So what? Social Bots, Political Warfare and the will to act

On Wednesday, October 18, ISK kicked off the first lecture in our series Understanding Strategic Botnets: The challenge of machine-generated strategic communication. The series, with further events to be announced soon, is financed by Plattformen to make students, citizens and professional communicators more aware of social bots and their strategic deployment by operators who wish to influence public debates and, ultimately, political decisions.

During the US presidential election, awareness of the political ramifications of social bots rose considerably. Experts estimated, for example, that one-fifth of pro-Clinton and one-third of pro-Trump tweets during and after the first presidential debate in September 2016 were not written by humans but machine-generated, with nets of bots echoing each other. What is less discussed is the more important question: So what?

‘Psychological warfare is not about being liked. It’s about affecting the adversary’s will to act.’ Matthew Armstrong (left) and Dr. James Pamment (right).

So what? is declaredly the favourite question of our first guest speaker. Matt Armstrong is an expert in media politics, public diplomacy and psychological warfare who has worked extensively with the US government and advising NATO and other military and security communities.  In his talk, Matt drew the audience’s attention away from the mere technology and techniques of bot-employment and invited us to see the big, the political picture. Matt showed that bots are the digital version of destabilization-tactics well-known from the political warfare of the 1950ies and 60ies. He warned that their potential impact in today’s socio-political environment is far greater because an individual’s potential to cause disruption, not just destruction, is far greater than ever before. The mechanism is simple: botnets may influence individuals by pretending that there are a multitude of like-minded people out there. Bot effectiveness is both enabled and amplified by self-censorship imposed by individuals, decreasing trust or interest in professional news media, and the disappearance of traditional barriers of distance, language, and culture that is reshaping national identities, national security, and thus national agendas. Matt made the point that not long ago ‘I heard it on the Internet’ was derogatory but now it is a label of authority for many. These machine-driven networks, which may only have a bot-herder behind them, leverage these vulnerabilities to manufacture and push impressions that spark an individual’s will to act, through words or deeds. And affecting the will to act, as Matt said to communicators engaged in or affected by political warfare, is what counts in the end.

Bots are computer entities that impersonate social media users and automatically endorse (like) and recirculate (retweet, repost) the content favoured by their controllers. In recent years, they have become an important factor in political communication. In an age in which the visibility of ones strategic communication depends on popularity-driven social media algorithms, armies of bots, sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands, can deliver the fake social proof needed to tip the scales. We at ISK believe that a firm understanding of strategic botnets and machine-generated strategic communication is key knowledge for communicators. So we hope to see you at the next event!

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Partnerships in Strategic Communication Education

The month of March was a busy month for me, and it was all about two words: sustainability and partnerships.

In the beginning of the month I was at the United Nations in New York, spending a full week interviewing staff at the Sustainable Development Goals Fund. The SDG-F is a remarkable organisation because all its work centres on building partnerships between governments, businesses, civil society and UN agencies. They usually find different kinds of donors who are willing to provide matching funds for projects, which means (at least) double the impact.

Besides being incredibly inspiring, I was left with the feeling that all kinds of projects, including teaching and research, could benefit from this way of working. Good models for public-private partnerships are endlessly replicable and sustainable. Finding ways to blend different skills, knowledge and resources is a fantastic ability inherent to good communicators, and I hope all of our students understand the importance of being able to work with different kinds of people and to encourage them to work together.

After a few days back in the office I was off to England to participate in a conference on the future of diplomacy at Wilton Park, which is an agency of the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office. It is based at a stately home in some of the most idealistic countryside you’ll ever see, apparently because that helps participants think better. Again, much of the discussion focused on partnerships and the importance of good communication skills. Future diplomats will be skilful communicators capable of harnessing the energy of different parts of society, and to do that they need to get better at working with others.

Then it was back to Helsingborg for the start of a MSc course about strategy, communication planning, research and evaluation. Although that might all sound very theoretical, most of the course is practical. This year, I reached an agreement that the SDG-F would provide the students with real communication problems, and the students are currently designing robust, measurable campaigns that are ready to implement. You may see them around Campus in groups of five, looking very stressed. Please be kind to them.

This is a new kind of partnership both for us and the SDG-F, and who knows what new ideas it will generate and where it will lead? Following on from the project our second year undergraguates did last year in cooperation with Facebook and the US State Department (you may remember the brilliant Färgstarkare Tillsammans), I’m convinced that these kinds of partnerships offer a new dimension to our education programmes. I’ve never been so proud of a group of students as those who worked on Färgstarkare Tillsammans, and especially the group who went to the OSCE Ministerial Meeting in Hamburg to present their work.

