I spoke about “Making an Impression on Tinder,” with a look at my research and how we can use dating apps to confront our own stereotypes and prejudices. The talk is available on video here (the event was in Dutch, but my talk is in English). My presentation starts at 1:28:00.
Last week I presented a paper at the North American Conference on Media, Film & Cultural Studies. The conference was held in Providence, Rhode Island and hosted by IAFOR. The research I presented looked at two popular Facebook pages related to the Zwarte Piet debate in the Netherlands. The abstract is below, and the slides are available on SlideShare.
Zwarte Piet, literally translated as Black Pete, has created growing controversy for its racist undertones in the Dutch celebration of Sinterklaas. This paper looks at how Facebook users engage with the debate by quantitatively examining two Facebook pages: “Zwarte Piet is Racisme” (Black Piet is Racism, or ZPIR) and the pro-Zwarte Piet page called “Pietitie.” Analysis shows that ZPIR is a page oriented towards longer-term engagement. User engagement on ZPIR is also more intensive compared to Pietitie, which is very much an incident-based page. We argue that in this case, interpersonal discussion is more developed on a page designed to protest an issue, which may promote both civic participation and political activity of its users.
I was asked to serve as a guest speaker for the Movies that Matter on tour program. The program screens documentaries and films with a human rights theme.
On Thursday May 8th 2014, the documentary #chicagoGirl: The Social Network Takes on a Dictator was shown in Lumen, in the city of Delft. The documentary is about Ala’a Basatneh, a 19-year-old college freshman living in the suburbs of Chicago. She coordinates between protestors on the ground in Syria and social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, and provides footage to major news outlets.
To summarize my remarks:
I spoke first about the political communication system, and the three main actors in this system: political leaders, media, and citizens. This system is interesting to mention because it works over time and it applies to pretty much any political system around the world. How? The system allows for “forces of instability.” These include evolving technologies (like social media) and also the changing relationship between political leaders, the media and citizens.
#chicagoGirl is fascinating because it combines these two forces of instability. It talks about how technology is evolving, and it also shows how citizens like Ala’a Basatneh are speaking back. Let’s think about this. Traditional media used to be all about mass communication: one particular message sent to a large group of people. Now, the very structure of how we use media has changed. Ala’a is not only able to coordinate people in a global scale, but she can also make her own media, which is then picked up by traditional media and reaches a mass audience. There are many examples of this in the film regarding protest videos. The Syrian regime says this is an internal problem and they don’t want the rest of the world to know. Fortunately that is not possible anymore, and there are incredible activists working to get the story out so the world doesn’t forget.
There’s another interesting point to make here. We might think of social media as pretty much non-political: just a way to keep in touch with friends and family. Or maybe we see it as a commercial space, a place to attract us as consumers and also gather our data for marketing purposes. But these spaces have, like one speaker in the film put it, the “potential for democratic rebellion.” Like Ala’a says at the beginning of the film, “From my laptop I am running a revolution in Syria.”
Regular citizens are using social media in political ways, too. Just to give you all an idea, at least in the US context, a 2012 Pew Research survey found that those who use social media, especially Facebook, are more civically and politically active than non-users. Almost 40% of all Americans over the age of 18 have done at least one of eight civic or political activities with social media, such as “liking,” commenting on, or sharing materials relating to politics or social issues.
Now Ala’a is obviously doing much more than this, but it’s the willingness of other citizens to share her materials that creates a widespread impact. In the film they talk about how citizens are using social media instead of weapons, and I think that’s a great way to see it. They are making a difference without turning to violence.
The last thing I want to say also happens to be the final message of the film: The real social network is the person-to-person connection: it’s the people who bring the state down. Technology itself isn’t powerful. Rather, people are powerful if they are enabled. Technology is a neutral tool: it just helps citizens participate.
In conclusion, we have no excuse not to get politically active, now that we can see what can be accomplished with a mobile phone and a laptop.
Ever wonder how people perceive politicians’ Facebook pages? Gabrielle Grow (a former Master’s student) and I recently published an article in First Monday that examines the role authenticity plays in electoral social media campaigns.
The research focused on a number of candidate Facebook pages used during the 2012 U.S. Presidential Election Campaign. It examined authenticity based on four dimensions: authority, identity, transparency, and engagement.
The article is available online here.
Congratulations to Gabrielle – this research was based on her Master’s thesis. The thesis was excellent, and what a great accomplishment to also publish it in an (open access!) academic journal.