Originally posted on r h i z o m i c o n 3 June 2011, 4:39 EDT

On Wednesday, I tweeted about a Pew Internet report on the US demographics of Twitter users. Just now {h/t:: LinnyQat}, I was informed of a new trending topic meme, #ghettospellingbee. There’s plenty of funny to be had, but the interesting thing I’ve noticed over the years is how memes cross cultural boundaries. First off, there’s a school of thought explained in this Slate article that says that blacks use Twitter differently::

“Black people—specifically, young black people—do seem to use Twitter differently from everyone else on the service. They form tighter clusters on the network—they follow one another more readily, they retweet each other more often, and more of their posts are @-replies—posts directed at other users. It’s this behavior, intentional or not, that gives black people—and in particular, black teenagers—the means to dominate the conversation on Twitter.”

So, these “blacktags” {perhaps made famous by #ifsantawasblack}  are more prone to go viral. According to Baratunde Thurston, the Web editor of the Onion::

“Twitter works very naturally with that call-and-response tradition—it’s so short, so economical, and you get an instant signal validating the quality of your contribution. (If people like what you say, they retweet it.)”

Where things get fuzzy is who can participate in the joke. I think things are more nuanced than being in stark terms of participants being “in-group” {black} versus “out-group” {non-black}, but more in terms of an ironic post-racial poking fun of cultural usage of language versus a poking fun of others for being out of the norms.
A few years back on NBC’s “The Office” {‘Diversity Day’, s01e02}, Michael Scott {Steve Carell} did a Chris Rock impression about blacks being racist against other blacks. This impression caused complaints, necessitating the staff to engage in diversity training under orders from corporate::

Mainstream culture is still figuring out where the lines are with respect to being racist, since one person’s context isn’t the same as another’s. This fuzzy area makes it easy for people to get slammed for what they don’t see as being as offensive—a more nuanced version of the “who can say the N-word” debate.
Twitterversion:: [blog] Explanation of how blacktags like #ghettospellingbee go viral. Demographics? Likely cause: usage & follow patterns. @Prof_K
PM Stephen Harper quote on shitharperdid

Canada is in the midst of a federal election and you can read posts covering it by myself on r h i z o m i c o n and Impolitical on our respective blogs. Lorne Gunter in the National Post is mad as hell and he’s not taking it anymore. His beef? All of this social media in politics hoopla::

“Oh, please, spare me. Social media – services such as Twitter and Facebook – are not going to swing the current federal election away from the Tories and in favour of the Liberals, NDP or Green party, no matter how much anti-Harper activists and reporters wish they could.”

While he acknowledges that social media is a useful tool, he’s also making sweeping generalizations about their effects::

“But they don’t win or lose elections on their own (or pull off Middle Eastern revolutions), no matter how much social media devotees in newsrooms and elsewhere claim they do.”

He seems particularly perturbed by the shitharperdid website and this supposedly gushing Vancouver Sun article.

“The Vancouver Sun story claims 2 million web surfers quickly hit on the site. Great, so they went to a site run by like-minded lefties and had their prejudices confirmed. Whoopee.”

He drifts into a Malcolm Gladwell argument that social media promotes just “one click activism” and doesn’t really engender any real persuasion. Here on ThickCulture, we have discussed Malcolm Gladwell’s downplaying and concerns about social media in the social activism arena, here, here, and here.

Lorne argues that social media campaigns are largely ineffectual, citing anti-prorogation and strategic voting efforts. Then, he loses it and goes off on Harper Derangement Syndrome as the latest manifestation of a leftist affliction along the lines of Bush Derangement Syndrome. Well, the left has no monopoly on demonizing the other side.

The problem with Lorne’s analysis is his narrow definition of success and assumption that social media merely preaches to the converted. There are three things wrong with what he’s saying:

  1. It assumes a narrow definition of efficacy
  2. It ignores the “mere exposure” effect
  3. It ignores the marketing concept of “segmentation”


Gunter suggests that social media doesn’t win elections on their own, but nobody is really advocating that they are. Naheed Nenshi, the Calgary mayor whose campaign last fall was attributed to the use of social media notes that his campaign was based on ideas. Social media helped to personalize his campaign to make it salient to voters. I don’t think Gunter would quibble with this, but I think he underestimates the effects of content that “preaches to the converted” and the persuasive effects of content that goes viral.

