I feel like this is the perfect week to discuss the topic of online activism, considering that the FCC officially passed Net Neutrality just last week. Like Tufecki said, Net Neutrality is very much a human rights issue. Without it, Internet providers could give higher speed channels and priority to institutions or organizations who could pay the highest—making only certain viewpoints, political opinions, or groups easily accessible online. (http://www.savetheinternet.com/net-neutrality-what-you-need-know-now) As FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, “(Net Neutrality) is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept”.
The passage of Net Neutrality is a victory for Internet users everywhere, but particularly one for minority interest and rights groups. As Costanza-Chock discusses in her book, immigrant movements avoid main media platforms because “they’re going to tell their story their way,” meaning that the dominant culture that is portrayed by the media will fit immigrants’ stories to fit their own determined narrative of who they are and what they want. With the rise of the Internet and social media activism, these immigrant and other minority groups have taken their grievances online, using it as a communication platform to rally for their cause on their own terms and in their own words. Net Neutrality maintains everyone’s access to these sites, allowing these peoples’ voices to be as accessible as the main media’s, in theory.
With this accomplishment passed, I think that the next goal online activists can work towards is learning and mastering the viral culture of the Internet. Certain groups have already done so, but it is much harder for groups whose interests do not have a direct connection to the popular media to garner attention. I wrote an magazine article this past week for Her Campus UCLA that questions our generation’s online interests, pointing out that #TheDress debate and the rogue llamas in Arizona dominated the Internet on the day that Net Neutrality was passed, stealing the spotlight from what was supposed to be huge news. (http://www.hercampus.com/school/ucla/net-neutrality-thedress-and-llamas-oh-my) These things that tend to go viral are seemingly so random, that it is our job as Digital Humanists to study and hopefully learn what drives certain things to go viral over others. With this knowledge, civil activists can better understand the target audience they would like to reach with their campaign, and ideally spread a viral message that can lead to real social change.
Ever since the concept of “the teenager” came into existence, it seems to have become the bane of society. Teenagers are quick to adapt new trends and technologies faster than older generations, and unfortunately the moral panic associated with the unknown of these new tools is transferred to these kids. This generation’s “Digital Natives” are no different. Harsh criticisms fly at them left and right about their use of the internet and its “negative effect” on their characters. Some complaints are that they have become too self-centered, increasing their ignorance, poor social skills, lack of citizenship, etc. I was guilty of this too (though not as extreme since I am technically an older Digital Native myself) when I began my ethnography about teenage girls on Instagram. I expected to see a lot of self-centeredness, negative comments, group photos that made others feel left out, and other typical things you hear about networked teen girls in the media. I was surprised to find quite the contrary as I immersed myself into a community of friends on the app. These girls surprised me with their positivity and support they showed one another on Instagram. Even though there was the occasional selfie, a good majority of posts were made to express their appreciation of a friend. And on those infamous selfie posts, the feedback the girls gave each other was also very encouraging and uplifting.
One of the trends that went through this community of girls during my study was the #20beautifulwomen campaign, modeled after Saba Tekle’s book 20 Beautiful Women, which shares the inspiring stories of twenty women on their road to self acceptance, transformation, and the common bond of sisterhood. When a girl is nominated through a tag in another girl’s post, she must post a picture of herself in which she feels beautiful in, then tag twenty new girls in her own post and challenge them to do the same. The ultimate goal is to raise confidence and self-esteem among these women by getting them to see that they are beautiful. The media was quick to jump on this campaign, arguing that it could do more damage than good. “It just promotes self centeredness,” “what if a girl doesn’t get tagged by a supposed friend?,” “this is just an excuse to post a selfie and receive more likes,” “this will be a cyber-bully’s favorite trend of the year.” But the girls I followed proved these grievances wrong with flying colors: they wrote inspiring messages of support to boost confidence in the description and the comments and they would extend this challenge to all their followers no matter if they were tagged or not (some didn’t even tag). I don’t think the media understands a typical teenage girl’s struggles with self-esteem, it only understands promoting the idea of teens as self-centered. This campaign addresses this drop in confidence that occurs in teenage girls; it allows them to know that their struggles are heard and that their peers are there to support them through it, not tear them down.
In Senft and Noble’s Race and Social Media, they point out how in most of the media, press, and law reports, racist acts are made out to be singular acts exempt from the rest of society. This makes it seem like racism is something that is out of the norm, leaving no room to suggest that our culture itself harbors structural and societal racism.
I found a humorous, yet insightful video on YouTube that illustrates an interaction between a white man and Asian American woman, where he tries to ask her “where she’s from.” When she answers “San Diego…,” he goes on to “correct” her by asking “No, I mean where are you FROM… where are your people from?” Once she reveals her great-grandmother was from Seoul, he goes on talking about very stereotypical Korean/Asian things that he loves (“Oh I love Kimchi!”). The woman turns the conversation around and asks the man the same exact questions, then goes on to do equally stereotypical and caricatured British acts. The humor of the video, and the biggest statement from the video, comes from the fact that the man does not realize the racism in his actions, yet is offended and confused by the woman’s.
