The second chapter of “Out of the Shadows” by Sasha Costanza-Chock introduces applications of transmedia in immigrants rights activism. Costanza-Chock discusses transmedia specifically in the context of transmedia organizing, a method of community engagement through participatory media-making. Transmedia organizing is a variety of transmedia storytelling that combines the flow of commodities across platforms with social movement studies.
Transmedia storytelling is the construction of a narrative across platforms and formats; this technique is employed to reach a wider audience but could also be considered to expand the narrative itself. Not to be confused with traditional multimedia franchises, transmedia storytelling encompasses multiple channels of synchronized content. Transmedia storytelling has achieved greater legitimacy as an entertainment medium in recent years; Costanza-Chock mentions that it is recognized by the Producers Guild of America, the Sundance Institute, and the Tribeca Film Festival.
Constanza-Chock focuses on transmedia activity as it occurs in real time. Her interpretation of transmedia organizing includes student-made flyers circulated online, the documentation of protests, and post-demonstration instant messaging. However, transmedia organizing is not the only form of transmedia production with the potential for social justice. Transmedia storytelling can do so through virtual technology or by combining together media tied to an activist movement after the fact.
“Use of Force,” for example, is a project that recreates the death of thirty-five year old Anastasio Hernandez Rojas at the hands of border patrol in San Diego. This particular example of transmedia storytelling resembles a game, and does not have much in common with the discussion of transmedia contained in “Out of the Shadows” except for a similarity in priorities and its being an innovative application of technology. Despite that distinction, it shows that technology has permeated so many aspects of our lives that it is a really necessary tool for activists, whether they are trying to coordinate a movement or generate sympathy for their cause.
In “Race and Social Media,” Theresa M. Senft and Safiya Umoja Noble make reference to “Black Twitter.” The term describes a collection of public communication between people who identify as Black online and can connect over their shared experience, including similar concerns, tastes, and cultural practices. Although the phenomenon would normally go unnoticed by the rest of the platform’s users, Black Twitter users have managed to generate considerable attention through regular command of Twitter’s “trending topics” and savvy hashtag use. Recently, Black Twitter became the subject of an academic study, which was approached with scrutiny and suspicion (most prominently by the people it intended to study) quickly after it was announced.
Although the study had multiple issues, one of the most concerning seemed to be its researchers. It was first credited primarily to three White men, with one person of color also receiving credit. The distribution of the project team caused many to question the potentially exploitative nature of the research. Could the phenomenon be understood adequately and portrayed fairly by people who did not participate in Black Twitter and were not even Black themselves? Even after the seemingly accidental minimization of the lead researcher’s contribution was explained, the team’s research methods were found questionable. The researchers chose to record Black Twitter’s activity based on viewership of the television show Scandal, which was interpreted as trivializing the community, which tended to prioritize political activism more significantly than entertainment.
Lastly, the purpose of the study was not made clear, and many people interpreted the researchers’ desire to connect online activity to “offline participation in black culture and politics” as an attempt to identify Twitter users who would be likely to mobilize a protest based on events in that affect the Black community. The process of the study was not transparent; no one announced the research ahead of time and no one attempted to obtain consent from people affected by the study. The confusion surrounding the work highlighted questionable research practices and potential ethical dilemmas while managing to alienate the community being studied.
Over the weekend, I was listening to a podcast and the host briefly brought up the story of cyberbullying victim Jessica Leonhardt, although she was not mentioned by name. Instead, the host recalled the famous words of her enraged father, “There will be consequences!”, captured on video after his daughter was inundated with hateful messages from users on 4chan and Tumblr. The conversation about the situation centered around the fact that though the Leonhardt’s family’s severe problems were aired in a very public and upsetting manner, it is rather unfortunate that they are remembered largely through trivializing parodies and memes.
Although the story of Jessica Leonhardt could be seen as a problematic case study because of Jessi’s age and behavioral problems and her abuse at the hands of her father, it still engages a lot of ideas discussed by Justine Cassell and Meg Cramer in “High Tech or High Risk.” Gene Leonhardt’s memorable language (primarily “backtraced” and “cyberpolice”) and his wife’s explanations (“The officers had said there were videos, but Jess denied making them. Then my mother-in-law called and said there were videos. But I haven’t watched them. I can’t be in the room 24/7”) display a frustration with technology and loss of parental control. There was also discussion of Jessi’s potential sexual proclivity, from the initial claims of a relationship with an adult band member to investigations concerning child pornography.
Jessi’s story is not really the typical one of misinterpreted acts of self-agency (which is how similar stories seem to be framed in the reading), but it did attribute to a societal moment of moral panic consistent with a lot of tropes mentioned by Cassell and Cramer. The Leonhardts were reported about in a very sensationalized and belittling way, and their situation was used to create a dialogue about cyberbullying and sexual predation as though it was the norm.
One of the case studies included in this week’s reading, “How My Personal Photo Turned Into an Internet Meme” by John Mueller, recounts a story about how the author’s humorous photoshopped picture went viral. The final image depicts Mueller tossing his young son at an unreasonable altitude. Once available to the public, the digital manipulation went over most strangers’ heads, with some questioning his parenting and others manipulating the image further to comment (not particularly thoughtfully) on traditional gender roles.
This case study really illustrates danah boyd’s concept of “super publics,” which refers to our evolving perception of audience. Boyd contends that while in the past “public” could only be defined through its association with a location, we now need to account for changes in technology that allow “public” to exist without necessarily being a coherent entity, and for content creators to broadcast without being able to identify, even in general terms, who they are engaging. Mueller’s photo, once in the hands of the public, was misinterpreted by those who used it as a basis to evaluate his personal life and appropriated to make arguments that did not reflect his own viewpoints. An argument could be made that, because of the image’s “viral” quality, it could be hard to determine the original context of the photo, and the subjects of the photo could be seen as responsible for whatever form in which the photo was being viewed.
