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2 Old to New Media
Social media have evolved through human cultural practices along with technological affordances.
may we have your attention: first social media experiences
Student Content, Fall 2020
At what age should a child have social media?
When we use our phones out in public just to avoid conversing with other people we are not only being very anti-social, but we are practicing . Everyone always says it’s teens who use their phones the most, and maybe that’s true, but why is that the case? Is it because we have more social media accounts or more followers? Or is it because we choose to use our phones to distract us from the real world? And what age is too young for a social media presence? I interviewed a Freshman at The University of Arizona to share her first experiences with social media, and got her take on how young is too young.
Amara (a pseudonym) is 18 years old and has an iPhone just like every other college student her age, but the difference between her, and many other of these students is that she didn’t even have a phone until she was 16 in her Sophomore year of high school because her parents were very strict about phones and didn’t want their only child active on social media at such a young age. This was difficult for Amara for a few reasons, the first being she couldn’t contact her parents after school when they needed to pick her up, she couldn’t talk to her friends outside of school, and she always felt very out of the loop.
Amara got to have the childhood experiences her classmates never would. She played outside and did normal kids’ stuff. This is why I believe that parents should wait as long as possible to get their kids phones because kids should enjoy their childhood while it lasts, and then enjoy all the good of social media when they are old enough to appreciate it.
About the Author
May Otzen is a student at the University of Arizona. She spends her days watching Netflix and using various social media apps like Instagram, Tik Tok, and Snapchat. She loves spending time with her friends and playing with her cat, Bruce.
Respond to this case study… What age would you consider too young for a social media presence? What, if anything, makes social media more “distracting” for young people compared to other age groups? Describe any unique benefits social media *could* offer, and describe what policy or platform changes might need to happen to make these benefits possible.
It is important to understand the relationships between older media and social media. By older media, I mean the industry-produced form of mass communication available in the US before digital social media became a thing, such as television, radio, newspapers, books, magazines, etc.
Older media can be referred to by other names, such as traditional media. And then there are subcategories of older media: broadcast media are one subcategory of older media, including television and radio, that communicates from one source to many viewers at once. Print media are a paper-based subcategory of older media such as newspapers, books, and magazines, that many users access individually.
New digital media devices inherit many qualities and functions of older media and forms of communication.
Here’s an example: When your phone camera snaps a digital photo, it probably makes this sound or something like it. That sound is the sound of a shutter opening and closing. It is a sound that analog (non-digital) cameras have to make in order to function.
Digital cameras don’t have shutters; they function through chips that sense light coming into the lens. So why do so many digital cameras make that shutter sound? Because developers wanted your device to signal to you that the photo was taken, and that sound has become associated with picture taking in our society. Media scholar Henry Jenkins calls this type of blending of old and new media “technological convergence.” (Convergence just means coming together while moving through time.) Technological convergence is one of several types of media convergence that Jenkins writes are crucial to understanding our media world today.
Our technologies are full of convergences with older, traditional media helping us make sense of new media. Some signs of technological convergence go away over time as we become more comfortable with technologies. For example, mobile phones were once shaped more like analog phones, which helped people feel more comfortable calling and talking on them. However, as they gained more entertainment-related affordances, they began to appear more like remote control devices.
The history of communicating with many at once
Traditional media can be limiting when viewed as the only influence on new social media. Think of a famous athlete’s Facebook post seen and raucously responded to by thousands of people. Would that have been possible through traditional media like a paper newspaper or radio broadcast? No. But now imagine it in this ancient amphitheater in Syria (below). That athlete could have shouted an insult at an opponent, and gotten roars of approval and disapproval from the crowd. Spectators may even have gotten into fights with one another. Those types of interactions have a long social history.
Humans can communicate to broad and distant audiences using many other means outside of print or broadcast media. These include:
Vocalization and voice amplification
Staging for visibility
Movement and dance repertoires
Songs and repetition
Some of these means of communication are very old. But the smartest developers and users of new media let every possible means of communication and visibility inspire their designs and practices.
It is important to recognize that when we use media, we communicate and spread our ways of interacting with these media, not just the content delivered by the media. Theorist Marshall McLuhan referred to this with the phrase, “The medium is the message.”
When developers consider new features, they have to consider what is present in the cultures that will interact with those media. If a feature relies upon brand new methods of interaction, it increases the likelihood that those media will confuse users. See one interesting way people are looking at new gestures developed in the digital age here.
A millennial shift: Web 2.0 as user contributions
It is with traditional media in mind that New York University Journalism professor Jay Rosen wrote The People Formerly Known as the Audience in 2006. He claimed that these people were taking over the media by using social media, and that his statement was their “collective manifesto.” He claimed the people were speaking out to resist “being at the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak.”
Today’s media exist in a different era from the turn of the millennium. Rosen reminds us that broadcasters used to refer to viewers as “eyeballs.” Think about what that metaphor means. An eyeball has only two powers: To look, and to look away. There are plenty of media content creators who still only care about whether or not people are looking. But far more now allow users to “take part, debate, create, communicate, [and] share.” It increases their viewership, for one thing. And whereas the traditional media model involved advertising to the individual, the new model involves persuading the individual to advertise your product to their contacts.
The term Web 2.0 refers to sites that afford user contributions, such as likes and votes. O’Reilly Media coined the term Web 2.0 in 2004; you can read about that here. They were referring to social media sites popping up all over the web at that time. These new sites were different than the static sites of the 1990s and 2000s, the “Web 1.0” era. Web 1.0 sites would provide information or maybe some entertainment, but would not allow user contributions. You might say they were designed for eyeballs only – although creative users found ways to connect on Web 1.0, as we will learn when we learn about the Zapatistas in Chapter 5.
Web 2.0 sites that emerged in the early 2000s offered new capabilities, or affordances, to users. With Web 2.0 affordances, users can weigh in with likes and votes. They can comment or write their own posts. They can upload content, like images and videos. They can connect with others, and offer their own profiles and content to connect to.