When the March 2007 anti-Hillary Clinton Vote Different video went viral {posted by a designer who worked for the firm that designed Obama’s website}, Obama’s polling numbers didn’t budge. Guess what? That month, his contributions did, quite considerably. My point being is that the effects of social media may not be straightforward and political strategy needs to take account of this. The preaching to the base aspect of social media that Gunter views as a waste of time can help a campaign motivate its loyals and turn them into activists. Social media can also increase the exposure and salience of a party, which segues into the next issue.

The “Mere Exposure” Effect

Decades ago, social psychologist Robert Zajonc found that people can be persuaded to have positive inferences about an object {or brand, party, or candidate} through increased exposure. So, controlling for aesthetics and other source material and content characteristics, Zajonc found that increasing exposure leads to higher favourable attitudes. In effect, a “familiarity breeds contentment” route to persuasion that doesn’t require any real substance to the content. This explains how the ubiquity of Starbucks builds the brand with relatively little advertising. Social media can have the same effect. Anti-Harper sites can persuade by just going viral and entering into voter consciousness. The challenge is cutting through the clutter to get that exposure, i.e., coming up with something that resonates and goes viral.

Segmentation: It’s the Young Voters, Stupid

A big topic this election is the youth vote. The 2008 turnout for those 18-24 was 37%, compared to 58% overall, a historic low. Interestingly, some view this as likely to worsen, as prevailing attitudes deem voting as a choice rather than a duty [Also, see StatCan 2005 pdf youth voting/civic engagement report]. The youth vote is a prime target of sites like and the youth…have more of a tendency to not vote Conservative. Getting the youth mobilized, along the lines of the Rock the Vote campaign in 1992, is tricky business that cannot be easily replicated. Nevertheless, sites targeting the youth aren’t necessarily “one-click activism” that has no effect.

It’s About Engagement

At the end of the day, engagement matters. I think it’s the height of arrogance for Gunter to state that social media cannot swing the federal election. I’m curious what Gunther’s thoughts are on the Conservative Party’s efforts to use the web and social media to scare voters about how there “might” be an iPod tax with false claims that IP expert Michael Geist has debunked.

The A Channel news in Victoria gets it, as does NDP Leader Jack Layton who used the Twitter term “#fail” {hashtag fail} in the English debates last week::

YouTube Preview Image

The idea that social media can increase youth engagement of “square” politics through sites young people use and help to make politics less intimidating are part of the democratizing potential of the web.

While Sarah Palin’s recent use of “refudiate” twice would be a double facepalm moment for most politicians, perhaps she gets a bye because of her folksy patois. I do think she’s self-conscious of appearing none-too-smart and rather than just shrugging these things off, she gives them too much play, which is more fodder for the press and pundits. Of course, this keeps her in the limelight even more. While I think that might be shrewd for being a political celebrity of sorts, I think all of this self-consciousness undermines her credibility as a potential political candidate to an important demographic—educated suburban/urban moderates and independents.

This reminds me of the old Fox show In Living Color and Damon Wayans’ character, Oswald Bates, full of his own unique patois::

Just in case anyone cares, if you type in “refudiate” in Twitter…

there is a spellcheck that lets you know you’re in neologism territory…or are just misspelling words.

Song:: The Stills-‘Lola Stars & Stripes’ {lyrics}

Twitterversion:: [blog] Sarah Palin’s “Shakespearean” neologism of “refudiate” reminds me of an old Damon Wayans character. #ThickCulture @Prof_K

image:: The Beautiful Kind, Riverfront Times, by Emily Good

Originally posted on rhizomicon
A Twitter glitch caused the anonymous St. Louis sex blogger behind The Beautiful Kind to get outed when her boss found her after instructed to start Googling employees’ names. This Riverfront Times blog details the issues and the legal implications of the firing. The ex-boss sent a letter implying that the company feels justified in holding employees’ lives outside of work to be a occupational qualification. Here’s an excerpt of that lettert::

“We simply cannot risk any possible link between our mission and the sort of photos and material that you openly share with the online public. While I know you are a good worker and an intelligent person, I hope you try to understand that our employees are held to a different standard. When it comes to private matters, such as one’s sexual explorations and preferences, our employees must keep their affairs private.”

