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?

 

 

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Social Media: The Renaissance Self-Expression and Community.. or is it?

I have spent the last few hours pondering what Micheal Wesch would say about the changes in spaces like Youtube and other social media since he made his video on Web 2.0 and his anthropological study of Youtube. Once upon a time, (though really it was not that long ago) vlogs and other personal videos were absolutely the predominant videos and content type on Youtube. Looking all the way back at 2006 we see much of what was being discussed by Wesch in simple user generated videos with just a few thousand views sitting on the front page.

youtube 2006 screenshot.png

Credit: Graphitas

I am sure if we used The Way Back Machine then we would see many response videos, even to these front page entries. If we take a peek at the front page of Youtube today, the field has completely changed. Every front page is tailor made for the person who is consuming the media, especially if you have any viewing history or an account linked to your Youtube habits.

Youtube Today.png

As you can see, the trending videos look like a Hollywood catalog; they are almost completely comprised of massive company sponsored channels or the titanic channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers making professional content for our consumption. Now, I am not saying that this is necessarily bad, since millions of hours of entertainment have arisen from the ability of an individual to monetize their videos on Youtube, but the community of videos that was so exciting to Welsh ten years ago is dying if it is not completely dead already. It seems that a significant amount of social media is moving away from being a way of interconnectivity toward being a way to create or popularize a brand. Even my own Facebook feed has become more of a space to see updates from news and entertainment sites than just seeing what a friend is up to on any given day, resulting from giving a page or website a “Like.” Is there a new social media that has replaced this phenomenon? Maybe Vines? Snapchat? My experience with these new medias are limited so I have no real idea if those kinds of apps are filling this void.

Moving to a slightly different sphere, in “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites,” Amber Buck examines what she calls, (finally…at the end of the article) “a rather extreme case of social network site use.” Throughout this study, her subject, Ronnie, is shown to be trying to make a “brand” much like the celebrities that we see on Twitter, Facebook, and other networking websites. I feel that this discussion is a bit disingenuous as a result because it is not indicative of most students practices on a social networking site. While we all create an online identity, I do not believe that most people are developing as complex rhetorical skills that Ronnie is displaying and Buck is discussing nor do I think most people are trying to generate fans and fame from their social media exploration. To me this kind of study just screams outlier case.

(As a side note her abstract mentions that the literacy practices we explore include navigating user agreements, which means that she thinks that many young adults read them.)

 

Now this is not to discount that rhetorical  and genre learning is going on and we as teachers cannot take advantage of that, but social media and how people, especially youth, interact with that media evolves faster than we can build data and studies on how to incorporate it into pedagogy and the classroom. We have read many papers examining Myspace, but that website is now a wasteland with most people’s profiles sitting derelict, an interesting photograph of our past social media lives. It makes me wonder how much of that study is still relevant as things so rapidly change. I am extremely interested in what the next few years hold and how social media and literacies will continue to evolve.

Will we see another website emerge to replace Facebook? Or has the evolution of social media begun to settle and slow down? If students are as active as Ronnie and I am just ignorant of this, then how might we best bring this to the forefront in the classroom?

I think I have rambled like a terrible cynic for long enough today. So I shall do what I always will and leave you all with an OC remix of the day. This is a remix by FoxyPanda of the famous “Aquatic Ambiance” Theme from Donkey Kong Country. Cheers!

OhMann The Pressure’s On!

Kathleen Blake Yancey comes to us with what seems like a magnificent step forward in writing – the general public is writing of their own volition outside of the classroom, completely unprompted (pun intended) by English teachers.

4558046In fact, Yancey points out that people have chosen “a rhetorical situation, a purpose, a potentially worldwide audience, a choice of technology and medium – and they write” (302). This sounds like a marvelous accomplishment for writing, but Ohmann points out, in a more recent article, that there is a lot of baggage that comes along with this. Namely, Ohmann is concerned that through the marketing of computers and microcomputers, we are essentially being led in our literacy by corporations and political interest. Of course, I believe we all acknowledge that there are always outside influences going into the shaping of literacies in our world, but Ohmann points out that in classrooms, microcomputers are used for little more than a medium to construct texts, and a storage place for files.

