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Adventures in culture and technology

Smartphones become even more vital for people who are blind or have low-vision during coronavirus crisis

By Lynda Durack 19/05/2020 News No Comments »

Submitted by Kathryn Locke, Curtin University

Back in the early days of the #Covid-19 crisis, researchers at the Curtin University Centre for Culture and Technology started working on a Vision Australia research project to highlight the importance of smartphones for people with low vision or blindness. Conducted on the precipice of the coronarvirus pandemic, it captured a moment in time for people with low vision and blindness, when smartphones became even more vital for their participation in society.

Smart phone in cafe

Image: freestocks/Unsplash

As Assistant Professor Ashley Shew and CCAT director Professor Katie Ellis have argued in Nature and the Critical Disability Studies blog in the past few weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic underlines and mainstreams the issues faced and limitations placed on people with disabilities. Whether it’s issues around people’s ability to work from home, endorsements of the value of flexible working hours or the essential requirement for fast internet at home, people are exploring issues that have been long-term concerns for people with disability.

Our research, initiated before the pandemic emerged in Australia, highlights the significance of smartphones for people with low vision or blindness, and flags a renewed emphasis on the importance of increasing access to, training in and effective use of this everyday technology.

Read more…

Evidence that open knowledge is central to the future of higher education

By Lynda Durack 14/05/2020 News No Comments »

By Associate Professor Lucy Montgomery – co-lead Curtin Open Knowledge Initiative (COKI) project.

At a time when universities across the world are re-examining their operation and structure as a result of the impacts of the virus, it is COVID-19 that also points a way forward – elevating the esteem for university research and showcasing the effectiveness of open knowledge practices.

The Curtin Open Knowledge Initiative (COKI) is working with partners around the world to examine the ramifications of this new reality for higher education. Drawing on evidence from the world’s leading database on open knowledge practice, our project team are producing a range of tools to measure and understand how open knowledge universities can play a key role in the future of their communities.

Futuristic library/Unsplash Kuma Kum

Futuristic library/Unsplash, Kuma Kum

Around the world, respect for the work of university researchers appears to have risen as a result of the central role of university researchers in tackling the virus.

A recent opinion poll commissioned by the UK Open Knowledge Foundation found that 64% of voters were more likely to trust expert advice from scientists – an outcome which anecdotally appears to resonate around the world.

Read more…

Here are 5 ways to flatten the climate change curve while stuck at home

By Lynda Durack 12/05/2020 News No Comments »


Author: Sky Croeser, Curtin University

After the horrors of the last bushfire season, climate action in Australia seemed to have new momentum. But then coronavirus struck. All of a sudden, the public was preoccupied by a different catastrophe.

But one positive has emerged from the devastation wrought by coronavirus: our ability to radically shift social and economic systems when needed. It shows real action on climate change is possible, and should encourage us to work towards that even as we stay at home.

I must note here that for some people right now, the focus is on simply surviving. Increased domestic violence risk, housing insecurity, unemployment, mental health issues and other forms of marginalisation means many have little energy for activism.

But for those of us with time and resources to spare, there’s plenty to do now to support climate action. My research focuses on how people around the world use digital technologies to create change. So here are five ways to make a difference without necessarily leaving the house.

Words by Hugh Goldring and art by Nicole Marie Burton of Ad Astra Comix, CC BY-SA

1. Create or join local coronavirus support networks

A huge number of community mutual aid groups have recently formed – try joining one.

Mutual aid is about helping each other and realising that we all have something to offer. Participating can do more than help us get through the pandemic – it can also strengthen the community ties we need to cooperate on climate action.

The lack of effective climate leadership by many governments – including the Australian government – means working for change at the local level is vital. The Transition Towns movement, which began in 2006, is built on the idea that community resilience can create new possibilities in times of crisis.

Recently, Extinction Rebellion UK released the Alone Together resource pack, to help people meet the challenges of coronavirus through compassion, creativity and mutual aid.

Working together can shift our ideas about what is possible, so keep talking to your neighbours once the pandemic has passed.

We can still act on climate change under stay-at-home regulations. KesselsKramer/Cover images

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Slow living and the art of home maintenance: East Asian vloggers celebrate the domestic space

By Lynda Durack 07/05/2020 News No Comments »

해그린달 haegreendal/YouTube

Author: Crystal Abidin, Senior Research Fellow & ARC DECRA, Internet Studies, Curtin University

For many of us who are used to working regular hours in an office, home-based isolation and lockdown is a novel and even unnerving experience.

