My research deals with information policy and politics. More specifically, I deal with three areas of studies: (1) Information control (gatekeeping); (2) Digital divide; and (3) E-Gov and E-Business in comparative analysis.
My interests in examining information policy and politics are embedded in my academic background and training in computer science, political science and management of information systems. In my research I integrate these three fields of knowledge and consequently I wish to produce a value-added, inter and multi-disciplinary perspective and new questions.
The drive of my research comes from the belief in the ability of academia and research to change and evolve society. Research should have an impact on the scholastic community as well as the larger society. I am a great believer in making a difference through research and leading society through paths of knowledge and experience and change of awareness. My impact as a scholar may incite stakeholders to look at certain phenomena from different lenses.
My motivation and interest are embedded in integrative philosophy of research and teaching:
1) Integrating conceptual and empirical research. All of my projects combine both angles. Believing in a circulatory evolvement of life, I conceptualize theories and questions along empirical investigation in order to evolve new theory or refining existing theories.
2) Playing with different methodologies. In my research I try to combine various methodologies parallel, so for example, I combine qualitative and quantitative methods together, or use various qualitative approaches to address the same question.
3) Although my main interest and focus lies in first or second-degree questions, which are considered as high-level questions, my research addresses different levels of unit analysis – from a micro perspective until an holistic view of a phenomena.
4) Following the integrative approach I believe in, all my projects rely on an inter and multi-disciplinary approach.
5) Finally, an interesting thing I found is that all my projects have a common denominator even if they are dealing with another topic. This denominator is the focus of questions, and the prism that is taken to address these questions – a political angle. So my different projects are also integrated.
My larger questions focus on the intersection of information and power, that is, understanding inter-relations among stakeholders, and the politics of these relationships. All of my projects circle around these topics. The most interesting thing about information is the transformation of its role, purpose, the ways in which it is being conceived and its meanings for power in different contexts. Hence, I would like to analyze how power and politics are being manifested in different contexts through information, and what are the reasons for such manifestations.
The diagram above represents the main three threads of my research that are embedded in the conceptual umbrella of information policy and politics (for elaboration see below).
1. Information Control (Gatekeeping) Thread of Research
The information control thread of research started as part of my Ph.d dissertation, and later branched out to more refined and specific topics and also to the other threads (digital divide, and eGov and eBusiness in comparative analysis). Hence, the analysis from an angle of information control and politics is combined with other projects.
The topic evolved from my Ph.d dissertation where I developed a new theoretical framework, and applied it in cases of virtual communities. A natural evolution was to address these issues of control of information from a free speech point of view. The results and analysis emphasized the role of self-regulation mechanisms in virtual communities, and more generally in networks. All of these subjects stimulated me to return to the theoretical framework and refine it even more. Here is some elaboration:
New Theoretical Framework of Information Control
The theoretical study is aimed to perform a systematic examination of the concept of gatekeeping in the context of networks and more specifically in the Internet. The concept of gatekeeper was first coined by the social psychologist Kurt Lewin. His theory of “channels and gatekeepers” was developed to explain focal points of social changes in communities. Since the introduction of Kurt Lewin's insight, the concept of gatekeeping has been used in various disciplines (e.g., communication, sociology, psychology, political science). Additionally, it has been applied specifically to practical domains such as journalism (e.g., newspapers editors as gatekeepers), health science, operations research, and technology development (e.g., consultants who provide a second opinion or function as intermediaries).
Keeping on with the initial course of gatekeeping research, as referred to in the communication literature, my project suggested a new meta-theory of gatekeeping in networks through multidisciplinary aspects: information systems, information science, management, political science and sociology. The study offered new definitions of gatekeeping and gatekeepers in a network context and referred to gatekeeping as a process of information control. Additionally it suggested two typologies of gatekeepers and their mechanisms and provided a framework to further theories in the field.
Here are few examples of the work in this thread:
Barzilai-Nahon Karine, 2006, “Gatekeepers, Virtual Communities and their Gated: Multidimensional Tensions in Cyberspace”, International Journal of Communications, Law and Policy, Issue 11, Autumn.
