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Algorithms have become significant shapers of the way sexuality is searched for and found on social media. In the online world, behavioral data speak for a person, instead of a person speaking for him/herself (Cheney-Lippold, 2017). This webinar examines how gendered content and sexual classifications on social media are algorithmically aggregated and processed to regulate the sexual “encounters” of users. Rebecca Saunders introduces the concept of sexual datafication in relation to digital pornographic culture, exploring how to conceptualize desire as data impact on dominant ideas of what sex should involve. Tianyang Zhou focuses on short videos featuring same-sex couples on Douyin/TikTok, arguing how a form of cruel optimism of gay visibility on being recognized in algorithmic systems emerges. Shuaishuai Wang examines HIV/AIDS-related content on the Chinese Q&A site Zhihu, shedding light on how recommendations by algorithms structure the media experience of gay men living with HIV.

Event details of The Algorithmic Configurations of Sexuality
Date 24 June 2021
Time 13:30 -15:00


Dr. R. (Rachel) Spronk

Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam


Rebecca Saunders is a Senior Lecturer in Digital Media and Communication at The University of Huddersfield, UK. Her research falls within the disciplines of porn studies, cultural studies, and feminist and postcolonial data studies and often has a particular focus on labour. Her current projects include exploring users’ experiences of sex tracking apps; public engagement about how experiences of work and time have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic; and speaking and writing on digital monsters. Rebecca’s first monograph came out last year and is called Bodies of Work: the Labour of Sex in the Digital Age.

Oscar Tianyang Zhou is a Lecturer in Media at the School of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire, UK. His research uses the lenses of cultural studies, feminist and queer theory to investigate how LGBTQ communities engage with media technologies, texts, and practices in their everyday life. Dr. Zhou has published in journals such as China Media Research and OrizzonteCina as well as in edited volumes such as Queer Sites in Global Contexts (Routledge, 2021), Queer Intercultural Communication (Rowman & Littlefield, 2020), Exploring Erotic Encounters (Brill, 2019), and Chinese Social Media (Routledge, 2018). He is currently chairing the UK-China Media and Cultural Studies Association (UCMeCSA).

Shuaishuai Wang is a Lecturer in New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam. His research is concerned with marginalized experiences and underrepresented groups in the algorithmic systems of digital platforms. Together with Rachel Spronk, he was awarded a seed grant from Global Digital Culture (Research Priority Area of the University of Amsterdam) for the project “The Algorithmic Configurations of Sexuality on Social Media.” Shuaishuai's work has been published in journals such as Information, Communication & Society, Media, Culture & Society, Feminist Media Studies, and Sexualities.