However, East Asian home vloggers (video bloggers) have been documenting their days of “hanging out at home as a lifestyle” and sharing the small joys of home.

I have been researching how social media influencers in East Asia are sharing knowledge with different audiences by observing a group of Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean YouTubers. Their accounts show they are particularly good at chronicling the ebb and flow of daily life. They have lessons to teach those of us grappling with being “stuck at home”.

Soothing routines

I came to discover this online community while away from home for research. Peeking into the houses and homemaking routines of strangers in far away places brought me vicarious comfort.

Home vlogging focuses on performances and feelings of domesticity, privileging a slow and drawn-out pacing of everyday chores and mundane routines that are reframed to be hypnotically soothing.

Home vlogs frequently focus on natural light flowing into the home. Crystal Abidin

Home vlogs turn the mundane routines of everyday life into mini-occasions: drawing the curtains as the morning sunlight floods into a room, listening to the kettle boil to the sounds of bubbling effervescence, watching the laundry tumble through the round glass door of a washing machine. They prioritise highly aestheticised, calming, and mindful ways of spending quality time at home.

The videos follow the daily rhythms of chores and mundane practices, compartmentalised to foster a sense of achievement and to mark the passing of time.

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Remote digital access to work and life is a human right, don’t forget the disability community when Quarantine is lifted

By Lynda Durack 28/04/2020 Uncategorized No Comments »

By Professor Katie Ellis, Director Centre of Culture and Technology

Originally posted in The Australian Sociological Association (TASA) on 24 April 2020.


Life has changed swiftly with one in five people worldwide going into coronavirus lockdown by March 2020. Efforts to ensure people can work, learn and access cultural life from home are key to this transition.

Flexible, accessible digital technologies have made the transition possible, as has people’s willingness to change — practically overnight — how things have always been done so they can benefit the rest of the community.

The result is a seismic shift in the way we, live, work, study and connect with each other. The novel coronavirus and COVID-19 have seen the closure of workplaces, schools and universities across the world as people take on a civic responsibility to stay home and work from home wherever possible.

Accessible and flexible digital technologies have made their #stayhome efforts possible.

Read more…

Masking power in the age of contagion: the two faces of China in the wake of coronavirus

By Lynda Durack 23/04/2020 Uncategorized No Comments »


Haiqing Yu, RMIT University and Michael Keane, Curtin University

China has gradually emerged out of its shadow of despair as the epicentre where the coronavirus pandemic started. Now, there is face saving required – as well as agenda-setting in the global power play.

China played a decisive role in combating the invisible enemy. Chinese officials and academics are taking this opportunity to rescript the narrative and place China as the new world leader.

In the quest for this leadership, China seems to be playing the game of “white face” (friendly face) and “red face” (hostile face). Similar to the Western concept of good cop/bad cop, white face and red face uses seemingly opposing actions to achieve a singular goal.

The red face is Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman who suggested the virus originated in the US and was brought to Wuhan by American soldiers.

The white face is providing medical supplies to countries now battling the pandemic, gestures of goodwill described as “mask diplomacy” or “medical diplomacy”.

By understanding the context for these donations, we can understand a lot about how China embeds symbolism within its soft power diplomacy.

Guarding life

Chinese people have a long history of wearing masks as protection from disease, chemical warfare, pollution, and severe weather. As early as the 13th century, court servants would cover their noses and mouths with a silk cloth when bringing food to the emperor.

As China increasingly encountered foreign powers through Treaty Ports at the turn of the 20th century, disease control became a critical concern. Despite the long legacy of traditional medicine, China was seen as an unhygienic place by the Western occupiers of these ports.

China’s opening to the West in 1978 led to a greater awareness of hygiene. The Chinese word for hygiene weisheng (literally “guarding life”) was incorporated by health reformers in numerous applications, from wooden disposable chopsticks to toilet paper.

In China, not wearing masks in the current health crisis is seen as unhygienic, irresponsible, and even transgressive. Punitive measures are taken by authorities, with non-mask-wearers publicly shamed and humiliated on Chinese social media.

In the West, masks have been widely viewed with suspicion. The official advice from Australian health authorities is if you are not sick, don’t wear masks.