The most insightful piece this comedy sketch has to offer is a follow up clip of the actors reading the comments on the original video. A few of the commenters again fail to see the man’s original racism in his statements, stating that the woman’s acts were racist towards white people instead. Perhaps these people are unaware because this racism is imbedded in white culture; it is normal for some white people to think of themselves as the “original” Americans and to automatically view other races as foreign. They fail to see the racism in their own actions because the media treats racism as isolated acts committed by a few individuals. Luckily with the onset of social media, minorities are able to take their representation into their own hands and point out these flaws in our culture. One can hope that this new representation will translate to mainstream media, a platform that has huge potential to push societal change, and make our cultural stereotypes and racism apparent to everyone, not just the victims.
In the danah boyd reading for this week, she talks about to consequences of moral panics at the societal and parental level, and how it in turn places teenagers in a conflicted position within society. Being a teen in American society sets one up to a double standard; they are both a public nuisance and vulnerable targets, needing to be afraid of and afraid for. This conflicting image impacts adult’s relationships with teenagers, skewing their idea of how teenagers behave, which in turn impacts the limited opportunities available for teenagers themselves. The adult moral panic reaction does nothing but complicate things for teens as they navigate this time of their life, leaving many angry or frustrated at the misunderstanding and miscommunication left between them and adults.
The concepts of moral panic and the rift between teens and adults is everywhere in society, but you would think that adults would be more cognizant of the phenomenon since it serves as a main plot factor in so many pop culture and entertainment pieces. Footloose, The Breakfast Club, Risky Business, Titanic, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Little Mermaid, the list goes on and on. I took a trip down memory lane this weekend and watched the 2003 version of Freaky Friday with Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis. These themes of moral panic and adult misconceptions were central to the movie’s plot. The movie does a good job of portraying the parent perspective versus the teenage perspective in regards to teenage culture, and the resulting conflicts that arise between the mother and daughter characters as a result. The movie takes it a step further, having the mother be a psychiatrist for her profession who as a result constantly tries to psychoanalyze her daughter as if she was one of her many troubled patients. Its only when the two mysteriously switch bodies that the mother realizes the real struggles of teenagers as a result of adult misunderstandings.
It’s curious that parents would continue this idea of moral panic, despite it being so prevalent as a topic of humor and unnecessary drama in much of our pop culture media. What keeps them from changing this trend? I’m going to switch to psychology mode as I attempt to speculate: it is common for people to worry when they are faced with something that is unknown or out of their control. Worrying is a defense mechanism, giving the person a sense of power over the situation. Parents feel like they have no control over their teenagers when faced with a new technology they themselves are just getting used to. Their natural reaction is worrying about the safety and control over their kids, but being the authority figure in this dynamic allows them to take their worries a step further as they act upon their fears and strengthen their control over teen’s actions.
The article Facebook Lifts Ban on Exposed Nipples in Breastfeeding Photos reminded me about a controversial Time Magazine cover a few years ago that featured a mother breastfeeding her three-year-old son with the caption “Are You Mom Enough?” The cover shocked many, drawing both praise and criticism. There are two sides of the argument when it comes to the publication of these types of images. There’s one side that argues that the push to cover up women’s bodies is a part of a double standard attached to female nudity due to the widespread use of sexualized female bodies in advertisements and pornography, overall adding to the objectification of women in the media. The other side argues that the shock factor created by these types of images indicates that these photos should remain private and are not suitable for the public.
However, a New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/21/business/media/time-and-newsweek-magazine-covers-catch-eyes-and-clicks.html?_r=0) introduces a third angle to view this topic. These images are shocking, yes, and people choose to share them specifically because of this fact. Shocking images garner more attention from viewers and help spread the publisher’s name—it’s a marketing tool. The article cites other provocative covers and the huge spikes in readership that they produced. For example, David Remnant, the editor of The New Yorker, is quoted saying “the provocative covers sold like hot cakes” Perhaps people choose to share provocative posts or photos online for a similar reason—they gain more attention and stand out on social media. So there are three points of view to look at breastfeeding photos (or any provocative post) on Facebook: the argument to block them is oppressive, they are not suitable for public, and they are a ploy to gain more social media following/attention. It can be difficult to make executive decisions about these kinds of issues that have multiple sides, but I believe Facebook made the right decision. When people feel oppressed, it is important to consider their point of view. If others don’t agree, they can simply choose to unfollow those that do.
