The call for papers for SMSociety18 has been released and it sounds like a really great event.
A report came out today from the Reuters Institute in Oxford University, published by Rasmus Neilsen, detailing where people get their news nowadays. It’s really interesting, and confirms what many researchers have suggested in the last few years, that the internet is becoming an important space for the production, consumption, and sharing of news.
The report notes that 84% of the 18-24 year old participants viewed the internet as their main source of news, though interestingly only 24% of 18-24 year olds viewed the more narrow category of ‘social media’ as their main source as news. This says a lot for a working definition of social media, for our understanding of where young people are on the internet, and for our understanding of how young people use the internet. Researchers need to continue to grapple with the shifting boundaries of social media, and clearly need to continue to broaden their scope beyond just Twitter and Facebook in order to understand the entirety of the young people’s online actions and interactions.
With only 4% of participants viewing print media as the main source of news, and 9% listing TV as the main source, it is clear that the shift towards online news consumption is not abating any time soon. However, we also need to consider another form of news consumption that we can begin to unpack through looking at Fiske’s ideas around ‘popular culture’ and ‘mass culture’.
Fiske’s writing in the 1980s attempted to problematise the narrative around how we consumed media. Rather than viewing the relationship between audience and media as a simplistic one-way street in which the media told us how to feel about an issue, Fiske argued that there was a distinction between ‘mass culture’ and ‘popular culture’ that needed to be considered. Mass culture in essence is the culture that is presented to us by the institution of the media. However, Fiske noted that we could resist, subvert, and challenge these messages, and that we could in turn create our own culture; popular culture. Popular culture, in Fiske’s words, is “made by the people, not produced by the culture industry”, and therefore contains the voices and ideas of the people. Fiske suggested therefore that we need to understand both how culture is presented to us, but equally how it is used, and what life it took on when it came in contact with a socially grounded audience. He noted that:
“…by ignoring the complexity and creativity by which the subordinate cope with the commodity system and its ideology in their everyday lives, the dominant underestimate and thus devalue the conflict and struggle entailed in constructing popular culture within a capitalist society”
This suggests therefore that news is not just what we read and consume from a popular news source, it is also our reactions to these events and issues. We can understand news not only as a product of ‘mass culture’ passed to us by the news media, but also as ‘popular culture’ created in part through our reaction to the news. Through our responses to Trump’s Tweets, through our browsing of vitriolic comment sections, through reading our Aunt’s Facebook posts, through reading blogs, we are consuming both ‘popular culture’ and ‘mass culture’.
Interestingly, mass culture and popular culture are not separate or separable; they exist together, meaning that popular culture, though subversive, contains multiple layers and multiple voices (or what Bakhtin termed ‘Heteroglossia’). As Fiske notes:
“A text that is to be made into popular culture must, then, contain both the forces of domination and the opportunities to speak against them, the opportunities to oppose or evade them from subordinated, but not totally disempowered, positions. Popular culture is made by the people at the interface between the products of the culture industries and everyday life”.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the internet, where we are surrounded by issues as they unfurl, with many layers of commentary, and many attempts to create ‘popular culture’. Thus popular culture becomes a battleground as multiple forces attempt to create the narrative of the news and shape popular culture out of the remnants of mass culture. The news then is not the battleground here, instead it is people’s reaction to the news. In otherwords, the news is arguably less important today than the reaction to the news.
This is increasingly apparent through Trump’s retweeting of News platforms such as the Drudge Report and Fox News, and his attempts to delegitimise other sources such as MSNBC and the New York Times. We can see the multiple interacting layers of popular culture in action as Trump provides his own attempt at the creation of popular culture. This is inevitably followed by other users retweeting Trump and providing their own commentary, followed by other users reacting to this…and so on… Indeed, this even becomes cyclical as Trump’s tweeting then become the news, which is then further commented upon. Thus popular culture and mass culture become largely inseparable online, and the division between what is news and what isn’t becomes hazy.