This has lead to anxiety and discontent among Chinese Australians, frustrated by what they see as bad advice. The general public attitude toward mask wearers compounds the problem as Chinese Australians are unfairly targeted with racist slurs.

Read more:
Do homemade masks work? Sometimes. But leave the design to the experts

International diplomacy

At the height of the Wuhan outbreak, government, private companies and individual citizens in Japan donated thousands of masks. But more significant than the masks was the symbolism. Emblazoned on cargo boxes from the Japan Youth Development Association were Chinese characters reading “Lands apart, sky shared”, a line from an ancient Chinese poem.

A month later, the Jack Ma Foundation reciprocated with a large donation of masks to Japan, with a quote from the same poem: “Stretching before you and me are the same mountain ranges; let’s face the same wind and rain together.”

Millions of masks and thousands of testing kits are being sent overseas, coordinated and endorsed by Chinese government organisations and taking place at the government-to-government level; by the private sector through companies and charity foundations; and by individuals helping their overseas friends.

Mask diplomacy is part of China’s new dual level power play: aiding to foreign countries to regain face and demonstrate its role as a responsible global power; and sharing conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus to attack the opponent.

Read more:
Coronavirus is a breeding ground for conspiracy theories – here’s why that’s a serious problem

China is being aided in this messaging by inefficiency of the US in handling the crisis. By finger pointing at the US, some say China is hoping to “distract from domestic government incompetence.”

This effort to rewrite the virus narrative through mask diplomacy is a strategic gambit to claim the moral high ground and assert international power.

Changing faces

Perhaps a clue to what is now unfolding comes from the world of theatre.

In Chinese Sichuan opera, the performer magically changes masks. A skilled performer can accomplish ten mask changes in 20 seconds. This is one of the great accomplishments of Chinese culture, part of its soft power arsenal. The term used in Chinese, bianlian (literally “changing face”), however, is also a synonym for suddenly turning hostile.

China may have dodged a bullet. But if the pandemic spirals further out of control, China will have a lot more work to do to deliver its charm offensive.

The next few months will be crucial. Much of the global leadership in this global warfare will depend on the US, with its own president appearing to change face at any moment.

Power in the age of global contagion requires more than the dual faces of white and red. The world needs healing, and so the Chinese government will need to carefully moderate its propaganda. Triumphalism over the success of its own military-style control strategies and finger pointing at others may evoke blowback in the theatre of geopolitics.

Haiqing Yu, Associate Professor, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University and Michael Keane, Professor of Chinese Digital Media and Culture, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Digital Silk Roads: a model for a community of shared future

By Lynda Durack 22/10/2018 Uncategorized No Comments »

Reposted from DigitalChina and written by Michael Keane

The Belt and Road Initiative (or BRI), describes the overland corridors that connect Western China with Europe via Central and South Asia. Initiated in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the BRI idea also includes the maritime routes that link China’s southern provinces to Southeast Asia and beyond. The symbolic legacy of this ‘initiative’ is the Silk Roads, a concept that emerged in the modern era to account for pre-modern forms of long-distance connectivity, trade and cultural change across Eurasia.

In 2016, the term Digital Silk Roads was added to the policy development mix, heightening the stakes and to some extent mystifying the idea. Unsurprisingly, the Digital Silk Roads has received the support of China’s tech community. In order to understand, or perhaps demystify the thinking behind this latest iteration, we need to look it through three optics: connectivity, empire and civilisation.

Connectivity is the most obvious manifestation of the idea. China is connecting, and in many cases reconnecting with territories that are strategically important. Connecting means more than bridges, tunnels and highways; it includes fibre optic cable, telecommunications, and satellite networks. The strategist Parag Khanna uses the term ‘competitive connectivity’. He says that competing over connectivity plays out as a tug-of-war over global supply chains, energy markets and resources.

China’s digital advantage is the subject of a recent offering by Lee Kai-fu called AI Superpowers, China, Silicon Valley and the New World Order. The view proposed by Lee is that China will dominate the region because it has harnessed the power of algorithms. Aside from the US’s Silicon Valley, China is home to the top AI talent in the world.

Connectivity allows China’s digital champions like Huawei, ZTE, Xiaomi, Alibaba and Tencent to extend their influence. For instance, Alibaba is offering its ‘City-Brain’ cloud platform technologies to Kuala Lumpur. The City Brain is already in use in Hangzhou and provides information to city planners about optimal use of transport facilities.