Tools of change: Online cultures
The result of Web 2.0 is sites that are shaped by user cultures. Culture is a concept encompassing all the norms, values, and related behaviors that people who have interacted in a social group over time agree on and perpetuate. Think about the Web 2.0-enabled social media spaces you frequent. Perhaps when you spend time on Tumblr, you see that people talk about their emotions, and you talk about your own. Meanwhile, in League of Legends chat you don’t talk about your emotions because you know you will get attacked if you do. On Facebook and LinkedIn, you might wear a high-buttoned shirt, as you have seen is the norm; but you might appear in a robe on Snapchat, or a bikini on Instagram. Culture encompasses how users talk to each other, present themselves for one another, and take cues from and influence each other as they collectively decide what’s in and what’s out.
Software platform developers do influence culture in their user designs. For example, Facebook has its own shirt buttoned up rather high, with its plain white background and limitations on user customization of profiles. Online cultures do take some cues from developers, and users are restricted or guided by their affordances. But users have a lot of agency as they develop and share cultures within these sites.
Case Study: Generations on Social Media
My relationship with technology
“Do you think that the generational gap will be smaller between this generation and the next?” I asked my boyfriend, who sat beside me at the table, scrolling through TikTok. We were showing each other our favorite TikToks that we found since the last time we saw each other, which is something we always look forward to.
“What do you mean?”, He glanced up at me from his phone, raising an eyebrow.
“I mean we grew up with technology that our parents didn’t and I feel like that made the generational gap wider, don’t you think?”
He paused for a moment and contemplated the concept, “Maybe.”
I gave him my theory, “I mean ever since we were born we are adapting consistently and incorporating new technologies into our everyday lives.” I say, “Do you think that means that we will continue to adapt to the technologies our children will have and we can experience the same and internet culture that they do?”
He shrugged “You have a good point. I think you’re probably correct, but we will know with time.”
This is a conversation I think about a lot when I reflect upon my childhood and my years so far as a young adult. Unlike my parents, I grew up with technology around me. I was a baby who watched The Wiggles on television and played Tetris on my dad’s old blackberry. It evolved into playing Webkinz and Club Penguin, and the kids at school were suddenly talking about making Twitter accounts at grade 5. Twitter was something I wasn’t allowed to have back then. I had an iPod and I played games on it where I gave people cool hairstyles or took care of pet dragons. These are all memories I look upon very fondly.
Then my relationship with technology changed around middle school. I downloaded the social media platform Instagram alongside all my peers and I was playing around with it, posting pictures of my pets. Soon enough, that I would watch on youtube started joining the platform, and soon I was scrolling through posts of these people who I idolized and realized: my body doesn’t look like that.
Soon, while trying to grow my photography account, I was getting sucked into this vortex of people’s where they didn’t have any acne, unlike me; or their bikini pictures where their stomach was completely flat, unlike mine.
I didn’t realize the effect this was having on me until high school where I will admit that I grew resentful of the way my body looks. It took a couple of photography classes for me to realize: most of this, if not all, was due to the magical powers of Adobe Photoshop. I unfollowed all of these Instagram models and instead pushed myself to follow more photography accounts that didn’t make me hate my body.
It took a while for my relationship with social media to heal after that. However, my relationship with technology itself was flourishing. I was learning and creating art through Adobe Photoshop and a DSLR camera. I was using the photography studio at my school daily, and pushing out photos that I was extremely proud of.
Around the time I went into college was when my social media healed enough to start being more active there. Instead of Instagram, which I post on rarely, I chose a more casual platform to me: Twitch. I started, and still continue to, stream every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday night.
I met a few online friends through that platform that I love to play, stream, and converse with. Some live a state over, and some live all away across the world in Japan.
I look forward to every Tuesday through Thursday, excited to play Stardew Valley, Uno, Valorant, Call of Duty: Cold War, or any other game that I want to play then; either on my own or with my newfound friends. This schedule has given me something to look forward to and a social life that is fulfilling during the Covid Pandemic.
In the very end, I would say my relationship with tech is rapidly expanding, with learning new things about stream equipment and how to apply them to make my stream more fun for both me and my viewers. I also realize that I am not obligated to join every social media platform and that is perfectly okay. This newfound casualty of Twitch as my main social media platform, alongside all the friends I found through there warm my heart and make me feel less alone. I finally feel like I belong in the digital world.
About the Author
This piece was written by Jaden Fernandez, Student Contributor
Respond to this case study… How has your relationship with social media changed over time? Consider both how you have changed on a personal level and how the technology itself has evolved. Have you swapped platforms? Developed new habits? Found or left communities?
Dominating today: The platform economy
…we are in the middle of a contest to define the contours of what we call the “platform society”: a global conglomerate of all kinds of platforms, which interdependencies are structured by a common set of mechanisms.”
Human-to-human connection is what social media is supposed to be about. This belief, this hope, was an impetus for this book when I began writing it in 2016. Historically, human-to-human connection was also what the internet itself reached for, at least in the dreams of its creators. This Web 1.0 or the “read-only” web as it would later be called was quite limited in its reach compared to today. And yet…that potentially infinite web of networks was still a wonder, and a site of international connections and information wars (as you’ll see in Chapter 5 with the Zapatistas).
Then what happened? Well on the surface, the web simply became more social. By the early 2000s with Web 2.0 and the “read/write web,” great excitement and euphoria surrounded the participatory cultures that blossomed on Web 2.0 sites. The wonder of the web refracted across our lives, as we marveled at how easily we could connect with one another. This world of connections broadened our human imaginations and expectations in irreversible ways. And many were overjoyed when, by 2009, all this human connection grew teeth – which is to say viability in the form of real currency exchange – with the “sharing economy” that enabled regular folk to share services and goods with one another. Platforms that began as tiny businesses with few assets gained tremendous value as the places to go to socialize online, with family, with customers, with friends, with influencers. The more real or potential network connections we had who used a platform, the more certain we became that we had to use it too. In the platform economy, the more, the merrier. These continue to drive audiences to platforms at dizzying rates, rapidly eclipsing product pipelines and business models that dominated in times past.
