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Semantic Media: Critical Questions about Metadata and Social Ontology

Thu, September 5, 1:00 to 2:30pm, Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, Floor: Eight, Endymion


Semantic media involve standardized metadata vocabularies which provide rules to structure data, in a manner that can be understood by specialists and users working in different disciplines. Semantic media can be found in products as diverse as virtual assistants, semantic web platforms, and scientific research. This paper presents research on and questions for semantic media and their political significance through three case studies. The research questions focus on what semantic media will mean for those who lack agencies of enunciation once semantics are baked in to platforms. Is there a need to make explicit the semantics of applications? What new forms of data ethics should be considered as semantic media advances? What languages and meanings are included, and how are terms defined? Who are the new ontologists, editors, gatekeepers, and decision makers? Is there evidence that semantic media typify logics or biases? What types of social data do semantic media organize? And, how are semantic media practically applied in social contexts? The paper answers these questions by turning to the technical evidence, but also by showing how social theory is built into semantic products. Theories of social ontology are deeply embedded in semantic technologies. Some of the early technical literature explicitly references social ontology and the notion of fiats, which focus on so-called “status functions”—products of collective intentionality, constitutive rules. I argue we should locate these fiats in the metadata and technical evidence, to see how they are applied, and what their potential social consequences might be.