This Present Madness

Social media is now entrenched in our civil society. Digital communities have given power to people and increased participation in democratic processes. Politicians are well aware of the importance of including social media platforms in their campaigns.

In 1993, Rheingold foresaw that this technology would miss its mark if not ‘used intelligently and deliberately by an informed population” (Rheingold 2000). However Rheingold did not foresee how controversial an ‘informed population’ would become.

‘Gunk’ Image courtesy of Michael Leunig

Social media added a powerful element to the voters’ voice outside the ballot box, giving balance to politicians, mainstream media and journalists (Enli 2017). In 2016, platforms became the battleground for ‘fake news’ in US election campaign. Axel Bruns, QUT, says the Twitter hashtag #auspol is part of Australian political furniture, and used by consumers to engage in political debates (Bogle 2016).

Social media is used primarily as a marketing tool in politics, as the need to control the message overwhelms any forum for enlightened public debate. Politicians are able to speak directly to voters without constraints of media ‘interpretation’, and attempt to control how the public perceive them. Even Trump’s so-called amateurish approach to Tweets is a deliberate statement of his authenticity. A performance, originally establishing his ‘outsider’ position (Enli 2017).

Compare approaches made by Australian pollies throughout our revolving door of Prime Ministers, from shaving cuts to budgie smugglers, and you see who maintains distance behind staffers or connects directly with constituents. It is imperative for anyone in politics to have a social media presence when campaigning for votes, especially engaging with the younger audience. Without authenticity, candidates wont hold up to their more intense scrutiny.

Choosing the platforms is a matter of horses for courses: be more sociable on Facebook, more serious on Twitter, use humour on Tumblr, and policies on LinkedIn. Get the platform wrong and you’ll look like a goose. Or worse, you’ll lose the audience and become a trending joke. Platforms are notorious for kicking politicians around, whether in a seriously degrading way, such as Reddit, or humorously by the teenage mimics on TikTok.

‘Globalisation’ Image courtesy of Michael Leunig

However the red flag is more serious. Social media in politics and civil culture has a darker side. Knowing where your information comes from drives democracy (Arvanitakis 2017). Far from a free flow of information, the algorithms are set to feed each individual with their own bias. Social media platforms are highly controlled media environments, making excellent use of the human tendency to “look for evidence that supports belief systems we already have in place” (Ohler 2017). Our own confirmation bias means we become part of the machine that spreads misinformation and disseminates ‘fake news’.

‘Disgusting Lies’ Image courtesy of Michael Leunig

To find truth about controversial stories, it is imperative to read from diverse sources. This begins with a rare desire to know the truth. Suffering from information bombardment, it’s easier to follow what ‘our team thinks’. It’s the opposite of critical thinking (Ohler 2017). Social media plays a significant role in how we learn political information as we don’t question information forwarded by people we trust (Bode 2016). Politicians also know that even disinterested people will learn without any involvement as a by-product of using social media (Bode 2016).

And it gets worse. In 2018 Cambridge Analytica was shut down because of their use of private data to manipulate US 2016 election through targeted social media posts. Using psychographics, the ‘persuadables’ were exposed to curated unmarked political messages. These methods were used to sway over 100 elections in 30 countries (Ghoshal 2018).

We are far from an ‘informed population’. We are digital citizens facing a crisis in media literacy, meanwhile, this present madness threatens our democracy.