Behind the visible connections, all this sociality also marked the beginning of voracious – yet invisible – intermediaries. We were giddily giving up our data in exchange for the peer-to-peer exchange of services, a backroom exchange with implications few would recognize for nearly another decade.
And today? Welcome to the “platform society,” in which we are connected to one another, but only through platforms that derive immense power from and over our human connections.
What are platforms?
I define a as follows:
Platform: An ecosystem that connects people and companies while retaining control over the terms of these connections and ownership of connection byproducts such as data.
Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon: These are the major platforms that José Van Dijck argues have defined how society and both public and private life function today. These platforms reach deeply into human lives worldwide, with their publicly understood purposes forming only a fraction of their activities and profits. And rippling from these big four platforms are smaller ones, which emulate their models in various ways. These platforms and their stakeholders transform not just what we buy and enjoy but what we need to live and thrive: how we educate, how we govern and are governed, and how we structure our societies.
The impact of globally operating platforms on local and state economies and cultures is immense, as they force all societal actors—including the mass media, civil society organizations, and state institutions—to reconsider and recalibrate their position in public space. (Van Dijk and Poell, 1.)
Platforms have a profound effect on how societal life is organized. Airbnb has changed not just the hospitality sector, but also neighborhood dynamics and social life. Uber has not only affected the taxi industry; it has affected the construction of roads and public transportation services. We do not yet vote through platforms, yet they have had irreversible effects on our elections. Today almost every sector of public life has become platformized: Higher Education. News and Journalism. Fitness and Health. Hospitality. Transportation. And in these platforms, transactions that are visible to consumers are undergirded by other transactions in which consumers become unwitting producers, their data a form of currency that subsidizes the transactions the chose to engage in in the first place.
Future directions in the online world
With so much human activity and cultural expression enabled in Web 2.0, what is Web 3.0? Look this up on the web and you will find no shortage of responses. There is no consensus – no agreement among experts or among users. We don’t even know if we are already using Web 3.0, because it is hard to know where Web 2.0 ends.
Surely one valuable perspective on the present and the future of the internet would come from Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the internet in 1989. (It was released to the public in the 1990s; read more of that history here.)
Today Tim Berners-Lee has a new mission – to make sure we really are connected by the internet. He describes what drove him to pursue this mission this way:
“Now people feel very disempowered, because the end result is that they’re telling their computer who their friends are, and who’s in the photographs, and planning things and designing things — and those plans and designs and friendships are sucked up and held by these social networks. And they’re not really social networks, they’re silos.”
The data you create as you move across online spaces is often controlled and owned by those spaces. Berners-Lee is now working to develop new methods of linking data across virtual space without relying upon governments, corporations, or the many others with an interest in controlling that data. You can read more about this new mission in this TechCrunch article.
“Right now we have the worst of both worlds, in which people not only cannot control their data, but also can’t really use it,” Berners-Lee said in the project’s announcement last year. “Our goal is to develop a web architecture that gives users ownership over their data.”
Technology has always fascinated me. It is incredible how quickly I can look up anything I want to with just a quick Google search. It has certainly made research for school-related things much easier. My mom always lets me know how good I have it; how she had to go to the library and read a book to find I can access in only a few seconds. I’m not sure if I could survive without the internet. How else would I have translated my Spanish homework or looked up how to solve a math problem I’m stuck on. It’s difficult for me to imagine my life without technology. The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is to check my phone; to check my school email, definitely not to scroll through Instagram and watch YouTube. During the summer of 2020 I got a job at a family-owned BBQ restaurant called Word of Mouth Grill as a cashier, server, and sometimes as a cook. I made an amazing potato salad if I do say so myself. The restaurant has an Instagram account where they post aesthetically pleasing pictures of the food they serve. Word of Mouth is an hour and a half away from U of A and I can’t just pop down to visit very often. Yet I must suffer because every day I see pictures of their food. It’s like I can smell the pulled pork through the screen.
In all seriousness though, my life would be so much different without technology and social media. I would have to check a physical newspaper to find out what’s going on in the world instead of simply clicking the apple news app. I feel like I would be uninformed if that were the case. Additionally, I would have fewer news sources to choose from. I would have to subscribe to numerous papers just so I can fact-check them with the other ones I read. Sounds a bit too tedious to me.
I also find the link between video games and socializing compelling. Yes, you hear about people being able to communicate through things like Snapchat, Facebook, and other social media ], but people often forget that video games are another way of communicating. I’ve met some great friends from being randomly put into Destiny PvP lobbies and I still play and talk with them to this day. Though I sometimes get paired with 10-year-old who think they are better at the game than me… Unfortunately, they are sometimes. I don’t mention it that often because it hurts my ego. Video games have also allowed me to keep in contact with my younger sister. We log on to Minecraft and play together for hours even though we are an hour and a half away from each other. Games are often painted by the media as bad for your health and addictive. While that may be true in some cases, I’ve experienced the positive effects of gaming. Sure, I’ve procrastinated on homework so I can play one more game more than a few times, but I feel that the positive effects of video games greatly outweigh the negatives. Video games have helped me escape the world and clear my mind when I’m feeling stressed or down and have certainly helped me stay in contact with my friends.
I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life yet, but I am sure that I want to explore the wonders of technology more. I believe that we can do so much good with technology and social media if we focus on building the world up instead of trying to use it for selfish purposes.
About the Author
Hi, my name is Tyler Amberg and my pronouns are she/her. I was born and raised in Tempe, Arizona. I love playing lacrosse and skiing. Well, when I have access to snow that is, it’s a bit difficult in the desert. I love movies, old and new, and will binge-watch them for hours with my little sister; who is also my best friend.
Respond to this case study… What affordances do you take for granted? How would your day-to-day life change if a technology you relied upon was no longer available? What might you substitute or repurpose to fill that need?
