A paper co-authored by Bryan Semaan, assistant professor at the School of Information Studies (iSchool) and a co-director of the School’s BITS (Behavior-Information-Technology-Society) Laboratory, has been named as one of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI)’s Honorable Mention awards of 2016.

This is the second year in a row that Semaan has received an award at the conference. In 2015 his co-authored paper titled Designing Political Deliberation Environments to Support Interactions in the Public Sphere also won a “Best Paper” award.

Titled Mediating the Undercurrents: Using Social Media to Sustain a social Movement, Semaan’s 2016 paper was selected from a total of about 2,400 submissions this year. Its naming as an honorable mention qualifies it as among the top four percent of all submissions.

In the paper, Semaan and his co-authors, Yubo Kuo from the University of California at Irvine, and YongMing Kow and Waikuen Cheng from the City University of Hong Kong, discuss how residents of Hong Kong used various Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), such as Facebook, Firechat, and Google Docs, to engage in the backstage practices in support of sustaining the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong.

Whereas the studies of social movements have mostly examined prevalent public discourses, the undercurrents, or backstage practices consisting of meaning-making processes, narratives, and situated work, have received less attention. “This paper was written as a counter to the typical examination of social movements which focus on publicly available social media data, e.g. on Twitter – that is, we focused on the invisible, emergent practices, underlying the movement and highlight how people are adept at moving between ICTs as a means through which they can engage in critical work that sustains social movements,” said Semaan.

The project interviewed sixteen participants to examine the role of social media in supporting the undercurrents of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. Their interviews focused on an intense period of the movement exemplified by sit-in activities inspired by Occupy Wall Street in the United States. The paper discovered that the uses of these media enabled people to conduct three kinds of behaviors, which included: mobilizing their personal networks; resolving breakdowns and managing tensions in the underlying organization of the movement; and sustaining free spaces – or, spaces where they could interact with others free from authoritative control.

This research fits Semaan’s overarching work at the iSchool that focuses on the use of ICTs in critical civic contexts, where his work has primarily focused on two contexts: crises and political deliberation. His paper focuses on the intersection of these domains, where social movements can be viewed as a form of political crisis.

He noted, “I attribute my ability to conduct this research to my collaborators, where although I participate in the development of our research methodology and subsequent analyzes and writing, if not for their ability to access the population on the ground and their ability to connect with and communicate with local participants, this work would not have been possible.”

“I’m beyond happy with the final paper. The acceptance and subsequent recognition of this work through an honorable mention award was especially important to us, as we submitted the first version of the paper to the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, where it was rejected. Rejections are never fun, but this was a case where persistence led to a better product.”

Semaan uses his experience to encourage students. He added, “I want to use this as an opportunity to express, especially to students who are beginning their academic journeys, that they should never give up on their work and continue to iterate and improve their work.”

The ACM’s CHI Conference is the world’s premier conference on human factors in computing systems, presenting a highly selective showcase of the very best advances across the disciplines of computer science, cognitive psychology, design, social science, human factors, artificial intelligence, graphics, visualization, multi-media design and other disciplines. It is difficult to have papers accepted, and the main criteria for the paper awards are based on the subjective assessment quality and potential impact of the identity papers of significance and importance, which share ground-breaking research and innovations related to how humans interact with digital technologies.

“Receiving awards always comes as a pleasant surprise. It serves as continued motivation to produce research that is of high quality in an effort to establish the iSchool and Syracuse University as a premier institution in the greater field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). I always pour my heart and soul into my work, and perhaps that is apparent in the final product. It makes my heart smile that the committee deemed my work to be important and of high quality, and for that I am and will always be ever grateful,” Semaan said.