Alexander Nix (Cambridge Analytica) explains psychographics

 

MDA2009 Assignment 1B Politics and civic cultures

REFERENCES

Arvanitakis, J 2017, ‘If Google and Facebook rely on opaque algorithms, what does that mean for democracy?’, ABC News, Viewed 11 April 2020, <https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-10/ai-democracy-google-facebook/8782970&gt;

Bode, L 2016, ‘Political News in the News Feed: Learning Politics from Social Media’, Mass Communication and Society, Viewed 12 April 2020, <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15205436.2015.1045149&gt;

Bogle, A 2016, “#auspol: The Twitter hashtag Australia can’t live without”, Mashable, Viewed 12 April 2020, < https://mashable.com/2016/03/21/twitter-australia-auspol/#4tvfXtsZUEqV&gt;

Enli, G 2017, ‘Twitter as arena for the authentic outsider: exploring the social media campaigns of Trump and Clinton in the 2016 US presidential election’, European Journal of Communication, 32(1), pp. 50–61, Viewed 12 April 2020, < https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.lib.swin.edu.au/doi/full/10.1177/0267323116682802&gt;

Ghoshal, D 2018 ‘Mapped: The breathtaking global reach of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company’ Quartz, Viewed 12 April 2020, <https://qz.com/1239762/cambridge-analytica-scandal-all-the-countries-where-scl-elections-claims-to-have-worked/&gt;

Ohler, J 2017, ’Confirmation Bias and Media Literacy’ Connections, Consortium for Media Literacy, Viewed 11 April 2020, <https://www.medialit.org/sites/default/files/connections/Confirmation%20Bias%20and%20Media%20Literacy.pdf&gt;

Rheingold, H 1993, “The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier” (Paperback 2000) The Digital Citizen, Wired, Viewed 12 April 2020, < http://www.caracci.net/dispense_enna/The%20Virtual%20Community%20by%20Howard%20Rheingold_%20Table%20of%20Contents.pdf&gt;

Media:

Leunig, M 2020, “Cartoons”, Works, © Michael Leunig, Viewed April 2020 <https://www.leunig.com.au/works/cartoons&gt;

Nix, A 2016, “Cambridge Analytica – The Power of Big Data and Psychographics”, YouTube, viewed March 2020, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8Dd5aVXLCc&gt;

I am an ‘always-on’ girl!

This week there is a fascinating collection of new thoughts running through my social-media-minded brain. I have listened to Sherry Turkle’s TED talk (Turkle 2013) and found huge chunks that resonate, not only with how my own social media experiences are absolutely “bound up” in the platforms I use, but also in how I teach self-awareness in my art groups. We do carry the fantasies Turkle talks about throughout our lives, that we will be always heard and never alone. This is the core of all our online and offline relationships. However to insist these human cravings are fantasies goes against how I define myself. I do expect these things from my friends, and I’d say they expect it from me. The core of the issue is that humanity needs to be seen, heard, known and loved. Until someone feels you have seen them, heard them and know them, they cannot feel that you love them. If these are fantasies, then humanity is in trouble. These ‘ideals’ may be unfulfilled expectations in most of our relationships, but to label them as fantasies leaves humanity without hope.

‘Oh the humanity!’
Credit: SGAR_art

Friendship is demanding. The problem isn’t with technology; if there is a problem, it is with us. If we are substituting superficial digital connections for real relationships, the problem is with how we are using technology. Turkle says it is early days and we still get to decide how to use social media. We can choose to make room for the self-reflective solitude that balances the devices’ demand for connections and the fake empathy – and from that space of self-awareness, go forth into this brave new world. The world is in the midst of another paradigm culture shift, just as it was in the Victorian era, and we are smmmmack in the middle of learning how to operate in it.

Living through connections via devices is not necessarily a negative thing. The negativity lies in being unaware of what you are doing. Self-awareness is the most important quality we could possibly teach our children who will grow up in a digital world.

‘Always-On’
Credit: Manu Cornet, Cartoonist

This week I have also read danah boyd’s thoughts on how we are now “always on”. She means how we live with the assumption that we are always networked with people online. Not that we are actively engaging constantly online, but that we are ABLE to if we choose to. We are not really online and not really offline. There is a new ‘normal’. We are living across all the platforms accessible to us and bringing ourselves into the experience of the merging of online/offline life. We connect people and information constantly in context and as we choose to. We live in an era where developing our own strategies for navigating our online connections is an essential skill.

