Cfp: Virtual conference ‘Automation and data-driven journalism beyond the Western world: Actors, practices, and socio-political impact’

The DRS research project ‘Sustainable journalism for the algorithmic future’ in partnership with the Aleksanteri Institute and Swedish School of Social Sciences of the University of Helsinki invite the submission of papers to be presented at the online conference Automation and data-driven journalism beyond the Western world: Actors, practices, and socio-political impact on May 5–6 2021.

Algorithmic systems and other data-driven practices exert increasing influence over today’s societies, reshaping how social and economic systems function (Gillespie 2014). Algorithms are society’s new “power brokers,” dictating the stories that we pay attention to, the activities we participate in, and the people we connect with (Kitchin 2017). The news media is among those industries where artificial intelligence and algorithms are making strides and reordering the playing field as their use diversifies and expands. AI and algorithmic systems are implemented in newsrooms at various stages of the workflow: from smart tools that assist journalists in producing stories to the fully automated production of news articles, and from audience data analysis that informs editorial decisions to algorithmic recommendation systems that match specific content to users. On social media platforms, that form an increasingly central node in news consumption, algorithms not only generate news feeds based on our acquaintances’ actions and advertisers’ preferences (Van Dijck & Poell 2013) but also perform as actors with their own judgment (Carlson 2018). The algorithmic systems employed by social media platforms, news aggregators and other recommender systems can therefore affect the journalistic process and professional practices of media practitioners.

Current scholarly debate on these issues prioritizes and builds upon empirical studies conducted in democratic, Western contexts. Much less is known about the drivers of digital innovation uptake and its socio-political impact in other political and cultural contexts, and this is problematic. Countries such as China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa and South Korea do implement global or introduce their own AI-driven tools in their news media This challenges the mediated reality they produce and can, in turn, affect global media agendas  (e.g., in the international activities of Chinese Xinhua, Russian RT and Arab Al Jazeera). At the same time, the socio-political impact of news and disinformation amplified through social media is evident across the Global South, where moderation efforts by global platforms lag behind.

This online conference strives to place the discussion of automation and data-driven journalism beyond the Western and Anglophone world. We build upon previous research (Hanitzsch et al 2019, Henkel et al 2020) demonstrating that media innovation and its adoption develop differently depending on the specific characteristics of media systems and markets. Understanding the algorithmic turn in journalism as a socially constructed process – dependent on a country’s journalistic culture, news media’s formal and informal institutions , and the societal role of media – we propose an alternative list of questions to be added to the discussion. When the main media outlets are owned or controlled by the state, who benefits from the automation of media processes, and in what way? When censorship and self-censorship are embedded into journalist professional culture, will the implementation of algorithmic systems lead to more freedom and independence of journalists, or vice versa?  How does the economic efficiency promised by automation leverage the political/ideological efficiency of media institutions in authoritarian contexts? What is the importance of algorithmic systems in spreading and amplifying propaganda and disinformation in different media systems?

We welcome both disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives and studies employing various social scientific methods, including comparative case-studies, ethnography, socio-legal, and STS studies. Submissions could address, but are not limited to, the following areas:

  • The effects of algorithmic and AI-driven tools on professional practices and routines in newsrooms;
  • Media interlopers and newcomers to the media industry – from IT developers in newsrooms to the role of big technological companies;
  • Implications of AI and data-driven journalism on the public value of news media;
  • Disinformation, fake news and fact checking;
  • The influence of global social media platforms and their algorithmic recommender systems on media outlets;
  • Robotised, algorithmic, augmented, computational, data-driven and other innovative forms of journalism: challenges and opportunities across the globe.

We accept two types of submissions:

Individual paper submissions should be written in English and contain a clear outline of the argument, theoretical framework, methodology and results. Abstracts should be between 250 and 500 words.

Panel proposals should be written in English and consist of a panel rationale (300 words) and abstracts of three papers (max. 250 words per paper).

