The disturbing events in Steubenville, Ohio have spurred some insightful reporting and analysis (collected by Lisa Wade at Sociological Images) that, one would hope, raise awareness about rape culture. As a social scientist that studies social media, I am particularly interested in how privacy and connectivity have been framed within the context of the case. I cannot help but notice the sloppiness with which many reporters write about the “dangerous mix of alcohol, sex and social media that many teens navigate nowadays.” Studying the role of social media in everyday life may appear as trivial or superficial: something fun or novel to study. But Steubenville shows us exactly why writers and scholars need to understand social media better. (more…)
Last spring at TtW2012, a panel titled “Logging off and Disconnection” considered how and why some people choose to restrict (or even terminate) their participation in digital social life—and in doing so raised the question, is it truly possible to log off? Taken together, the four talks by Jenny Davis (@Jup83), Jessica Roberts (@jessyrob), Laura Portwood-Stacer (@lportwoodstacer), and Jessica Vitak (@jvitak) suggested that, while most people express some degree of ambivalence about social media and other digital social technologies, the majority of digital social technology users find the burdens and anxieties of participating in digital social life to be vastly preferable to the burdens and anxieties that accompany not participating. The implied answer is therefore NO: though whether to use social media and digital social technologies remains a choice (in theory), the choice not to use these technologies is no longer a practicable option for number of people.
In this essay, I first extend the “logging off” argument by considering that it may be technically impossible for anyone, even social media rejecters and abstainers, to disconnect completely from social media and other digital social technologies (to which I will refer throughout simply as ‘digital social technologies’). Consequently, decisions about our presence and participation in digital social life are made not only by us, but also by an expanding network of others. I then examine two prevailing privacy discourses—one championed by journalists and bloggers, the other championed by digital technology companies—to show that, although our connections to digital social technology are out of our hands, we still conceptualize privacy as a matter of individual choice and control. Clinging to the myth of individual autonomy, however, leads us to think about privacy in ways that mask both structural inequality and larger issues of power. Finally, I argue that the reality of inescapable connection and the impossible demands of prevailing privacy discourses have together resulted in what I term documentary consciousness, or the abstracted and internalized reproduction of others’ documentary vision. Documentary consciousness demands impossible disciplinary projects, and as such brings with it a gnawing disquietude; it is not uniformly distributed, but rests most heavily on those for whom (in the words of Foucault) “visibility is a trap.” I close by calling for new ways of thinking about both privacy and autonomy that more accurately reflect the ways power and identity intersect in augmented societies. (more…)
This image is on the Internet. Whose fault is that? (Is it anyone's fault, per se?)
Last month in Part I (Distributed Agency and the Myth of Autonomy), I used the TtW2012 “Logging Off and Disconnection” panel as a starting point to consider whether it is possible to abstain completely from digital social technologies, and came to the conclusion that the answer is “no.” Rejecting digital social technologies can mean significant losses in social capital; depending on the expectations of the people closest to us, rejecting digital social technologies can mean seeming to reject our loved ones (or “liked ones”) as well. Even if we choose to take those risks, digital social technologies are non-optional systems; we can choose not to use them, but we cannot choose to live in a world where we are not affected by other people’s choices to use digital social technologies.
I used Facebook as an example to show that we are always connected to digital social technologies, whether we are connecting through them or not. Facebook (and other companies) collect what I call second-hand data, or data about people other those from whom the data is collected. This means that whether we leave digital traces is not a decision we can make autonomously, as our friends, acquaintances, and contacts also make these decisions for us. We cannot escape being connected to digital social technologies anymore than we can escape society itself.
