Behind the Digital Image. Photographs on Community Platforms and Twitter as Repositories for Machine Learning and Journalistic Publications


“Behind the Digital Image: Photographs on Community Platforms and Twitter as Repositories for Machine Learning and Journalistic Publications” is located at the intersection of the creation and presentation of digital images, the specificity of public databases (both social media repositories such as Twitter and photo-sharing platforms), and challenges to legal and social practices. Starting from a practice-orientated perspective, I offer deeper insights into the features of digital images as well as into ethical questions posed by the digital image as an integral part of creating a theory of the digital image as both research tool and research object.

My project involves two sub-projects:

Crowd-Sourced Images: a Repository for Critical Research and Artificial Intelligence: The digital image is located at the intersection of popular visual media, monetizable commodities, and its role as repository for the further development of image recognition through artificial intelligence and machine learning. Pictures taken by amateurs are also used for image recognition and automated key wording.

A Closer Look into Terms of Use: Photo-Editors’ Use of Twitter to Retrieve Amateurs’ Photographs: Twitter is one of the prime social media for eyewitnesses’ photographs of immediate interest to photo-editors. My main interest is to investigate the conversations between eyewitnesses and photo-editors online, the use of so-called social media release forms where copyright holders basically agree to free distribution of their pictures, and the status of the digital image as agent in changing social and legal practices.

My DFG-project deals with the practice of the digital image; it examines and reflects technological instruments and social infrastructures using an approach involving mixed methods, especially media ethnography and digital methods. I use in-depth interviews, participatory observation and social media analytic tools to collect data. Since the digital world is changing quickly, field work is needed to understand processes and procedures as they arise.

A further objective is to contribute to much-needed research on the ethics surrounding digital images: What do visual ethics mean in a digital culture? How do online photo-communities deal with ethical questions? Do platform providers incorporate ethics into their terms of use? How can we as researchers use ethics as research methods, especially when it comes to researching the visual online, the digital image itself and its socio-technological practices? If we as researchers work with publicly available data, for instance from Twitter, how do we gain the consent of the copyright holders of published images to allow us to use their data in our research?


Dr. Evelyn Runge, University of Cologne