Barzilai-Nahon, Karine. 2005. “Network Gatekeeping Theory“, in: Theories of Information Behavior: A Researcher’s Guide, (Eds.) Fisher K.E, Erdelez S. and McKechnie, E.F., Medford, NJ: Information Today
Barzilai-Nahon Karine and Seev Neuman, “Gatekeeping in Networks: A Meta-Theoretical Framework for Exploring Information Control“, Journal of Association of Information Systems Sponsored Theory Development Workshop in ICIS (International Conference of Information Systems), Las Vegas, December 2005 [forthcoming] (the workshop has 30% of acceptance)
Empirical Investigation of Gatekeeping
(including Free Speech and Virtual Communities sub-threads of research)
In the last two years I have concentrated on one type of gatekeeping which is censorship mechanisms, and I tried to understand how virtual communities could manage and maintain control in their communities by deleting messages and censoring them. As a result, my research evolved to focus on the issue of free speech in virtual communities. Naturally, these threads of research affected back and refined the theoretical framework.
I have examined empirically two types of gatekeepers, virtual community providers and managers. This study had three main objectives: (1) to provide an explanatory model for information control, gatekeeping, with the dominant factors that influence this process and to explain the process of gatekeeping in virtual communities; (2) to provide explanatory models that analyze the various reasons for gatekeeping in these virtual communities; and (3) to construct predictive models for gatekeeping events and their reasons. The empirical examination was performed on a large dataset using data mining techniques through logistic regression with content analysis methods. It examined 715 virtual communities, with over 1.3 million messages and 80 variables that included information traffic as well as forum and user characteristics within these communities. The results of this study explicated how gatekeeping is being activated in the Internet and provide implications for analyzing control mechanisms and information flow in cyberspace. This thread yielded few papers. For example:
Barzilai-Nahon Karine and Barzilai Gad, 2006, “Freedom of Speech and Imaginary Freedom in Cyberspace: On the Resurrection of Censorship”, in: Law, Society and Culture, Vol. 3, Ramot Press, pp. 485-512 [in Hebrew]. This article was also reprinted in ISOC-IL (Internet Society Association in Israel) Magazine, Vol.5(9)
Self-regulation Mechanisms of Gatekeeping
The next sub-thread evolved from all of the above components, and combined all of them (free speech in virtual communities). These components emphasized another gatekeeping mechanism that is strong in virtual communities when censorship of information occurs – that is the self-regulation mechanism. I intend to develop this topic more in the future. Here are some samples of the papers derived from this thread of research:
Barzilai-Nahon Karine, “Gatekeeping in Virtual Communities: On Politics of Power in Cyberspace“,HICSS-38 (Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences), Hawaii, January 2006 (this article combines the previous sub-thread as well)
Barzilai-Nahon, Karine and Neumann, Seev. “Bounded in Cyberspace: An Empirical Model of Self-Regulation in Virtual Communities", HICSS-38 (Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences), January 2005
2. Digital Divide Thread of Research
The second stream of research that derives as part of my interest in the area of information policy is digital divide. My motivation to research the domain came again from questions of power and information, and more specifically the need to understand inequalities in distribution of information technology, its content, use and context. The interest in the topic was generated after I have participated in the World Summit of the Information Society I (WSIS-I) in December 2003 in Geneva and later in November 2005 in WSIS-II in Tunis. Then I was surprised to realize that stakeholders talk about the divide from different angles (e.g., financing, infrastructure and skills), but only rare attempts were made to construct an index that could measure the general concept of the digital divide. Consequently, my first step was to construct a comprehensive measurement index to the digital divide and to validate it.
The conceptual model of the digital divide suggested to look into this concept from a comprehensive way (see figure 1). The uniqueness of this project is by its focus on the skills, use and application of information and not only concentrating on more traditional digital divide definitions of access, which actually concentrate on infrastructure dimensions only.