This week, I examine two prevailing privacy discourses—one championed by journalists and bloggers, the other championed by digital technology companies—to show that, although our connections to digital social technology are out of our hands, we still conceptualize privacy as a matter of individual choice and control, as something individuals can ‘own’. Clinging to the myth of individual autonomy, however, leads us to think about privacy in ways that mask both structural inequality and larger issues of power. (more…)
Or, Tosh.0 is Racist, Classist, Homophobic, Sexist, and Just Plain Gross
I’m not really sure where to begin here. Tosh.0, the Comedy Central hit show hosted by Daniel Tosh, is so rife with sophomoric dick jokes (I prefer the classy kind) and heteronormative swill that I contemplated not even writing this post. Unlike Ellen or even It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Tosh.0 is meant to be (as far as I can tell) the refined distillation of a 14-year-old-white boy’s id. The show is half sketch comedy, half sitting with your younger brother while he guzzles an energy drink and laughs at youtube videos of bums fighting. Jezebel has already written about his “lightly touching women’s stomachs while they’re lying down” campaign, and his fat-shaming caption contest. Both posts deserve your attention, the former for its righteous anger, the latter for its history of the image used in the contest. I went through several pages of videos, looking for good examples of the “-ists” I listed above, but each one was so jam-packed with privilege and hate that I couldn’t pick just one. But if, you have never seen the show and need some mental flagellation, here’s a sexist one about MMA fighting; something called “fat girl gymnastics” (fat shaming with bonus racism); a video that’s actually titled “Racist Moments Montage“; and an even more racist one called, “stereotypes are not always true.” I understand that Daniel Tosh is a comedian, and to argue with one usually means you have already lost the fight, but I think there is a fruitful discussion to be had about how a public figure engages with his or her audience and the sort of behavior they encourage. (more…)
Last Friday, Rachel Maddow reported (video clip above, full transcript here) that hundreds of citizens had suddenly started posting questions on the Facebook pages of Virginia Governor Ryan McDougle and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. Their pages were full of questions on women’s health issues and usually included some kind of statement about why they were going to the Facebook page for this information. Here’s an example from Brownback’s page:
The seemingly-coordinated effort draws attention to the recent flurry of forced ultrasound bills that are being passed in state legislatures. Media outlets have started calling it “sarcasm bombing” although the source of that term is difficult to find. ABC News simply says: “One website labelled the messages ‘Sarcasm Bombing’ for the tounge-in-cheek [sic] way the users ask the politicians for help.” A few hours of intensive googling only brings up more headlines parroting the words “sarcasm bomb” but no actual origin story. These events (which have now spread to Governor Rick Perry of Texas as well) raise several important questions but I am only going to focus on one: Can we call Facebook a “Feminist Technology”? (more…)
Rush Limbaugh is experiencing an advertiser exodus, and social media is playing a big part.
It’s the kind of story that writes itself. A popular media entity, on one of the oldest forms of electronic mass media, bears the brunt of activists’ Facebook wrath. It combines two old rivalries: liberals and conservatives and new media versus old media. In case you missed it, here’s the brief synopsis of events from ABC news:
Rush Limbaugh remains in big trouble. Advertisers – 11 at last count – are pulling spots off his radio talk show because of the reaction to his calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute.” Opponents are mobilizing on social media for a long campaign to try to convince even more sponsors to drop his program. Ms. Fluke herself has rejected as insufficient Mr. Limbaugh’s attempts at apology
Fluke had testified before congress about the importance of “the pill” for medical uses beyond birth control. Rush concluded that she was having so much sex that she needed the American tax payer to help defer the cost of her contraceptives. (This has led to some speculation that conservatives don’t know how hormonal birth control works.) Thousands of people are organizing to get advertisers to pull their money out of Rush Limbaugh’s show, and many of them are organizing via Twitter and Facebook. Will we be subjected to another round of technologically deterministic news stories about “cyber revolution,” or are we going to have a more nuanced conversation? More precisely, does Rush have a social media problem or has he -all things being equal- just gone too far this time? (more…)
On constructing a lesson plan to teach Pinterest and feminism
I teach sociology; usually theoretical and centered on identity. I pepper in examples from social media to illustrate these issues because it is what I know and tends to stimulate class discussion. It struck me while reading arguments about Pinterest that we can use this “new thing” social media site to demonstrate some of the debates about women, technology and feminist theory.
We can view Pinterest from “dominance feminist” and “difference feminist” perspectives to both highlight this major division within feminist theory as well as frame the debate about Pinterest itself. Secondly, the story being told about Pinterest in general demonstrates the “othering” of women. Last, I’d like to ask for more examples to improve this as a lesson plan to teach technology and feminist theories. I should also state out front that what is missing in this analysis is much of any consideration to the problematic male-female binary or an intersectional approach to discussing women and Pinterest while also taking into account race, class, sexual orientation, ability and the whole spectrum of issues necessary to do this topic justice.
We live in a cyborg society. Technology has infiltrated the most fundamental aspects of our lives: social organization, the body, even our self-concepts. This blog chronicles our new, augmented reality.