Follow Me: The Influence of Danish Digital Media Creators (FoMe)
These are three scenarios that many households and families can relate to. The first describes interactions with the platform Tik Tok, the second communicative situations associated with platforms such as Twitch and YouTube, and the third illustrates the power of influencers on Instagram and Snapchat.
In all three cases, the children and youth in question have either taken the role of a digital media creator or have been influenced by one. Each day, digital media creators produce astounding volumes of material distributed via platforms operated by tech giants, such as Google (YouTube), Facebook (Facebook, Instagram), Amazon (Twitch), Snap (Snapchat) and ByteDance (Tik Tok). The creators go under different names, such as influencers, produsers (Bruns 2008), productive enthusiasts (Gauntlett 2011), creative audience (Castells 2009) and social media entertainers (Cunningham & Craig 2019).
These concepts imply an ‘in-between’ position between producers and consumers; creators and users. This ‘in-between’ position is facilitated by digital platforms which provide easily adaptable interfaces and effective distribution channels as outlets for the creative energies of people, and particularly youth. However, while platforms provide outlets of creativity, they simultaneously control the ongoing flow of these productions in terms of further use, datafication, commercialisation and the rights of digital media creators. Examples from a Danish context, such as the Google and KODA dispute, Google and Ramasjang and the White Book from the Danish Government “Towards a better society with tech-giants” are cases in point.
Follow me (FoMe) investigates and unpacks the ‘in-between’ positions between creativity and control from the perspective of platforms, Danish digital media creators and Danish media- and cultural institutions. The empirical foundation is a mapping of the networks generated by 20 aspiring and established Danish digital media creators and their complex relationships with platforms and followers. By contextualizing these networks, FoMe provides the first comprehensive analysis of how the platform ecology functions in Denmark and how it is connected to established media- and cultural institutions. It inspects how platform productions influence and shape subjects of data and habitual cultures of followers, and how these processes further inform media and cultural consumption and production. To do this, FoMe is inspired by the circuit of culture (Hall 1997) which emphasizes the reciprocal relations between representation, regulation, consumption, production and identity, or in FoMe’s re-working; the reciprocal relations between data politics, data economics, data practices and data subjectivities.
Major platforms are instrumental in determining cultural representation and identity formation of individuals, as they shape contemporary cultural and media production and consumption on a global scale but also in national contexts. Their services are intertwined with institutions on government level, within the market sector, as well as civil society (Bratton 2015; Gillespie 2014; Pasquale 2015; Van Dijck et al. 2018). These platforms, and the companies that operate them, provide a variety of services; social network sites, search engines, web browsers, advertising service programs, video services, music services, geospatial information system services, cloud platforms, pay services, and more. The politics of platforms (Burgess & Green 2018; Gillespie 2010) are therefore instrumental in shaping worldviews, access to information, cultural habits, and subjectivities of particularly younger audiences.
FoMe focuses on the reciprocal effects between the global and the local, between private sector platforms and public Danish media- and cultural institutions, and between digital media creators and their followers. By identifying and mapping established and aspiring Danish digital media creators and their use of platforms, the project unfolds the complex ecology and economics of platforms and the inter-dependencies that are formed between central actors. The project investigates how platforms construct particular patterns of practices, how they affect the rights of citizens and shape the subjectivities of Danish media users. Inspired by the analytical approach put forward in the circuit of culture (Hall 1997), the state of the art unfolds in the reciprocal relations between data politics, data economics, data practices and data subjectivities, as well as within each WP.
The project is organized in four WPs, and the main research questions is outlined in below.
Data politics: What characterizes the data politics of dominant platforms and how do these relate to the rights of digital media creators and their followers?
Data economics: What kind of organisational principles and business models do major platforms enable and how are these further embedded within Danish media- and cultural institutions?
Data practices: How do Danish digital media creators and their followers adapt to platformized production and consumption processes and what characterises the cultural practices of influential productions?
Data subjectivities: How do the logics of dominant platforms and the influence of Danish digital media creators shape data subjectivities? What kind of biases (gender, race, class) can be detected in the mapping and production practices of digital media creators?