Also, in Zhejiang we can identify how the material layers are supplemented by the virtual. While is an e-commerce titan, it needs physical infrastructure. The transport hubs of Yiwu, the direct rail to Europe, and Ningbo, the deep-water port, allow it to transport its commodities.

Empire conjures up the idea of something arguably more sinister. Political scientists have engaged with China’s strategic ambitions in the South China Seas, and its aspirations in central Asia. However, it is possible to frame empire as something more intrinsic to Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream. The key idea here is a ‘community of shared future’ (CSF), proposed by Xi Jinping in 2017 as a solution to the west-dominated narrative of development. In the CSF, voices from the global south can be blended into a contemporary version of ‘all under heaven’ (tianxia), the ancient Chinese philosophy of an ordered world.

Civilisation is thus the third layer. Herein China is referenced as a civilizational state. The idea is proposed by Chinese intellectuals and is articulated by the British Marxist Martin Jacques as a more advanced ethical model than capitalism. Chinese civilisation, however, does not register in many nation-states in the BRI. One of China’s core problems therefore is its lack of ‘soft power’.

According to global indices of soft power, a term devised by Joseph Nye in 1990, the attractiveness of China’s values, norms and institutions and inter alia its culture, ranks far lower than developed western nations, particularly the other dominant power in the region, the US. In fact, the 2018 Portland soft power ranking, considered by many to the most authoritative, placed China in 27th place.

The expansion of Chinese culture, and civilisation, into the region is at best a soft power work-in-progress. Tim Winter has shown how cultural heritage diplomacy in the region is attempting to reconcile cultural differences and literally build new bridges. Upping the diplomacy ante is the participation of technology companies, for instance Mysterious Dunhuang is an immersive digital exhibition created by Shenzhen BloomingCulture Investment Co., Ltd. Not to be outdone, Shenzhen-based Tencent have launched Digital Silk Road projects embedded in video games. In this way these tech companies are keeping the faith, and making a commitment to China’s digital future in Asia.

China’s expansion into South-east and Central Asia is now cast within the Community of Shared Future narrative, along with a renovated image of China, now a technologically advanced nation. TV drama serials have been produced such as Legends of the Silk Road, showing a history of harmonious relationships in the region. In this context, The BRI can be seen as an attempt to expand China’s territorial footprint under the guise of a benevolent responsible power.

While Xi’s speech to the UN created little attention globally, an earlier speech in December 2016 to the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China, called for a ‘community of shared future in cyberspace.’ China’s approach to managing its cyber communities is far removed from the idealism of internet pioneers, and many of their brethren in Silicon Valley.

In effect connectivity, empire and civilisation are the interlinking elements of the Digital Silk Roads. How modern communication technologies, borderless online platforms, and artificial intelligence are transforming China, and how rapidly China is morphing into a ‘digital superpower’, remains to be seen.

Doing justice to disability: the upside of TEDx’s Stella bungle

By Lynda Durack 22/10/2018 Uncategorized No Comments »
Image 20150526 32575 2rphp9.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Stella Young, the late disability activist in whose name TEDx Sydney launched #stellaschallenge.
AAP Image/Supplied

Gerard Goggin, University of Sydney and Katie Ellis, Curtin University

We’ve made real progress in embracing disability as part of everyday life in Australia. But there’s a fair way to go, as the TEDx Sydney missed opportunity showed last week.

With much fanfare, TEDx launched #stellaschallenge, to kickstart conversations and transform disability through campaigns and media.

It was – potentially – a great idea, one that honoured the memory of celebrated comedian, journalist, and media figure Stella Young who died last year. TEDx was uniquely placed, because it had hosted Stella’s 2014 slam-dunk critique of disability as “inspiration porn” – a widely shared and talked about piece of media.

Stella Young at TEDx in 2014.

As details of #stellaschallenge emerged, it was obvious something had gone badly wrong.

At the heart of TEDx’s campaign to change attitudes was the recording of conversations with people with disabilities, especially, to ask them about their experience of disability. As framed by TEDx, it was patronising and simplistic, and really went against the grain of Stella’s own views. As Stella said in a 2013 interview with Star Weekly:

I understand that my presence makes people feel uncomfortable and that they have to say something to engage with me, but it’s very frustrating to have people comment on your presence everywhere you go.