Please submit your proposal through the submission portal:

Important dates:

Deadline for paper and panel submissions: February 15, 2021 23:59 UTC+2

Selections results: March 15, 2021

Conference: May 5–6, 2021

The conference will be organized as online event. The hosts will strive to accommodate participants’ respective time zones.

Host and organizers:

The event is hosted by the University of Helsinki and organised by Dr. Olga Dovbysh (Aleksanteri Institute, U Helsinki), Hanna Tuulonen (Swedish School of Social Sciences, U Helsinki) and Dr. Mariëlle Wijermars (Aleksanteri Institute, U Helsinki & U Maastricht).

Should you have any questions about the conference, please contact Olga Dovbysh: olga.dovbysh [at] helsinki [dot] fi

New publication: The Palgrave Handbook of Digital Russia Studies

We are extremely proud that our book, The Palgrave Handbook of Digital Russia Studies, has been published and is now available in open access. Comprising 32 chapters, written by more than 40 authors, this unique volume covers all facets of digitalisation in Russia and the use of digital sources and methods for studying Russia.


The book is available for download in pdf and epub formats here:





Book launch – The Palgrave Handbook of Digital Russia Studies

Join us on 22 October at the virtual book launch to celebrate the publication of The Palgrave Handbook of Digital Russia Studies!

Register here to receive the link for accessing the session that will take place on 22 October from 5 PM to 6:30 PM (Helsinki – UTC+3).

This groundbreaking Handbook, edited by DRS researchers Daria Gritsenko and Mariëlle Wijermars together with Mikhail Kopotev, presents a multidisciplinary perspective on how the ‘digital’ is simultaneously changing Russia and the research methods scholars use to study Russia. It provides a critical update on how Russian society, politics, economy, and culture are reconfigured in the context of ubiquitous connectivity and accounts for the political and societal responses to digitalization. In addition, it answers practical and methodological questions in handling Russian data and a wide array of digital methods.

32 chapters by 42 authors – published in open access thanks to the generous support of the University of Helsinki.

At the event, the editors are joined by several of the contributors who will introduce their chapters. During the Q&A, there will be plenty of opportunities to engage with the speakers, as well as to ask questions to other contributors joining us in the audience.




  • Daria Gritsenko, University of Helsinki

Some historical remarks

  • Arto Mustajoki, University of Helsinki

Introduction to The Palgrave Handbook of Digital Russia Studies

  • Mariëlle Wijermars, Maastricht University

Run Runet Runaway: The Transformation of the Russian Internet as a Cultural-Historical Object

  • Gregory Asmolov, King’s College London

Doing Gender Online: Digital Spaces for Identity Politics

  • Olga Andreevskikh, University of Leeds & Marianna Muravyeva, University of Helsinki

Geospatial Data Analysis in Russia’s Geoweb

  • Mykola Makhortykh, University of Bern

Q&A with the editors and contributors to the Handbook


Reviews of the book:

‘This is the most comprehensive and timely book illuminating the impact of digitalization on all spheres of Russia’s social and cultural life.  Through the lens of this Handbook, contemporary Russia emerges in all its complexities and ambiguities.’

Lara Ryazanova-Clarke, University of Edinburgh, UK

‘A profoundly interdisciplinary resource that strikes the perfect balance between breadth and depth. Conceptually rich, analytical smart, and highly informative, the Handbook brings both students and scholars of Russia, Russian digital culture, and digital studies in general, critical insights into a newly emerging discipline.’

Michael S. Gorham, University of Florida, USA

New publication on automation in journalism

In a new article published in Russian professional journal Zhurnalist, Olga Dovbysh outlines three key insights from the current academic debate on news automation that are relevant for Russian newsrooms.