Core Concepts and Questions
one subcategory of older media, including television and radio, that communicates from one source to many viewers
a subcategory of older paper-based media such as newspapers, books, and magazines, that many users access individually
blending of old and new media. For example, cellular phones were once shaped more like analog (non-digital) phones
sites that afford user contributions, such as likes and votes
a concept encompassing all the norms, values, and related behaviors that people who have interacted in a social group over time agree on and perpetuate
a shorthand name for a key set of features that have made the internet what it is today
an ecosystem that connects people and companies while retaining control over the terms of these connections and ownership of connection byproducts such as data
the more a platform is used, the more likely that platform is where we go to interact with family, or friends, or customers, or all of these. In other words, in the platform economy, the more, the merrier
A. Questions for qualitative thought
What are examples of qualities that digital media have inherited from traditional media other than those discussed here? Try to think of some that don’t make the new media work better.
Can you give an example of a site that allows you to create and share? And then of one that still treats you like little more than “eyeballs”? Explain.
Do you think you are part of “the people formerly known as the audience?” Is it still possible to feel that you are only an audience (not a participant) in the age of social media? Or are there different terms we should use now?
Try to conceptualize a platform that you use. Make it a place, familiar or imaginary. How is it organized? Who is there? How are they behaving?
B. Review: Which is the best answer?
Hear It: Air Facebook
Platforms can be difficult to understand and conceptualize. Humor can help; so can illustration, and imagination. Here is how I imagine one platform that’s been significant in my life, but that I find it difficult to leave due to network effects.
Sociologist Erving Goffman's term for the common understanding in crowded spaces that you don’t may politely acknowledge others, but you do not get in their business
Before the internet was an effective product marketing tool, it was a tool of activism - and social media has extended and complicated the ways activists can use it (in other words, its activist affordances). This chapter takes a few key movements as examples - from 1994 when Mexico's Zapatista movement forced the Mexican government into a ceasefire, to 2017 when Black Lives Matter hashtags now quickly activate publics in the US and beyond. I refer to these movements under the umbrella of . What ties these movements together is their creativity in using the affordances of the internet to promote activist agendas and avoid the pitfalls of oversimplification and appropriation.
Note: This chapter focuses on movements that have coalesced (formed) around racial and ethnic identity groups, as well as income inequality and political decisions.
In early 1994, only a tiny percentage of the world was online, and the term "social media" did not exist. The internet was very young and very Web 1.0, with static pages that did not allow visitors to contribute. (You can review Web 1.0 vs Web 2.0 in Chapter 2). Yet our first example of creative online activism begins here, with Mexico's . Creative deployment of the affordances of a young, sparse internet both saved indigenous protesters in Chiapas, Mexico from slaughter and allowed them to influence the new global economy.
NAFTA signing by leaders of Mexico, Canada, and the US
The beginning of the story was the end of life as many in rural Mexico knew it. Governments of the US, Canada, and Mexico began negotiating the in the early 1990s, forging interdependence between their economies. Among other deals, this trade agreement would subsidize corporations taking over Mexican land to grow cheap crops. Many Mexicans - particularly the native, or indigenous, people - foresaw that this would lead to drastic alteration of the land and to farming by genetic crop modification and spraying of chemical pesticides.
As their political leaders worked toward NAFTA, Mexican farmers fought it using traditional methods. In the early 1990s, protestors staged in-person demonstrations at the zocalo (town square) in Mexico City. And they organized and wrote impassioned statements in print media about the devastating consequences NAFTA would have on farming and many other aspects of life in their country. But North American governments ignored these offline pleas and signed NAFTA into effect in 1992 and 1993.
On January 1st, 1994, NAFTA became the law of the land in the US, Mexico, and Canada - and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) rose up against the Mexican Government under the leadership of a masked man known as Subcomandante (Subcommander) Marcos. This army of "Zapatistas" - an army of mostly poor, rural, indigenous people inspired by the historic Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata - peacefully occupied the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas in the state of Chiapas, to demand that their protests against NAFTA be seen and heard. Rising up against the Mexican government seemed like a catastrophic move by the EZLN occupiers, many of whom were poor indigenous farmers from the Chiapas area.
The Mexican government was enthusiastic about NAFTA, as they would benefit financially from corporate NAFTA investment even if their farmers suffered. So it seemed certain the formidable Mexican army would covertly slaughter the small EZLN forces before their protest could make Mexico look bad as corporate investment. But ironically, in this case the internet was what Martinez-Torres describes as , helping governments repress people while helping those people protest that repression at the same time. While young, online global networks made it possible for economies to globalize and to crush poor people in the process, they also made it possible to mobilize networks of popular protest and fight back.
Enter information warfare
When on-the-ground resistance alone got the Zapatistas little traction in their resistance to NAFTA, they turned to the internet and began a campaign of - the strategic use of information and its anticipated effects on receivers to influence the power dynamics in a conflict. Thanks to the affordances of the early internet to connect people in similar struggles in different places, international peace activists were already networked online in the mid-1990s; the Internet Archive has lists and snapshots of pages describing some of these organizations. Some of these activist organizations were witnessing or supporting similar struggles in other countries, as poor people battled transnational trade agreements that would destroy their ways of life.
The EZLN Army got the international word out about their cause with remarkable speed, thanks to these online peace networks. With the charismatic masked leader Subcommandante Marcos as a spokesperson, the EZLN Zapatistas created a dramatic campaign online. Their vivid imagery of the EZLN's masked army of farmers spread rapidly across international online networks.
At the height of their online visibility, twelve days after declaring war on the Mexican Government, the Zapatistas publicly called for a ceasefire. The Mexican government still had the physical power to annihilate EZLN - but now the world was watching. Once EZLN called for peace, any action against their forces including women and children would make Mexico look evil - and risky as a corporate investment destination. As a result, the Mexican government was forced to accept the EZLN ceasefire. They could not reverse NAFTA; it would take more than an awareness campaign to reverse such a powerfully backed agreement. But the EZLN protesters lived and continued their demands for social change.