The blogger was on the job for about a month and was conscientious about presenting a demure image at work. So, it sounds like the 37-year-old single mom was more akin to Kelly McGillis in Witness than a tatted-up wild child with a libido hanging out for all to see::

“I was really Clark Kent about it…I dressed like a freaking Mormon when I went in. I was really overcautious and did an extra-good job. Because I always thought that if they ever did find out about it, I would have proved myself so much that they would weigh the pros and cons and decide to proceed a certain way that, you know, wouldn’t fire me. But I wasn’t there long enough to do that, and I don’t think it would have made a difference anyway, with the way they reacted. It’s like — I went from good employee to monster.”

Just going off of the general details of the case, an ACLU lawyer offered::

“One of the unfortunate things is that a lot of people are uncomfortable about unconventional sexuality, especially when a woman’s involved…That is not an employer’s job — to police the sexual lives of its employees — and when an employer discriminates on that basis it is sex discrimination and it’s against the law.”

One can’t help but wonder if the same result would have happened with a male employee. This blog post on aagblog details how the firing went down and the emotional aftermath.

I once had a boss who made the illegal statement, “we like families,” right when I started working there. I thought it was a strange thing to say and was wondering, “who do I look like, Angelina Jolie?”, but with 20/20 hindsight, it made perfect sense. That workplace was not only highly conventional but also none too savvy about the law in its bumpkinness. I thought my workplace had no business in my personal life or the fact that I didn’t live in the same zip code, which I found out later was taboo.

I think it sets a dangerous precedent for employers to have the ability to make hiring/firing decisions based upon non-performance criteria. The idea of an employees’ “reputation” being in the control of an employer because it may affect the employers’ reputation is in my opinion a stretch. I looked at the entries from The Beautiful Kind. Maybe I’m just a child of the West coast with urban sensibilities, but I fail to see what the big deal is, particularly when the employee wasn’t flaunting her lifestyle by linking her real name to her blog. The only reason this became an issue was the glitch.

While there will be many a finger-wagger clucking about what people should and should not post on the Internet, perhaps the real issue, given how the Internet makes everyday life more transparent and privacy is deader than dead, is that organizations and institutions need to relax the scrutiny and ease up on controlling people’s lives. The alternative is a morality driven not by church or community but by the employee handbook.

Song:: The Gleaming Spires-‘Are You Ready for the Sex Girls?’
Twitterversion:: [blog] blogger fired due to #Twitter glitch, after boss Googled names.Will morality now come fr. employee handbk? @Prof_K

Toronto Sun front page, Saturday, 10 April 2010, by Dan Goodchild

I think this tweet by Impolitical sums up my sentiments::

More spot-on observations on Toronto Sun Covers Review. Check it out. There’s some good comedy on that blog.

Twitterversion:: @impolitical sums up my ‘sediments’ re: TO Sun #fail {image: @DanGoodchild}. I now long 4 mediocrity of the SF Chronic. @Prof_K

Song:: Billy Bragg-‘It Says Here’

AkonaI’m finally back in Toronto, but had an interesting sidetrip to Québec and will be blogging about separatism and Canadian identity in a future post.  I saw on Twitter that a trending topic was the hashtag, “#thingsdarkiessay.”  I knew it had to be some “inside joke” or meme I wasn’t aware of and the above tweet explained that it originated in South Africa, but was gaining attention in the US, due to the use of the term “darkies.”  Several observations on people’s tweets, pointing out the “irony,” noted that blacks were making it a trending topic.  I didn’t go through the thousands of tweets, but I’ll surmise {given the above} that the hashtag originated from black South Africans.

