Research group at imec & Vrije Universiteit Brussel


New publications by SMIT researchers (September 2021- January 2022)

Below you can find an overview of publications of SMIT from September 2021 till January 2022. The publications are divided into the two major programmes of SMIT: Media & Society and Data & Society. Enjoy the read!


Media & Society

Flemish media sector

The book ‘Media en Innovatie in een veranderende samenleving. Uitdagingen voor de Vlaamse mediasector.’ (NL) by editors Tim Raats and Tom Evens bundles the results of the chair ‘Media in een samenleving in transitie’, a research collaboration between VRT, Universiteit Gent and Vrije Universiteit Brussel. It shows the interfaces between media innovation and social fault lines, and which challenges these pose for the future of the Flemish media landscape. Order the book. 


Digital platforms and digital tv in Europe

The article ‘The “Netflix Tax”: An Analysis of Investment Obligations for On-Demand Audiovisual Services in the European Union’ by  Catalina Iordache, Tim Raats and Karen Donders examines the financial investment obligations on foreign (audovisual) platforms in 10 European Union states. Read the article.


News audiences

In the article ‘Windows to the World: Imagining Flemish News Audiences and Their Views on Society through the Lens of News Repertoires.’, Ike Picone and Ruben Vandenplas explore the proposition that consuming news functions as one’s window to the world. By constructing the news repertoires of Flemish citizens using the Participation Survey, news practices are linked to attitudes on society, including civic (dis-) engagement, individualism, and ethnocentrism.

In line with previous research, the study shows that age and socio-economic status significantly predict the constellation of one’s news repertoire. Furthermore, variances in news repertoires translate into small but significant differences in views on society, particularly between the media-rich Panoramic and media-poor Limited news repertoires regarding ethnocentrism. Read the article.


News during the covid-19 pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic sent tremors throughout the news landscape. While the onset of the pandemic appeared to significantly increase news hunger, soon after, studies reported an uptick in what they termed “coronablocking”: the conscious avoidance of coronavirus related news. Younger age groups in particular appeared more likely to engage in coronablocking.

The article ‘Tuning Out the News. A Cross-Media Perspective on News Avoidance Practices of Young News Users in Flanders During the COVID-19 Pandemic.’ by Ruben Vandenplas, Pauljan Truyens, Sarah Vis and Ike Picone seeks to contribute to extant research by providing a textured account of how and why young news users avoid the news. We found that news avoidance practices are fluid, as news avoidance was often preceded by moments of increased news consumption, and enacted within the media repertoire through strategic reconfigurations. Three types of reconfigurations are identified: tuning out news content, regulating the flow of information, and controlling the tone of voice, all of which underline users’ agency in shaping their repertoires to avoid the news. Read the article.


Digital mediation and familiarity

What do social researchers do during a lockdown? Social research on doing social research during a lockdown of course. During the first Belgian lockdown in 2020, SMIT researchers Ine Van Zeeland, Wendy Van den Broeck, Michelle Boonen and Stephanie Tintel investigated how interviewing people via video conferencing tools affects the quality of interviews, and whether being interviewed by peers reduces the formality of interviews ‘on camera’. Among other results, the article lists topics and situations that are less suitable for online interviews, as well as situations for which online interviewing could actually work better. Read the article, titled ‘Effects of digital mediation and familiarity in online video interviews between peers.’


News content

The article ‘Assessing News Content Diversity in Flanders: An Empirical Study at DPG Media’ by Jonathan Hendrickx and Annelien Van Remoortere presents a quantitative analysis of over 500,000 articles published by the Flemish newspapers Het Laatste Nieuws and De Morgen between 2018 and 2020. It is the first article of its kind to use such a vast data set as well as computational methods for Flemish news content. The key finding is that news content appears to be growing slightly more homogenous over time, particularly for quality newspaper De Morgen. Read the article.