The EZLN's Information War has inspired many civil society movements visible today. These include current movements against genetically modified food and for "fair trade" compensation of farmers. In terms of online strategies, the Zapatistas' activist campaign was an early example for activists of how media can be used sociopolitically to demand civil rights - and to recognize how, Janus-faced, those same media can also work against those rights.
In the next sections I demonstrate now the Zapatistas' strategies fall under the umbrella of creative online activism and why such strategies remain powerful.
Creative online activism in recent times
Political campaigning in the 21st century
Student Contribution, Fall 2020
Music: Automaton en Avant by Scanglobe, CC-BY -NC.
The Accessibility of Politics on Social Media
One of the main features I enjoy about social media is the level of accessibility it provides. In one tap, you can connect with an old friend, find entertainment, get news and so much more. One “old school’ medium that has found new life on social media is politics. The accessibility of politics via social media has made politicians and issues easily available to the general public thanks to their integration of the new media into campaigns.
Tana Mongeau is a twenty-two year old influencer who gained a lot of followers from her Youtube “storytime” videos. She tries to be as transparent as possible with her audience, and is not afraid to be herself. Mongeau has over 5 million Youtube subscribers which means that a lot of people value her opinions. I have watched Tana Mongeau’s Youtube videos before and I always admired how authentic she was with her audience. Tana usually tries to stay out of controversial situations because she has gotten herself into trouble in the past on social media leading to her almost being cancelled. This is why I was a little surprised to see her actually campaigning which usually means half the people in your audience will disagree with you. I do not look into politics on social media because I never know if there is misinformation from an unreliable source. I will also see a lot of disinformation where people will intentionally spread fake news to make one politician look better than the other.
Because social media allows for everyone to have a voice, there is a lot of that gets spread around by people who do not actually care about politics, but rather the attention. When I first saw “Booty For Biden”, I thought that it was probably just a meme trying to get Biden’s name out. However, Tana was very passionate about campaigning for Biden and said that it was true. This campaign strategy has proven to be successful with “naked philanthropists” such as Kaylen Ward who fundraised over 1 million dollars for Australia during their fire crisis. They tend to reward people who donate, or in this case vote, with a naked picture of themselves.
However, once again, Tana got a lot of backlash about her Biden endorsement campaign. Lots of people noticed that what she is doing can be considered “vote buying” which is an electoral crime. Vote buying is defined as, “when offering an expenditure to any person, either to vote or withhold his vote or to vote for or against a candidate”. Punishments can include fines and up to two years in prison. It is also illegal to take a picture of your ballot in sixteen states and unclear in thirteen. In light of this knowledge, Tana decided to change her requirements. Instead of sending her a photo of your ballot, you could just send her a video saying that you voted for Biden. With these lower demands, it is hard to account for how many people truthfully sent her proof, but Mongeau claims that she got “tens of thousands” of people to say they are voting for Biden.
Tana’s campaign ended up costing her some Youtube subscribers. She lost twenty thousand subscribers in September, which was around the start of her “Booty For Biden” campaign. Even though her channel took a hit, I believe her passionate dedication to the Biden campaign is admirable even if she may have lost some followers. In the end, she was able to use her platform to shine a light on a topic she was passionate about, which may have even swung some votes and led to Biden’s victory. Having her political view accessible to social media allowed for her to be even more transparent with her audience as well as earn herself some credibility by addressing a newsworthy national topic. “Booty For Biden” generated a lot of attention for the Biden campaign. Whether someone was pro-Biden or not, they were engaged in the political process albeit in a somewhat roundabout way. Perhaps that led to people finding more information on politics, even though it may have simply stemmed from wanting to see a nude pic.
About the Author
Jessica Nickerson is a sophomore at the University of Arizona studying Pre-Business. She enjoys spending time with her hedgehog and going on long drives. Jessica has been active on social media ever since 2011.
Organizers have continued using the internet to mobilize, and their work has arguably been made easier with the development of mobile phone apps and social media. This timeline by Mashable gives a selective overview of noted online activist movements through 2011.
But the platform is only a small part of the recipe for an activist movement. Human creativity has facilitated the use of technologies in activism in ways software developers never imagined. In a typical example of human shaping of technology, Twitter leadership didn't build hashtags into the platform intentionally and even rejected the idea that they would be widely used; human users proved them wrong. Several years later, Twitter hashtags began playing important roles in online activism, including in the Arab Spring protests.
Case study: #settleforbiden
Student Content, Fall 2020
About the Author
Lilly is a first year student at the University of Arizona who enjoys traveling and having a good time.
Respond to this case study...In her audio piece, this author focuses on the use of the hashtag #settleforbiden. In what ways could this hashtag fall under the category of creative online activism? In what ways could it be considered slacktivism?
Social media platforms like Twitter are sometimes practically credited with creating movements, but this technological determinism fails to recognize how much complex human wrangling is required to run an online campaign and keep control of its message. Only a small percentage of protestors used Twitter to exchange key information and then disseminated that information through face-to-face communication and other media. All messages that spread widely online face the threat of oversimplification and appropriation; only the best-executed retain their depth and complexity. And, regardless of platform, the real work for social change still happens across various digital and analog (non-digital) platforms - and most crucially, on the ground.
The Black Lives Matter Movement
One of the most well-known online movements to date is Black Lives Matter. The central phrase and hashtag of this movement came from Alicia Garza and Patrisse Marie Cullors-Brignac in July 2013 in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of 12-year-old Trayvon Martin. Armed with this concise phrase - and fueled by outrage over injustices against black citizens by American institutions including law enforcement today - has built into a sophisticated movement online and offline with profound influence on government policy and popular consciousness.