Now, I believe it is up to us to bridge the gap between writing in a personal, self-chosen place, and the writing we see and strive for in the classroom. To its credit, the CCCC’s position statement on Technology has asked that classrooms with technology “provide students with opportunities to apply digital technologies to solve substantial problems common to the academic, professional, civic, and/or personal realm of their lives,” but simply stating this isn’t enough. How do we get students to utilize good Habits of Mind (please scroll if opened) outside of the classroom and think critically about all (realistically most) texts that they create? According to a survey conducted by Jeff Grabill (2010), students held the perception that writing done socially or for personal fulfillment is not valuable outside of its specific realm of personal gratification. I believe that we need to find a way to get students to see social media, blogging, and perhaps even texting, as something that is not only valuable for their own development, but also can have repercussions for the world. I recognize that this is a large problem to tackle, and know it will be a process to complete. Ideally, we as instructors must start to show the intellectual potential of technology platforms in our classrooms, while also remembering to draw attention to the biases and money-driven goals surrounding those platforms (a la Ohmann).

So now I pose some questions to all of you (I have opinions and at least somewhat formed answers to these, but for the sake of conversation I’d rather hear your thoughts):

  • How do we incorporate social media based writing in a way that is both productive for our own classroom and will keep students more informed/intellectually engaged outside the classroom?
  • How far should we push students into recognizing the academic and intellectual potential of the writing they do solely for enjoyment?
  • How do we keep Composition relevant without losing the qualities in writing that we aspire to?
  • Everyone talks about writing, but what about reading? How can we facilitate good reading habits of social media, etc? More importantly, do we, as instructors, even know the full scope of what “good reading” looks like for majority of personal writing platforms out there?

Facebook? Why not Reddit?

Please excuse my lame attempt to connect this blog to the Zoidberg meme.

Social media are spaces in which people can connect with others online or in some technological medium.  Today, many academic discussions about social media seem to gravitate towards MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.  Will Richardson, the author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, discusses two ways in which users use social media: “friendship-based” and “interest-based” (131).  Friendship-based is pretty straightforward; people engage in social media to stay in contact with people they met, and use platforms like Facebook to communicate with others.  Friendship-based social media usually relies on profile pages that display one’s identity and a group of friends to begin with.  Richardson also argues that Facebook also helps users form groups or other social networks based on interests.  This leads to individuals learning through a self-build network created by connections with other people.  Furthermore, Richardson’s definition of interest-based learning applies more to a newer website that’s on the rise: Reddit.com.

Reddit, as many people already know, is a social networking and micro-blogging site in which users can submit content and others comment on it.  Redditors (users of Reddit) can either “upvote” or “downvote” content, which generates a quantitative score for that post.  The more points a post has, the more popular the post is.  The posts with the highest amount of points go on what Michael Wesch (who I’ll discuss shortly) would call the “front page” (a term he used to describe YouTube’s most popular video sites).  Furthermore, comments can also be upvoted or downvoted; thus, users can view the most popular response to a post.

However, despite Reddit’s obvious connections to social media, I have not seen many scholars discuss the pedagogical implications of Reddit, even though it has been increasing in popularity over the past few years.  Furthermore, based on Michael Wesch’s and Danah Boyd’s discussion of social media, Reddit can serve as a useful tool to illustrate participatory, connective learning through social media.

Wesch’s talk, an Anthropological Introduction to YouTube, details how YouTube has become a site for users to distribute user-generated content, engage in discussions regarding various topics, and experiment with identity.  YouTube is a site of participatory remixes and remakes, that often go viral, and the recreated content serves as a celebration of this process.  Reddit is no different.  Aside from having a similar front page display on the home page, Redditors often post viral content (including pictures, .gifs, videos, articles, etc.) that get reposted and re-commented on frequently.  Furthermore, similar to YouTube, these users are usually not friends commenting on friends’ content, but rather strangers of an “invisible audience” (Boyd 120).  In other words, Redditors post for the public, and the public responds to the post.  This allows for what Boyd would call a “networked public”.  Boyd defines the networked public as a space for persistence in asynchronous communication, searchability for certain content, replicability of original content, and as already stated, the invisible audience.  For Boyd, social media is a site where all people from all space and all time can connect.   Reddit fits all of these characteristics.

Furthermore (and perhaps more interesting for scholars of social media,) Reddit is divided into what Redditors call “subreddits,” in which the content is categorized based on interest.  Redditors can find a subreddit for almost anything: gaming, sports, politics, culture, and more.  Each Redditor also has its own front page complete with the most popular posts.  (I should note that Redditors can friend other Redditors for easier access to postings and comments by their friends.)  Thus, Reddit’s community organizes itself into different categoriesThese sub-communities display a shared understanding that is mediated by its users, and defined by the types of discussions and content present within the subreddit.  I think this is what’s at the heart of Richardson’s excitement over social media – the ability to form discourse communities with the public.  This is also what Boyd notices in youths’ ❤ for social networks.  Boyd recognizes that youth desire to participate in a system with common understandings, interaction with other members, and discoursing in a mediated public (125).  Furthermore, the more interesting part of these interactions is that a Redditor’s identity is based more on the comments they make on a post, rather than a profile page with an image that constructs their identity.  A person’s wit, humor, intellect, etc. is the first impression.

