Fresh off the online-first version of the press, I have a journal article out with New Media & Society: ‘News via Voldemort: Parody accounts in topical discussions on Twitter’. The print version will come out at some point in the future, so final bibliographic information will be added later, but for now you can access the article at the NM&S site.

This paper is the full version of early research I presented in October 2013 at IR14the slides for which are here. I am really excited about this finished article, for a few reasons: to explain more, I’ve tried something different (and, full disclosure, overly-honest again (warning: TMI ahead)). I’ve prepared a recording which, in addition to including the audio from the original conference presentation, also provides a little bit of background and explanation for this research (and especially its significance for me at this point). If you’re interested in checking out this bonus material, you can listen here (or right/ctrl+click to download):


As for the publication itself, the full article is here, and here’s the abstract:

Parody accounts are prevalent on Twitter, offering irreverent interpretations of public figures, fictional characters and more. These accounts post comments framed within the context of their fictional universes or stereotypes of their subjects, responding in-character to topical events. This article positions parody accounts as a ritualised social media practice, an extension of fan practices and irreverent Internet culture. By providing a typology of parody accounts and analysing the topicality of selected parody accounts’ tweets, the research examines how these accounts contribute to topical discussions. In-character framing of topical comments allows parody accounts to offer original interpretations of breaking news that receive more attention than their other tweets. The presence and longevity of parody accounts underline the importance of humour on social media, including within news and topical coverage.

Highfield, T. (2015). News via Voldemort: Parody accounts in topical discussions on Twitter. New Media & Society (online first). doi: 10.1177/1461444815576703


Thanks again to everyone who gave feedback and suggestions on this paper as it developed over the last while, from the IR14 submission reviews to the conference audience to the journal reviewers. If you’d like to ask anything about this research – or can’t access the article through your institution &c., feel free to get in touch!


After a lull mid-2014, I’ve been writing a lot over the last few months; first articles and conference submissions, shorter pieces to get me back into the habit and build up momentum, and now the concerted effort for the book. I set myself an impractical aim for a full draft, which I’m fine with missing because doing what I could to make it has meant that I am still ahead of schedule overall.

It’s taken a lot of work to get to this point, though, since, as with many people, writing has not always been something that comes easily – to be honest, I think a big trick was realizing that it was perfectly okay to accept that some days words just won’t come, and to take advantage of the ones where they do rather than trying to force it. (Of course, this only really works if you’re not trying to write a paper at the last minute).

In the interests of overly-honest academia, then, here are three approaches I have found to be somewhat successful in terms of either getting words to appear on the page/screen (and this is no measure of quality of words), and actually getting motivation for work. There are of course additional factors that can help/hinder; I’m doing a lot of work in cafés at the moment, where usually I have no internet access and I can sit outside/in air-con and go into a bubble while the world goes by. And drink lots of coffee… Last summer I got a lot of work done at home, though, so location is a variable factor (and another point to underline is that what works now might not work in the future). The three confessions that follow, though, have stuck with me for longer than most:

1. writing with no filter

This has been the big one these last few months. Sometimes, there are silly things I want to write, puns to work around, dumb references to make; when I was in high school, those would be dominant features of my work, and then I realized maybe that wasn’t what I should be focusing on in terms of making an actual argument and having some analysis rather than showing how clever I thought I was. While my writing has improved since then, the tendency to be a bit irreverent remains, and over the last while I’ve embraced that again – not for putting in the finished product of my work, but more as a mechanism to get the writing started and to keep it flowing. Just writing what comes into my head about a topic, having strange turns of phrase, and including (and justifying) references to pretty much anything pop culture-related, have all helped to keep me writing on consecutive days – I’m usually someone who writes in a frenzied flurry at the last minute, rather than patiently building up a piece day-by-day, so aiming for 1000+ words per day without necessarily finishing anything, and hitting that target, is quite different, and, funnily enough, satisfying (I don’t write in a linear fashion, but bits and pieces all over the place that eventually get joined up).

Of course, there will be plenty of editing to come later, since I probably won’t (or shouldn’t) get away with much of the silliness; but it does mean the foundations are there for edits, so that they can be improved and made far stronger and on topic later on. (Another advantage of not doing things at the last minute: actual editing time beyond trying to ruthlessly cut too many words to get under the maximum word limit).

