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Manufacturing Risk in the Local Neighbourhoods of the City: Platforms, Media, and Imbricated Technologies

Paper i proceeding
Författare Andrew Schrock
Gabriella Sandstig
Publicerad i European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) Conference in Istanbul Turkey October 24–27 2012
Publiceringsår 2012
Publicerad vid Institutionen för journalistik, medier och kommunikation (JMG)
Statsvetenskapliga institutionen
Språk en
Ämneskategorier Medie- och kommunikationsvetenskap


In January Microsoft patented technology in GPS navigation that would enable users to avoid "unsafe" areas. Bloggers provocatively called this the "avoid ghetto" feature. This incident brought to light valuable questions about what data should be employed in automated decisions and how technology can contribute to a fear and avoidance of public spaces. In this paper we take a closer look at what areas in the city that citizens consider unsafe and to what extent they perceive risks of integrity with technologies such as data mapping, mobile phones and camera surveillance. Society is suffused with digital information that codes, maps, and otherwise organizes offline place such that technologies may increase perceptions of risk by reproducing existing economic and social disparities (Davies, 1990; Beck, 1986). As Seija Ridell (2010) points out, this layering, where the digital intersects with the urban, is itself a medium. Specifically, it can be seen in tensions surrounding platforms, local/national media, and technologies that are tightly imbricated with daily life but may also evade scrutiny. Multilevel survey data from a national-level sampling of approximately 9000 inhabitants in Sweden, 3000 inhabitants in the region of Västra Götaland Sweden, 1000 in the municipality of Gothenburg Sweden and 1000 in three selected areas of Gothenburg Sweden 2013 is analyzed in the current study to address these three emerging areas in research of digital-urban space. First, companies that maintain platforms, such as Microsoft or Google, may enact policies that exacerbate pluralistic ignorance under the auspices of "data neutrality." Platforms tend to be oriented towards companies’ needs for attention, to gain users and sell advertising, rather than positively impact community life. Mapping services such as through Google tend to implement policies for data collection without consideration of local contexts, although it is not impossible for countries to push back on data providers (as in the case of Germany). Second, perspectives from media effects present a valuable way to consider the impact of authentic communication. National news sources in the United States have been found to exacerbate perceptions of risk, while local news sources ameliorate perceptions of risk. The concept at work here is that local publications are better than national entities at providing information that is more applicable to the everyday lives of residents and in their everyday communication habits. Networked locality thus also retains a promise to positively impact global communication practices by tapping into technologies such as hyperlocal mapping (Gordon & de Souza e Silva, 2011). Finally, technologies such as cameras are increasingly deployed in urban areas, giving the perception to outsiders of being unsafe. Our results show that when it comes to perceived fear and insecurity in the neighborhood and the forces behind it in the case of Sweden, the focus for action is turned to areas that are considered problematic but are not in the most need of assistance. People also perceive the surveillance systems as all encompassing and inevitable, such that there is no use in trying to understand or resist it (Best, 2010).

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