Humans of IFE: Axel Bruns

19th March 2019

Field of expertise: Media & Communication

Position title: Research Leader, Digital Observatory

What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve been spending some time debunking the concept of echo chambers and filter bubbles. These are widely blamed for current problems in society – the only problem is that there’s no empirical evidence for their existence. Through digital and social media, people encounter plenty of information that disagrees with their worldview; the real question is what they end up doing with it.

Why is your work important?
The big problem with digital media is that people often focus only on the technical dimension. We blame Facebook or Twitter for current problems in society, and we think these problems can be fixed by technological solutions. That’s a very short-sighted view. Digital and social media are what their users make of them – and my work examines those user practices, and the consequences they have.

What excites or inspires you about your field?
Users as well as developers are endlessly inventive – these platforms never stand still. In digital media, new practices and platforms are constantly emerging: some are playful, some are profound, some are problematic, but there’s never a dull moment. You’ve got to move with the times very rapidly, in both the methodological and the conceptual frameworks you use for the research, and you’re able to observe the live evolution of public communication dynamics.

What are your hopes for the future?
In recent times we’ve seen some very dark and dangerous aspects of digital and social media, from populist propaganda to the dissemination of ‘fake news’ and other problematic information. I hope that our work can shed some light on how and why these media are used in this way, and identify ways to address these problems.

Professor Bruns recently appeared on ABC Brisbane to discuss whether there is still a place for livestreaming video and anonymity online in light of the tragic events in Christchurch. Listen to the discussion (from 11:47).

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