Imagine you live at the end of a cul-de-sac in a subdevelopment that is only accessible by a single gate that leads out to a large, high-speed arterial road. Your friends, your job, your kids’ school are all outside of this development which means life is lived through and on the road that connects your subdevelopment to the rest of the world. Now imagine that, without warning or any kind of democratic process, the company that maintains that road (private companies are subcontracted to do regular maintenance on public roads all the time) decides to add trees on either side of the road to reduce car speed. It’s a relatively benign design intervention and it works. In fact the trees work so well that the company’s engineers publish in a few journals which directly benefits the company financially, through prominence within the truly boring world of road maintenance. When the residents get wind of this experiment, and demand to know why they weren’t even notified, the owner of the road maintenance company says, “if you don’t like it use a different road.” That mind-bending response actually makes more sense than what has been coming out of OKCupid and Facebook these last few weeks. (more…)
Concepts like “the male gaze” and “controlling images” are Gender Studies 101 material: they’re the basic terms in which many feminists understand the media’s oppression of white women (in the case of the male gaze) and black women (in the case of controlling images). The gaze and controlling images are how white supremacist patriarchy subject women to its control.
But I think contemporary social media and big-data political economies are using different devices to control women, especially black women. Social media and big data facilitate a specific form of sexist racism, one that controls women through racialized discourses of toxicity and unhealthy behavior patterns. Instead of turning women into objects and/or erasing their agency, social media and big data let non-white women do and say whatever they want, because their so-called “aggressive bullying” produces the damage against which white women demonstrate their resilience. A similar claim has been (in)famously leveled against “feminism,” especially “intersectional feminism”: it vampirically drains the lifeblood of the progressive, radical left.
What’s specific to the construction of WOC, particularly black women, as “toxic”? Or feminism itself (often represented by ‘intersectional’/WOC feminism) as ‘vampiric’? What about social media, and perhaps even to Twitter, makes the unruliness/threat posed by WOC to white women/white feminist culture industry function in a very particular way, i.e., as toxicity and vampirism? How is the construction of women on social media as toxic/vampiric related to economies of viral upworthiness?
Like many Americans, I spent Sunday evening watching the Super Bowl. This entailed tasty snacks, a comfy couch, and lots of head shaking because, well, the Denver Broncos. It also involved Facebook and Twitter. The day of, day before, and day after were full of commentary, predictions, snarkiness, and declarations of various sorts. Indeed, Sunday’s Super Bowl, like all media events, incorporated multiple media. One item, within one piece of this media ecology, keenly sparked my interest: The Twitter feed of @YesYoureRacist. (more…)
Hello, Cyborgology…it’s been a while. I’ve missed you, but I haven’t quite known what to say. Which is weird, right? Strangely enough, I’ve got half a dozen half-finished posts on my computer—twenty-thousand someodd words of awkward silence waiting to be wrapped up and brought into the world.
Writer’s block happens to the best of us, or so I’m told. What’s been strange for me is looking back and realizing that the last thing I posted was my piece from the beginning of #ir14, the 14th Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers. I say “strange” because I had an amazing experience at #ir14, and left it feeling so excited about my field and my work and what I imagine to be possible. And yet, in the two months since, something’s been off. I’ve managed to submit to a couple of important abstracts, and I continued sitting in on a really cool seminar, and I’ve plunged into the work of helping to organize this year’s Theorizing the Web (a conference about which I’m passionate, to say the least). But my words went somewhere, have been gone.
I realized recently, however, that it’s not about some kind of post-#ir14 crash. It’s actually about what happened after.
Last week Twitter introduced an alert system that they described as “ a new feature that brings us one step closer to helping users get important and accurate information during emergencies, natural disasters or when other communications services aren’t accessible.” The alerts show up on users phones as special push notifications and SMS notifications and are marked with an orange bell in your feed. At first blush it seems like a great idea but, given that I’m writing this during yet another government “shutdown”, are governments and NGOs really the only organizations that should get access to this useful service? What can activists do to push back? (more…)
As Edward Snowden settles into his new life in Russia, and Facebook inc. faces accusations of providing information to government officials about protesters in Turkey, issues of privacy are on the lips, minds, and newsfeeds of many global citizens.
Citizens sit with the uncomfortable and now undeniable reality that we are being watched. That our own governments, in many cases, are doing the watching. And that the economic, social, and interactive structures makes this kind of surveillance largely impossible to avoid.
