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HSE Saint Petersburg at WebSci´18 in Amsterdam

Students from the study programme ‘Sociology and Social Informatics’ Anastasia Menshikova and Olga Silutina presented their research papers at an Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) conference dedicated to Web Science.

The Association for Computing Machinery conference dedicated to Web Science was held in Amsterdam from 27th to 30th September. Students from the study programme ‘Sociology and Social Informatics’ Anastasia Menshikova and Olga Silutina, who are also working as research assistants at Sociology of Education and Science Laboratory, presented their research papers at the event. The annual Web Science Conference has already been held 10 times. It aims to unite researchers from social and computer sciences, attracting papers that use theory and methods from different areas, reflecting on the impact the global network has on modern society. Students from the ‘Sociology and Social Informatics’ programme have presented their works there before. Two years ago Viktor Karepin, Vadim Voskresenskiy and Alexey Gorgadze talked about their research on WebSci’16 in Hannover (Germany).

Together with lecturer from the Department of Sociology and senior researcher at the Laboratory of Comparative Social Research Anna Shirokanova, Olga Silyutina presented a report in which she examined the media discourse on Internet regulation in Russia. The study focuses on using thematic 
modelling to identify topics that describe the Internet regulation in Russian media and their interconnections. The research also examines references to countries that are important in the context of the discussion of Internet regulation in publicist articles.

Anastasia Menshikova presented her study of a Russian-speaking online community of programmers called Stack Overflow at a poster session. She studied how professional differentiation among the community members is organized based on a comparison of the complexity of mastering the competencies owned by specialists and the relevance of these competencies on the world market today. 
Most of the research is devoted to the study of the integration of a localized Russian-speaking community and its international prototype Stack Overflow. The study compares topical differences in professional discussions on Russian-speaking and English-speaking platforms as well as the level of expertise of participants in the local and global community.

Due to the fact that the theme of this conference is studying social interactions in virtual space, most research papers that were presented can be called interdisciplinary. Authors often use computer science methods to collect and analyze web data. Quite naturally, most works were examining social networks. Participants spoke about the process of radicalization on Twitter, about feminism in Arabic Facebook, about identifying fake likes on Instagram, and about viewers reacting to conspiracy theories in Youtube videos. A whole section was dedicated to the digital divide. Researchers talked about how access to Internet irons out social inequality and vice versa, and how it reproduces and reinforces differences.

A little observation: despite the obvious intersection of social and computer sciences in most of the papers at the conference, it is still easy to understand what the researcher is representing, even in the style of presentations. Social scientists mostly focus on the structure of social networks in the Web, about causes and consequences of different interactions in the virtual environment, whereas computer scientists test the methodology for explaining different processes, considering the influence of the technical context of relations on their social side. In one of the workshops on the first day of the conference, a round table discussed what digital sociology is. What part of Web Science does digital sociology take? Is it just data collected from internet resources that makes a research digital, or can it also be surveys studying the use of the virtual environment? How do we integrate Internet communications into what the classics say on social reality?

Lecture by Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, one of the creators of the Internet, winner of the Turing Award, became one of the most significant events of Websci’18. The scholar spoke about the stages of the establishment of the World Wide Web, about the process of creating the concept of Semantic Web, mentioned the development of technologies that were used to create it, showed the main periods of user growth and development of their calls to web servers. Tim also payed attention to the main issues and challenges that the creators of the World Wide Web had to face, and answered questions about possible flaws in the HTML markup language, which he would not allow if he had the opportunity to work on it again. The lecturer also commented on Internet regulation processes and devoted as part of his presentation about calling for countering Internet bans. Sir Berners-Lee stressed that each of us must fight for the openness and freedom of the World Wide Web, which were one of the basic principles of its creation.

Besides all the lectures, workshops and conference sections, there was a social event organized for all the participants. All the conference participants and guests together with a team of organizers took an hour-long trip along the canals of Amsterdam followed by a dinner where the authors of the best articles and posters received their awards. Despite the tight schedule of the conference, the girls managed to take a walk around Amsterdam, go to the Van Gogh Museum and the National Museum of Amsterdam. One of the biggest impressions taken from the trip was visiting Free University of Amsterdam. Our students were very impressed with its comfortable workspaces where you can work on a computer, discuss your group project or just relax after class. Large windows, comfortable lighting, a lot of green plants inside the building, playgrounds and benches outside.

Another important goal that the girls had during their trip to WebSci’18 was talking to women who became successful in the area of Computer Science. A series of video interviews was conducted for the project Woman Data Leaders sponsored by ACM KDD aimed at encouraging young women to study computer sciences and Data Science. Olya and Nastya talked to representatives of Open University, GESIS, Wellesley College and Institute for Information Systems. Interview participants shared their success stories, and told us about what obstacles they had to face and how they managed to overcome them. Each of the informants gave our students some advice, but the main point was to strive for the best and develop in the area that seems most interesting to you, not paying attention to the nonconstructive opinion of others and the pressure of society.