Although its signature phrase began online, the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction over the next year as Twitter users deployed #blacklivesmatter to mobilize on the ground. Subsequent hashtags used in connection with #blacklivesmatter networked protestors and helped them assemble massive on-the-ground demonstrations very quickly after subsequent police killings. These included #ferguson to organize protests in Ferguson, Missouri after police were acquitted in the killing of Michael Brown there in November 2014.
socially aware branding
Student Contribution, Fall 2020
I chose the public of The Mayfair Group because it is an account that I am very familiar with and have been following for a long time. I think the content they create and post is incredibly inspiring and relatable to all. Their profile is very unique and full of creativity. It is a newly founded company and does a great job of reflecting some of the younger generations’ ideas. The Mayfair Group specializes in the sectors of public relations, social media, sales, graphic design, branding, events and creative content. Their Instagram account inspires me to think out of the box, reflect on my life, and to be more original.
The Mayfair Group’s Instagram account affords exposure because it draws matters society guards as private into the public sphere. For example, they post very honest quotes about deeper emotions and the sides of life people do not normally portray. They feature real-life issues such as climate change, mental health, politics, and female empowerment. The brand specifically focuses on gender equality. They provide very positive content, especially things that improve your mental health. It is evolving and revolutionizing as a company and has grown immensely. With a following of over 400k on Instagram, The Mayfair Group has a great deal of influence. Their posts receive a lot of comments from people sharing their own thoughts and beliefs about the topics being discussed. It goes beyond their platform as they plan collaborations, events, social and PR campaigns for specific brands to give them exposure.
The account brings a lot of people from many backgrounds together to fight for one cause. This is a great example of an organizational layer. Modern activist movements are often ignited through interactions between key personalities, and networked groups of people who respond together. On posts discussing activism topics, the comment section is flooded with users who all share the same belief.
The Mayfair group also is a fashion company and many of their products reflect these strong positive quotes and movements. This will bring a greater exposure because as the products and garments are worn, others who are not involved in the public will see it and possibly look into the brand. I am also especially interested in this brand and their public because it relates very well to my current major. I am majoring in marketing and i am extremely passionate about fashion, and the entertainment industry as a whole. The modern feel of this company is something I hold very high and hopefully will be able to work for a brand similar to The Mayfair Group. I pay close attention to the way they market their products and their choices of posts because everything is connected. I find it incredible that they have never paid for ads, followers, promotion. This a very successful marketing story and I can learn a lot from this brand. The CEO says, “It all comes down to hustle and building relationships – that's how a business should be built”.
About the Author
Created by student for iVoices Media Lab.
Creative online activist strategies in Black Lives Matter and beyond
Black Lives Matter campaigns have deployed several strategies that were key to the EZLN campaign, as well as to other online activist movements. To make it easy to understand the strategies these movements deployed in common, I will list them and describe them in the next section.
Five strategies deployed by creative online activist movements:
5. "Masked" leadership
Like the Zapatista online campaign, it was crucial in 2015 that Black Lives Matter protestors mobilize with speed. Responding fast to the actions of government or authorities allowed both movements to gather large publics when outrage over authorities' decisions was high. In Black Lives Matter, an immediate response also sent the message that this public would not tolerate police violence any longer - effective immediately.
In both the Zapatista and Black Lives Matter movements, campaign organizers gathered attention through effective use of visual content. Images of the masked Zapatista army are still widely circulated online. This article in WIRED Magazine explores the spreadable content of the Black Lives Matter movement, especially the visuals - photographs easily shared online that evoked the in-person experience of being black, in protest.
We must also remember the performances involved in each of these protests. The Zapatistas called a truce at a dramatic moment that would have cast the Mexican government as the villain if they continued to fight the small EZLN army. In Black Lives Matter, hashtags like #handsupdontshoot remind us that these protestors moved together in synced gestures that gave tremendous energy to their on-the-ground protests. Reenactment has also been an effective performance strategy, exemplified in protestors using the #icantbreathe hashtag to reenact the video of Eric Garner dying after police ignored his repeated pleas of "I can't breathe."
Online activism scholar Paulo Gerbaudo phrases it this way: Online media can be used for the "" in organizing on-the-ground demonstrations. That is, online organizers can choreograph individual acts of cultural repetition (memes, discussed more in Chapter 7), such as clothing or gestures protestors can repeat to recognize and reinforce one another's work. And they can organize the meeting places, escape routes, and conduct of massive groups of people. Gerbaudo notes that these actions can influence public consciousness most powerfully when they occur in a - some meaningful public place that serves as a theatrical stage for activism to be seen and performed. A park at a city center, a football field, the Olympic medal ceremonies, a memorial statue: All of these have been symbolic centers for protest in the US and abroad.
Black Lives Matter's strategy was also similar to the Zapatistas' in the inclusiveness of the campaign. It was understood and stated by those in the movement that women must have equal access to the rights being fought for, and that in-family violence was part of what they were fighting. In Black Lives Matter, rights around gender and sexuality were always part of the discussion, as exemplified in this movement "herstory."
Today's social media-fueled movements tend to use rhetoric that acknowledges differences in power among the people they fight for or represent. This sets modern rights campaigns apart from some rights movements in the past. Both the Civil Rights and Black Panther movements focused on black men more than other citizens. The 20th-century women's rights movements focused more on white women than any others. The 20th-century gay rights movement centralized the identities of white gay men. "Not your grandfather's civil rights movement," is one way Black Lives Matter has been described, reminding us that today's movements broaden the focus from fathers and grandfathers to the rest of the family, the organization, and the community.
5. "Masked" organizers
In modern online activism, leaders wear masks - literally, and sometimes, figuratively. In the 20th-century, a much-remembered feature of social activism campaigns like the Civil Rights Movement was their visible leadership and culture of "heroes." Dr. Martin Luther King is commonly remembered as the "father" of the Civil Rights Movement. Meanwhile, as this article by Jamil Cobb on Black Lives Matter reminds us, there were other strategies at work in the Civil Rights movement as well as leaders who shunned the spotlight, like Ella Baker of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Today, the branding has shifted, with many declaring today's online activist movements "leaderless."
