Anonymity

This module highlighted the role of digital and social media platforms in giving the population at large a voice, and a role – whether for better or worse. We all talked about how social media outlets like Twitter can be used to create and maintain community: this is the case for, say, music fanbases (Lady Gaga’s Little Monsters, and the One Direction fandom at large!). Easily accessible communities like this are on one hand undoubtedly a good thing, uniting people from all over the world who live different lives in different circumstances with different privileges or disadvantages; a shared interest unifies people, and digital media allows this on a global scale.

However, what social media also does is provide anonymity. I once tweeted – blandly, to no one – something about wondering why we were so interested in Tom from McFly’s baby; and I got a couple of retweets and replies, not from people I know but from people with usernames like @Xx_mcbusted_Xx saying I need educating, and that ‘at least he [me, a girl with short hair] spelt it right’. It was strange, and admittedly incredibly mild. But consider other social media users who become the victims of extreme, incessant and abusive trolling like this for randomly saying something about Zayn that gets picked up by accounts constantly searching One Direction buzzwords. And furthermore consider the active feminists, LGBT*QI+ activists and so on who are subjected to awful rape and death threats regularly from anonymous Twitter users who simply don’t like what’s being said – not that they are offended by it, but that they don’t like it.

As well, briefly, I’ll mention again Jon Ronson’s journey into the world of public shaming, and the role digital and social media platforms provide us the public to become the judge, jury and executioner of people who make poorly judged comments online. Is that our role? To humiliate those we think are in the wrong; to jump on the bandwagon of a thousand other Twitter uses to hound a person out of the social media town? Whether it’s our role or not, social media allows us to take it on anyway.

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News and exclusion

the-times-logo-lea-and-sandeman-wine-merchantsThe Times newspaper is not available in full online (like various other publications, but certainly this is a minority). With a subscription, you can access the online content in full; but without one, you would need to buy a physical copy. I find this sort of thing problematic for variety of reasons, most directly that it creates an exclusive readership. The Times is a news publication, not a specialist interest magazine. I find the idea of limiting access to new publications troubling: news, information and opinion sources such as this should be something everyone has access to, not an exclusive elite who choose to and can afford to subscribe.

Furthermore, the broadly held opinion is that The Times is a Conservative-centric newspaper, in that its views and opinions toe a Tory school of thought. This further establishes an atmosphere of exclusivity. Of course, I’m not suggesting that newspapers with political agendas should not exist – if this was the case we’d have far fewer newspapers than we do currently. However, everyone should have the right to access these sources; and online sources allow that. They provide inclusion.

It’s dangerous, I think, to limit access to sources that pertain to provide information that is in the public interest, when not all of the public can view it.

Social Bubble

Perhaps naïvely, I don’t consider my presence online particularly far-reaching. On Facebook, my relatively small list of friends consists only of people and met and spoken to in real life; and includes fewer and fewer people I knew from school and further back with whom I have no contact any more. What I think is interesting though, with regards having or no longer having on Facebook people whose views or mutual friends you no longer share; it is easy to live in a social media bubble of our own creation. During the last general election, for example, the vast majority of my Facebook friends and everyone I follow on Twitter was vocal about their support for Labour. The result, therefore, seemed inaccurate – everyone said they were voting Labour, what happened?! I read an article once about the importance of not deleting old acquaintances who share racist/sexist/homophobic views; because doing so shields up from the real world. It’s important to maintain even those tenuous connections to keep us aware of society’s opinions at large.

My Facebook profile may be reasonably private; but my Instagram and Twitter are completely public (with the same username). I like to think I post nothing offensive, controversial or potentially damaging to my future prospects – surely I don’t? – But probably that’s what Justine Sacco thought. In relation to LinkedIn, I have a cool one connection and I think it’s unlikely I’ll be racking up business contacts in the near future.

The Comedy Industry

There are two main groups on Facebook populated and used by the UK comedy circuit: Facebook Comedy Forum and The Comedy Collectivecc. Acts – stand-ups, sketch acts, musical comedians etc – as well as bookers are members in the group, and use it to communicate easily.

For example, an act whom has rarely performed outside of the London comedy circuit but is keen to perform in Manchester, might make broad enquiries on one of these Facebook groups; leaving their request open to comments from acts and comedy clubs alike. This allows people to contact a huge number of industry fellows at once. Other acts might tag bookers they’ve worked with in the past; or when a booker requires a ‘female open spot’; a new headliner because someone has dropped out; or if a comic is looking for a fellow comedian to be driver from A to gig – these groups allow cross-industry communication on a vast and immediate scale.