I’m interested to hear what our students and teachers think about these kinds of partnerships. Should we have more of them? Should they be intergrated into more courses? Or should we keep the classroom completely separate from the practice? One thing is clear: partnerships are the future, and we need to ensure that our students have theoretical and practical knowledge of how to harness the strengths of others. But how? Please share your thoughts.

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Om tankeväckande superintressanta 8 marsseminariet i Lund…

Den internationella kvinnodagen uppmärksammades på många ställen. Vi som var med på Lunds universitets årliga seminariedag på SOL-center i Lund, hade en härlig dag som inleddes med att f.d. jämställdhetsministern Maria Arnholm (L) informerade om den nya samtyckeslagstiftningen och om arbetet med att försöka instifta en ny myndighet, den nya Jämställdhetsmyndigheten. Maria berättade också om sin inställning till “frivillig kvotering” som i praktiken innebär att de duktiga företagen räknar huvuden utan att tala om det explicit.

Lena Wägnerud talade utifrån sin forskning och boken “The Principles of Gender-sensitive Parliaments” där vi bl.a fick lära oss att inte Sverige, utan Rwanda, ligger i topp med högst kvinnlig representation i parlamentet. I sitt arbete försöker hon lyfta fram de svårfångade mönster som finns i de interna arbetsförhållandena.

Anne Bocchinis föredrag fick många åhörare att dra åt sig öronen då hon berättade om utbildningsvalets roll för könslönegapet. Mycket intressant och relevant statistik som bl.a. tydliggör att det trots lika utbildning och tjänsteposition ändå finns ett stort lönegap mellan kvinnor och män. Överlag tjänar högskoleutbildade män 30% mer än kvinnliga dito, och gymnasieutbildade män tjänar också ca 30% mer än sina kvinnliga motsvarande. Inom yrken där gapet är mindre kan nämnas att kvinnliga jurister tjänar 80% av de manliga juristernas lön och inom ingenjörsyrket når kvinnorna upp till 90% av männens lön.   Löneklyftorna mellan män och kvinnor ökar dessutom efter att första barnet kommit.. Bocchinis råd för att försöka utjämna gapet som kvinna är dels att välja ett yrke som inte är så “kvinnodominerat” dels att välja en jämställd livspartner.. På en fråga från auditoriet om det inte är så, utifrån det som visats i föredraget, att det är viktigare att satsa på en jämställd partner än att satsa på rätt utbildning, svarade Bocchini att ja, det är nog så!

Lena Granquist förklarade hur Saco sedan 1950-talet gjort mätningar av hur ojämställdheten ser ut i ett livsperspektiv. Bland exemplen som visades kan det konstateras att livslönen mellan en kvinnlig respektive manlig akademiker är 16% vilket innebär att en manlig akademiker genomsnittligt får 2.800.000 kr mer i lön under en livstid. Olika kön innebär olika lön.. om ni vill kika på siffrorna och hur undersökningen gjorts, finns det ny statistik nu på där 34 olika högskoleutbildade grupper finns representerade. På “snurran/” kan man dessutom få lära sig att det är en myt att man alltid tjänar på att mammor tar ut mest föräldraledighet.

I Maria Stanfors föredrag om det obetalda hem- och omsorgsarbetet fick vi veta att män fortfarande tar ut i snitt 28% av sammanhängande perioder av föräldradagarna men att män och kvinnor tar ut  mer lika när det gäller kortare ledighet som VAB. I sin tidanvändningsdata kan Stanfors se att kvinnor ägnar sig 54 minuter mer/ dag åt obetalt arbete medan män ägnar 1,5 t/dag mer åt betalt arbete. Kvinnor har fortfarande mindre fritid och i hemmet ägnar män 44% medan kvinnor ägnar 56% av tiden åt hushållsarbete. Männens arbete i hemmet är mer av “investeringskaraktär” (byter avloppsrör etc) medan kvinnor ägnar sig åt repetitiva uppgifter.

Gabriella Nilssons föredrag var mycket tankeväckande när hon berättade om den nya samtyckeslagstiftningen och hur begreppet våldtäkt kan komma att ersättas av begreppet sexuellt övergrepp. Det finns en önskan om att komma från “Tvångsparadigmet” och till “samtyckesparadigmet”. En person ska inte behöva bevisa att denne har gjort motstånd utan det handlar helt enkelt om att en person måste visa samtycke till sex! Lagstiftningen måste ligga närmare det allmänna rättsmedvetandet och det gör det inte idag! Hennes svar mot den senaste tidens kritik mot Sverige som “våldtäktsland” och där det hänvisas till ett högt antal anmälda våldtäkter, är att vi snarare ska vara glada för att vi kommit så långt att det finns institutioner och en vilja och mod att faktiskt anmäla! även om resultaten i domslut lämnar mycket över att önska..