The Zapatista spokesman Subcomandante Marcos was a bridge between these two styles of organization, the 20th-century heroic leader versus the 21st-century decentralized campaign. Marcos was the Zapatistas' most visible "hero." But he wore a mask, hid his true identity, and chose the false title of "Subcommander" (subordinate Commander) rather than "Commander." A decade later, the "hacktivist" group Anonymous began organizing actions on 4chan in which the identities of the organizers and participants were not known; Anonymous made significant appearances during protests against the World Trade Organization. More recently, there have been figurative masks on many popular online movements including Occupy Wall Street, with all insisting there are no leaders. The strategy of "masked" organizers makes a movement difficult to defeat, while also resisting the persistent surveillance that is a function of the internet, and that can get activists jailed or killed.
Advancing and and complicating social activism through online engagement
There are many critiques of online activism as inferior to more traditional forms of activism. For example, techno-sociologist Zeynep Tufecki argues that by removing the hard work and shared risk of social organizing, social media technologies gather demonstrators too quickly for them to understand one another and think together. In another critique, scholar Evgeny Morozov uses the term "" to characterize certain low-risk levels of "activism" such as signing online petitions, which offer participants the illusion they are contributing significantly, at zero risk to themselves. While these critiques may overlook the subtle shifts in the public consciousness that online chatter can effect, they have merit. As illustrated by the Zapatistas in Chiapas and Black Lives Matter in Missouri, online activism is at its most powerful when on-the-ground action provides roots to online campaigns.
However they are branded, successful online activism movements are never dependent only on leaders, and they are also never leaderless. Rather, modern activist movements in the US in particular are often ignited through interactions between key driving forces or personalities, and then mobilized networked groups of people who respond together. This idea, which author David Karpf has called an "" of American political advocacy, may be the closest we can come to accurately describing the real effects of the internet on how we do activism.
Core Concepts and Questions
activist movements that deploy creativity in using the affordances of the internet to promote activist agendas and avoid the pitfalls of oversimplification and appropriation
an army of mostly poor, rural, indigenous people rose up against the Mexican government in 1994, and successfully used the early internet to reach out for witnesses and support
a symbol, derived from ancient Roman mythology, of something that simultaneously works toward two opposing goals
the strategic use of information and its anticipated effects on receivers to influence the power dynamics in a conflict
an agreement between the US, Mexico, and Canada in the early 1990s forging interdependence between their economies, including subsidies for corporations taking over Mexican land to grow cheap crops
a sophisticated movement online and offline, fueled by outrage over injustices against black citizens by American institutions including law enforcement today
Paulo Gerbaudo's term describing how successful online organizers preplan social activist movements that will ensue on the ground
Paulo Gerbaudo's term for a meaningful public place that serves as a theatrical stage for activism to be seen and performed, such as park at a city center, a football field, the Olympic medal ceremonies, or a memorial statue
coined by Evgeny Morozov, this concept relates to critiques of online activism as inferior to more traditional forms of activism, with organizing online perceived as so fast, easy, and risk-free, it results in insufficient gains or change
political scientist David Karpf's term for the networked groups of people responding together who he argues form the most important agents for change in American political advocacy today
Techno-sociologis Zeynep Tufecki argued in 2015 that the tools to organize activist movements online may move too fast to build coalitions that "think together". Whether that was true then, is it now? Support your answer, including what might you say to others in the Pew polls who think differently than you in order to explain your views.
Graphics by Pew Research Center.
Read it: Grassroots activists must consider the costs of digital campaigns (Delia Dumitrica, The Conversation)
Grassroots activists must consider the personal costs of digital campaigns
People’s use of social media for activist purposes clashes with the commercial goals of these platforms. For example, as these platforms prioritize popular and recent content, activist messages have to be constantly updated and liked or shared in order to remain visible to wider audiences. This places the burden to adapt upon activists, who must make the best of these tools within the constraints set by the platforms’ algorithms.
Dilution or dissemination?
Social media can enhance activist communication at the cost of loss of control over the message. This matters in collective action, because a clearly communicated set of demands and complaints is essential to obtaining political recognition.
During the 2014 teachers’ strike in British Columbia, three parents came up with the idea of hosting playdates in front of the offices of members of the B.C. Legislative Assembly (MLAs). The parents wanted to pressure the provincial government to negotiate with teachers and end the strike. As they circulated the idea of #MLAPlaydates on social media, they reflected on the possibility of message dilution:
It’s not the traditional command and control. It’s like: here’s an idea, why don’t you play with it and see what you can do. You share, you pass on stuff.… So, it’s a different framework of activism.… It’s like beta testing, you don’t know where it’s going to fly.
Their solution was a form of “open-source activism,” which entailed monitoring social media to reinforce the message and prevent it from being co-opted, while inviting supporters to adapt and personalize this message.
Filter bubbles of like-minded people make it difficult for digital activists to get their messages outside of individual networks. Yet, some platforms are more public than others, using different algorithms to make content visible to their users.
Organizers of Alberta’s #SafeStampede wanted to call attention to the rape culture around the annual Calgary Stampede. They found that:
Facebook is far and away the best place to have actual discourse [around these issues], but again, you’re mostly talking to your own friends, so it does become a bit of a feedback loop.
To combat this barrier, organizers created public profiles on more open platforms like Twitter and Tumblr to breach the echo chamber effect.
On social media, visibility is often enabled by the newness and reactions a message receives. Activists need to constantly monitor how algorithms push content to the top of other users’ newsfeed. This pressures them to think and act like digital marketers, strategizing their message production and circulation.
The digital activists in our research spoke to the necessity of adapting to platform-specific practices, as well as the learning curve of understanding these practices in the first place.
You have to be careful of the algorithms, so if you’re posting too much, you’re not going to get as wide of an audience.… With Instagram, if you posted three or four really good pictures with good descriptions and hashtags a week, you’re going to get more of a response than if you’re posting like, you know, five times a day every day. So, you want to be kind of conscientious in what you’re posting, and how often.