Within hours, a social-media storm raged, with critique, satire, and outrage spreading internationally.

Two days later, TEDx announced that it would “re-set Stella’s challenge to be a project that represents all of our hopes and expectations”.

So maybe TEDx has a point, in suggesting:

even if it wasn’t in the way we had intended, the debate, engagement and activism in and around disability that followed the launch of Stella’s Challenge at TEDxSydney 2015 is a critical conversation to have.

Well, yes, and no.

Full credit to TEDx for its quick response and signalling a change of tack. And, if it follows through, for being prepared to engage with the disability community over the long term. But what’s the way forward – not just for TEDx, but for Australian media and culture generally?

The TED effect

TED is a fascinating kind of new media platform, revolving around its catchy format of compelling, slick, widely broadcast and downloaded talks. Backing the “power of ideas to change attitudes, lives, and ultimately, the world”, its brand has caught on, in its satellite events run by its partners internationally.

Courtesy of the internet, TED has made a real contribution in bringing the live talk back into contention. Its strong suit is an immediately recognisable platform for a certain kind of performance – and circulation of ideas.

However, unlike other traditional media organisations – and some new ones too – TED lacks experience with how to program, curate, develop, and represent sensitive and contentious cultural issues.

It also lacks a deep understanding of disability – especially, the paramount importance of people with disabilities shaping and directing the things that affect their lives. Yet, as Jax Jacki Brown points out, with TEDx’s reach and funding, “it could be an opportunity to really address disability disadvantage”.

This is especially so because, in the media, there are surprisingly few resources for creative, clever, and sustained work that offers the diverse stories, images, analysis, narratives, and representations we need. This kind of vision of a vibrant, disability rich public media is important, because the ways it helps us reimagine our society – and tackle disability injustice.

The stories we need

So, strangely enough, given the great promise and many channels of the contemporary media environment, we have a long way to go in telling stories about disability.

What does exist is underresourced, or, if resourced for a while, funds are cut. Take the pioneering ABC disability blog, RampUp, edited by Stella Young herself. It was funded on the smell of an oily rag, and even that was axed by the ABC in mid-2014. Much as the RampUp closure was deplored by Stella herself, and the subject of a campaign for its reinstatement, nothing has happened.

Then there are the many vibrant projects undertaken by people with disabilities, supporters and allies, and organisations across the arts and cultural sector in particular – but also in media, such as the Melbourne-based No Limits community television program, where Stella got her start in the media.

Key to the disappointment and anger felt by many in response to #stellaschallenge is a palpable irony. TEDx Sydney calls for conversations – but doesn’t recognise that there are already many conversations, relationships, and media, attitudinal, and social transformations underway. So, rather than speaking, genuine listening is required – often the hardest thing to do.

Fabulous as Stella’s TEDx talk is, it’s time to go beyond just resharing it. We need to really listen to it. We must acknowledge and support the many other voices of people with disabilities.

TEDx Sydney should refocus its #Stellachallenge to offer media access, resources, and sorely needed distribution, so these voices can flourish, and be widely heard.The Conversation

Gerard Goggin, Professor of Media and Communications , University of Sydney and Katie Ellis, Senior Research Fellow in Internet studies, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Video on demand offers poor access for viewers with disabilities

By Lynda Durack 22/10/2018 Uncategorized No Comments »
Image 20160127 19637 u4iz77.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Why do most Australian streaming services not offer basic accessibility features?
Gregor Gruber

Katie Ellis, Curtin University and Mike Kent, Curtin University

Just over a year ago, on Australia Day 2015, Nine Entertainment Co. and Fairfax media launched Australia’s first video on demand (VoD) service, STAN, as a joint venture. Shortly followed by Presto and the US based Netflix, Australia commenced the subscription video on demand streaming wars.

Attracting audiences matters in the war to dominate the video on demand environment. Niche audiences are particularly important: they add up to a surprisingly large market share, and are ferociously loyal.

In this market, it seems obvious streaming services should compete for the disabled audience, which has typically been neglected as a demographic.

So why do most Australian streaming services not offer basic accessibility features? Should the government force VoD companies to match the accessibility requirements of broadcast television?

TV for the hearing or visually impaired

Television is particularly disabling for people with vision and hearing impairments. These groups may require accessibility options such as closed captions and audio description to engage with television at all.

