Monthly Archives: November 2014

Final Project: What’s your Filter?- The Self Through Instagram

// Posted by Aisling on 11/28/2014 (10:13 AM)


11:12 am

As Instagram continues to rise in popularity, it is becoming another platform for people to perform and present themselves. As Instagram is inherently focused on filters, followers and likes, I believe that it will be worthwhile to… Read more



11:12 am

As Instagram continues to rise in popularity, it is becoming another platform for people to perform and present themselves. As Instagram is inherently focused on filters, followers and likes, I believe that it will be worthwhile to consider how people construct themselves within these constraints, and whether or not these constraints are actually seen as liberating (e.g. a filter may “free” someone from being pale) or constricting (e.g. a picture may require a filter to be “insta-worthy”).

11:15 am

A conversation with a friend about her bio on Instagram-

The quote on her bio was: I wish there was a way to know that you’re in “The Good Old days” before you’ve actually left them…

Although I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think about my own Instagram bio, I found this conversation to be quite interesting. My friend was very concerned with her bio (the small space underneath your account photo and your pictures), and also with what she should include in it. It’s a teensy little space but it can say so much… Or can it? Who is really looking at/ judging your Instagram bio? Isn’t Instagram all about the pictures? It also made me think about who she thought would see her bio.. Who was she trying to impress? And why would this quote do the job?

11:46 am

I got my first camera in 7th grade, and insisted on bringing it everywhere with me. I would bring it to school, vacation, soccer practice, birthday parties… pretty much anywhere that I could. I was obsessed with taking pictures. I took a lot of pictures of landscapes/ nature, but when Facebook became popular for my age group, I found that nobody really cared for my landscape pictures. However, my Instagram profile is full of nature/ landscape shots, and they actually get more “likes” than any of my other photos. I post other photos too, but for me, Instagram is a venue for me to share the different landscapes of my life.

11:55 am

Some articles

6:07 pm

The whole idea of Facebook being selfish related back to Instagram for me… The idea that we are putting our best selves forward without regard for what others’ best selves may be.

6:25 pm

One of the Instagram accounts I am looking into in depth. He is a soccer player from Bermuda who is studying business at University of Toronto.

6:31 pm

Another Instagram account that I am looking into. She is an aspiring actress from Bermuda who is studying at University of Toronto.

6:41 pm

This is another account I am using. She lives between Bermuda, London and New York. She has just transferred universities for sophomore year.

6:48 pm

This user has also sophomore year transferred. She went to a New England prep school and is originally from Los Angeles, California.

7:01 pm

This is my personal Instagram account.

7:15 pm

One thing I am curious to look into is the way that theories regarding the self, such as self-affirmation theory, relate to users’ posts and usage of Instagram. Is there a certain person that they are portraying through the square shaped images? Are their photos edited in certain, stylistic ways? And what type of photos/ posts are they? e.g. user photos, landscapes, selfies, photos of themselves, pets, memes, GIFs…. Is there a certain topic that different users’ profiles tend to gravitate towards? Are the captions serious or funny or somewhere in between?

One thing I have been thinking about alongside these questions is the fact that I myself am a user of Instagram and also personally know the majority of the users that I am focusing on. As I am a user and know the people behind the accounts quite well, it makes it quite difficult to take an objective viewpoint. Knowing the people personally gives me insights into their lives and what was going on at the time of each post. In a way it is an advantage, as I know what might have driven them to post certain things, but it is also difficult, as it can make me quite biased. However, it also gives me particular insights into the “selves” that the users seem to be projecting/ presenting on Instagram versus the selves that they are/ present in other forms of interaction.


12:22 pm

Some theories on the self:

About the book from my communications class that helped to form my topic/ ideas:

“Dramaturgical Model of Social Life”

9:37 pm

History of Instagram…

  • launched Oct 6, 2010
  • 1 million users in first 2 months
  • iPhone app of the year in 2011
  • FB buys April 2012


An article Dr. Rosatelli sent me … Tween girls and their posts on Instagram.


When I first began thinking about and working on my topic, I strongly believed that my project would lead me to a connection between Instagram and narcissism. To be honest, this had a lot to do with one of the accounts that I chose to look into, as I felt that this page was extremely self-centred and self-promoting. This Instagram did play a part in my decision to pursue this topic, so it is fair to say that I was initially biased concerning the expected outcome. When I submitted my proposal, I included several articles and studies linking Instagram and narcissism. Dr. Rosatelli cautioned me against this assumption, and encouraged me to let the research guide me to my findings. I followed her suggestion, and forced myself to look at my research project with a fresh eye.