Regardless of intent, as a meme goes viral, it takes on a life of its own, making Roland Barthes‘s Death of the Author{s} quite salient.  Is this related to -or- independent of an idea that with some content {e.g., race or language referring to race}, the author becomes irrelevant or somehow transformed?  How does this inform dialogues about race, particularly as the Internet blasts apart contextual boundaries, let alone the determination of the “offensiveness” of content in a global context.

Twitterversion:: Trending topic #thingsdarkiessay originated in #SouthAfrica but sparks tweets in the global Twittersphere. #ThickCulture

Song::  F*ck You (Distasteful Ruff n Ready Mix) – Lily Allen


I was up in the wee hours when I saw the BBC announce that Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.  I recall reading years ago that the process is not necessarily a rigorous screening, in that the decision can be guided by a select few.  I wondered if this was perceived as a contrast effect, with Barack being perceived as an internationalist, despite being in the office for a very short period of time when the nomination was submitted.  A friend of mine put on my Facebook wall a link to this article were Polish Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa echoed the sentiments of many…too fast.

Malcolm Gladwell had this Tweet::

“Question: Is the goal of the Nobel Peace Prize committee to reward progress of an individual or to encourage the progress of society?”

If we think about progress in peace, what would that look like?  What should be the next steps, globally, for the Obama administration?  It’s tough given the state of the economy, as the electorate is less interested in peace and more interested in jobs and the healthcare issue.  So, will this be a headache for him as the US decides what to do in Afghanistan?   Is there pressure for him to act in a certain way?  At the end of the day, it’s the US electorate that matters.  It might spur some thinking about creative solutions for situations like Afghanistan where peacekeeping is an oxymoron no matter the deployment of resources.  It might also accelerate some housecleaning of US detention policies of foreign suspects.  Like the Nobel Peace Prize committee and the world, we shall see.

Twitterversion::  Obama wins #Nobel Peace Prize, but what does it represent? What r next steps,globally? Natl security polcy? #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: If I Had A Rocket Launcher – Bruce Cockburn

Jack Welch, ex-CEO of GE, online MBA namesake {this Economist article is funny}, and policy critic is no stranger to controversy.  Here’s “Neutron” Jack warning of Obama running up deficits::

I have no problem with criticizing policy, but when it drifts from rhetoric towards potshots, my patience wears thin remarkably fast, regardless of the ideology.  Welch offered the curious advice of a “fake plan” after revisions of the deficit came out and Obama already responded to the news.  In my book, Welch isn’t offering analysis, but just stirring the pot and trying to seem relevant in the eye of the public.

Fast forward to June 28, when Welch offered up more controversy at a human resource management conference and was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article.   Now, after his comments have gotten into the press, Welch is getting into a bit of hot water for statements he made on there not being such a thing as a work-life balance.  Welch said those taking time off for family won’t be there “in the clutch” and could be passed over for promotions.

“We’d love to have more women moving up faster…But they’ve got to make the tough choices and know the consequences of each one.”

According to Welch, there is a consolation.  While you might not get to the top for trying the career-family balancing act, you can still have a nice career, nevertheless.  Some praised Welch for his bluntness, while others lambasted him for being “out of touch.”

One comment on the article accused the WSJ of attempting to increase pageviews with inflammatory articles and another accused Welch of trying to peddle his book.   The Twittersphere was abuzz with Welch’s statements, as of 7:12 EDT, with plenty of retweets of the article and quite a few naysayers.  Welch himself, who has a Twitter account, is in the hospital with a serious spinal infection, so don’t expect anything from him on the matter any time soon.  One Tweet called him a grumpy old man, as did a blog at The Conglomerate {via Salon}.  Grumpy or not, is he right?

