Accepted Paper:

Making publics with digital artifacts? The case of the Los Angeles Times' "Homicide Report"  


Sylvain Parasie (University of Paris Est)
Jean-Philippe Cointet

Paper short abstract:

This paper tackles the political dimension of the collectives that emerge from digital artifacts. Using dedicated lexicometric tools, it investigates the collectives produced by an American news project that consists in a database of every homicide committed in Los Angeles county since 2010.

Paper long abstract:

Traditional news media play a major part in the constitution of publics as political actors. In the last decades, the rise of Internet has changed the sociotechnical conditions in which publics are formed. Digital artifacts, especially algorithms, databases and platforms, strongly affect the constitution of publics (Gillespie, 2012; Annany and Crawford, 2014). To what extent collectives emerging from such artifacts can still be described as publics? Critics and scholars notably fear that internet may encourage the fragmentation of collectives into narrow-minded groups in opposition to the original political definition of "publics" (Sunstein, 2001). Yet, only a few researches have explored this question empirically (Bakshy et al., 2015).

In line with the track objectives, our paper contributes to the understanding of the tools and machineries that turn publics into political realities. We studied an online news project that consists in a database of every homicide committed in Los Angeles county since 2010. Each homicide is documented through a series of variables (victim's ethnicity, gender, age, cause of death, etc.) and displayed on a map. Since each homicide page is open to comments, we performed a systematic analysis of a corpus of 30,000 comments. Using dedicated lexicometric tools, we characterize how emerging collectives share common interpretations about homicides. First, we show that the platform extends the public sharing interpretations around crime news, giving voice to people that are excluded from public discussion. Second, we show that genuine communities of interpretation actually emerge beyond the singularity of each homicide.

Panel T036
Social Studies of Politics: Making Collectives By All Possible Means