2. becoming more like Dennis Denuto

The #nofilter approach is an extension of an earlier trick I learned when writing my thesis became a bit of a hassle. Then, the blank page, and especially the fear of not knowing enough about a topic to write about it (for other people to read and critique) was a major hurdle to writing. Even when breaking it into sections and sub-sections, working in chunks, there were plenty of points with a general lack of confidence in what was going to come next (regardless of how much reading/analysis has been done previously). Mixed with other academic anxieties, for instance the imposter/fraud unease, then the pressure on the writing to be a clear, considered, and amazing demonstration of ideas and knowledge becomes even more pronounced.

So, when I was doing my PhD, one of the best pieces of advice from my supervisors when my struggles started to become a concern, particularly when writing up my results, was not to worry about the wider implications yet – don’t try to make a well-rounded connection between the findings and the theory straight away – and instead to just write up what I thought were the general impressions and ideas from the findings; in essence, to be like Dennis Denuto in The Castle and focus on ‘the vibe’ (albeit with a little more detail than Dennis):

Writing about the vibe of a study, like writing with no filter, provides the opportunity to get the foundations ready, to get some words on the page; it doesn’t matter if they get edited or cut later, because they’re also a warm-up for continued writing, building up momentum so that, after a few hundred words, some kind of rhythm has been established and it’s easier to keep going (ideally, at least). It is also a good bridging step between an initial stenographic examination of the subject and a final, cohesive, insightful paper.

3. the Mrs Landingham reminder

Sometimes, though, trying to get going – even with the vibe – can still seem too hard. There are a few ways to trick the brain into easing the pressure – if a piece has to go to peer review, then there will be opportunities (and most likely necessities) to revise later, or remembering that perfect ≠ done, for example – and when working with others there is far more guilt in potentially letting people down than if writing by myself. In that case, it’s worth remembering what the long-term benefits would be from doing the work (having a paper written, even if gets rejected) vs. the short-term cost, and being realistic about how much work is required to get to a submittable version.

On days where I feel like I’m avoiding work not because I don’t want to do it – that I’ve decided not to do it, because it’s not useful, or I’ve actively said no (apparently saying “no” is a valid strategy!) – but because I feel it’s all too hard (even though I’ve done it before and I just need to get going on it for it all to get better), my popular culture reference moves from Dennis Denuto to Mrs. Landingham from the West Wing:

It’s not the “then God, Jed, I don’t want to know you” sentiment that’s motivating here; it’s more just someone else spelling out exactly the thing that is stopping the work (that it just seems too hard), and how selfish or self-defeating that reason can be. It’s not too hard, and the worst that happens – if the paper gets written – is it doesn’t get accepted for the first thing for which it is submitted, in which case it gets revised and improved and gets repurposed for something or somewhere else. Granted, it can be a lot harder to do this than think it, but the reality is that the short-term anguish is just that, and soon it’s over.

After all, once a paper is sent out, it stops being your problem for a while – and the relief of there being nothing you can do about it for a while is, honestly, such a great feeling.

I guess I should stop procrastinating now…



Let’s kick 2015 off with a new publication: the latest (January 2015) issue of First Monday contains ‘A methodology for mapping Instagram hashtags’, a new article by Tama Leaver and myself, which sets out the various methodological, conceptual, and ethical considerations which have been guiding our work into the Ends of Identity (as featured in a few presentations last year).

The full article is here – it’s open access, and CC-licensed, so go crazy (well, -ish). And here’s the abstract:

While social media research has provided detailed cumulative analyses of selected social media platforms and content, especially Twitter, newer platforms, apps, and visual content have been less extensively studied so far. This paper proposes a methodology for studying Instagram activity, building on established methods for Twitter research by initially examining hashtags, as common structural features to both platforms. In doing so, we outline methodological challenges to studying Instagram, especially in comparison to Twitter. Finally, we address critical questions around ethics and privacy for social media users and researchers alike, setting out key considerations for future social media research.

Highfield, T., & Leaver, T. (2015). A methodology for mapping Instagram hashtags. First Monday, 20(1),




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!)

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