The main question that I’m left with after this short discussion is why isn’t Reddit talked about like Facebook or Twitter?  I understand that Reddit is newer than these mediums and often has more viral content (like cute cat pictures).  However, Reddit is arguably a stronger example of how people write anonymously for the public, and create discussions based more on interest than friendship than other forms of social media.  Furthermore, I also wonder how composition instructors can incorporate Reddit into the classroom.  My initial reaction would be to tell students to find a topic that interests them on Reddit, and respond/engage in a conversation with the public, and see where that takes them.  Students can also create their own post on an academic subreddit, and see how the public responds to their content and ideas. I feel like there are a lot of possibilities, and interested to hear how other people may approach using this in the classroom.

What do you guys think?  I know I did not cover everything that can be said, but I’m also trying not to go overboard here.  🙂

Social networks, identity, etc

Often, academic discussions of social media describe a place where people can connect with each other in a multiplicity of ways, not just by using various tools and services, but also by how they present their identities and selves through these mediums.

For example, Michael Wesch’s talk Anthropological Introduction to YouTube (recorded and published on YouTube, no less) gives a sampling of YouTube culture, and the various ways its users interacted through vlogs and video responses.  As part of their study of YouTube culture, Wesch and his students participated by creating their own vlogs and interacting with the communities they were studying. Through this, they came to various insights about identity, authenticity, relationships, community, and  social networking.  “YouTubers” share small portions of their authentic selves through video–selves that are sometimes reflective, sometimes performative, sometimes narcissistic, and sometimes even fake.  And, others respond, subscribe, watch, and participate in those same activities in ways that are just as various.

Wesch’s talk was published on YouTube in 2008, long before Google and YouTube began to merge all of its social networking features into one account and require its users use their real names instead of psuedonyms.  With this in mind, I would like to know what Wesch and his students think about how YouTube culture has (or hasn’t) changed after the rules of how to use the site have changed.  “Media mediates human relationships“, afterall, and the YouTube culture that existed in 2008 made heavy use of pseudonyms and anonymity. I wonder if the same kinds of emergent communities are still possible now that YouTube asks its users to connect their accounts to their Google+ account, and asks everyone to use their real names.

Amber Buck’s article “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites” looks at the literacy practices of one student who considers himself an expert at social media, and uses it frequently as an important part of his social, personal, and academic life. Buck saw how Ronnie “Filtered and processed his offline life through his online activities”, essentially using media to mediate parts of his life and connect with others.

What I found especially interesting and important is how Ronnie not only manipulates and plays with his identity on various networks by presenting some details in some places, but not in others, he also actively manipulates what personal information he shares, going so far as to give false information (e.g. saying that he graduated from Hogwarts) in order to make a statement about how his peers were using social media.

Robbie is shown to be sensitive to privacy issues and the question of who controls and owns his information.  These questions of privacy and control of personal information have grown since this article was published in 2012, and seem to go hand in hand with the use of social media.  At the time Robbie’s use of social media was being studied, Facebook had not yet implemented its controversial rules about requiring users to only use their real first and last names.  If these rules existed, Robbie’s playful interactions with friends and experiments with identity would not have been possible in the same way.

If media mediates human relationships, as Wesch says it does, I think it follows that media and social networks need to be flexible enough and open enough to allow people to form relationships and identities in all the different ways that human beings are capable of.

I find policies that dictate how users present themselves or identify themselves online to be terribly problematic and counter to the powerfully human and productive ways that people would otherwise use social networks.  Judging by the controversies these policies sparked and continue to spark, I know I’m not alone.

A response to these issues by danah boyd goes even farther and describes how dangerous these kinds of policies can be to the privacy and safety of its users, and not just to users for whom disclosing their real names is dangerous for political or legal reasons.  Some people have private but still very real reasons for wanting to be anonymous, including simply being a minor, or having unpopular opinions, or being a target of bullying, or feeling discomfort with what current news about the NSA suggest is happening with our private data.

