Real-time media monitoring, digital diplomacy and mobile methods: A case study of BBC Arabic’s social media experiment Greenwich 7/10
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State-funded, international news broadcasters, such as BBC World Service, Voice of America, Deutsch Welle and France 24, now incorporate social media opportunities for news consumers as part of a wider strategy to engage overseas publics in participatory debate and pursue ‘digital diplomacy’ objectives – notably, projecting national perspectives onto the media screens of geopolitically strategic regions such as the Middle East. This article examines how BBC World Service gathers and uses the extensive digital data that real-time media monitoring and social listening tools produce about users and their online transactions. It draws on a collaborative research project about a short-lived social media experiment developed by the BBC Arabic Service, called Greenwich 7/10: a weekly TV political debate series, co-produced with users, and aired on satellite across the Middle East and the Arabic-speaking world. While the BBC production team itself moved between London, Cairo, Dubai, and other sites in the Middle East to produce the programme, our multi-lingual research team were both participants in and observers of the experiment. We followed: (1) ‘produsers’ - how social identities and relationships were performed and evolved in the ‘virtual’ and ‘real’ worlds constructed around G 7/10; (2) digital devices – how different interactive social media (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and other websites) were mobilised in creating the TV programme; (3) digital debate – how ‘produsers’ initiated, framed, and debated issues and how these debates foreshadowed subsequent political protests in Egypt in January and February 2011. It will be argued that digital devices and data not only embed values but they also enact shifting socialities across transnational spaces and in doing so alter how we imagine and research the relationship between online and offline, and the social and media worlds of ‘produsers’. It will also be argued that the digital traces that everyday online transactions produce and that are routinely stored by corporations like the BBC World Service have become integral to the production and mediation of public and political cultures, and to the contemporary wars of ideas and political protest.20117103