The article is available on the Zhurnalist website: ‘Автоматизированная журналистика глазами академических исследователей’

Olga Dovbysh is a postdoctoral researcher of the project ‘Towards Sustainable Journalism for the Algorithmic Future’, funded by the Helsingin Sanomat Foundation and lead by Mariëlle Wijermars.

CfP: Special issue ‘Algorithmic Governance in Context’

Special issue of New Media & Society

We invite paper proposals for a special issue in the journal New Media & Society that will interrogate the functions and effects of algorithms in contemporary governance. Contributing to the current academic debate, the special issue seeks to conceptualize the notion of context in algorithmic governance by, first, perceiving of algorithmic governance as an activity taking place in a variety of contexts and aiming at investigating these contexts in a systematic manner. Second, by focusing not only on how algorithms are used as tools for governance, but also on how such tools can be governed – controlled and held to account – and what challenges such forms of governance imply. The use of algorithms in society can imply a moving of contestable issues from negotiable to non-negotiable spaces, thereby reducing agency and influence of human actors. Active recontextualizations can become an important tool to problematize such and other consequences of algorithmic governance and reveal possible unintended implications and effects.

The special issue builds upon a series of workshops (2019-2020) facilitated by a networking grant from The Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NOS-HS) coordinated at the University of Helsinki, that focused on the multiplicity of contexts in which algorithmic systems operate. Drawing upon the conceptual work conducted during the workshops, the special issue focuses on two key themes: multiplying the contexts of algorithmic governance and governing algorithms in context.

Multiplying the contexts of algorithmic governance

Articles are invited that explore how specific conditions impact upon the efficacy and perceived legitimacy of algorithms as tools for governance. In particular, contributions may direct attention to the manifold everyday practices through which algorithmic governance is effectuated and investigate the legal, political, cultural, economic, and technological frames that predispose and tacitly guide these. Through this focus, it becomes clear that algorithmic governance is not only a deeply contextual activity, but also an activity carried out within the frames of a multiplicity of different and often competing contexts. Identifying exactly which contexts matter when, in which ways, and to whom becomes an important task for the planning of algorithmic forms of governance in and through autonomous machine learning systems. At the same time, active recontextualization enables problematizing and resisting algorithmic governance in cases where it is perceived as illegitimate or biased.

Governing algorithms in context

Articles are invited that focus on the fact that algorithms at once govern, and are themselves governed by, either human or non-human agents. The increased use of algorithms in all areas of life makes the question of how to understand and sufficiently control such governing algorithms a timely and salient area of critical inquiry. Issues such as the complexity and opacity of algorithmic assessment and feedback systems as well as their growing autonomy and pervasiveness are important areas of research dedicated to improving the governance of algorithms. Articles could, for example, aim at facilitating new technical solutions, at raising public awareness, at informing practices of decision-makers and funding bodies, as well as at critically assessing cultural and other responses to the governance of algorithms.

We welcome both disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives and studies employing various social scientific methods, including comparative case-studies, ethnography, socio-legal studies, design studies, and historical inquiry. We particularly encourage studies that challenge the status quo, either through innovative (mixed method) methodologies or critical reflections on the state of the art. Papers could address, but are not limited to, the following questions:

  • What are the different ‘realities’ constructed by the use of algorithms in governance? How do they play out across time and space?
  • How do individuals – in private or organisational contexts – make sense of and respond to algorithmic governance?
  • What are the similarities and differences in the deployment of algorithmic governance within public and private sectors?
  • What are the challenges of developing effective strategies for governing algorithms at the intersection of law and technology?
  • How can different publics be made aware of ‘algorithmic bads’, while still benefiting from ‘algorithmic goods’?

In sum, papers can either systematically tackle the contexts of algorithmic governance or investigate the governance of algorithms, identifying challenges that emerge in different governance contexts.

Guest editors:

Daria Gritsenko, Assistant Professor in Russian Big Data Methodology, University of Helsinki.

Annette Markham, Professor of Media & Communication, Digital Ethnography Research Centre, RMIT, Melbourne.

