In a little over a decade, online platforms, such as Facebook, YouTube, Uber, and Airbnb, have developed into dominant political-economic and socio-cultural actors. In this process, they have become entangled with many different types of users, organizations, and institutions: from activists to house owners, from social movement organizations to companies, and from universities to governments.
These connections are, on the one hand, established by the users themselves, who in overwhelmingly great numbers, have embraced and appropriated the affordances of platforms to share content, connect with each other, and exchange services. On the other hand, they are shaped by the technological architectures and business models of platforms, which are geared towards the systematic collection and processing of user data to enable targeted advertising and services. As a result, a new political economy of connective media is emerging.
The challenge taken up by the members of this programme is to examine how the technologies, user practices, and business strategies of platforms mutually articulate each other in different parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, China, Western Europe, and the US. The key question is how the increasingly central role of online platforms in public life transforms vital social and political practices, such as activism, journalism, health care, education, and cultural production more generally. Addressing this question, particular attention is devoted to issues of surveillance, personalization, and commodification.