While his words might seem to apply to both men an women equally, the fact of the matter is that there are key perceptual gendered differences in organizations when it comes to family, bringing up a double-standard.  Scott Coltrane’s paper, “Elite Careers and Family Commitment: It’s (Still) about Gender,” makes this point clear::

  • “Family men” are viewed as having mature leadership qualities
  • Women getting married or having children can derail their previous “fast track” status, as that choice renders her as less-qualified

Welch is advocating what some in sociology call a “separate spheres” ideology, regarding gender, allowing the double-standard on the meaning of “family” to persist.  The fact of the matter is that even if you talk about “family” with respect to both men and women, the meanings aren’t the same.  Research on CEO succession are consistent with the tenets of economic sociology, i.e., if one desires to be heir to the CEO throne, social relations within the organization and with the corporate board matter {e.g., See Cannella & Shen}.  So, if you’re up for a CEO spot, it matters how others perceive you, whether you like the double standard or not.  Welch is promoting a mythology of the CEO as an individual totally committed to the organization.  Along with his other statements, CEOs and managers all should have a draconian stance and total obeisance to the almighty shareholder value, or perceptions thereof {including cooking the books?}.

It’s a bottom-line world, right?  Companies face a reality and Jack is simply reflecting it.  Maybe not.  BusinessWeek taped a Q&A session with the CEOs of Sony {Howard Stringer} and Best Buy {Brad Anderson}, two companies with very different attitudes towards the “balance” issue::

“What became apparent in subsequent discussions from both CEOs was that personal time was pretty hard to come by. Stringer talked about the differences in the Japanese and U.S. career cultures. The Japanese work much longer hours including one weekend day, and the idea of a great deal of leisure time, or time spent in their homes with their families, is still not part of their culture. He also noted that many employees, manager level really, were still mostly male (something he hoped to help change).

This was in stark contrast to the recent changes at Best Buy and their new flexible hours program being implemented at all levels of the company. Mr. Anderson gave the example of two women (working mothers) promoted to manager who were now able to job share, since neither due to child care commitments could work the hours required.”

Organizations are social systems and are often in states of flux.  Welch is advocating a received-view way of thinking, but on the basis of what logic?  I would argue that we need to rethink the role of the CEO, away from organizational financial performance and towards meaning and leadership.  A strong leader creates meaning, which guides actions throughout.  It would be interesting to compare the meaning systems of Sony and Best Buy and how it affects corporate culture and decision-making.  Maybe students in Welch’s online MBA programme can take that on.

Twitterversion:: Jack Welch stirring pot w/comments on work-life balance. Oldschool ideas reinforce faulty logic. #Fail #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: Work Is A Four-Letter Word – The Smiths

ThickCulture bloggers and friends, what kind of tech user are you?  According to Pew, I’m a digital collaborator::


Click on the image of the link here to find out which type you are & feel free to post your results here, as well as your thoughts on it.  Detailed descriptions are here.

Digital Collaborators: 8% of adults use information gadgets to collaborate with others and share their creativity with the world.

For many Digital Collaborators, digital information is input into a creative process that often involves others and whose output they share with the world using the web. Members of this group can almost always get access to the internet, whether that is with an “always on” broadband connection or with an “always present” mobile device. With such robust connectivity, Digital Collaborators share their thoughts or creative content with others. Using blogs and other content-creation applications, they collaborate with others online to express themselves creatively. For Digital Collaborators, the internet can be a camp, a lab or a theater group — places to gather with others to develop something new.

This pattern of active and continuous information exchange puts ICTs [information and communication technology users] at the center of how Digital Collaborators learn, work, socialize and have fun. Most play games on electronic devices, with half playing games on the internet. At least occasionally, most of them watch TV on a device other than a traditional television set. And one-quarter have avatars that let them participate in virtual worlds. The typical Digital Collaborator is in his late 30s and has had years of online experience to hone his skills to get the most out of ICTs.”

I think this is fairly accurate.  I’m not tethered to my cellphone, using it primarily for texting and quick “I’m at the front” type of calls in “real-life.”  One of these days I might tweet a Giants or ‘Jays game, but maybe just uploading photos via TwitPic.  Speaking of games, untrue to the digital collaborator type, I’m not into electronic games at all.  My technology use is primarily forms of blogging, including Twitter.  My presence on Facebook {social networking site} is often phantom, since I push my Tweets over to my wall.