Holger Pötzsch, Professor of Media- and Documentation Studies, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway.

Mariëlle Wijermars, Assistant Professor in Cyber-Security and Politics, Maastricht University.


Submission guidelines:

Proposals of 750-1000 words should include an abstract and a short description explaining how the proposed paper relates to the special issue theme. Please submit your proposal through the submission form no later than June 30, 2020. Invited paper submissions will be due 31 October 2020 and will undergo peer review following the usual procedures of New Media & Society. Approximately 10-12 papers will be sent out for full review. Therefore, the invitation to submit a full article does not guarantee acceptance into the special issue. The special issue is scheduled for publication in early 2022, with online first publication expected from mid-2021 onwards.

Workshop “Words and Actions. Political text mining” – January 13-14

Workshop “Words and Actions. Political text mining” January 13-14, 2020, University of Helsinki, Finland

The “Words and Actions” project hosts a two-day international workshop on advanced methods of textual analysis used to address complex and theoretically rich questions coming from sociology, political science and history.

The workshop focuses on three methodological approaches to texts. First, it presents novel techniques of supervised machine learning applied for automated annotation of texts. These techniques enable scaling up of theory-rich qualitative research approaches, such as discourse network analysis. The second approach introduces quantitative methods of semantic analysis as tools for a fine-grained study of social and political change used by conceptual historians and political sociologists. Third, the workshop aims at exploring the use of vector representations of textual data – such as word embeddings –for nurturing research which takes into account multi-dimensionality of cultural and political space.

Attendance is free. Please register by clicking here

Venue: University of Helsinki, Unioninkatu 33, room 303 (entrance from Unioninkatu)

Contact: Juulia Heikkinen (

Organizer: Andrey Indukaev (

Funded by the Future Development Fund, Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki


January 13

8.30 – Welcome coffee and snacks

9.00-9.15 – Opening words. Andrey Indukaev (University of Helsinki)

9.15-11.45 – Session 1. Quantitative conceptual history

Jani Marjanen (University of Helsinki): The case for quantitative conceptual history

10.00-10.20 – Coffee break

Paul Nulty (University College Dublin): Word association measures for building semantic networks

Lidia Pivovarova (University of Helsinki): Political term clustering for historical newspaper analysis

12.00-13.00 – Lunch break

13.15-17.45 – Session 2. Automating annotation and discourse networks analysis

Félix Krawatzek (ZIOS Berlin): Tracing shifting meanings of youth through discourse network analysis

Erenay Dayanik (University of Stuttgart): Towards computational construction of discourse networks for political debates

14.45-15.15 – Coffee break

Nico Blokker (University of Bremen): Semi-automatic construction of discourse networks from newspaper articles

Gregor Wiedemann (University of Hamburg): Active learning for text classification: lessons from automated content analysis of party manifestos and Facebook user comments

Veikko Eranti (University of Helsinki): Going Overboard: Politicization in an anonymous online community.

January 14

9.00-11.45 – Session 3. From vector representations of words to multi-dimensional space of political discourse?

Måns Magnusson (Aalto University): Using priors to capture concepts of interest in large corpora

9.45-10.15 – Coffee break

Kirill Maslinsky (Higher School of Economics, Saint-Petersburg): New emotional vectors of the political regime: the case of Khrushchev’s Thaw in children’s literature

Andrey Indukaev (University of Helsinki): Mapping ideational change in the political space with word embeddings: the case of ‘Modernization’ in contemporary Russia

12.00-13.00 – Lunch break

13.15-15.30 – Session 4. Quantifying evaluation and justification

Daniel Knuchel (University of Zurich): Conzeptualizations of ‘New’ AIDS in German-speaking Discourse – Corpus Linguistic Studies

Eeva Luhtakallio (University of Helsinki) & Jyrki Rasku (University of Tampere): ImagiDem: Visual politicization and deep learning

Andrey Indukaev (University of Helsinki): Automating complex theory-driven annotation: experimenting with Justification Theory

15.30-16.00 – Coffee break

Markets of tomorrow and “great Russia” politics

Andrey, you just came back from the SASE’s 30th Anniversary Conference at The New School in New York. Could you briefly tell us what it was about?