I have noticed an interesting trend as people work through what many view as an unfortunate inevitability of pervasive surveillance: the use of play as a form of resistance. To be sure, PJ Rey (@pjrey) is our resident Play Theory expert here at Cyborgology. I am an admitted novice to this line of theory. As such, I hope that those with greater expertise than I will supplement my wide-eyed sociological noticings with established or developing social theorists and their theories. (more…)
During the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (#ASA13) in New York this last week, I was reminded of the post that I wrote last year before #ASA2012 in which I encouraged tweeting academics to reach out to non-tweeting academics to bridge the gap between those who participate on the conference hashtags at ASA and those who don’t. Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) followed up with a post titled, “Twitter isn’t a Backchannel,” in which he made the point that the term “backchannel” perpetuates digital dualist ideas of what does and doesn’t count as “real” participation at a conference:
There is no “backchannel”, there is no more or less “real” way to exist within this atmosphere of information, yet we continue to hear that the Twitter distraction whisks people away from the “real” conference in favor of something separate and “virtual.” Each time we say “real” or “IRL” (“in real life”) to mean offline, we reify the digital dualist myth of a separate digital layer “out there” in some ‘cyber’ space. And when we call Twitter a “backchannel” to mean a separate conversation, running tangent to the offline conference in some space behind precious face-to-face exchanges, we continue to support this digital dualism. The implicit, and incorrect, assumption is that the on and offline are zero-sum, that being offline means being not online, and vice versa.
In the comments, I agreed that Nathan had a point: “backchannel” really isn’t a great term for what we-who-livetweet do when we tweet at a conference. But what, I asked, should we call this activity? (more…)
The sneakers that inspired my first username (Image credit: my dad)
Ever since it and I first became acquainted, I have been the sort of person who goes by strange made-up names on the Internet. That “ever since” is a long one, too: It begins in the fall of 1995, when my classmates and I returned to school to find not only that the dark room full of DOS machines had been swapped out for a bright room full of Windows boxes with Internet access, but also that we now had email accounts—something most of us didn’t have at home.
To our mostly pre-digital teenaged selves, email was clearly the Best. Thing. Ever.
My friends and I spent all of our free periods in the computer lab emailing each other, even though we went to a small school and so all saw each other every single weekday. We passed silly forwards around (like “100 Things to Do in An Elevator”), and had group conversations, and had long one-on-one conversations as well—often conversations that, for a whole range of reasons, would never have happened through in-person interaction. I spent some of the most intense, exciting hours of that school year in the computer lab, engaged with those machines (and through them, my friends) as if they were lifelines. (more…)
Not gonna show images of #Trayvonning.
Note: This article discusses virulent racism and white privilege. However, every effort has been made to not post or link to the images discussed below.
At first, I didn’t want to write about the privileged little shits who, sometime around May of last year, got it in their heads that it would be funny to lay facedown on the floor with some skittles and tea and call it #trayvonning. The Zimmerman verdict brought the disgusting meme back into timelines and news cycles, so I feel obliged to make short mention of it. I thought it would be disingenuous of me to write a post for just about every other (1, 2, 3) performative internet meme without mentioning this disgusting bit of racism. #Trayvonning shows up on the usual platforms –Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr—albeit I don’t see as much #Trayvonning as I did #standingman or even #eastwooding in its heyday. There are no dedicated web sites to #Trayvonning (although I haven’t checked Stormfront), nor have I ever seen the hashtag reach trending status. If there’s any silver lining to this story it’s the fact that I encountered many more people deriding the meme, than participating in it. (more…)
One problem with taking social problems and re-framing them as individual responsibility is that it ends up blaming victims instead of pressuring root causes. This mentality creates a temptation to, for example, respond to the NSA scandal involving the government tapping into Internet traffic with something like, “well stop posting your whole life on Facebook, then”. Or less glib is the point raised many times this month that the habit of constant self-documentation on social media has made possible a state of ubiquitous government surveillance. The brutality of spying is made both possible and normal by the reality of digital exhibitionism. How can the level of government spying be so shocking in a world where people live-tweet their dinner? Perhaps we should stop digitally funneling so much of our lives through Gmail now that the level of surveillance is becoming clearer. Sasha Weiss writes in The New Yorker that, (more…)