Captions are well-known and accepted, and have been available on Australian television since 1992. According to a 2012 amendment to the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA) Australian broadcasters must caption 100% of their content between 6am and midnight by 2015. As a result, there’s an expectation that captions should be available on VoD.

By comparison, audio description is largely unknown and isn’t covered by the BSA. Audio description is designed to help blind or visually-impaired people enjoy television, with an extra narration track describing what is happening, usually during pauses in dialogue.

The Hunger Games with audio description.

The role of the government

Before the release of VoD in Australia, federal policy papers recognised the need for accessibility features for audiences with vision and hearing impairments. They predicted video on demand companies would include captions and audio description without the need for government intervention.

But a content analysis of the policy sections of STAN, Presto, Netflix, QuickFlix and Foxtel on Demand in November last year found none of the Australian video on demand providers have an accessibility policy.

STAN quietly introduced closed captions for around 300 titles early this year, with more to come. Presto is “working on” adding captions, and Quickflix has adopted a distributor-led approach, making captions available if the distributing studio offered them.

Despite the lack of clear accessibility policy, Netflix is in front in terms of accessibility, with captions available for most content. Audio descriptions for some content became available in April 2015, shortly after the company’s Australian launch.

Chris Mikul, who is Media Access Australia’s project manager for television, and author of the 2015 Access on Demand report, told us this was due to the impacts of legislation in the US, namely the Communications and Video Accessibility Act.

Mikul believes the complete lack of audio description from local streaming services can be attributed to the lack of legislation requiring it.

Advocating for accessibility

For companies that operate internationally, legislation in a single country can prompt improvements across their entire network. Audio description services from Netflix is one example of this; overall legislation is extremely effective at improving disability access.

When Netflix became available in Australia and New Zealand last year, the head of The Accessible Netflix Project, Robert Kingett, argued the move could see improved Netflix accessibility internationally due to the history of accessibility advocacy in Australia.

Following Bruce Maguire v The Sydney Olympics Organising Committee, Australia was the first country to introduce online accessibility legislation.

Despite the Australian policy predictions laid out in 2008, a European study of 31 countries found digital and online television accessibility was more widely available in countries where legislation is in place.

But despite successful trials, there is no legislation in place regarding the provision of audio description in Australia and the other VoD providers have not introduced audio description as a way to compete with Netflix.

Kingett told us in an interview that VoD providers treat accessibility as an “afterthought,” particularly for blind people, who most don’t think of as watching TV.

Yet research dating back to the 1990s shows almost 100% people with vision impairments watch television at least once a day. Kingett describes the lack of accessibility as evidence VoD is “stuck in the dark ages” and recommends streaming services hire people with disabilities:

If companies want to learn about accessibility, or have someone who will really care so they don’t have to, then actually go out and hire a disabled department leader to lead the audio description team, accessibility design team, or otherwise.

Our research shows people with disabilities, including people with vision impairments do use VoD and continue to have particular unmet access needs.

As the Netflix example illustrates, both legislation and recognition of people with disabilities as a key audience demographic will result in a more accessible television environment for people with disabilities.The Conversation

Katie Ellis, Senior Research Fellow in Internet studies, Curtin University and Mike Kent, Senior lecturer in Internet Studies , Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

When exploiting kids for cash goes wrong on YouTube: the lessons of DaddyOFive

By Lucy Montgomery 08/10/2018 Uncategorized No Comments »
File 20170502 17277 1wirwwy.png?ixlib=rb 1.1DaddyOFive parents Mike and Heather Martin issue an apology for their prank videos.

Tama Leaver, Curtin University and Crystal Abidin, Curtin University

The US YouTube channel DaddyOFive, which features a husband and wife from Maryland “pranking” their children, has pulled all its videos and issued a public apology amid allegations of child abuse.

The “pranks” would routinely involve the parents fooling their kids into thinking they were in trouble, screaming and swearing at them, only the reveal “it was just a prank” as their children sob on camera.

Despite its removal the content continues to circulate in summary videos from Philip DeFranco and other popular YouTubers who are critiquing the DaddyOFive channel. And you can still find videos of parents pranking their children on other channels around YouTube. But the videos also raise wider issues about children in online media, particularly where the videos make money. With over 760,000 subscribers, it is estimated that DaddyOFive earned between US$200,000-350,000 each year from YouTube advertising revenue.