SASE – Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics – is a large international organization that brings together researchers exploring the economy and society nexus. Its annual conference is the most important venue for this interdisciplinary research domain. This year, the conference theme was “Fathomless Futures: Algorithmic and Imagined”, which spiced the common SASE themes with a focus on digital technology and future oriented activities. This big conference included numerous panels regrouped in 18 networks and 19 mini-conferences – close to 40 tracks in total! I presented a paper at the mini-conference entitled “Futures and Visions of Global Orders” organized by Jenny Andersson, Vincent Cardon, Melissa Fisher, and Olivier Pilmis.

What was your paper about?


The ideational dimension of policy-making is one of my research interests since my doctoral  dissertation, where I analyze how ideas influence the adoption and functioning of market-oriented policy tools in the science, technology and innovation (STI) domain in Russia. This year’s conference focus inspired me to pursue this analysis and to focus on crucial component of ideational context of the policy-making in the STI domain, the images of the future.

What are the main findings of your research?


First, my paper enhances the understanding of the ways of representing the future that widely shared by the country’s political and administrative leadership. I think that the most important result is how country-specific visions of the future, centered on what may be called “great Russia” politics, are intertwined with the investment professionals’ – namely venture capitalists (VCs) – vision of the future, that is spread all over the world. Russian policy in the STI domain has among its objectives serving the “great Russia” politics, that is, reinforcing the country’s standing in international relationships. In this regard, the policy is in line with what the dominant part of political leadership, especially conservative, believe to be the country’s strategic priorities. The corresponding image of the future is the one where Russia struggles for its place in the international relationship system, in particular, through resisting the technology-fueled dominance of the West. In apparent contradiction with this image, the policy tools used in Russia in the STI domain are in line with Western “best practices”, being market-oriented and using venture capital ways of doing as a key reference. My main contribution is to show that there is no great contradiction between the images of the future coming from the venture capital industry and those dominated by the “great Russia” logic. Why is it so? First, the venture capital’s perspective on the future is centered on the revolutionary technologies and products that radically transform – “disrupt” – existing markets and create new ones, thus changing the world. This idea implies that economic actors face the imperative of leading or facing this endless disruption in order not to be whipped out of the markets of tomorrow. Second, the “great Russia” politics nowadays frames the economic sphere as a key battlefield where the country has to consolidate its power. The country’s activities in the STI field framed as a fight for a decent share of the markets of tomorrow (and consequently for its standing in the world) blends the venture capital perspective with the “great Russia” politics.

Putin’s words that the one who will master Artificial Intelligence, will master the Universe made news. But what are the arguments that the president uses to support his claim? In other speeches, the country’s leader referred to the future volume of AI-related market to support his argument about the strategic importance of this technology. My analysis explains how markets and the “mastering of the universe” are intertwined in the images of the future of the Russian political leadership.

What are your plans regarding this line of research?


The next step is to put my analysis in context, since the association between the politics of international competiveness and the STI policy, in particular the mobilization of the venture capital, is not unique to Russia. Just as Russia, China actively uses venture capital to achieve strategic goals, primarily the country’s competiveness in the world economy, blending the future imaginaries of the nation’s rise to power with those of technological development. Similarly, Western democracies justify many State-supported initiatives in the STI domain by mobilizing the catch-up rhetoric, implying that investment in new technologies is key to the country’s standing in the future world order – as it was in the case of the National Nanotechnology Initiative in the US. Thus, I am motivated to show that the Russian case I presented at SASE is not exceptional.

