover different topics around Twitter activity and Twitter research; these include a continuation of the studies we’ve been carrying out at QUT around Australian politics online, and an outline of the rationale and approach for the Mapping Movements project I’m involved in with Sky Croeser at Curtin (Sky also has some great notes about the Toronto colloquium on her site). There are other connections, though, to my previous work throughout these papers, albeit at times indirectly – indeed, I make some of these links in the presentations.

All of the slides for these presentations are now available, and they also include the audio from the day – this year I didn’t get sick before presenting, so the recordings should be mostly okay throughout (except when I wander off and start pointing things out on the projections… I also make no guarantees about the quality of the *content*). The slides can be found either through the individual links below, or by heading to the (cunningly-titled) ‘Conference Slides‘ page.

First up, at IR14, Axel Bruns, Theresa Sauter, and myself presented as part of a panel on Social Media and Elections. Our paper covered the (very) recent Australian federal election, including the patterns of activity and interlinking between politicians and candidates on Twitter:

‘#ausvotes Mark Two: Twitter in the 2013 Australian Federal Election’ – Axel Bruns, Tim Highfield, and Theresa Sauter

Immediately after that, I presented the first stages of my work around parody accounts on Twitter – this is all very exploratory, but I got some great feedback and suggestions following the presentation, and I’m looking forward to developing it further:

‘News via Voldemort: The role of parody and satire in topical discussions on Twitter’ – Tim Highfield

The next day, my final IR14 paper came in what ended up being a QUT/CCI panel on Celebrity Crises on Twitter, as unfortuantely not everyone could make it to Denver. The other papers (and all other papers presented by members of the Social Media Research Group at QUT) should be online soon – I’ll update this post with a link when that happens. In addition to studies of the Pope’s Twitter account and Oscar Pistorius, my paper examined the various stages of the Twitter coverage of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal over the second half of 2012 and start of 2013:

‘Appropriating breaking news? The evolving Twitter coverage of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal’ – Tim Highfield

The morning after IR14 concluded, I headed north to Toronto; for our research there, Sky and I took a step back from Twitter itself, instead looking at the challenges, limits, and advantages provided by big data and social media research in the study of social movements and activist groups, including the impact of this on the relationship between researchers and activists.

‘Mapping Movements: social movement research and big data: critiques and alternatives’ – Sky Croeser and Tim Highfield

Of course, it also goes without saying that I had a wonderful time once again at these conferences; AoIR is always full of exciting projects and amazing people, friends old and new, and it’s always a joy to head back there. The Toronto colloquium was similarly fascinating, representing some intriguing new projects into other platforms, and an opportunity to finally meet some people who have been in my reference lists for a long time. My thanks as always to all the conference chairs and organisers, fellow panelists and co-presenters, the chairs, respondents, and audience members, and everyone following along on the Twitter streams (whether at the conference or not!). Hopefully see you in Bangkok for IR15!


The year is closer to its end than its start, but with October approaching there’s just time to fit in a round of conference papers; next month, I’m off to North America and Europe for conferences and workshops, presenting my work both solo and with colleagues from the CCI, QUT, and Curtin at events in the US and Canada.

First up is this year’s Association of Internet Researchers conference, Internet Research 14.0: Resistance and Appropriation (IR14), which is taking place in Denver, Colorado, between 23-26 October 2013. This is always one of my favourite conferences, with the previous event in Salford, UK, a personal highlight from 2012 (the presentations I was involved in last year are here). This year I’m involved in three papers being presented at IR14, representing several aspects of the timely social media research carried out at QUT by both the Social Media Research Group and the Mapping Online Publics team.

First up is a very topical paper, ‘#ausvotes Mark Two: Twitter in the 2013 Australian Federal Election’, covering our research into the Australian federal election that took place only a few weeks ago on 7 September. This paper, led by Axel Bruns and including contributions from myself, Theresa Sauter, et al., forms part of the panel ‘Social Media and Elections: The Use of Twitter in the 2013 Campaigns in Italy, Australia, Germany, and Norway’, which also features papers from many of our colleagues and collaborators in Europe. If you’re attending IR14, you can see this presentation on 24 October, in the 1:40pm-3:10pm session in the Horace Tabor room.

Immediately after that, I’m going solo to present my research into parody on Twitter (see this earlier post for more discussion), ‘News via Voldemort: The role of parody and satire in topical discussions on Twitter’. This paper is also on 24 October, taking place in the 3:30pm-5:00pm session in the Molly Brown room.

The next day, my final IR14 presentation is another solo effort, but also part of a panel containing several other QUT colleagues (as well as international collaborators). The panel is on ‘Celebrity Crises on Twitter’, covering case studies including the Pope and Oscar Pistorius (these cases are covered individually in separate papers, I should clarify); my paper is on Lance Armstrong, and is entitled ‘Appropriating breaking news? The evolving Twitter coverage of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal’. You can see this panel on 25 October, in the 12:50pm-2:20pm session in the Confluence C room.

That leaves the final day of the conference free for me with regards to presentation duties, and a wealth of exciting parallel sessions to choose from – a quick plug, though, for the ‘Twitter and Society and Beyond‘ roundtable taking place on Saturday 26 October, in the 1:30pm-3:00pm session in room Confluence B, which features many excellent participants. This roundtable comes out of the forthcoming Twitter and Society collection, edited by Katrin Weller, Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, Merja Mahrt, and Cornelius Puschmann, and published by Peter Lang (disclaimer: I have a chapter in this collection, but I’m not involved in the roundtable). As usual, though, the whole conference promises to be a very interesting and stimulating four days (including pre-conferences) – check out the full agenda here.

Following IR14, I’m then off to Toronto, Canada, for the symposium on Compromised Data? New paradigms in social media theory and methods, which is taking place on 28 and 29 October. There, Sky Croeser and I are presenting a paper coming out of our Mapping Movements work, interrogating ‘Social movement research and big data: critiques and alternatives’. This paper draws on the studies we’ve been working on into social movements and social media in the US, Tunisia, and Greece, particularly our methodological perspectives, in examining the benefits and, in particular, the limits of Big Data-driven research into such movements.

The week after the Toronto symposium, I’m heading to Munich for a QUT workshop with our colleagues at LMU – and then, after a brief pitstop in the UK, I’m back in Australia for the rest of the year (although obviously that won’t be the end of the work!).

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