So, again, what type are you?  Feel free to post your responses in the comments.

Twitterversion:: What’s your”techuser”type?Take short test@ #PewInternet.Link to test:: Feel free to post results/thoughts. #ThickCulture @Prof_K

Song:: Home Computer – Kraftwerk

Song bonus:: Tour De France – Kraftwerk 2009 Tour de France website.  13 July is a rest day.

Office Space scene "The Going Away Present" of printer destruction
Office Space scene "The Going Away Present" of printer destruction

Over on OpenSalon, Mary Elizabeth Williams did a post on author’s social media e-sponses to negative reviews .  At first, I was amused by the spirited rejoinders.  Williams cites Ayelet Waldman’s response to Jill Lepore’s review of Bad Mother in the New Yorker, was allegedly a succinct “The book is a feminist polemic, you ignorant twat.” My favorite was Alain de Botton’s response to Caleb Crain’s review in the New York Times on the latter’s blog::

“Caleb, you make it sound on your blog that your review is somehow a sane and fair assessment. In my eyes, and all those who have read it with anything like impartiality, it is a review driven by an almost manic desire to bad-mouth and perversely depreciate anything of value. The accusations you level at me are simply extraordinary. I genuinely hope that you will find yourself on the receiving end of such a daft review some time very soon – so that you can grow up and start to take some responsibility for your work as a reviewer. You have now killed my book in the United States, nothing short of that. So that’s two years of work down the drain in one miserable 900 word review. You present yourself as ‘nice’ in this blog (so much talk about your boyfriend, the dog etc). It’s only fair for your readers (nice people like Joe Linker and trusting souls like PAB) to get a whiff that the truth may be more complex. I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.” [Emphasis added]

I chose to show the full comment, not just the last sentences in bold that many are quoting, since I wanted to provide context and show that it wasn’t just a two-line virulent jab.  Some might call this churlish, but I saw it as a writer showing he has the chops as a writer to defend his book against criticism.

I do understand why Williams offers her advice of being careful about ranting at critics.  Such angry behaviour can make can one seem shrill and immature, although I do enjoy the sheer drama of it all.  Publishing, as it stands today, is hypercompetitive and there are influential gatekeepers like critics.  I wonder if these interactions in social media are showing how the “authority” of the critic is being decentered.  Social media allow for dialogues and will expectations shift, in that critics will have to justify their reviews to authors and audiences alike.  Interestingly, Caleb Crain chose not to respond to Alain de Botton’s comment, only offering an unsatisfying::

“Folks: Thanks for all your comments. A broad range of opinions have been expressed, and I’m going to close comments on this post now. all best wishes, Caleb”

That said, I wonder what the future of publishing and criticism are, given Web 2.0 and beyond.  The critic serves a winnowing function, granting {or taking away} legitimacy and status.  Will this function be replaced by an increasingly intelligent Web 3.0 with “crowdsourced” reviews?  What are the implications for acadème and peer-review journals?  Will the “wisdom of the crowd” topple the institutional fiefdoms controlling knowledge?

I know critiquing work can be tough.  While not that in-depth, the act of reviewing Soderburgh’s The Girlfriend Experience was illuminating for me, particularly after seeing how many reviewers were taking the easy road.  I’ve done peer-review for over 15 years now and have been through the double-blind review process, as well.  I’ve always tried to be constructive with my reviews, even with what I see is a flawed manuscript, offering citations and {hopefully} theoretical or methodological insights.  I’ve read that Will Ferrell is very constructive as a colleague, often taking the time to help others work through something not working with their comedy, and I’m trying to pattern myself after this.  My take is that if you can’t be constructive and if you tear something down without backing it up, you better be prepared to fight it out and social media is the perfect venue for this.

Song:: There Is Nothing Wrong With Hating Rock Critics (Cd) – Of Montreal


Video:: Office Space “The Going Away Present”

Twitterversion:: Authors using #socialmedia to lash out at negative reviews. #Fail or #Web2.0 decentering of critics as #gatekeepers in publishing? @Prof_K