Something that helped me to do this was an article I read while doing research in a communication class. I read an article about Facebook as a venue for the presentation of our true selves, and was very interested in this idea. Facebook isn’t narcissistic? I was intrigued. I thought that their argument made sense, a strong point being that we cannot be an idealized version of ourselves on Facebook because our friends (both online and offline) regulate our posts. Our friends would be confused if we claimed to be happily dating a supermodel on our Facebook page if in fact we were struggling through a divorce. I wanted to take this idea and see if I could apply it to Instagram, and in specific my final project.

As I was leafing through some of my communication notes, I had an idea. I looked back on some readings we had done earlier in the semester concerning Erving Goffman’s theory on the presentation of the self in everyday life. This theory stuck out to me, as it focused on the theatrical or dramaturgical aspects of the way that we present ourselves. The way that we perform ourselves. In the sense that we are able to control and perfect what we post, Instagram becomes a performance. So, I decided to apply Goffman’s theory to the presentation of the self on Instagram, in an effort to understand how Instagram could function in a similar way to the theory of Facebook. How Instagram could actually be a presentation of our actual selves.

I used Goffman’s theory to liken different aspects of Instagram to the theatrical elements of Instagram. Similarly to how Dr. Rosatelli cautioned me not to assume links with narcissism, I didn’t want to force this theory onto Instagram if it didn’t work out. However, I found that the theory made a lot of sense with Instagram, and I was able to make some interesting connections between the two.

To help gain some insight on basic Instagram use, I created a quick survey on My survey can be found here I asked my peers several questions, such as whether or not they use filters, and what the most important aspects of Instagram were for them. The majority of people who took the survey had between 100 and 200 posts on their account. 81% of people had other apps that they used to edit posts prior to Instagram,  and 75% of responders mostly or always used filters. Over 50% of the people who took the survey said that the amount of likes received per photo was the most important to them, while the quality of photos posted was second most important. Thus, most people use filters and mostly care about the amount of likes that they receive per photo. Although this data may seem to be incongruent with my statement that Instagram is a presentation of the self, as it highlights the “edit to perfection” mindset, I believe that it actually helps to strengthen my point. People put so much time and effort into their Instagram posts not because they are working to create their idealized selves, but because it is a representation of themselves. People edit, fuss, and care so much about their posts because they are looking to perform themselves in the most accurate way. Just as people may perfect your style of clothing in order to express yourselves, people perfect their style of editing and posting.

Overall, I am glad that I was cautioned away from my initial assumptions, as letting the research shape my thoughts and conclusions made for a very interesting project and experience.



Categories: Uncategorized

Back to Nature: The Final Experience

// Posted by Damian on 11/26/2014 (12:40 PM)

Well, believe it or not, this is it. It feels like it was just yesterday that we were on LA Live Chat talking about Digimon and Full House. Since then, we’ve had some great experiences, from the cybersecurity simulation to