What all of this teaches me is that I think it’s that social media, identity, and community are things that are not possible to separate from each other, and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s something to keep in mind when we think about what institutions, companies, or governments are providing the platforms for so much of our identity-creation, community-formation, and social interaction.  So much of what we do is captured and shared online, which does allow us to connect with each other in awesome ways, but it also means that all of that connection and sharing is mediated by the decisions that the social media companies make.

While social media may mediate human relationships, the companies that control that media may also be in a position to mediate and change us.  And, I am not sure any of us really knows what that means yet.

Power, Corruption, and Social Media

I came across this blog post from the UK’s Guardian about astroturfing.  And no, it has nothing to do with fake lawns or stadium football. Astroturfing refers to the creation of multiple artificially generated profiles used to control public opinion often at the expense of drowning out comments from real users.  This, of course, made me think back to Michael’s presentation that posed an interesting question of “Who is really at the keyboard?”

This technique is becoming more prolific, and the software is more sophisticated. Just think about the implications. The ability to manipulate mass public opinion is the ultimate weapon. It seems that even the U.S. military has been leveraging social media, and not in a way that would seem to be consistent with a country that touts itself as the promoter for free speech.  Another article from the Guardian, Revealed: US Spy Operation Manipulates Social Media, discusses the military’s plan to use astroturfing to make fake online personas to influence internet opinion and spread pro-American propaganda, primarily in the Middle East.

There have been other known instances of tobacco companies using astroturf groups to fight regulation, and even fake grassroots campaigns that appear to have mass public support. This just validates the importance of developing a critical awareness in our students about new media. When I think of the powerful and sophisticated systems and software that large corporations and governments can employ, the potential is a little scary. One of the big draws in social media comes from the power of numbers–we’ve seen how social media can incite uprisings and revolution–but what does it mean when those voices can so easily be co-opted by powerful organizations?  As someone who regularly uses social media sites like Yelp for restaurant and business recommendations, it makes me wonder whose truth I am buying into…

Roger Ebert Tweets in a New Era

After reading all of the “down on technology” posts Kory has been responding to, I thought I’d share one of my favorite bloggers and a great recent article of his: Roger Ebert’s blog entry Tweet! Tweet! Tweet!

I’ve recently become somewhat obsessed with Roger Ebert, and especially his blog. After losing his voice because of an invasive surgery, Ebert developed an extensive online persona. Ebert is a man who has been involved in the print industry for more than half a century (his first review was printed in 1958), and still, he is one of new media’s biggest fans. Despite the slow demise of print newspapers, he declares today, where movie critics are movie lovers who blog because they love film, the Golden Age of Movie Criticism. He believes the accessibility of blogs has made it possible for great writers who don’t want a career in journalism, or may not have the connections to succeed in the print world, to contribute to the previously exclusive world of film criticism.

But more about Tweets: remember all that class discussion and readings about how new media can give voice to students who feel like they don’t have one? Ebert embodies this.

Twitter for me performs the function of a running conversation. For someone who cannot speak, it allows a way to unload my zingers and one-liners. One of the problems with written notes and computer voices is that, by their nature, their timing doesn’t work. I used to have good timing. Now in real life a conversation will be whizzing along and a line will pop into my head and by the time I write it down and get someone to read it, the moment and the context will have disappeared. Often everything will grind to a halt while I remind people what I was referring to.

For him, new media, and twitter specifically, have given him a voice after (literally) losing his to cancer. New media has given him a way to bypass his physical limitations and continue to communicate with the world in the speed he wants. And because of it, he has developed a larger, youthful audience, which was celebrated when he was awarded the Person of the Year Webby Award.

Although Ebert isn’t explicitly talking about composition or pedagogy, I find his observations about new media to be applicable to our class discussions. Mostly, I recommend him because it’s so refreshing to read a man who defies the stereotypes; he’s older and employed by print media, and yet, he maintains to be one of technology’s biggest cheerleaders.

Twitter Literacy – Howard Rheingold

I found this article by Howard Rheingold very helpful for navigating the world of tweets… He argues for the importance of new kinds of media literacies and says that “the difference between seeing Twitter as a waste of time or as a powerful new community amplifier depends entirely on how you look at it – on knowing how to look at it.” Ultimately,

“Whatever you call this blend of craft and community, one of the most important challenges posed by the real-time, ubiquitous, wireless, always-on, often alienating interwebs are the skills required for the use of media to be productive and to foster authentic interpersonal connection, rather than waste of time and attention on phony, banal, alienated pseudo-communication. Know-how is where the difference lies.”

Read Rheingold’s article here: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/rheingold/detail?entry_id=39948#ixzz0kx2bMXjy