In the article ‘The Rise of Social Journalism: An Explorative Case Study of a Youth-oriented Instagram News Account’, Jonathan Hendrickx describes both quantitatively and qualitatively how the very popular Instagram channel @nws.nws.nws provides youngsters aged 13-17 with tailor-made news on a daily basis. Through expert interviews and a content analysis, its production methods and output is assessed. This is the first peer-reviewed study so far that takes on social journalism, or the production of news content specifically for social media platforms. Read the article.


Emerging media

Yazan Badran’s article ‘Understanding Emerging Media: Voice, Agency, and Precarity in the Post-2011 Arab Mediasphere’ describes the intricate system of emerging media in the MENA region that developed following the 2011 uprisings. It explores the complex relationship between the political-economic structures underlying emerging media, and the journalistic practices developed therein Read the article.  



Data & Society

Data protection

Apart from laws, there are other ways to regulate organizational behavior, such as codes of conduct or industry standards. The conference paper ‘How Standards Co-Shape Personal Data Protection in the European Banking Sector.’ by Ine Van Zeeland and Jo Pierson presents an analysis of the influence of standards on retail banks’ protection of personal data. Especially international standards on the governance of (risk) data, imposed by regulators, turn out to be influential on practical data protection in European banks. Read the conference paper.


Smart City

This conference paper by Ine Van Zeeland, Jonas Breuer and Jo Pierson sets out a methodology for involving citizens in early decision-making around the introduction of new technologies in urban environments: taking them for a walk. Walk-shops turn the abstract topic of ‘data collection in public space’ into an embodied experience. Besides, walks are democratic in the sense that people from all kinds of backgrounds can participate. Moreover, a free-ranging discussion “on the ground” can lead to unforeseen innovative ideas for urban challenges. Read the conference paper ‘Walkshops for Citizen Involvement: Walk the Talk with Smart City Citizens.’.


Social network platforms

As social network platforms continue to shape online conversations, Nathalie Van Raemdonck and Jo Pierson made a platform-agnostic taxonomy of the platform affordances that influence group interactions and norm building. The categorization of these affordances exposes who has power to influence norms in online interactions and who bears responsibility to apply normative constraints. The taxonomy can serve to reformulate questions about contentious topics like ‘echo chambers’, harassment campaigns and the spread of harmful content like disinformation or hate speech. Read the article.


Public values and trust

The article ‘Digital platforms as entangled infrastructures: addressing public values and trust in messaging apps.’ by Jo Pierson aims to analyze how trust in and dependence of messaging apps (like WhatsApp, Messenger, etc.) are configured and the kind of consequences this has for user (dis)empowerment and public values. Jo Pierson demonstrates how these apps as an essential social infrastructure are entangled with a corporate-computational infrastructure. The entangling of both types of infrastructures leads to a paradox where users feel compelled to appropriate these socially indispensable apps in everyday life, while also making them dependent on their corporate control mechanisms. In order to get out of the paradox and empower users we need ‘data disentanglement’, whereby these infrastructures and their data sharing are disentangled for the benefit of public interest values. Read the article.



The article ‘Mediated by Code: Unpacking Algorithmic Curation of Urban Experiences’ by Annelien Smets, Pieter Ballon and Nils Walravens describes how algorithms are increasingly affecting our urban experiences. Think of Google Maps acting as a local guide, or urban digital twins informing city planning. The article presents a framework to study the city as a curational platform, including what information flows are curated and who decides on the curation logics. Read the article.


Digital health platform

The article ‘A Digital Health Platform for Integrated and Proactive Patient-Centered Multimorbidity Self-management and Care (ProACT): Protocol for an Action Research Proof-of-Concept Trial’ with contributions of SMIT researchers Janneke M L Kuiper, An Jacobs, Myriam Sillevis Smitt and Cora Van Leeuwen focusses on the trial implementation protocol of a proof-of-concept digital health platform (ProACT) in 2 EU member states (Ireland and Belgium) to support older persons with multimorbidities self-managing at home, supported by their care network (CN). Read the article. 


[Photo by Olga Tutunaru on Unsplash]