Concerns About Identity in Social Media

Identity construction is a thread that I see running through Buck’s (2012) and boyd’s (2008) article.  Buck gives us a picture of Ronnie, an avid social media user who saw platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr as part of his “self-branding” (2012: 14) conquest to put himself out there.  boyd, on the other hand, looks at the way teens treat (and simply love) Myspace.  I have been and still am part of the social media-sphere, yet there are some things that still make me wonder…

Specifically, while reading these two articles, I could not help zeroing in on the idea of trying on new personas, the idea that individuals can create different selves online.  I question, however, just how much of themselves online users are transforming without having to truly let go of their offline personas. (In the fanficiton community, we affectionately call this “OOC,” or out of character.)  After all, even though it was a stupid  April Fools joke, Ronnie pretended that he had a girlfriend, made a Facebook account for her using a fabricated university email address, and in a way posed as her by writing posts that we supposedly written by her, he still changed his relationship status to “In a relationship,” which meant that offline he is still being the typical young adult experimenting with flirting and creating relationships.  If social media users are trying to show themselves to a specific audience and for a specific, perhaps personal reason, I would think that their content (relationship status, texts, images, videos, music, etc.) would have to retain some semblance of their offline selves.

The impression that I got from boyd’s article is that adolescent’s shape their identity in order to have an identity prepared for their world outside of social media.  This is probably part of negotiating one’s identity that will be presented for specific spaces and audience either online or offline.  It is also a case where, through writing and designing the look of one’s website, which was the case for Xanga and Myspace when I used it, social media users’ online and offline worlds may collide.  We are always warning students to be mindful of the things they post on Facebook or Twitter because future employers can search them out and assume that the identities they create online are a reflection of what they will bring to workforce.  I have to agree with what Monica posted on her blog about searchability because I have done random searches of my name, my older Facebook accounts, which I deactivated, popped up, and I was able to read the nonsense that I wrote.  I am not saying that I had to completely change my online persona to reflect my offline persona; I still wrote about anime, but I did so in a way that projected the persona of a civil, careful writer.  My question, though, is how we might simulate this in a composition class if an instructor were interested in helping his or her students shape themselves online and offline to benefit them in the future.

Furthermore, I want address the issue of ownership of one’s identity on social media platforms.  As I was reading Buck’s story of Ronnie occupying different social media platforms to “manage” (p. 21) his identity, I wrote the following questions in my notes: Who really owns the content users put online?  In fact, who owns the identity that is being portrayed online: the person trying to portray their identity by using text, music, color, pictures, etc., or the person who owns the domain in which the identity is situated?  After all, for adolescents Myspace allowed its users to tinker with their pages’ HTML code so that instead of having the default layout, the user’s page could have a music player playing songs that “described” the user or featured Tinkerbell on it.  They could do anything to project their identity to hopefully be accepted by their peers and eventually gain some kind of status.  On Facebook or Twitter where design is more constrained, users post text or video that somehow show their identities, but these sites are hosting the content users post online.  At the end of the day who is the real owner of these identities being projected?  Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter have control over what its users are able to do, but it is the users who are the ones leveraging these platforms to create personas others will consume one way or another.  Students, especially those in college, are consuming and using social media, but as academics who see the implications writing in social media platforms, how might we make teachable this issue of ownership of one’s identity on social media?

 

 

Information Commodification

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Johndon Johnson-Eilola’s article “The Database and the Essay” argues that postmodern definitions of writing have begun to be accepted and popularized by the general public. If we accept the general premise of postmodernism that ideas are formed in context and in social situations and don’t stem from individual genius, we are then faced with the issue of authorship and ownership. Johnson-Eilola points to intellectual property law and the erosion of fair use rights, arguing that language and text has become commodified within a capitalist system, “put into motion…forced to earn its keep by moving incessantly” (203).  This idea of breaking texts into fragmented parts so that they will fit within the avenues of capitalist circulation has quite serious implications for original ownership. When texts are broken into smaller and smaller pieces, allowing for easier commodification, and then continually repurposed into new forms, how can we define authorship and originality? The deconstruction of meaning from a single textual object into an interconnected web of linkage and in-text citation has not created a “communal web of shared experiences,” as Johnson-Eilola claims was originally predicted (204).  What has instead emerged is the commodification of intellect with the continual breaking down and reformulation of texts and ideas, each recombination generating profitable value.

This issue can be viewed in terms of the broader debate over what is writing and what is mere compilation. We generally define writing as involving a creative process that results in the formation of a unique text containing original thought. This is taught in academic settings and grounds most writing pedagogy. However new competing definitions of writing that lean toward postmodernism argue that language is a continual social construction, so is completely arbitrary and that this applies to texts as well. There is a marked shift from thinking of texts as discrete objects to now viewing them as unpredictable, fragmented elements that are constantly reconfigured and reconnected. Johnson-Eilola argues that this shift is important because it “opens a path away from thinking of intellectual property as a work– as a relatively extended, coherent whole– and toward thinking of it as marketable chunks” (209).  By viewing any type of text within these financially geared terms, issues of ownership become problematic. If texts and ideas are continually reformulated, who holds proprietary rights?

Attempts at answering this question have become more urgent and relevant as blogs and linking further complicate the idea of ownership. Traditionally citation and reference within texts is considered necessary and socially valuable and has always been free, but now companies claim that linking within a website destroys their economic model of users moving “top-down” through the site viewing advertisements along the way. If users are linked to a page deep within the site, they miss relevant advertising and the company is not paid. The contrast between the academic argument that information should be free and the economic model claiming that information should circulate and thus earn money can be reduced to the rather difficult issue of information commodity. On one side we have academics arguing that knowledge and texts reside outside of the economic sphere while simultaneously constructing institutions that collect money in exchange for knowledge. And on the other side we have the postmodernists and corporations that fragment and circulate texts, profiting from this continual exchange of information. Though these sides claim to be in constant and bitter debate, their practices are incredibly similar. Does this then de-value the argument? Aren’t both institutions essentially attempting to control the same thing?

 

 

Ownership, Copyrights, and “YouTube’s Original Sin”

Hi all — I hope everyone is having a great time off!

Since a lot of our in-class and out-of-class discussions have been around ownership, copyrighted materials, etc., I thought you’d find this article interesting: “YouTube’s Original Sin: The video site danced with the devil to get a massive traffic boost. Now it might pay the price.”

Enjoy.

There is no such things as originality, just authenticity

Check out this article from the Times.

Hegemann seems to signal a new generation of writers, folks who confront accusations of plagiarism with a shrug rather than sniveling apologies.  Copy-right and intellectual property violations… humbug.  Remixing is king!

I tend to agree with Hegemann.  Ross’s admonition that society will grow stale if our artists “repurpose” (his word, not mine) existing art, hardly sends chills down my spine.  Seems to me that even the most experimental of experimental artists are still “repurposers.”  Instead of repurposing specific works, they transgress and, ultimately, remix genres (which are themselves constructed of similarly designed individual works).  When Michael Ondatje wins a Nobel prize, the Swedes won’t mention remixing, but the guy, despite his many (and deserved) accolades for originality,  is still, in many regards, the literary equivalent of a blender.

Writers should loosen up.  If Philp Roth or someone else takes my blog post and remixes it in a bestselling book, I plan to send a thank you note, not a subpoena.  People don’t own words anymore than Apple Computer owns thumb movements… errr… anymore than Genetech owns my DNA sequence… err…  well, maybe we should just all get in line behind Lawrence Lessig (http://www.lessig.org/blog/).