WP1 - Data politics investigates governance, infrastructure, policy and regulation of platforms (Cammaerts & Mansell 2020; Cohen 2019; Gorwa 2019; Parks & Starosielski 2015; Plantin et al. 2018; Schwarz 2017; Valtysson 2017). Data politics is interested in how data is assigned with certain powers, influences and logics, how platforms generate specific rationalities, and affect the rights of data citizens (Dencik et. al 2019; Gabrys 2019; Ruppert et al. 2017). By combining insights from media- and communication policy (Chakravartty & Sarikakis 2006; Iosifidis 2013, Lunt & Livingstone 2012; Raboy & Padovani 2010) and writings on converging regulatory frameworks (Gumpert & Drucker 2010; Valtysson 2020), WP1 advances scholarship on data politics and inspects how data politics affect Danish digital media creators, their followers, and Danish media- and cultural institutions.
WP1 therefore investigates how regulatory measures within Denmark relate to supra-state measures of the EU within platform production and data protection; and asks these specific sub-questions: How do the forms of data economics and data practices (treated in WP2&3) relate to the right of citizens? How are data streams of Danish digital media creators regulated when produced within and distributed via platforms like YouTube and Instagram? How does Danish regulation relate to EU regulation, and how does EU regulation relate to major actors on a global scale? What characterises the ‘in-between’ positions which Danish digital media creators, and their followers, are encapsulated within from a regulatory and policy point of view?
WP2 – Data Economics moves a step further down from the governance of platforms to the governance by platforms. Digital platforms operate multi-sided marketplaces (Evans & Schmalensee 2016; Parker et al. 2016) that bring users, producers and advertisers together through match-making operations such as recommender systems, rankings, content curation, advertisement programs and subscriptions (Srnicek 2017). Digital media creators typically seek to earn a living by making money directly on the platforms (e.g. by getting a share of advertisement revenue) or through off-platforms activities (e.g. donations, merchandise or live shows). The economic interplay between platforms and creators constitute, in this respect, data economics. To analyse data economics, WP2 combines insights from media economics (Cunningham et al., 2015; Murdock 2011), cultural industries (Flew 2012; Hesmondhalgh 2019) and economic sociology (Fourcade & Healy 2007; Granovetter & Swedberg 2011).
Through this framework, WP2 develops the thematic questions (in Table 1) into the following sub-questions: Who is allowed to upload content and make money on the platforms and under which conditions? What kind of content is encouraged, downplayed, censored or removed? What is the role of algorithmic curation (Rogers 2020; Ørmen 2018) such as search engines, rankings and news feeds, in signalling ‘desirable’ content to creators? How are creators earning a living through the platforms and in which ways are these activities embedded in the overall Danish media and cultural landscape (e.g. as collaborators with established media- and cultural institutions)?
WP3 – Data Practices focuses on everyday media practices and the embedded flows of content and data which serve as the nexus between production and consumption. It applies an institutional and practice-theoretical approach (Bräuchler & Postill 2010; Duffy et al. 2019; Pentzold 2020; Thorhauge & Gregersen 2019) to the work of digital media creators and their situation ‘in-between’ platforms and followers. Creator and fan practices have fostered content innovation, social interactions and communities both locally and globally. The creativity, enthusiasm and aspirations of creators are by now well documented – but so are their increasingly problematic labour conditions (Baym 2018; Cunningham & Craig 2019; Fuchs 2013; Gregersen & Ørmen forthcoming; Postigo 2016; Shestakofsky & Kelkar 2020; Taylor 2018).
By adopting an institutional approach to practice theory, WP3 unpacks the structural and institutional constraints on creator agency, with special attention to creators’ at times precarious relationships with platforms as well as with their followers. While focussing primarily on data practices and creator agency, WP3 is clearly anchored in the other WPs as creator’s rights, economic conditions and how practices form subjectivities is crucial to further understanding the ‘in between positions’ of digital creators.
WP3 thus asks these specific sub-questions: How do Danish creators work with communicative formats, data flows and the interlinkages of multiple platforms? How do they manage platformized governance, work pressures, and the increasing presence of rankings and metrics? How do creators establish, maintain, and terminate relationships with platforms and followers? How do creators orient themselves to Danish legacy media institutions as well as to follower communities that are at once local and global?