When we consider how we consume news, and where this comes from, we must not forget to also consider how we create and perpetuate news. We must consider what voices we are amplifying, what narratives we are resisting, and what sources we are challenging. We must not forget that retweeting users that we disagree with in some manner amplifies their voice through their heteroglossic presence. The internet is not a level playing ground for everyone, and as users we choose to give credence to others through following and retweeting them. We should think about who we allow to create popular culture, and also whose voices we amplify, even in protest to them. Finally, both users and researchers should understand that the news isn’t just something that comes from a newspaper or a website, but that it increasingly is a complex mix of many voices and agendas.
A while ago I wrote a blog post about the Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge; a craze taking the internet by storm (or, at least, heavily reported across various media channels – but that’s a distinction for whole other blog post…) in which people filmed/photographed themselves trying to get fuller lips by creating a vacuum around them. The results were obviously not great, and it led to many a think-piece about ‘kids these days’ being stupid, passive, and gullible. I always think this reaction is incredibly patronising to a generation who, according to recent data, are showing adept media literacy and criticality in a landscape with far more sources competing for attention. It is always worth remembering that we all did stupid things as kids. I did a million stupid things, including swallowing my mum’s earring for a game of hide-and-seek. The difference was of course that I didn’t have a camera in my face and an internet to project my failings onto (until now I guess). The earring never emerged, but I’m sure I’m fine…
But nonetheless, many a reaction was formed about how gullible the current emerging generation are, a far too simplistic narrative that I think needs to be problematized and examined, rather than assumed. Interestingly, this narrative can be further challenged by a more recent reaction to another Jenner sister’s media forays.
Today another Jenner sister was trending in the media for an entirely separate reason. Kendall Jenner starred in an incredibly tone-deaf Pepsi advert that borrowed the imagery and timbre of many current protest movements in a move of crass neoliberalism, highlighting some of the greediest aspects of capitalism. It was a move that many people saw through, and that garnered a wealth of criticism cross the board. Many posts will be written today about what just how misguided and offensive this advert is, and that is a much needed reaction. Here however I want to briefly unpack just what this reaction means for how we think about the relationship between media and audience.
If you’re interested in/researching ‘fake news’, alternative facts, clickbait, and/or the ‘decline’ of ‘experts’ (really not sure how many scare quotes to use here…) then check out this call for papers below. Sounds like a really interesting conference. The submission deadline is a little tight, but I’m going to try to attend if nothing else!
Language, New Media and Alt-Realities
April 21, 2017, University of Reading
Proposals are invited for 20 minute paper presentations as well as posters/web-based presentations addressing the theme of ‘language, new media and alt.realties’.
Possible areas of interest include:
· New media epistemologies and ontologies
· New media discourse and political polarisation
· Algorithmic pragmatics and political debate
· Authoritarian and populist discourses online
· ‘Trolling’ as a form of political discourse
· Agnotology (the cultural construction of ignorance)
· The crisis of ‘expertise’
· ‘Fake news’ and ‘clickbait’
· Hacking and disinformation
· Infotainment and spectacle
· Conspiracy theories and memes
· Journalism in the age of social media
Please send your proposals in the form of a 250-word abstract to Prof Rodney Jones, University of Reading firstname.lastname@example.org
Deadline for Submitting Proposals: April 5, 2017
The new Growing up Digital report came out in the UK today from the Children’s Commissioner (Find it here). It’s a nuanced report with many interesting ideas and thoughts about the internet. It acknowledges that children are on the internet more, and that this is not going to change. It acknowledges the internet can be a great place (It literally starts with the sentence “The internet is an extraordinary force for good…”). It suggests that children need to be taught critical skills online as well as offline. It’s really nuanced and well written.
So why is it that nearly all the press reporting on this is SO APPALLING?! Continue reading
An article came out today by J. Nathan Matias (find it here, it’s really interesting) calling for a re-examination of online anonymity, which for so long has been painted as a pantomime villain that automatically leads to abuse and problematic behaviour.
