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Some time ago, I spoke with a reporter regarding the Internet virality of Michelle Dobyne of “ain’t nobody got time for that” fame. They intended to run a ‘where are they now’ follow-up piece on Dobyne’s life post ’15 minutes of fame’. In the end, the TV clip and its companion article condensed our 8-minute interview into these anonymous soundbites:

“We asked a noted social media expert what makes a video viral worthy. She said catch phrases and exoticism, something that takes us away from our routine lives.”

“Our expert said what Dobyne and other viral video stars are able to do long term with their 15 minutes of fame is anyone’s guess.”

Since much of what I had to say about eyewitness virality, racism, and journalistic responsibility did not make the final cut, I later transcribed my conversation with the reporter and wrote it up.

Eyewitness virality

In January 2016, Michelle Dobyne gave an eyewitness account after her apartment complex caught fire. In the original interview, her catchphrase “Nuh-uh, we ain’t gon be in no fire. Not today.” and her overall decorum caught the attention of the television crew, who then put the clip up on Facebook. And well, you know the formula. The clip went viral. Dobyne became a meme. Romantic and commercial offers were rumoured. Semi-officious merchandise became available.

Three months later, the news network decided to run a follow-up piece on Dobyne. As it turns out, not much of her material circumstances have changed despite her transient internet fame. Rinse and repeat. The saving grace? Kind strangers started a gofundme page for Dobyne. The backlash? Her neighbours feel “overshadowed” by her fame and are still struggling post-fire.

I am going to call this phenomenon “eyewitness virality”: The proliferation of television news interviewees, many of whom are themselves victims of the unfortunate event being covered, who attain overnight but transient fame through the news networks who curate and disseminate their eyewitness accounts on social media as humour and clickbait.

But Dobyne is just the latest addition to a string of eyewitness viral stars: more...

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Call for Papers

Theorizing the Web 2017

April 7–8 in New York City

At the Museum of the Moving Image, in Astoria, Queens

The submission deadline is January 22, 2017 (11:59 p.m. EST)

Started in 2011, Theorizing the Web is an annual event for critical, conceptual conversations about technology and society. Theorizing the Web begins with the assumption that to talk about technology is also to discuss the self and the social world. Debate around digital social technologies too often fails to apply the many relevant literatures of social thought. We do not think “theorizing” is solely the domain of academia, and we value clear and compelling arguments that avoid jargon. Here are some photos from last year’s event if you want to see the vibe of it all.

Theorizing the Web is a home for thinking about technology by people who may not think of themselves primarily as “tech” thinkers. Activists, journalists, technologists, writers, artists, and people who don’t identify as any of the above are all encouraged to submit. We especially invite submissions that engage with issues of social justice, power, inequality, and vulnerability from a diverse range of perspectives.

Submissions on any topic are welcome. Some general topical suggestions include the intersections between technology and identity, privacy, sexuality, the body, power, politics, surveillance, racism, sexism, ableism, harassment, space, code, design, knowledge, images, memes, attention, work, fiction, gaming, globalization, capitalism, and protest.

Submissions should be 300 to 500 words (only the first 500 words will be reviewed). The TtW Selection Committee will blindly review submissions and make decisions in early to mid-February. Space is limited, and our acceptance rate is typically 20-35%. The presentations themselves will be 12-minute talks in a panel setting. You will be speaking to a general audience who may not share your area of expertise.

Before submitting, please read our FAQ section on submissions.

Submit your proposal here: http://theorizingtheweb.tumblr.com/2017/submit

Registration for Theorizing the Web remains pay-what-you-can, and we ask that you donate whatever amount you deem fair or can afford (minimum $1). Register here: http://theorizingtheweb.tumblr.com/2017/registration

Stay tuned to theorizingtheweb.org for announcements about invited panels, and email us at theorizingtheweb@gmail.com if you would like to help out with our all-volunteer event in any way. We’re @TtW_conf on Twitter, and the conference hashtag is #TtW17.

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harambe

On May 28th, 2016 a three-year-old black boy fell into the gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo.  As a result a 17-year-old gorilla inside the pen, Harambe, was shot, as the zoo argued, for the boy’s protection. Nearly three months later, on August 22nd the director of the zoo, Thane Maynard, issued a plea for an end to the ‘memeification’ of Harambe, stating, “We are not amused by the memes, petitions and signs about Harambe…Our zoo family is still healing, and the constant mention of Harambe makes moving forward more difficult for us.” By the end of October, however, despite turgid proclamations to the contrary, the use of Harambe seems to be waning.

The six-month interim marked a significant transition in the media presence of Harambe, from symbol of public uproar and cross-species sympathy to widely memed Internet joke. The death and affective trajectory of Harambe, therefore, represents a unique vector in analyzing intersections of animality, race, and the phenomenon of virality. Harambe, like Cecil the Lion before him, became a widely appropriated Internet cause, one with fraught ethical implications.

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Two very different kinds of thoughts were running through my mind on the way to Leipzig to the BMW factory and on the way back. On the way there, I was thinking about how and why factories are relevant to the study of artificial intelligence in autonomous vehicles, the subject of my PhD; and on the way back I was thinking about the work of Harun Farocki, the German artist and documentary filmmaker who left behind an astonishing body of work, including many films about work and labour. These two very different thought-streams are the subjects of this post about the visit to the factory. They don’t meet at neat intersections, but I think (hope) one helps “locate” the other.