WP4 - Data subjectivities focusses on the concept of data subjectivities (Goriunova 2019; Lupton 2020) in the context of Danish digital media creators. Platforms such as Tik Tok, Twitch and YouTube blend the ‘empowered’ language of creators with disempowering algorithmic logics of digital infrastructure (Agostinho & Thylstrup 2019; Bucher 2018; Van Dijck 2013). These platforms promote forms of data subjectivity that is dependent on reputation management, as well as lodging users within feedback loops that link users’ success with that of the platforms. Moreover, as feminist and critical race scholars show, these feedback loops are entangled with deeper structures of racism, misogyny and class (Benjamin 2019; D’Ignazio & Klein 2020; Noble 2018).
WP4 teases out these intersectional feedback loops (Noble & Tynes 2016) through critical technocultural discourse analysis (Brock 2018) and semi-structured interviews with a renewed focus on power relations. These methods provide a framework to analyze structures of dominance (Murray 2020) and articulate their relation to broader cultural practices (Suchman 2007; Xiao et al. 2020). Specifically, WP4 advances these strands of research by investigating the ‘in-between position’ of control and creativity, through moments of intimacy and connection (Baym 2018; Wiehn 2021) between Danish digital media creators and their followers. These moments, we suggest, open up to risks of oppression (in the form of abuse) (Thylstrup & Talat forthcoming) as well as potentials of empowerment (in the form of shared vulnerability) (Chun 2016).
WP4 thus examines the influence of intimate connections and subversive practices for data subjectivities, raising the following sub-questions: How are data politics, data economics and data practices interwoven with the emergence of data subjectivities? What roles do the intersections of race, gender and class play in the context of Danish digital media creators and their followers? How are data subjectivities shaped by moments of intimacy in the light of dominant platform infrastructure?
The project employs a mixed-methods research design to deliver in-depth analysis of the multi-platform presence of 20 Danish creators and their follower networks. We will use a two-stage case-based sampling strategy.
First stage builds a sampling frame of creators from existing scholarship, media coverage and top lists. The second stage uses the sampling frame as springboard for snowball, criterion, and theoretical sampling with emphasis on variance and depth (Small 2009, 2011). The resulting sample of 20 creators will serve as cases for in-depth comparative case studies, where each will be analyzed with platform analysis (Light, et al. 2018; Van Dijck 2013), qualitative content analysis of communications between creators and followers (Mayring 2000; Schreier 2012), and semi-structured interviews with each creator (Cresswell & Poth 2018; Brinkmann & Kvale 2015). In addition, 5 focus groups (Bloor et al. 2001; Morgan 1997) and selected follow-up interviews with followers will be conducted.
To contextualize the cases, we will perform extensive desk research and document analysis (Bowen 2009), focusing on external platform communication and contractual agreements of dominant platforms, and conduct 10-15 semi-structured expert interviews (Gaskell 2000) with actors representing industry and policy bodies. All senior members of the project will work cooperatively in the initial case selection to ensure fit with WP aims. Case analyses will be collaborative, but each WP will focus on their specific theme.
The project team is composed of 4 leading mid/early career scholars, 1 postdoc and 1 PhD student. The project is organized as four interrelated thematic WPs and a common methodological framework that binds them together. The team will work together as a tight research collective and create constructive synergies between the WPs.
We meet bi-weekly to discuss and plan while maintaining an inclusive and collaborative workflow. For clarity, all members are primarily responsible for a WP: WP1 Bjarki Valtysson; WP2 Jacob Ørmen; WP3 Andreas Lindegaard Gregersen & PhD student (unnamed); WP4 Nanna Bonde Thylstrup & Tanja Wiehn (postdoc).
|Gregersen, Andreas Lindegaard||Associate Professor||+4535328092|
|Valtýsson, Bjarki||Associate Professor||+4535328237|
|Wiehn, Tanja Anna||Postdoc||+4535321262|
|Ørmen, Jacob||Assistant Professor - Tenure Track||+4535328874|
Thylstrup, Nanna Bonde, Associate Professor, Ph.d.