‘The ‘always-on’ fatal flaw’
Credit: Manu Cornet, Cartoonist

I suspect the driving forces behind social media were introverts. Or extroverted introverts. People who want to be with other people but only in small doses. People who understood their limited capacity for interaction. As Turkle says, people who like to be ‘alone together’.


MDA2009 Assignment 1A How are our social experiences in each of these contexts bound up with social media platforms and their affordances, and how we make use of them?

References

boyd, d 2012, ‘Participating in the always-on lifestyle’, in M Mandiberg (ed) The Social Media Reader, NYU Press, pp. 71-76.

Corbet, Manu, Twitter post, https://mobile.twitter.com/lmanul

SGAR_art, Instagram post, “Expectations” https://www.instagram.com/p/BxwfOtCnAV9/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet

Turkle, S 2013, Connected, but alone?- Sherry Turkle, TED 2013, viewed 20 July 2019, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv0g8TsnA6c&gt;.

Sherry Turkle ‘Connected, but Alone?’

When is a blog not a blog?

A blog is not a blog when “the people who use it do things with it that the designer never imagined”.

Norman, 2011

Studying social media is like turning a dentist’s magnifying spotlight onto your lover’s face, suddenly the beautiful warm glow from candlelit evenings vanishes and things don’t look so rosy. Please. Give me simulations of reality any day.

And no, it is not that I cannot distinguish between realities, but perhaps I don’t want to see more clearly. I don’t want to acknowledge that my personal use of social media is being manipulated by huge corporations interested in expanding their consumer base. (Why else have social network sites encouraged such a public level of self-exposure over these last three decades, if not to sell a product?)

Hyperreality could still be a good thing. I could continue to live in a cosy corner of cyberspace and hang on to the illusion that I am becoming my online identity. Could I actually morph into the person I present as my social identity in online communities? As Wilken and McCosker (2014) state, we must self-reflectively and continuously ‘invent’ ourselves with these tools of self-formation. Isn’t this the new reality? That “I share therefore I am”. (Turkle 2013) My concept of self becomes regulated through a collection of bots compiled from all the platforms where I am publicly available. An iMe or an eMe, the electronic version of me.

In studying social media, we are questioning the forms of sociality. The percentage of social interactions within digital environments has increased exponentially. In May 2019 Social Media News, for example, puts Australian Facebook users at 15 million with 50% of the country’s population logging in daily. The ‘public sphere’ as described by Habermas has gone. (Bruns and Highfield 2016) News broadcasters now cannot claim influence over the nation. Their audience has dispersed. Even early paradigms of social media have changed. The rapid connection and dissemination of news on the diverse platforms now available has changed our concept of social media. A blog is no longer a weblog, no longer the Captain’s log, recording what’s happening on our mission. Its story is woven into our network experience.

We have transitioned from using digital media as profile-based self-expression only, into a space where digital dualism is being disintegrated, as Jurgenson says (cited by Herrman 2019). Virtual and physical realities are merging. No longer is digital media a form of virtual communication, it has become the experience of living in a world where being networked to people is assumed. As danah boyd has described, our social networking means we are ‘always on’ (boyd 2012), we are constantly online and offline, constantly accessible if and when we choose to be.

“Confused yet?”
Credit: Manu Cornet, Cartoonist

The affordances of social media, that is, those things that make it obvious what it is, have also blurred. In the early paradigm of social media, a blog was basically a personal journal made public. Blogs have transitioned. They are now interactive and an integral part of the social media jigsaw. WordPress began as a personal publishing system and evolved into a content management system with its own ecosystem. (Kinsta 2019). Like a child that only becomes interesting when it learns to think for itself, WordPress developed into a single system that works on all devices, incorporates multiple platforms, and connects the wider, broader global publishing community with its followers. It connects you and me.

