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Facebook Integrity Academic Conference presentation

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Presentation by Dr. Crystal Abidin and Dr. Niki Cheong at the Facebook Intergrity Academic Conference at Facebook HQ in June 2019. The presentation - titled Decoding the Weaponising of Popular Culture on WhatsApp in Singapore and Malaysia - featured preliminary findings from the research project. Some slides have been removed because they feature information from ongoing research projects.

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Facebook Integrity Academic Conference presentation

  1. 1. + natalie pang @ national university of singapore + amelia johns @ university of technology sydney + joanne lim @ university of nottingham, malaysia in-depth ethnographic studies, anthropology / cultural studies / media studies decoding the weaponising of pop culture on whatsapp in singapore and malaysia
  2. 2.  SG: 73% penetration rate , most popular mobile messenger app (Statista 2017).  MY: 54% top social media, especially to share and discuss news (Newman et al. 2018)  2015 General Elections SG: closed messaging apps overtaking open social media platforms in influencing voting (Tan et al. 2016)  14th General Elections MY: “WhatsApp election” (Chin 2018)  encryption protocols, safe space for sharing information vs. –citizens have been arrested for insulting politicians in private group chats (Yee 2016) –made vulnerable to mobile scams (Phang 2018) –subject to ‘fake news’ (Siau 2018) –ease of exchanging multimedia such as pictures, videos, and links in dyad and group chats (Tan et al. 2016) –especially memes (Channel News Asia 2018) –chain mail (Tan 2017) whatsapp in singapore & malaysia
  3. 3. RESEARCH AGENDA: 1) Identify the typologies of rhetoric around the ‘misinformation’ and ‘fake news’ discourse, how ‘fake news’ is appropriated by different interest groups not necessarily political: a) suppress dissent b) fear monger and scam digitally illiterate citizens c) social steganography of (contentious) ideas 2) Identify the media and genres of internet popular culture being pedaled on WhatsApp: a) memes, entertainment fodder b) ‘well meaning’ chain mail c) folklore & conspiracy d) spam 3) Identify how various demographics of users receive and decode information gathered from WhatsApp: a) ‘the olds’ in inter-generational family chatgroups b) ‘the youngs’ in inter-generational family chatgroups
  4. 4. decoding the weaponising of pop culture on whatsapp in singapore and malaysia
  5. 5. decoding the weaponising of pop culture on whatsapp in singapore and malaysia
  6. 6. AGENCY: anomie + lateral surveillance CULTURE: media didacticism + public shaming STRUCTURE: normative state surveillance + tacit IT knowledge
  7. 7. Consociationalism in Malaysia  Ethnic Pluralism (Multiculturalism/Language) Racial + Communal Politics Division  Nationalism Embeddedness of Islam in the Malay identity, religion is often intrinsically linked to issues of ethnicity and Malay nasionalism (Lian 2001)
  8. 8. state/media terrain in... singapore  state-controlled media (George 2007; Rodan 1998; Sussman 2012)  “partly free media” (Freedom House 2010)  151 out of 179 in Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders 2019)  “soft authoritarian” (Wang & Tan 2012)  draconian action against political opposition (Salimat 2013)  alternative journalism sites, political opposition sites (Gomez 2008; Tan 2012b; Tan 2011c)  internet under state policing and censorship (Tey 2008b)  sedition act (Velayutham 2004; Neo 2011; Tan 2011a)  defamation suits  personal protection order  anti-harassment protection order  compulsory licensing schemes  select committee on fake news malaysia  “tight government control” of media (George 2007)  123 out of 180 in Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders 2019)  “authoritarian” (Slater, 2003,), “semi-democratic” (Case, 1993). “competitive autocratic“(Yom, 2009)  “draconian media laws” (Willmat et al 2013)  “alternative media” (Smeltzer 2017, Weiss 2012), ”whistleblowing website” (Lim 2017)  internet ”Bill of Rights” (Hopkins 2004, Postill 2014)  sedition, internal security act, sosma (Wong et al. 2010, Brown 2013)  printing presses and publication act and malaysian communications and multimedia act (Gong 2011)  Anti-fake news law (Tapsell 2018)
  9. 9. APPROACHES & METHODOLOGY 1) Walkthrough method (Light et al. 2018) to understand affordances of WhatsApp – COMPLETE 2) Digital ethnography of related interest groups of social media and WhatsApp: Internet celebrities, Political Facebook pages & groups, WhatsApp groupchats, Meme factories – ONGOING 3) Scrollback method (Robards & Lincoln 2017) to study face-to-face user demonstrations of WhatsApp 40SG, 40MY) – ONGOING 4) Personal interviews with users of WhatsApp, focus esp. on family chat groups (40SG, 40MY) – ONGOING 5) Survey regarding use of WhatsApp chats, esp. personal opinion vs. group sentiment (300SG, 300MY): Intergenerational, Cross-cultural – KICKING OFF JULY 2019
  10. 10. decoding the weaponising of pop culture on whatsapp in singapore and malaysia
  11. 11. decoding the weaponising of pop culture on whatsapp (digital ethnography) in singapore and malaysia