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Well, believe it or not, this is it. It feels like it was just yesterday that we were on LA Live Chat talking about Digimon and Full House. Since then, we’ve had some great experiences, from the cybersecurity simulation to the digital divide experiment to the #CleanURlake movement. I remember the pressure that my group felt in putting together the second experience after Dr. Rosatelli covered the first; to have to move in a completely different direction, planning an activity without knowing exactly how it would turn out and to an extent setting the bar for groups to come was intimidating. But in actuality, there was no reason to harbor such fears, as the class grew with every experience. I had high hopes for how the experiences would turn out, when students used their creative abilities to put together a truly amazing, memorable experience that would leave a lasting message, but I could not have imagined they would be so effective a learning tool and so memorable in the long run. With such sweeping success as the backdrop, the group tasked with putting together the final project was under an enormous amount of pressure, just as my group was in putting together the first student-run experience. The only difference is that while the pressure we had felt was in setting the bar, the final experience had to manage to exceed the high level to which the bar had been raised over the past three months.
For the most part, the plan put forth for the final experience did commendably in meeting the high expectations, though it, like any other experience, did not go 100% perfectly or as intended. Nonetheless, the questions raised, as per usual, were immensely valuable and it is of the utmost importance that they be considered. In fact, this final unit as a whole pushes us to ask ourselves questions about what it means to be in the digital age, and whether the implications of that are as positive as we had always believed them to be. We began this course by experiencing the simple, transcendent joys of cyberutopianism. Now the veil is pulled back and we realize that everything is not what it seems, that these wonderful new digital technologies may not be as wonderful as we thought. But, lest I should digress, we will get to that a bit later. Before then, I want to analyze specifically this final experience and the questions raised and how it applies to the unit.
The intention of this experience was to gather students, simply enough, at the James River for a picnic; but as with every experience, there is always a catch. Luckily this time, the catch was not as stressful as—just as a hypothetical example—having to run to the law library to research digital copyright. The first half of the class involved simply sitting by the river and talking, while enjoying some delicious snacks, a pretty perfect experience on a sunny day with highs in the 70s. The catch, then, was that halfway through, our phones would be taken away, so that we could analyze how the conversation changed and discuss what that means for digital technologies and their impact on communication. It was a deceptively simple plan with very meaningful implications, but it did not completely work as planned, for several reasons.
As we were driving back to campus from the river and Emily explained the purpose of the experience and what she and her group had wanted us to take away from it, I realized that the conversation had not really changed too much—or not in a manner that could be easily and directly attributable to the presence or absence of our phones—and I began to think about the reasons why such might be the case. As I pointed out to the others, it is difficult to pull off such an experiment during the course of a class period, since the conversation we would be having would be different from any normal conversation, a form of class participation as opposed to merely a voluntary social encounter. The difference between the two must doubtless contribute to the discrepancy between expected results and the actual results. Speaking from experience, though I may from time to time pull my phone out in any normal conversation amongst friends, knowing that I was taking part in a class project shifted my attention and my focus solely to participating and being present, not distracted by my phone, which I figured would hurt my grade anyway. When the fear of a lower grade impedes the casual use of a cell phone, the results of such an experiment as laid out by the group will not be as intended.
This is not to say, however, that this experience was bad; because I was extremely impressed with the group’s ability to turn a simple picnic at the river into something much more meaningful. I am not honestly sure what more I could have thought up, and I am sure that the rest of the class would likely agree. Coming up with an experience is difficult enough in a normal classroom setting; having to do so at the river and make the setting seem logical as opposed to contrived is another challenge altogether, and I commend the group for managing to make it work as they did, even if the results, as I explained before, were not as expected, for a variety of factors including the matter of grading and class participation.
So what were the expected results? Perhaps before delving into that issue, it is important to understand the two texts underpinning these key questions about digital technologies and communication. Sherry Turkle contends in her op-ed “The Flight from Conversation” that while we may live in a “technological universe in which we are always communicating… we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection” and that we are now effectively “alone together.” She paints a disturbing picture of the twenty-first century landscape, in which friends and family members lose the ability to communicate face-to-face, eye-to-eye, in which they fall back upon the comfort of their phone to divert their attention from the uncomfortable nature of genuine conversation with another human being. As if her dystopian point of view were not terrifying enough, she writes of an encounter she witnessed between an elderly woman and a robot, and the fact that the woman was comforted by the machine. “[W]e… collectively seem to have embraced,” Turkle writes, “a new kind of delusion that accepts the simulation of compassion as sufficient unto the day.” To Turkle, such a development is an indication of the fact that humans may well have “lost confidence that we will be there for one another.” The ties that once bound humanity together in conversation now seem are now being broken by digitization.
Zeynep Tufekci disagrees. “Social-media users,” she insists, “are having more conversations with people—online and off!” In her estimation, the fears of individuals like Turkle are overblown. Digital technologies “are not displacing face-to-face socializing—on average, they are making them stronger.” For shy individuals, for instance, digitization opens new pathways to conversation that might not have been opened heretofore. Tufekci goes on to argue that minimizing the use of Facebook or Twitter might even leave a person at a “major disadvantage,” like someone who could not use the telephone in the late 20th century.
I would love to be able to stand on Tufekci’s side, as she offers such a beautifully idealistic vision of the digital age, but I cannot. I am in the Turkle camp. I recall vividly my first moments here on campus, at freshman orientation. We were grouped into orientation groups, and we would all eat meals together at the dining hall. It was an admittedly awkward experience, since I had nothing in common with most of these people. But whereas in a different decade I might have sucked it up and been forced to engage in dialogue with my peers, I took out my phone and texted. It was easier than looking up, making eye contact and small-talking my way into a conversation. And I wasn’t alone; everyone did the same. For the better part of a week, my meals consisted of getting together in a large group, sitting at a table together, and then taking out our phones and ignoring each other throughout the meal. We truly were alone together.
