A little bit about information and society

Information Control

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