Mueller’s story was reminiscent of other individual-based memes, like “Ridiculously Photogenic Guy” and Alex from Target, whose likenesses were broadcasted without their knowledge (until, of course, the subsequent online activity could not be avoided). These stories lead to important questions about ethics regarding technology use and ownership of digital content. In Mueller’s case, his image should have been protected by copyright under other circumstances, but the nature of the Internet made those laws hard to enforce. Because Mueller, as the subject of the photo, became a point of curiosity and scrutiny, he and others like him have been prevented from exercising control over their privacy. Their images were captured and circulated without their knowledge, and the ensuing exposure to boyd’s “super publics” was probably unsettling for them at the least.
In the first chapter of “Seeing Ourselves Through Technology,” Jill Walker Rettberg discusses the creation of self-representations online: blogs, activity trackers, and perhaps the most literal interpretation, the selfie.
Rettberg spends most of the chapter chronicling the history of self-representation, beginning with the first diary and leading up to habit tracking, to explain more modern and widespread phenomenon. But the first chapter also contains a brief discussion of the disciplining of self-representations that is an interesting look into how we mediate the act of creating online content.
Rettberg mentions depictions of selfie-taking in pop culture being especially disdainful, with much of that hatred directed toward “the stereotypical selfie-takers: young women.” Because teenage girls are often derided for being superficial or vapid, selfie-taking becomes a gendered activity, and one deserving of the kind of scorn directed towards other stereotypically feminine interests (like makeup and boy bands). Rettberg hypothesizes that the negative reaction to young women online is part of a larger attitude regarding “who has the right to speak in public or to share images in public,” which is why established figures are allowed/expected to create content while the average teenage girl is mocked—often by adults—for doing so.
There are not exactly official rules for navigating the world of selfies and status updates, but one can find a lot of potentially well-meaning articles that try to propose commandments for online self-representation. Many rules, like the 5 “Rules for Taking #Selfies on Instagram” seem arbitrary, reflecting our expectations about activity online rather than genuine safety and privacy concerns. For example, the first rule is a hypothetical age restriction, and another is a simple “don’t look stupid.” It’s interesting that social media, a relatively new phenomenon with few (if any) established “authorities” is so conducive to the creation of “new ways to regulate who will be heard and who will be taken seriously.”
This week, I had company (for the record, my work friend Chelsea) while doing my Digital Humanities reading and I found myself constantly sharing points that I found interesting or surprising. Most of my fascination was with danah boyd’s discussion of different social contexts as determined by specific social media platforms. I was just really intrigued that the conventions of each community, from the choice of username to the perceived audience could be analyzed so accurately. Although my surprise was repeatedly met with a “Yeah, Jordan, that’s hardly a secret,” I do not think it is exactly general knowledge that humor fuels much of a millenial’s social media presence or that young people will switch between modes of communication based on the content of their conversations rather than convenience.
I later realized my surprise was due to the fact that many conventions on social media do not come naturally and require a lot of exposure to the platform before they can be understood, so it’s interesting that boyd managed to figure out so many as someone operating (assumedly) from outside. However, she is not the first person to demonstrate an unexpected amount of knowledge about the use of each social network. Last week, I discussed some unfortunate social media campaigns, but my focus this week is on one quite unassuming brand and their strangely successful Tumblr account. Denny’s does not have an exactly youthful image, but the brand’s approach to social media has won them plenty of exposure with millenials. Where many public figures end up troubled by the weird interactions they have on social media, Denny’s, with the direction of 23-year-old consultant Amber Gordon, has managed to embrace the weird energy of the blogging platform by establishing three goals: capitalizing on trending topics, engaging with humor, and community interaction.”
Although a lot of the brand’s content appears campy, especially when viewed altogether, it clearly demonstrates some knowledge about what young people are doing online and specifically how that activity differs by platform.
In Chapter 2 of “Personal Connections in the Digital Age,” Nancy K. Baym briefly mentions that resistance to new technology often comes from people most in the position to utilize it. People who value social barriers tend to resent the fact that technology can connect them to the “wrong kinds” of people. Baym uses an anecdote from the introduction of the telephone to illustrate how technology can create the potential for intrusion. The mayor of New York City began receiving phone calls from citizens excited about the unprecedented level of access to a governmental figure, although the elite perceived the attempted communication as invasive. This phenomenon is reminiscent of celebrities’ and corporations’ recent attempts to engage with social media, as Twitter campaigns and publicized Tumblr accounts often backfire in embarrassing or otherwise damaging ways.
Because public figures often do not accurately predict how users will interact with campaigns like sponsored hashtags, they are left with a public relations nightmare that can find them resenting the need for a social media presence in the first place. Earlier this year, Robin Thicke encouraged fans to submit questions using the hashtag #AskThicke, which was almost exclusively used to comment on the singer’s controversial single “Blurred Lines.” The New York Police Department was presented with a more severe problem when people used the hashtag #myNYPD to post pictures of police brutality rather than the friendly photo-ops with officers the agency had intended. Although the unintended responses to such campaigns can be enlightening, it is very possible that the campaigns’ orchestrators find themselves questioning the need to make their brand accessible to the general public in such a direct way.
Social media complicates what used to be a more simple relationship between product/personality and consumer because corporations and public figures might not like what people online have to say about them when they are forced to interact in such a direct way. While unsuccessful Twitter campaigns parallel anecdotes like that about the mayor’s phone, there is one crucial difference: the mayor of New York City was not actively engaging the public. New media is an important method of communication, but in order for it to be used successfully marketers have to think more critically about how consumers are likely to respond to obvious advertising given the often cynical nature of the internet.