The conceptual model was published as a paper in The Information Society journal –
Barzilai-Nahon Karine, 2006, “Gaps and Bits: Conceptualizing Measurements for Digital Divide/s”, The Information Society, Vol. 22(5), pp. 269-278
The paper received a lot of attention of practitioners, decision makers, media channels and academia. For example – around 30 newspaper articles introduced the research, and many blogs and professional networks discussed it.
The next phase of this conceptual model is to try to validate the index empirically. This phase might take few years. Before I continue to pursue this phase, I study in-depth specific factors and elements of the comprehensive model: Accessibility and Religiosity (what I call the 'cultured technology' project).
Both threads of research (the digital divide and the information control) ignited a lot of thoughts about self-regulation, and what the meaning of it to various communities. I am mainly interested in the power relations between the government, the communities’ regulators and their members. I added that to the topic of digital divide and consequently, I analyzed secluded communities, religious communities. This project presents a theoretical framework and an empirical investigation to understand the relationship between religious fundamentalist communities and the Internet, through addressing four dimensions of tensions and challenges: hierarchy, patriarchy, discipline, and seclusion. This new perspective sheds a new light over the abstract framework of gatekeeping and gatekeepers, by focusing on various aspects of information control in and through secluded communities. On the other hand, I embark on broadening the understanding of religiosity in context of digital divide and understanding digital divide challenges in such communities,
Prof. Gad Barzilai is my collaborator on this project. Together, we developed the concept of cultured technology, and analyzed the ways communities reshape technology and make it as part of their culture, while on the other hand allowing this technology to make certain changes in their customary way of life and in their unwritten laws. Later, we exemplified our theoretical framework through an empirical examination of ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel. Our empirical study was based on original dataset of 686,192 users and 60,346 virtual communities, while also relying on extensive literature review and secondary data. The results show the complexity of interactions between religious fundamentalism and Internet, and invite further discussions of cultured technology as a means to adapt Internet and to be adapted into it in various communities that incline to challenge technological innovations.
The project resulted in one refereed paper in The Information Society journal which was twice reprinted. The research gained a great deal of attention and was covered in 23 newspaper articles and was also covered in different news channels in Israel.
Here is a sample of the academic publications:
Barzilai-Nahon, Karine and Barzilai, Gad. 2005. “Cultured Technology: Internet and Religious fundamentalism", The Information Society, Vol 21(1) (this article was also published in Hebrew in the ISOC-IL (Internet Society Association in Israel) Magazine, Vol.5(1))
This paper was also reprinted in: Barzilai-Nahon Karine and Barzilai Gad, 2007, “Cultured Technology: Internet and Religion fundamentalism“, in: Gad Barzilai (ed.), 2007 Law and Religion, Dartmouth/Ashgate, pp. 301-316
And translated to Hebrew:
Barzilai-Nahon Karine and Barzilai Gad, 2007, “Cultured Technology: Internet and Religious fundamentalism“, 2006, ISOC-IL (Internet Society Association in Israel) Magazine, 2006, Vol.5(1)
As part of the in-depth concentration in components that construct the digital divide, I am just starting a new project with a colleague from UBC, Prof. Izak Benbasat. In this study we try to understand the impediments to designing websites with accessibility features that are so important to people with disabilities.
3. E2ECA - eGovernment and eBusiness Comparative Analysis Thread of Research
This is the third thread of my research that deals with information policy. In contrast to the other two threads that are inter-related, this subject is a stand-alone thread of research. Again the main theme that interests me in this research is to understand the information politics of decision makers when they address challenges in eGovernment and eBusiness. This research is conducted with my colleague, Prof. Jochen Scholl and would like to deepen the understanding of the cross-specific similarities and differences between the two sectors. Right now we are in the end of the first phase where we conducted 6 focus groups (3 for eGovernment and 3 for eBusiness). In the next phase we will do integrated focus groups and then apply to an NSF grant to try to widen the research nationally and internationally.
We already published one conference proceeding (HICSS) and had two talks.
Barzilai-Nahon Karine and Scholl Jochen, “Similarities and Differences of E-Commerce and E-Government: Insights from a Pilot Study”, 40th Hawaiian International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS2007), Hawaii, January 2007