Last summer in the run up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the booking rights to a free venue fell into dispute; leaving numerous acts who had assumed their rooms booked and sorted suddenly without a performance space. Platforms like the Comedy Forum and Comedy Collective subsequently provided the opportunity for acts to seek new venue spaces.fcf

The groups are fabulously useful, then, in this way. However as many social media forums are, they are open to complaints and passive-aggressive comments about members of the industry who are most likely also part of the group. In the case of #cowgateheadgate – the Edinburgh venue dispute – acts expressed annoyance, anger and upset towards bookers and festival companies, but in an indirect manner. Equally, people bitch about the quality of a gig someone might be running; or claim a comic is stealing their jokes. Of course, all of these are reasonable issues that any worker might seek to air. With social media, however – even though there is no anonymity in a group like this – the feeling of security void of consequences online media provides leads comments and complaints to become petulant and destructive. Perhaps social media cannot work effectively as an industry forum. Perhaps this is why Sara Pascoe is establishing a union.

Judge, jury and executioner

Justine Sacco was a New York PR woman: she made a joke (that she claims was a comment on white privilege), tweeted it to her 170 followers, it was retweeted and judged as being racist by somewhere with far more followers, and eight hours later it had been shared 1,220,000 times andb-cdyd5cyaigt7p she’d been sacked. The incident sparked an eight-hour long hashtag following: #hasjustinelandedyet.

The writer Jon Ronson investigates her story in his book So You’ve Been Publically Shamed. In her case, not only were people outraged, or choosing to be outraged by her comment; they were also putting it to themselves to ensure she was duly punished for it. Very public online media channels like Twitter, Reddit and 4chan allowed people – us, as Ronson notes – to do that.

What Allan suggests (in Citizen Witnessing) – and as was suggested in our first lecture – digital media can make a journalist or a news photographer out of anyone. The civilian is most often the first man on the scene:coechp4veaa9eft he sees the story, photographs the story, shares the photograph on social media – and then the online press use the picture. But what Ronson makes a point of is that is digital media can make anyone a journalist/ photographer; it can also make anyone the judge, jury and executioner. En masse, we have to power to force a company to fire an employee because we, digitally, disagree with what they say. An extract from Ronson’s book was published here in the New York Times last year – it’s worth reading.

Beyond convergence

In terms of convergence, traditional media platforms are in droves moving online. Often, this of course means ‘convergence’ – for example, BBC Radio 1 and 1xtra supplementing the radio broadcasts with online visual output: show features uploaded to YouTube etc. On a far smaller scale, the radio, both stations targeted at young and old, use social media sites like Twitter to engage and communicate with their audience – i.e. ‘tweet using the hashtag #youandyours’.

Of course, in these cases convergence is a positive thing. However, in some cases such as with BBC3, convergence becomes a singular media platform once more; with broadcasts verdict-510x260originally creating content for new and old media which are suddenly forced to narrow. After various campaigns pushing otherwise, on the 16th BBC3 will become an online-only broadcasting channel.

The Independent announced last week that it’s last print edition would on sale on the 26th March, and will subsequently be an online-only publication. Online-only publications are in such a vast number – BuzzFeed, Vice, Jezebel and so on. Does the fact that it exists on a digital mediathe-independent-logo platform make it any less reputable journalism? Does the fact that online-only journalism is so prevalent make our assumption of it as less than print media irrelevant; and that actually the differentiation is becoming obsolete? Or perhaps the differentiation is required more than ever.

This American Life

This American Life is brilliant podcast series – mother behind the Serial podcasts. In particular, I think this 2015 episode containing a feature from the writer Lindy West – If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say, SAY IT ALL IN CAPS – about her experience of online trolls is really good: interesting, and also relevant to the course in that it explores the relationship between digital social media and the anonymity it allows. You can listen to it here, or see the transcript of the podcast here. But it’s worth listening to This American Life anyway – the writers are great story tellers, and Ira Glass is a fantastic broadcaster.

I think it’s also worth pointing out, on a far broader scale; how interesting podcasts can be a media platform.logo-v5 Of course there are comedy and entertainment podcasts; but something like This American Life, while it is entertaining, I would suggest is better categorised as journalism. And this is another aspect of radio journalism and audio radio in general having to compete with such a bigger market now – perhaps this is why the BBC Radio stations also promote podcast versions of shows, to reclaim listeners lost to podcasts. Much like the statistics that say the majority of radio broadcasting listened to by young people is listened to online (both live and after broadcast); podcasts give stations another chance to gain figures.