Behind the digital image. Photographs on community platforms and Twitter as repositories for machine learning and journalistic publications.


“Behind the Digital Image. Public Photographs on Community Platforms and Twitter as Repositories for Machine Learning and Journalistic Publications” is located at the intersection of creating and presenting digital images, the specificity of public databases (social media-repositories such as Twitter as well as photo-sharing platforms), and challenges for legal and social practices. Departing 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 integral part of theorising the digital image as a research tool and a research object.

My project pursues two sub-projects:

  1. Crowd-Sourced Images – A Repository for Critical Research and Artificial Intelligence: The digital image is located between popular visual media, a commodity that can be monetized, and as a repository for the further development of image recognition through artificial intelligence and machine learning: also pictures taken by amateurs are used for image recognition and automated key wording.
  2. A Closer Look into Terms of Use: Photo-Editors’ Use of Twitter to Retrieve Amateurs’ Photographs: Twitter is a prime social media for eyewitnesses’ photographs that draw immediate interest of 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 with a mixed methods approach, especially media ethnographic methods and digital methods. I use in-depths interviews and participatory observation to collect data, as well as social media analytic tools. Since the digital world is quickly changing, field work is needed to understand processes and procedures as they happen.

The further objective is to contribute to much needed research on ethics surrounding the digital images: What does visual ethics in a digital culture mean? How do photo-communities online deal with ethics? Do platform providers integrate ethics in their terms of use? How can we as researchers use ethics as research methods, especially if 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 consent from the copyright holders of published images that we use their data in our research?


Dr. Evelyn Runge, Universität zu Köln