Philip DeFranco / WOW… We Need To Talk About This…

The rise of influencers

Kid reactions on YouTube are a popular genre, with parents uploading viral videos of their children doing anything from tasting lemons for the first time to engaging in baby speak. Such videos pre-date the internet, with America’s Funniest Home Videos (1989-) and other popular television shows capitalising on “kid moments”.

In the era of mobile devices and networked communication, the ease with which children can be documented and shared online is unprecedented. Every day parents are “sharenting”, archiving and broadcasting images and videos of their children in order to share the experience with friends.

Even with the best intentions, though, one of us (Tama) has argued that photos and videos shared with the best of intentions can inadvertently lead to “intimate surveillance”, where online platforms and corporations use this data to build detailed profiles of children.

YouTube and other social media have seen the rise of influencer commerce, where seemingly ordinary users start featuring products and opinions they’re paid to share. By cultivating personal brands through creating a sense of intimacy with their consumers, these followings can be strong enough for advertisers to invest in their content, usually through advertorials and product placements. While the DaddyOFive channel was clearly for-profit, the distinction between genuine and paid content is often far from clear.

From the womb to celebrity

As with DaddyOFive, these influencers can include entire families, including children whose rights to participate, or choose not to participate, may not always be considered. In some cases, children themselves can be the star, becoming microcelebrities, often produced and promoted by their parents.

South Korean toddler Yebin, for instance, first went viral as a three-year-old in 2014 in a video where her mom was teaching her to avoid strangers. Since then, Yebin and her younger brother have been signed to influencer agencies to manage their content, based on the reach of their channel which has accumulated over 21 million views.

Baby Yebin / Mom Teaches Cute Korean baby Yebin a Life Lesson.

As viral videos become marketable and kid reaction videos become more lucrative, this may well drive more and more elaborate situations and set-ups. Yet, despite their prominence on social media, such children in internet-famous families are not clearly covered by the traditional workplace standards (such as Child Labour Laws and that Coogan Law in the US), which historically protected child stars in mainstream media industries from exploitation.

This is concerning especially since not only are adult influencers featuring their children in advertorials and commercial content, but some are even grooming a new generation of “micro-microcelebrities” whose celebrity and careers begin in the womb.

In the absence of any formal guidelines for the child stars of social media, it is the peers and corporate platforms that are policing the welfare of young children. As prominent YouTube influencers have rallied to denounce the parents behind the DaddyOFive accusing them of child abuse, they have also leveraged their influence to report the parents of DaddyOFive to child protective services. YouTube has also reportedly responded initially by pulling advertising from the channel. YouTubers collectively demonstrating a shared moral position is undoubtedly helpful.

Greater transparency

The question of children, commerce and labour on social media is far from limited to YouTube. Australian PR director Roxy Jacenko has, for example, defended herself against accusations of exploitation after launching and managing a commercial Instagram account for her her young daughter Pixie, who at three-years-old was dubbed the “Princess of Instagram”. And while Jacenko’s choices for Pixie may differ from many other parents, at least as someone in PR she is in a position to make informed and articulated choices about her daughter’s presence on social media.

Already some influencers are assuring audiences that child participation is voluntary, enjoyable, and optional by broadcasting behind-the-scenes footage.

Television, too, is making the most of children on social media. The Ellen DeGeneres Show, for example, regularly mines YouTube for viral videos starring children in order to invite them as guests on the show.
Often they are invited to replicate their viral act for a live audience, and the show disseminates these program clips on its corporate YouTube channel, sometimes contracting viral YouTube children with high attention value to star in their own recurring segments on the show.

Sophia and Rosie Grace featured on Ellen after their viral Nicki Minaj video.

Ultimately, though, children appearing on television are subject to laws and regulations that attempt to protect their well-being. On for-profit channels on YouTube and other social media platforms there is a little transparency about the role children are playing, the conditions of their labour, and how (and if) they are being compensated financially.

Children may be a one-off in parents’ videos, or the star of the show, but across this spectrum, social media like YouTube need rules to ensure that children’s participation is transparent and their well-being paramount.The Conversation

Tama Leaver, Associate Professor in Internet Studies, Curtin University and Crystal Abidin, Adjunct Research Fellow at the Centre for Culture and Technology (CCAT), Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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