It was interesting how Jill Walker Rettberg’s book laid out a sort of genealogy or family tree of today’s “selfie” phenomenon. One thing in particular that struck me was the “picture-a-day” video phenomenon that launched around the time that YouTube became popular. If this was a point on the family tree of the selfie, then I think it is safe to say that this picture-a-day trend was a point where the tree branched off in separate directions to eventually develop into different things. One branch continued to develop the idea of a public sharing of digital self-portraits, while the other branch developed the picture-a-day concept. Soon many people were starting these types of projects, and like Rettberg said, even apps were developed to help anyone achieve their desired product. Soon, the picture-a-day moved to “second-a-day” video compilations, showing snapshots of action in a person’s daily life over the span of time.
Then, last year in 2014, an organization in England called Save the Children U.K. launched a campaign called If London Were Syria to raise awareness for children living under war conditions. A part of this campaign was the viral video Most Shocking Second a Day Video, which portrays a second a day in a young girl’s life under the circumstances of a hypothetical civil war that unfolds in London. The events portrayed in the video are said to be based on factual accounts of children in Syria. This campaign capitalized on the past viral successes of videos in the photo/second a day format, and developed a way to format it to the equally popular trend of raising social awareness through online and social media platforms. This combination worked: the video reached 23 million views on YouTube in just one week.
It is interesting to discover the different evolutions of online trends and digital technologies through this class. Having grown up during this Internet boom, I probably would have never made the connection that these digital developments branch off of each other, often going farther back than before the creation of the Internet itself.
I found myself intrigued with this week’s reading of danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: the Social Lives of Networked Teens. I feel like she has taken the time to truly understand this community online and has brought to light real issues that I, being fresh out of my teenage years, can say really happen. One of these issues is the disagreement between adults and teens about personal privacy online. “Although many adults believe that they have the right to consume any teen content that is functionally accessible, many teens disagree” (58). As a teen, my mom had a rule that I couldn’t have a Facebook account unless she was my friend. She was open and honest with me, saying that she wanted to help me learn how to navigate having a social presence online. She did a great job at teaching me what was acceptable and unacceptable to post online, and I am definitely grateful for that. But I still never really got comfortable with the idea that she could read my posts. Like boyd was able to identify in many teens, it wasn’t that I had content I felt the need to hide from my mom. It was just that I wasn’t comfortable with her having full access to my posts directed towards my friends; it felt like she had a lens into my social life and therefore had the right to analyze it. I overheard her talking with my dad a few times about my online activity, whether she was speculating if I liked the boy who was in a picture I posted or if she was judging the online content posted by my friends that she was curious about. While I learned to shrug it off, knowing that this helicopter-parenting would end once I got older, I am starting to wonder if it is a permanently established norm now since I am an adult and she is still pouring over my social media accounts. When I got an Instagram last year, she made one just to follow my sisters and me (I accepted her follow request only after a few weeks of her complaining about how I hadn’t yet). Now I write for an online magazine for college women called Her Campus (http://www.hercampus.com), and I feel so uncomfortable every time my mom tells me that she read my latest work. It’s a website for college students, so a lot of the content has to do with dating, fashion, partying, etc. It’s meant for a specific audience, and that is the audience I have in mind when I write for it; not my mother. I feel like my freedom of expression is gone now that I have to filter what I write knowing my mother reads my work and shares it with her friends. I love my mom, and I agree that parents should be involved (to a certain degree of course) with their teenager’s social media presence, but when do we draw the line for online surveillance between parents and young adults?
In Nancy Baym’s Personal Connections in the Digital Age, she briefly talks about parent’s fear of losing control over raising their children. This fear, inevitable in any parenting situation, has been projected onto the new technology of today’s day and age, blaming the internet for threatening the children of today. As a result, children’s access to technology is often limited, controlled, or banned altogether. But Baym argues that “Displacing our anxieties about children’s safety onto the internet and mobile phones makes our fear more manageable, but does little to protect children, and may keep the from realizing the benefits new technologies can offer them” (32). This misguided course of action has been a parenting trend lately, and has been applied to more than just the internet. For example, there are some parents who now ban their children from attending sleepovers, on the grounds that the world is now too dangerous for them to stay one night away from home. The article from blogger Tim Challies (http://www.challies.com/articles/why-my-family-doesnt-do-sleepovers) supports this idea, saying that pedophiles and cases of child molestation are “more pervasive than ever” in our society today. This follows the classic thought process of “this thing could be dangerous, so let’s cut it out all together.” It ignores other factors, such as the fact that the internet and its instant media makes news of molestation and other extremes more visible than it was before. This way of raising children can be dangerous; how are children supposed to learn how to fend for themselves in the real world if they are not allowed to experience it? What will they do when they move out of the house? In this age of information, we need to study not just how kids react to new technology, but how parents react as well. Parents are the ones who dictate children’s access to this information, and therefore impact children’s relationships with that information (Is it a good thing? Is it the forbidden fruit? Is it dangerous? Should I rebel and access it behind my parents’ backs?). This is why methods that teach fear such as the one above should be avoided, since it either holds children back from learning how to use technology wisely or leads to rebellion and thus poor online choices. Parents must have an open and honest conversation with their children about the good and the dangers of the internet, working together on building wise and safe habits.