En underbar avslutning på dagen gavs av organisationen FATTA! Föreningen som startade som en kampanj och utvecklades till nästan en folkrörelse. FATTA vill ha en lagändring och en attitydförändring till sex, sexualitet och våld! I sina källor och statistik de använder, hänvisar de till BRÅ, SÖS – akutmottagning för våldtagna, Nationellt centrum för kvinnofrid och till Madeleine Leijonhufvud, där det bl.a. berättades att det inrapporterades 32 000 händelser 2014, att 96% av brottsoffren är kvinnor och att 97% av brottsmisstänkta är män, att var femte vuxen och var 20:e man någon gång i sitt liv utsatts för sexuellt övergrepp. FATTA  ( ägnar sig åt manifestationer, evenemang, skriver debattartiklar, föreläsningar, lobbying och olika former av samarbete. De säljer FATTA merchandises och är aktiva i sociala medier.. För den som vill FATTA vad samtycke är så hänvisas till youTube “dricka te” från organisationen! Den är såååå bra och alla kan FATTA!!!


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Kom och fira 8 mars i Lund!

Hej alla,

Internationella kvinnodagen brukar uppmärksammas i Lund på ett genom åren mycket uppskattat sätt – ett intressant heldagsseminarium som ni är hjärtligt välkomna till! Det äger rum den 8 MARS 2017, KL 10.00 – 16.30 i SOL-husets hörsal, Helgonabacken 12 i LUND. Har ni tur finns det lunchbiljetter och då kan ni anmäla senast den 26 februari till:  Det går bra att också bara kika in en stund under dagen. I beskrivningen av vad som behandlas under denna dag anges följande.

”Berättelsen om Sverige som ett av världens mest jämställda länder, är en viktig ingrediens i den svenska självbilden. Detta seminarium Kvinnor – styrkor, möjligheter och hot har som utgångspunkt de fyra jämställdhetspolitiska målen – en jämn fördelning av maktoch inflytande, ekonomisk jämställdhet, jämn fördelning av det obetalda hem- och omsorgsarbetet samt att mäns våld mot kvinnor ska upphöra. Hur ser det egentligen ut med jämställdheten? Hur långt har vi nått med att uppfylla målen? Är vi i hamn eller …?Det är dessa frågor seminariet Kvinnor – styrkor, hot och möjligheter ska handla om. Vid seminariet får vi möta och lyssna till en rad namnkunniga personer inom olika samhällssektorer…”

Programmet ser ut som  följer:

10.00 – 10.15 Inledning och välkommen Gunilla Jarlbro

10.15 – 10.45 Jämställdhetspolitik för inflytande -inflytandet för jämställdhetspolitiken Maria Arnholm

10.45 – 11.15 Varannan damernas – mål eller medel för jämställdet?, Lena Wägnerud

11.15 – 11.30 Bensträckare och fruktpaus

11.30 – 12.00 Utbildningsvalets roll för könslönegapet, Anne Boschini

12.00 – 12.15 Musik, Konstnärliga fakulteten LU

12.15 – 12.30 Utdelning av Gunilla Jarlbroutmärkelsen, Charlotte Erlanson- Albertsson

12.30 – 12.35 Musik, Konstnärliga fakulteten LU

12.35 – 13.30 Lunch

13.30 – 14.00 Det evigt kvinnliga? Det obetalda hem- och omsorgsarbetet i förändring,   1990 -2010,  Maria Stanfors

14.00- 14.30 Mot mer jämställda livslöner Lena Granqvist

14.30 – 15.00 ”Aldrig mera våldtäkt?”Ny lagstiftning i ett historiskt och kulturellt perspektiv Gabriella Nilsson

15..00 – 15.30 Kaffe

15.30 – 16.00 ”Fatta! på 30 minuter” Samtycke i lagstiftning och praktik. Sofie Andersson, Elin Ferm

16.15 Avslutning Gunilla Jarlbro

Hoppas vi ses den 8 mars i Lund! hälsar Marja Åkerström, ordförande i ISK:s Jämställdhets- Likabehandlings- och Mångfaldsgrupp (JLM), tillika medlem i Samhällsvetenskapliga fakultetens JLM-utskott.

