Tag Archives: stigma

Mockdates: Facebook’s Normative Way to be a Bully

From Haley Morris-Cafiero's Wait Watchers project

From Haley Morris-Cafiero’s Wait Watchers project

Last week, Hailey Morris-Cafiero, a photographer and college professor, wrote an article for Salon.com about an ongoing project, five years in the making.  Morris-Cafiero’s project is to document those who mock her because of her body size. She selects a public venue, sets up a camera in full view, and has her assistant snap photos as Morris-Cafiero engages in the world under the derisional gaze of fatphobic publics. One image shows a teenage girl slapping her own belly while intently staring at Morris-Cafiero eating gelato on a sidewalk in Barcelona; another shows two police officers laughing, as one stands behind her holding his hat above her head; a third shows her sitting on bleachers in Times Square, a man a few rows back openly laughing at her as his picture is taken.  The project is called “Wait Watchers.” (more…)

Let Sleeping Memories Lie: High School and the Facebookless Past

I hear there are people out there (though I’ve never been acquainted with one, so far as I know) who really believe high school was the best period of their lives. It’s a privilege to say so, but this position remains unfathomable to me. This isn’t to say I haven’t developed a retroactive appreciation for certain aspects of my teenage life; in high school I had no overhead, all of my income was discretionary, necessities (and sometimes luxuries) were provided for me, and activities like singing, debating, working on theatrical productions, shooting photography, and writing/editing for the school newspaper (awww, analogue blogging!) were considered “productive” uses of my time, all of which add up to a pretty cushy existence. Material and structural privilege can’t necessarily buy happiness, however, and it’s an understatement when I say that I’m presently happy to have left the affective experience of my teenage years in the past.

Recently, my Internet neighborhood has been revisiting high school through the lens of ‘What if we’d had Facebook Back In The Day?’ On Monday, Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) wrote about why we shouldn’t be so quick to celebrate the Facebooklessness of our adolescence; yesterday, Rob Horning (@marginalutility) posted his well-considered response. Below I consider both pieces, and add my own thoughts about the hypothetical intersections of present day Facebook and the pre-Facebook past. All three of us examine identity and “digital dirt,” but where Jurgenson considers embarrassment and stigma, and Horning considers context and narrative control, I consider temporality and affective experience. (more…)

Empowerment without Independence Part II


Two weeks ago, I talked about the tension between empowerment and dependence in light of pervasive technological advancement in general, and its application to the body in particular. To briefly summarize, I argued that new technologies simultaneously empower us to take control over our own bodies—through bio-tracking, geographically unconstrained community support, and access to information—while embedding us in a relationship of dependence with the biomedical institution. We regain authority over bodily meanings, while relinquishing authority over bodily treatment. Taking the case of contested illness, I explained this complex relationship as a function of resources. To define embodied experiences biomedically is to actively place the body at the mercy of medical authorities whose techniques and serums remain inaccessible the subject, while opening access to insurance coverage, treatment protocols, and legal protections.

This trade-off, however (like all trade-offs), is not purely material. Rather, the empowerment-dependence tension, and the related earnestness of patient-consumers to embed themselves within the biomedical institution, has a strong social psychological component—namely, the reduction of moral stigmatization. (more…)

Rethinking Privacy and Publicty on Social Media: Part II

This essay, like the one I posted last month on faux-vintage photography, is me hashing out ideas as part of my larger dissertation project on self-documentation and social media. Part I is found here.A barrage of media stories are professing the “Death of Anonymity,” the “End of Forgetting” and an “Era of Omniscience.” They are screaming a sensationalism that is part of the larger project to drum up fear about how “public” we are when using social media. While there are indeed risks involved with using social media, these articles engage in a risky hyperbole that I will try to counter-balance here.

Part I of this essay rethought claims of hyper-publicity by theoretically reorienting the concept of publicity itself. Using theorists like Bataille and Baudrillard, I argue that being public is not the end of privacy but instead has everything to do with it. Social media is more like a fan dance: a game of reveal and conceal. Today, I will further take to task our collective tendency to overstate publicity in the age of social media. Sensationalizing the risks of “living in public” perpetuates the stigma around an imperfect social media presence, intensifying the very risk we hope to avoid. But first, let’s look at examples of this sensationalism.

I. Media Sensationalism
Pointing out the dangers of living public online is an important task, but sensationalizing this risk is all too common. Indeed, the media has a long history of sensationalizing all sorts of risks, creating fear to drum up ratings, sales, clicks and page-views. From sexting to cyberbullying to the loss of “deep” learning, political activism, and “real” social connections, I’ve written many times about how the media has found social media to be a particularly fertile space to exploit fear for profit. (more…)

Jeff Jarvis and Multiple Identities: A Critique

Jeff Jarvis wrote a critique of having multiple identities on social media (find the post on his blog – though, I found it via Owni.eu). While acknowledging that anonymity has enabled WikiLeaks or protestors of repressive regimes, he finds little utility for not being honest on social media about yourself. Jarvis argues against having multiple identities, e.g., one Twitter account for work and another for friends or a real Facebook for one group and a fakebook (a Facebook profile with a false name) for another.

Jarvis argues that the problems associated with presenting yourself in front of multiple groups of people (say, your mother, boss, best friend, recent fling, etc) will fade away under a state of “mutually assured humiliation.” Since we will all have the embarrassment of presenting a self to multiple groups, we all will forgive each other so that others will return the same favor to us. “The best solution”, Jarvis argues, “is to be yourself. If that makes you uneasy, talk to your shrink.” This is reminiscent of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who stated “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity,” or current Google CEO Eric Schmidt who said that “if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

The obvious problem with this line of thinking is that the problems associated with displaying a single self in front of multiple populations is not “mutually” the same for all. Just as WikiLeaks or protestors often use anonymity to counter repressive and/or powerful regimes, we know that anonymity is also used by the most vulnerable and least powerful on the personal level as well. Jarvis misses the important variables of power and inequalities in his analysis.

Having a stigmatized and not always accepted identity can bring much conflict (more…)

facebook skeletons can be forgiven (unless you are female)

In the future, we will all probably have some Facebook skeletons. They might be regrettable pictures in various states of inebriation and/or undress, unfortunate status updates, etc. I’ve argued that the media has overblown these risks because, as the digital dirt on our collective hands becomes more commonplace, the stigma it carries will erode. However, the 2010 midterm elections in the United States suggest a point that I previously neglected: the stigmatization of digital dirt may be eroding, but eroding for whom?

It seems clear that the acceptance of a little digital dirt is occurring much faster for men than for women. And, what the 2010 elections made clear is that there is a double standard for women to keep a perfect online presence, while men are more easily forgiven. (more…)