There is no turning back. Think of social media as a huge ocean liner, like the Queen Mary. Aboard are many activities and it is for you to choose your level of participation. Some activities are cosy corners to share secrets with friends onboard, and other spaces are public song and dance shows. To understand where the WordPress blog platform fits in, think of it as the magic show. The magician calls for audience participation and the audience becomes the show. There is interaction and connection. To answer the question: ‘Is WordPress a blog or a social network site?’ the answer must be that it is both.


MDA20009 Assignment 1A Is WordPress a blog or a social network site?

References

boyd, d 2012, ‘Participating in the always-on lifestyle’, in M Mandiberg (ed) The Social Media Reader, NYU Press, pp. 71-76.

Bruns, A & Highfield, T 2016 ‘Is Habermas on Twitter? Social media and the public sphere‘. In A Bruns, G Enli, E Skogerbø, AO Larsson, & Christensen, C (ed) The Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics. Routledge, New York, pp. 56-73.

Cornet, Manu, Twitter post, https://mobile.twitter.com/lmanul

Cowling, D 2019, Social media statistics Australia – May 2019, 1 May, viewed 22 July 2019, https://www.socialmedianews.com.au/social-media-statistics-australia-may-2019/

Herrman, 2014, ‘Meet The Man Who Got Inside Snapchat’s Head’, BuzzFeedNews, viewed 16 July 2019 https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/jwherrman/meet-the-unlikely-academic-behind-snapchats-new-pitch#3dlvjg2

Kinsta Inc, 2019, ‘The History of WordPress, its Ecosystem and Community’, viewed 22 July 2019 https://kinsta.com/learn/wordpress-history/

Norman, D 2011, Affordances, YouTube, 2011 <http://bit.ly/1BA7sEE&gt;

Turkle, S 2013, ‘Connected, but alone?- Sherry Turkle‘, April, TED, viewed 21 July 2019, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv0g8TsnA6c&gt;.

Wilken, R & McCosker, A 2014, ‘Social Selves’, in Cunningham & Turnbull (eds), The Media & Communications in Australia, Allen and Unwin pp. 291-295.

Curiosity killed the Cat

Once upon a time, when curiosity killed the cat, we were warned to mind our own business. The proverb arose in the Victorian era. A time of great upheaval, with extraordinary intellectual progress. An age of leaps and bounds in technology, literature, science, culture and economics. Human life changed in huge complex disturbing chunks, and its coping mechanism was a strict social code. The Victorian era ended with the outbreak of WWI, although its tentacles can still be found in extreme grossly inhibiting conservatism.

We are experiencing another paradigm shift. Another huge, complex, disturbing, chunk of change. This generation – meaning those who are alive on the planet in this era (and not the use of ‘generation’ to mean a range of  age) – has embraced the Social Media phenomena. The old normative communications have gone forever, and, as a society, we are in transition. There is a shift in the balance of control. This blog is the evidence that the new freedom of communication means, with very few tools, anyone can have a public platform.

Social Media platforms have encouraged us to mind everyone else’s business. The phenomenon of a global online society has empowered our sense of entitlement to expression of our own opinion about whatever everyone else is doing. Or not doing. 

With a play on words, this blog title reminds us to also be mindful of everyone. Everyone is their brother’s keeper. Humanity has always craved connection, and even more so now in our current transition into relationship via digital connection. We live in not-quite-connectedness. As we navigate our new realities we must remain mindful of each other. Everyone needs to feel seen, heard and known to be assured they are loved. And if we have not love, we have nothing but the sound of a clanging cymbal.

Essentially, this blog was created for a unit of study in the Media and Communications degree at Swinburne University 2020 (originally 2019, but I deferred), where we are turning the microscope on ‘social media’. We study it in order to understand, we explore technologies and ‘platforms’ associated with it to examine the ways these platforms are used, and we attempt to forecast their impact and implications for our social, political, cultural and economic lives.

Basically the followers of this blog are fellow students, but as this is a public platform, feel free to join the journey. Connect in. Add your thoughts, share the blog posts. Enter the conversation. Be part of how this blog may evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another.