  12. 12. “visibility labour” (Crystal Abidin, 2016, “Visibility Labour” in Media International Australia) “the work enacted to flexibly demonstrate gradients of self- conspicuousness in digital or physical spaces depending on intention or circumstance for favourable ends... ...the work individuals do when they self-posture and curate their self- presentations so as to be noticeable and positive prominent among [specific audiences]... ...unlike studies on algorithmic visibility (Bucher 2012), visibility labour is concerned with analogue affective labour ordinary users perform...”
  13. 13. VISIBILITY LABOUR STRATEGIES FOR AMPLIFYING/SHADOWING CONTENT *involves WhatsApp analogue clickbait astroturfing code-switching fandom jacking gaming algorithms internet paralanguages sentiment seeding & meme factories social steganography
  14. 14. sentiment seeding/ meme factories
  15. 15. gaming algorithms/seo
  16. 16. ‘witching hour’: live screengrabs + plausible deniability (Tama Leaver, Tim Highfield, Crystal Abidin, 2019, Instagram)
  17. 17. fandom jacking
  18. 18. fandom jacking (Crystal Abidin, forthcoming) “I love you guys… what motivates me right is the satisfaction that the more successful I get, the more money I make, the more unhappy you will be… thank you for being the motivation in my life for that to happen...”
  19. 19. “subversive frivolity” (Crystal Abidin, 2016, “Aren’t these just young rich women doing vain things online” in Social Media + Society) “the under-visibilized and under-estimated generative power of an object or practice arising from its (populist) discursive framing as marginal, inconsequential, and unproductive.”
  20. 20. decoding the weaponising of pop culture on whatsapp (whatsapp family chatgroups) in singapore and malaysia
  21. 21. whatsapp family chatgroup interventions what is being shared? –health-related folklore, i.e. mobile phones and radiation –conspiracies, i.e. govt surveillance, rigged voting –scams, i.e. click to win links, freebies –prayers –memes, videos, entertainment fodder –family updates how is contentious information reacted to? 1) generation-specific authorial allowance –olds calling out olds vs. youngs calling out olds 2) modality-specific reactions: –wall of text vs. images/image macros vs. videos 3) ¯_(ツ)_/¯
  22. 22. decoding the weaponising of pop culture on whatsapp (scrollback & interviews) in singapore and malaysia
  23. 23. whatsapp group for black ops “But when it comes to campaign, we do discuss black ops to be honest. Our black ops is to rebut the other side’s black ops … If, for instant, you know, during the campaign, if you find a particular cybertrooper, who normally, would not be using his or her real name start attacking. I mean not attacking lah, assassination lah!” – Saifuddin Abdullah, Foreign Minister, July 2018
  24. 24. extension of cybertrooping on a different platform Cybertroopers are state-linked agents mobilised in a top-down manner to manipulate information and disrupt communication practices in the political sphere. Traditionally: Facebook, Twitter, Blogs Typology of tactics: Astroturfing, Priming, Sockpuppetry, Hashtag Jamming, Spamming, Memetic Signifiers, Brigading,
  25. 25. “cybertrooping” on a different platform Shift to WhatsApp Smartphone as Weapons of the Weak (Tapsell 2018) Correcting ”facts” and “half-truths” (spin) ”We were, we were blasting out in WhatsApp like nobody’s business … It went out. Because, ah my gauge is, I was involuntarily added to a lot of groups. A lot of groups like Malay groups ah, you know ah, just bawang group. All these gossip groups and all these, even political groups. I don’t know anyone in there one. You know, go around one round and came back to me. This… viral rate is very high lah, for our messages.” - DAP politician, July 2018
  26. 26. misinformation on whatsapp family chatgroup On news-related information on Whatsapp – “It’s not reliable because instead of getting it from a proper, er, legit source, you get it from your, umm, mother, father.” One group interviewed (5 students) talking about misinformation on Whatsapp during the 14th General Elections. I asked, What groups are these? All five, at the same time, replied, “Family!” “That WhatsApp group was crazy you know … most of them are forwarded messages.” “I think the older generation are prone to believing everything they receive”
  27. 27. APPROACHES & METHODOLOGY 1) Walkthrough method (Light et al. 2018) to understand affordances of WhatsApp – COMPLETE 2) Digital ethnography of related interest groups of social media and WhatsApp: Internet celebrities, Political Facebook pages & groups, WhatsApp groupchats, Meme factories – ONGOING 3) Scrollback method (Robards & Lincoln 2017) to study face-to-face user demonstrations of WhatsApp 40SG, 40MY) – ONGOING 4) Personal interviews with users of WhatsApp (40SG, 40MY) – ONGOING 5) Survey regarding use of WhatsApp chats (300SG, 300MY): Intergenerational, Cross-cultural – KICKING OFF JULY 2019
  28. 28. + natalie pang (national university of singapore) + amelia johns (university of technology sydney) + joanne lim (university of nottingham, malaysia) decoding the weaponising of pop culture on whatsapp in singapore and malaysia whatsappresearch.com

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