Anna Belokur joins DRS to work on her MA thesis

The DRS team has a new member – Anna Belokur who will be working on her master thesis under the supervision of Prof. Daria Gritsenko. Anna has started her MA in Russian Studies (MARS) programme at the University of Helsinki in September 2018 after taking her bachelor’s degree in biology. Anna’s special interest is public health and she hopes to combine natural and social sciences in the examination of public health and disease in Russia. Her master thesis focuses on the digital trail of Russia’s HIV epidemic, using big data methods to examine the ways in which HIV is present in (or absent from) Russian media discourse, and if/how the relative rates of media «awareness» regarding HIV correlate to rates of reported infections and deaths in various regions.

DRS seminar: closing spring series. Social networks in Soviet film industry; Digitalization of education in Russia

The last seminar of the spring series took place on June 7th, featuring presentations by Nelli Piattoeva, Associate Professor at the University of Tampere, and  Joan Neuberger, Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The presentation by Nelli Piattoeva entitled “Digitalizing education in Russia: a governance perspective” was focused on an ongoing research project. The digital technology are playing the increasingly important role in the governance of secondary education in the Russian Federation. In particular, more and more information is used for the educational organization monitoring and assessment by the sector’s administration. The resulting changes in how schools function in the new “datified” governance context are being actively investigated by the project’s researchers.

“Social Network Analysis and the Soviet Film Industry” – the presentation by Joan Neuberger – exposed intermediary results of a research project where quantitative methods were used to advance research on the Soviet culture. Joan used open data on Soviet movies* credit scores to analyze the structure and dynamics of the system of collaboration networks in the Soviet cinematographic universe, from its inception to the first post-war decade. The project, led by a specialist in humanities with a cautionary approach towards methodology, exposed the opportunities and limitations of social network analysis in the historical studies of the cultural production. For example, the study of the centrality measures of the collaboration networks revealed an interesting phenomenon: the most “central” characters are not the ones who are the most famous or successful, but those who have the longest track record. That shows that centrality measures should be used with caution when trying to detect prominence within a cultural field, suggesting, at the same time, that social network analysis can reveal actors of great social importance who stayed out of the spotlight.

The closing session of the seminar highlighted the virtues of the Digital Russia Studies seminar, which brings together researchers with different backgrounds wishing to present projects at different stages of advancement, using wide variety of methods, but always sparking interesting and fruitful discussion. Stay tuned for the autumn’s series of the DRS seminar!

Vladimiv Uralskiy (on the left) – the most central actor in the Soviet film industry. Do you know this prolific character actor?

A DH perspective on sub-national governance in Russia

On May 17th, Digital Russia Studies spring seminars series featured two presentations on sub-national governance in Russia – both using digital humanities methods.

DRS co-founder, Daria Gritsenko, introduced the new research project “Algorithmic Governance in Context(s): Civic technology in Russian regions”. This project led by Daria Gritsenko and Andrey Indukaev studies the digitalization of local governance in Russia. The project aims to understand what makes local administrations implement digital tools of civil participation (civic tech) in the Russian regions. The key hypothesis of the project is that there is no single pathway to civic tech uptake, but the reasons vary between the regions: some do it because of the local administration’s interest in digital tools, while others respond to the ‘push from below’ – the needs of the local civil society. The seminar participants discussed the key social and political phenomena that may influence civic tech use, the relevant variables, such as the activity of local media and civil society.

Andrey Starodubtsev presented a his project focusing on the ideational dimension of regional politics in Russia.  The main methodological focus of the project is on the diachronic and synchronic textual analysis of governors speeches and writings. What ideas do regional leaders express in different contexts? In particular, how do they express the desirable status of subnational units? To answer these questions, he aims at analysing the centralist and federalist ideas in governors’ political communication using mixed-method techniques combining text mining and close reading. After the presentation, the discussion turned around the methodological issues of textual analysis, in particular how to approach different types of data and how to deal with unbalanced corpora.