Catching up with... Daniel Trottier

Dr. Daniel Trottier works as an Assistant Professor in Global Digital Media within the IBCoM programme. His main research topic is digital vigilantism, for which he received a Vidi grant earlier this year. “This grant means that I can focus on this as a sole responsibility research wise, but also supervising PhD researchers. That’s all going to begin in September, and I am very much looking forward to it.”

Daniel’s interest in digital vigilantism extends from previous research on online visibility, surveillance, and policing by citizens. He has always been interested in the popularisation or domestication of surveillance. During his PhD, he looked at how people were using Facebook to watch over each other. This idea has always been an underlying concern in his research. More specifically, his shift in focus to digital vigilantism happened 5 years ago, after Daniel experienced it up close. “After Vancouver lost the final ice hockey match against Boston, there was a big riot in the streets of Vancouver. As the riot was unfolding, people were turning to social media to sort of report and render this process visible. That was quite interesting, because riots concern large crowds, which makes them anonymous. With social media playing a role here, this was the first time where this really flipped on its head. For me, this experience shifted my focus to that process of self-policing and citizenship explicitly.”

Capturing the phenomenon of digital vigilantism

Drawing from this experience, Daniel focuses on multiple aspects of digital vigilantism. “On the one hand, this is a relatively new phenomenon. We are struggling to find the language to describe it, while at the same time it is linked to earlier forms of political mobilization and citizenship. In the Vidi research I will be covering the ground. On the one hand I will focus on a few different sets of actors: those who are targeted by these online campaigns and those who participate in them, like the police and politicians who are forced to respond to it. Media educators and other figures who are trying to make sense of it will be included as well. By looking at their experiences and the languages they’re using, I will be trying to find those different ways of framing this phenomenon. At the same time I will also look at news media. Here, I make a distinction between conventional mass press and digital platforms where these phenomena unfold, but also hybrid social news platforms such as Reddit, or, in the Dutch context, geenstijl.nl. These are the spaces where these phenomena occur, but they are also acting like journalistic accounts that sort of make sense of it. That’s a lot of different things to look at, but having the 5 year framework should make that possible.”

Collaborations

One of the things that Daniel is looking forward to, is collaborating with other parties. “That would for example be with different departments such as Law, but also from an international perspective it will be interesting to forage stronger links to the Russian and Chinese context. It will be very good to have partnerships with not only the PhD researchers, who are experts in that area, but also with some of the institutions there.”

Other research activities

As a side project, Daniel is looking at social media in the context of elections. “It’s kind of related to the digital vigilantism topic, but rather than being citizen-led, there is this blurring between individuals and politicians and the more established group. This was the case of the 2015 Canadian elections, where about 40 candidates had to either apologize or resign as a result of stuff that they have said online that was dug up. I thought that was quite striking. Social media use has implications for anybody on the job market or anybody who has a public presence.”

Teaching in IBCoM

When asked about his favorite aspect of IBCoM as a whole, Daniel especially speaks proudly about the structure as well as the culture within the programme. “I think you really see the reward of the structure of the IBCoM programme in terms of having comparatively smaller class sizes and having a consistent engagement with students throughout the years. The academic but also the broader scholastic culture that’s produced here benefits students and teachers alike. The quality of the students and the quality of the work is quite exceptional.”

Upcoming projects

Daniel will be in Oslo in September for a workshop on a project with the Peace Research Institute, presenting a case study on digital vigilantism and emergence of crisis communication. Another interesting project is a collaboration with David Myles (Université de Montréal) which entails putting together a case study on a Quebec based group on vigilantism. This study will be submitted for publication at the end of August.

Want to know more about Daniel’s research? Recommended readings are:

  • Trottier, Daniel. 2016. Digital Vigilantism as Weaponsiation of Visibility. Philosophy & Technology (online first; DOI: 10.1007/s13347-016-0216-4)
  • Trottier, Daniel. 2013. Identity problems in the Facebook Era. New York: Routledge
  • Trottier, Daniel. 2012. Social Media as Surveillance: Rethinking Visibility in a Converging World. Farnham:  Ashgate