BMW is a German car company that is working on ‘highly automated driving‘ (although the Leipzig factory we visited isn’t making those cars at present). I’m doing a PhD that will – someday – suggest how to think about what ethics means in artificial intelligence contexts, and will do so by following the emergence of the driverless car in Europe and North America. One part of what I’m doing considers a dominant frame that has emerged around ethics in the driverless car context: ethics-as-accountability. In the search for the accountable algorithm in driverless cars of the future, I went to the BMW factory to see where the car of the future will come from. Who, or what, must be added to the chain of accountability when the driverless car makes a bad decision? Who, or what, comes before and around the software engineer who programs the faulty algorithm? more...

rigged

Pundits across the political spectrum have expressed outrage at Trump’s continued insistence that the presidential election is rigged, and seem quite scandalized at his stated unwillingness to agree, apriori, to accept the final results.  Trump’s critics argue that his distrust of the election process threatens to destabilize U.S. democracy by undermining the ideology of citizen-driven governance. It is horrifying they say, and more than that, his claims are dangerous.

While a smooth transition of power is indeed a hallmark of democracy, there is a distinct disingenuousness about the breathless moralizing against Trump’s claims. It’s hard to ignore the sharp dissonance that emerges when broadcast journalists report on the economics of campaign finance, the political collusion and corruption revealed through an email leak, and then, without even the interruption of a commercial break, turn to Camera 2 and condemn Donald Trump for questioning the integrity of the democratic process.   more...

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In 2014, a stalwart of the WarCraft III community passed away. SySShark, by any account, was the heart of a top American community forum called WCReplays.com, which dedicated itself to the coverage and community of the WarCraft III international scene . The game lost steam after the release of StarCraft II; the forums now are smaller than they once were. But the servers and forums are still robust with activity from people across the world. Even people who had not posted in years came back to this thread in order to offer their memories and regret for his passing. 
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Just a quick note to commemorate the 6th birthday of Cyborgology. We’ve gone from a small band of grad students to a slightly larger band of grad students (and faculty) who live all around the world.  We’ve covered everything from the (probably) last presidential election to the resurgence of memes as a cultural object worthy of careful dissection and analysis (admit it—people were barely talking about those things for like a year or something).

We are proud to announce several new contributors to the blog, all of whom have been writing all month without a proper introduction:

And of course Britney Summit-Gil has been keeping track of the election and most recently wrote about all the tech around controlling people through controlling menstruation. Click on everyone’s names to get a list of everything they’ve written for the blog and be sure to check out the editors and authors page to read more about them. We are also looking forward to a few new regular by lines in the near future including Maya Indira Ganesh and Gabriele de Seta.

Your editors have been very busy as well! Jenny has taken a job at Australian National University and David earned his PhD last summer and is doing a bunch of different academic odd jobs. Co-Founder Nathan Jurgenson is crushing it with his new publication, Real Life Mag and PJ Patella-Rey is in the final stretch of dissertating.

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[Caveat: The discourse around bodies with uteruses is most often framed in cis-sexist binaries of women and men. The essay below is an analysis of that discourse, and as such occasionally slips into this language to accurately present the arguments therein. Trans and non-binary people are notably missing from this discourse. I’ve tried to avoid cis-sexism where possible.  Comments and criticisms are welcome whether in the comment section or by writing to me/messaging me on Twitter: @bsummitgil. I hope I have done this conversation justice.]

You may have seen the recent hubbub about 19 year old self-proclaimed meninist Ryan Williams, who recently declared that women should just hold their menstrual blood in. Specifically, they should just keep that nasty stuff in their bladder until they get to a toilet. The argument was primarily an economic one: women do not deserve free tampons (though his response was actually in regards to the movement to end taxes on tampons, not to make them free). If women are so weak that they cannot hold in, they should see a doctor to have a “procedure” that will give them the “self control” they need to stop using menstrual products, as any demand to reduce the cost of these products makes them “cheapskates.”

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In March 2013, at Microsoft’s annual research and development event TechFest, a new project was introduced that aimed to let “users interactively explore the full chain of events whereby individual news stories, videos, images, and petitions spread from one user to the next over a social network.” The program, in effect, aims to understand how content spreads through a social network such as Twitter. By aggregating large amounts of data and tracking how users share things on their Twitter accounts, ViralSearch turns the transmission of content into a visually friendly genealogy of media, which Microsoft terms its “virality.” The more descendants a video has, for example, meaning those who have shared it (which is broken up into generations, or subsets of users that represent one wave of shares) the more viral it is according to ViralSearch’s virality percentage. More than this, it actively differentiates between virality and popularity, by looking precisely at how the information is shared. As researcher Jake Hofman says,

This is what people sort of typically have in their mind when they think about one of these viral videos, but nobody’s really been able to actually look at the structure of these things to date. And so what we’re able to do is going through these billions of events we reconstruct these trees by looking at all the followers of everyone who adopts the content and using a large cluster to reconstruct these things and then a novel scoring method to actually distinguish this tree as being viral from just being popular.

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pegida-anti-immigrantThe presence of white nationalism has been well explored in the run-up to this election, with the alt-right breaking onto the global stage of mainstream media publications. Yet there has been little consideration of the theory of ‘white genocide’ – a recent George Washington study on the Twitter lives of white nationalism and ISIS found that in the case of both Nazis and other white nationalists, white genocide was the 10th most popular hashtag. Whilst it seems unusual for white nationalists and neo-Nazis to place themselves in the position of weakness, the concept of white genocide is not new. Its dissemination, however, reveals the disturbing dangers of the narrative conventions of the hashtag. more...