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Participation as performance on Instagram

The Uppsala University Hospital where the study was conducted during autumn 2016

Last month, my colleague Åsa Thelander and I got our paper “Curated participation: A study of everyday photography in organisational communication strategy” accepted for the 67th International Communication Association Conference (ICA), which this year is held in San Diego, US. The paper is part of a larger project in which we examine the relation between visual digital media, co-creation and participation among citizens and employees in public organisations (see more examples here and here).  In this paper, we analyse how employees experience their participation in a strategic social media initiative launched to improve the reputation of a public hospital. What, how and why do participants post? What kind of relationships is formed through participation? Participants’ experiences of curating images at Instagram are examined through the lens of the sociologist Erving Goffman’s (1959) dramaturgical theory of social life. Participation in a communication strategy based on visual social media is likened to a theatre performance, where the participants act on a stage. Scripts, roles, fronts, props, setting and the team performance are central concepts that are used to make sense of participants’ experiences. The study demonstrates that studying participants’ experiences of performing visual communication strategies is useful to understand the consequences of everyday photographic practice for employee engagement and organisational reputation. Participants interpreted and performed the task differently by – for example – taking on different fronts or carrying out the task as a team. Consequences for organisational engagement of this type of communication strategy is discussed, not least the downside of the strategy, which is often neglected in previous research.

To use visual social media with the aim of creating engagement among employees and reinvigorate organisational reputation is far from straightforward. In contrast to the authentic and ‘real’ image that photographs are believed to deliver, Instagram photography convey the positive well-known and impersonal image of the organisation. Yet, visual social media was found to involve a distinct and more holistic way of representing work life in the organisation as compared to representations in the official communication channels. Visual social media, however, was found to involve a high degree of interaction, but little interactivity. The lack of interactivity may indicate an overly strong belief in previous research on what social media can accomplished in terms of engagement.

/Cecilia Cassinger

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Authenticity and brand culture

One of the privileges in my job is that I regularly get to meet and discuss interesting topics and ideas with students. In the course on strategic brand communication that I am currently teaching on our master of science programme in strategic communication, we recently discussed Sarah Banet-Weiser’s book Authentic: the politics of ambivalence in a brand culture (see also my previous post on her work and a text about her concept of commodity activism here). The book makes an interesting contribution to traditional brand management literature by examining branding from a socio-cultural perspective. Drawing on a range of arresting examples (from the Dove real beauty campaign and Tila Tequila to Christianity), Banet-Weiser shows how the logic of branding governs contemporary culture and merges with everyday life. To capture the essence of the book, the students made some fantastic artistic posters – a collage of which I share with you here.

Collage of posters presented at the literature seminar in January 2017

/Cecilia Cassinger

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Reclaiming female space – the pussy hats project

A returning question in my research and teaching recently is how, when and why citizens, employees and consumers engage in communication campaigns and what makes them contribute to strategic initiatives launched by organisations. The protest action women’s march on Washington that was held last month offers an avenue to explore this question. The protest march united millions of men and women worldwide.

Today we are exposed to activism in marketing and branding campaigns that promises a better world through consumption The communication scholar Sarah Banet-Weiser (2012) calls this phenomenon commodity activism. She argues that the problem with commodity activism, however, is that it does not lead to structural change, since we cannot consume our way out of the problems related to consumption. The women’s march is conditioned upon a different type of activism, which is perhaps why the protest was so fruitful. In part the initiative involved the grassroots movement of the pussy hats project, which centred around the practice of knitting and distributing pink beanies with cat ears to marchers; it was also popular to share them in various social media. It is perhaps no coincidence that the project focused on knitting – a traditional female domestic chore that has been reclaimed and valued by feminists. In her re-reading of the epic the Odyssey, the philosopher Adriana Cavarero re-interprets this type of mundane practices as sites of resistance.

In the ancient Greek narrative about Odysseus wanderings at sea, his wife Penelope waits for him at home. She weaves a cloth to fend of the suitors that stand outside her door ready to replace Odysseus on the throne. But the cloth is not the purpose of her weaving; the purpose is to prolong her time in freedom. In order to postpone her answer to the suitors, she weaves by day and secretly unweaves the same cloth by night. The endless work of weaving and unweaving creates an interim time. Upon Odysseus return Penelope’s time come to an end. When a permanent order establishes itself, her time is gone. Because her practice does not produce value and hence is not defined by utility, it is able to intervene in time – it does not belong to history. History is written about wars and discoveries, not about the everyday life. While in the traditional interpretation, Penelope weaves out of loyalty to her husband; in Cavarero’s reading Penelope weaves to resist being absorbed by a history in which her space is anomalous.

The task of Penelope is not to make cloth but to create her own time-space. In a similar vein, the task of pussy hat knitters is not to make hats, but to craft relationships and communities that can form alternative spaces of resistance. The pussy hats project demonstrates how the unpaid and unrecognised work, typically carried out by women, can intervene in the public sphere and empower us when our rights once again might be contested.

/Cecilia Cassinger

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