In the article J. Nathan Matias argues in essence for a reversal of the approach to anonymity and abuse, calling for a re-evaluation of online abuse that acknowledges the fact that it is and obviously is not solely an online phenomenon, but that it emerges from pre-existing social structures and resources. This is really interesting, especially in the wake of a re-emergence of anonymous platforms such as Yik Yak (before the update) and ask.fm.
Firstly, apologies for not blogging in quite a while; I’ve been finishing off my PhD which I’m super happy to announce I passed, with no corrections B-). It’s been a long process but I’m really proud of the finished product and I’m working on getting publications and a book out from it ASAP. Stay tuned for more news!
Secondly, and to get to the point of this post, a great article has just been published entitled “What social media data should I use in my research?: a comparative analysis of Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and the New York Times comments”.
It’s been put out by a group of researchers from the State University of New Jersey. Namely Dongho Choi, Ziad Matni, and Chirag Shah. It was presented at the 79th ASIS&T Annual Meeting in Copenhagen a few months ago (October 2016). The full link to the article can be found here.
It’s a really great article, and it is truly truly great to see people moving towards a broader definition of social media. For far too long, Facebook and Twitter have held a relatively unchallenged monopoly over social media research. It’s easy to understand why; they are currently the most popular platforms by some distance in the western world. They also put out a staggering wealth of content to analyse and utilize. In many ways, they present perfect spaces through which to understand a range of issues, and they produce rich and detailed data.
However, thanks to the pioneering work of researchers such as Paul Hodkinson, Deborah Lupton, Sonja Utz, Rachel Kowert, Nicole Ellison, Xuan Zhao, Caleb T. Carr, and many others, digital research is again spreading out and looking at the social internet in its messy and overlapping entirety. That means embracing multiple platforms and exploring a range of spaces that contain various social elements. This should be encouraged, especially as recent statistical research from PEW (Lenhart, 2015) shows that young people are increasingly present on multiple platforms. Users are not using one platform alone; they exist in and across multiple spaces, and are increasingly using a broad array of platforms beyond Facebook and Twitter alone. As such, in order to understand the experiences of users online, a broader focus is needed, lest digital research gets left a decade behind the progressing reality of social media for many users.
This sounds like such a great event. Below the break is the details of a one-day conference on June 20th in Manchester with some really awesome people talking about image sharing and online visual culture. Thanks to the always awesome Mark Carrigan for the heads-up about this one! If you’re not following him I thoroughly recommend that you do!
As the internet becomes increasingly multi-modal, and as an increasingly diverse range of Social Media sites are becoming purposefully heterogeneous, understanding visual culture is so important.
What’s so great about this event, and what I love about Digital Sociology at the moment is it’s really broad in scope. So many fields with so many epistemological stances all want to try and understand the increasingly ubiquitous role of Social Media. We need this diverse input in the field, we need to throw open the doors and try and come at this from a range of perspectives.
I cannot make the day so I’m going to follow along online, but I thought I’d flag it up for all those up north interested in Visual Culture and wanting to look at it from a purposefully broad perspective. More of this sort of thing please!
I’ve been noticing a trend in the discussion of Social Media
In digital research there has been a move towards accepting that the internet is now a mundane and routine part of life, and as such an equal move away from distancing social media and the internet writ large from the rest of everyday life. Most researchers accept that the internet has quickly become routine. Rather than being a sparkly wonder for which we had to schedule time in our day to sit down and literally plug in, it has become accepted, ubiquitous, and demystified.
We have lifted the curtain and found that Oz is just some old white guy.
Research is now accepting that the internet is not a space to escape everyday life but a space in which we continue to project and live everyday life via new modes and new mediums.
However, researchers still seem to want to put some of the sparkle back into the internet; they still want to see it as something special and unique in some way. And in part this is true. The internet offers new possibilities, new ideas, new opportunities, new methods… BUT not everything that happens on the internet is unique and solely found online.
Last weekend (19th March 2016) I had the great pleasure of giving a TEDx talk at TEDxNorwichEd, the first TED education event in the UK for 4 and a half years. Continue reading