Allies and trolls
Alongside algorithms, interaction on social media brings along its own challenges to digital activism.
For the #SafeStampede organizers, social media platforms helped them find each other through their existing networks. Online connections grew into face-to-face meetings and relationships, facilitating critical backstage efforts to their public social media campaign:
I don’t think anything exclusively happens on social media anymore. There needs to be a point where things transcend social media and you end up having real conversations with people and you build relationships.
Social media also opened the campaign up for abuse and trolling. This was also the experience of another gender-related movement, the Women’s March in Alberta. The organizers described how people searching terms like “transgender” and “pussy hat” launched a gender-biased calculated attack a few days before the march. To deal with the backlash, the organizers resorted to a strategy of “block, delete, report, repeat,” pointing out that:
It had to be done, and we just tried really hard not to let all of our time and emotional energy get sucked up by that.
The camaraderie built online and offline helped mitigate the toll of these confrontations. Still, online attacks and trolling can easily deplete the already scarce resources that citizen activists have at their disposal.
Burning out and dropping out
While our participants minimized the personal and professional costs of their digital activism during our conversations, they also spoke of burnout making long-term involvement unsustainable.
The emotional cost of trolls, backlash and hyper-aggression on social media was difficult for organizers to escape as social media tied their public names to their activism:
You attract negative comments on you … attract people who feel they have the right to attack you … I try not to think about this too much, having too much information out there leaves me open to potential stalkers, or people who want to harm me or my child.
Distancing one’s self, either from the movement or from the potential risks of your activities, seems to be the only possible strategy for organizers in these situations.
Furthermore, because social media algorithms display the messenger alongside the message, organizers also expressed concern that their visible activism may create potential career risks.
Digital organizing strategies
The citizen activists interviewed in our research employed various strategies to navigate barriers to digital activism. Here are some of their lessons for other activists:
Stay up-to-date with how algorithms are designed and updated for the platforms you are using.
Use multiple platforms to reach different audiences and mitigate the effects of echo chambers.
Allow some for some change in your message, but monitor the conversation in order to maintain its core.
Connect with fellow organizers and supporters offline.
Join a local, regional or national collective so you have fellow activists to lean on and pass the baton to when you need to step away.
Anticipate the costs and risks of activism, and reflect on where you need to draw your own boundaries.
Build flexibility and adaptation into your tactics of action.
While digital activism can be a crucial part of any successful campaign, activists needs to remain aware about the costs and limitations of social media.
Virtual and Augmented Reality are technologies making rapid inroads into social media. Their popularity today is dependent in part on the need for closeness and intimacy in an increasingly distanced world. Below, educators who work with AR, VR, and other technologies discuss how they help engage students, and humans, in closer connections.
Video: Dr. Bryan Carter engages students in learning through his Virtual Harlem project and other uses of augmented and virtual reality.
Blog Post: Being there (by Steve Wheeler)
From Learning with 'e's: My thoughts about learning technology and all things digital. (March 28, 2020)
Ever wondered how we can overcome feelings of loneliness and disconnect in distance education? It's a question that online educators have been grappling with for a long time.
When you're online, or using your smartphone to communicate, do you ever feel 'connected' to the person at the other end? It's a common psychological phenomenon to feel that although you are separated by distance, the technology actually mediates your connection with someone else. Conversely, if you feel disconnected, remote or in some way out of tune with the person at the other end, dialogue can be limited, and connection brief. This is where the technology may have failed to support the interaction.
Feelings of intimacy, or warmth, or common understanding through technology all fall under the category of social presence. It's a term psychologists and technologists use to describe the ability to project physical, social and emotional presence and also to experience it from others during interactions. It's almost like being there alongside them.
Short, Williams and Christie (1976) argued that there is a spectrum of social presence inherent in the affordances of available technologies. That is, some technologies are better at creating the conditions for good social presence than others. When I was conducting the research for my research thesis (Wheeler, 2007), I used this principle to differentiate between the pedagogical power of four modes of communication: face to face (the richest), video conference, telephone, and e-mail (the poorest).
Today we have many more communication technologies to call upon, including handheld videoconferencing (Facetime and Whatsapp for example), social media in various formats, online discussion groups, virtual reality, social gaming, and other options still emerging. Teachers who wish to use these technologies to support learning at a distance need to realise that each of these tools have various affordances (Gibson, 1966) some of which are more conducive than others, depending on the activities they are supporting.
So, when designing online activities and content, it is useful for educators to consider firstly what technologies are available to the student and secondly which of these technologies is best suited to support the activities. Almost always, social presence is a deciding factor in whether students persist in their remote studies, or whether they give up (Wheeler, 2007).
Gibson, J. J. (1966) The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems. London: Allen and Unwin.
Short, J. Williams, E. and Christie, B. (1976) The Social Psychology of Telecommunications. London: John Wiley and Sons.
Wheeler, S. (2007) The influence of communication technologies and approaches to study on transactional distance in blended learning. ALT-J, 15(2), 103-117.
A concept meaning that the more the platform is used, the more valuable it is - because the more likely it is where we go to interact with family, or friends, or customers, or all of these. A shorthand definition is "the more, the merrier."
An ecosystem that connects people and companies while retaining control over the terms of these connections and ownership of connection byproducts such as data
the bridge to making meaning from data, such as a research article interpreting findings from a study, or a newspaper article making sense of observed phenomena
one subcategory of older media, including television and radio, that communicates from one source to many viewers.
a subcategory of older paper-based media such as newspapers, books, and magazines, that many users access individually.
blending of old and new media. For example, cellular phones were once shaped more like analog (non-digital) phones.
Named by O'Reilly Media in the early 2000s, this concept describes integration of user contributions such as likes and votes into online sites.
a concept encompassing all the norms, values, and related behaviors that people who have interacted in a social group over time agree on and perpetuate.
a shorthand name for a key set of features that have made the internet what it is today.