It is a terribly depressing viewpoint, and I am loath to consider the world so darkly, but to some extent it’s undeniable that Turkle is right. The human connections we once shared and valued in our society have been undone and superseded to a degree by connections with digital technologies and artificial intelligence. Tufekci insists when we text or use iMessage, we are talking to a real person, as opposed to a bot, and she’s right; but what is the difference? When conversing on iMessage, some of the most pivotal components of genuine communication are eschewed, from eye contact to body language. Even phone calls, which eschew those components as well, enable an understanding and exercise of meaningful tone of voice instead of the cold monotony of a text message. When someone texts you “Okay,” do you know how they’re feeling? That message can be placed in context to help understand the feelings, but the true emotional connection, communicated through tone, is gone. A person might as well be communicating with a bot at that point, and that’s the disturbing point here. Tufekci insists that for “shy” individuals, these digital technologies enable a healthy alternative to face-to-face communication, but I don’t see it that way. Text messaging is barely human communication, so should we be justifying it as an alternative to actual conversation and socialization, and—as I am wont to ask— what are the implications?
I have written rather extensive responses, and my response to this unit, and just the core questions raised by the Turkle/Tufekci debate, could be longer than all of my previous responses combined, but I think it’s wise to temper my loquaciousness and keep this at a moderate length. Nonetheless, I do want to elaborate on the wrongness of Tufekci’s assertions, from personal experience, and I want to return to some of the early ideas we discussed, specifically regarding social networking.
danah boyd in “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately” analyzes the context collapse of the Internet and the imagined audience on social networking mediums like Twitter and Facebook. Imagined audiences and “authenticity,” boyd finds, are extremely subjective notions. How can we possibly aim at our tweets and Facebook posts at every group of individuals who will read them? Though outside of the digital realm, in the confines of the physical, we are able to change the way we communicate based upon the context in which we find ourselves, the Internet leaves us with a far more trying task, of convincing a litany of diverse individuals to interpret our posts as authentic. I find almost everything about this discussion to be troubling, for reasons so wide-reaching and intimidatingly broad in scope that I will not attempt to handle each and every point.
I am a conscientious objector when it comes to social networking. I tweet for the Digital America Journal, but that’s the extent of my involvement in Twitter or Facebook. I avoid them like the plague, and though I once used Snapchat, I have also turned away from “selfies,” embarrassed that I ever indulged that side of myself. When boyd discusses the fact that we change our personalities based on those by whom we are surrounded at a certain point in time, that only serves to affirm my position that social networking is far from the positive force it is so often purported to be. There is a sort of superficiality to contemporary communication, perhaps not unlike the communication seen in previous decades and centuries, but the notion that an individual can be one person at one moment and another the next seems inherently inauthentic. In fact, considering the way humans go about communicating, and the manner in which social networking has served to bolster those practices, I would question whether authenticity is even an achievable end, or simply an artificial allusion towards which narcissistic social networkers work.
Yes, narcissism. This specific facet of my beliefs on social networking is one that has at times gotten me into some trouble with my girlfriend, but she probably won’t read this… I abstain from social networking largely because of the narcissism of it all. In her research, boyd does not ask why these Twitter users believe they deserve followers. She does not ask why these Twitter users have an imagined audience, as if they were the performers, meant to be the center of other individuals’ attention. I said in class that mediums of online social networking are inherently selfish, but I was wrong. I am not a technological determinist; I do not see the Internet as inherently democratic, and I don’t see social networking sites as inherently narcissistic. So I corrected my statement. Humans are inherently narcissistic. It’s not that our self-centered nature emerged from a vacuum, suddenly manifesting itself as an unprecedented phenomenon due to the Internet and these websites. Human narcissism has always been evident, from cave paintings to scrolls to The Catcher in the Rye, and now, to Facebook pages. I’m making quite the statement here, and it requires an extensive sociological examination that would take away from the central focus of this response, but at least that’s an idea to chew on for a bit. What matters is that regardless of the historical context in which this selfishness emerges, it has emerged, and we must ask ourselves what this means for humanity. Further, we must ask why we should indulge it with social networking accounts.
On a surface level, one could confuse Twitter or Facebook for something substantially more other-directed. For those who “lurk” on these sites, simply monitoring what is occurring in the lives of their friends and acquaintances, such actions could not be narcissistic, could they? In fact, I would contend they are. When we “lurk,” are we doing so out of a genuine care and concern for the lives of others, or are we doing so because we want something to which to aspire? Even worse, are we doing so because we want to feel better about ourselves? When we see images of students with whom we graduated high school and they are a drunken mess or have a baby, do we secretly feel better about ourselves? Does it boost our morale to see another individual brought down to earth? Is “lurking” really any better than seeking out attention with superfluous posts and extensive collections of selfies? And what about online activism? Isn’t that most certainly other-directed? Certainly, while no answer here should be construed from an amalgam of generalizations, I would like to think movements like Kony 2012 would have been more successful, rather than fizzling out in the course of a couple of months. Do social networkers have a serious commitment to the causes they follow or post about online, or is that, too, a selfish social statement?
I see social competition in everything that we do, a sort of false socialization that serves not to bring people closer, but to push them apart. From boys at the University of Richmond working out rigorously to tacit competitions to gain the most followers with beautiful Instagram images edited so meticulously as to remove any sense of authentic—there’s that word again—imperfect life and warmth. While much of this competition is unavoidable, I go out of my way to avoid those that are not, and social networking is one of them. I have no interest in competing with someone who pretends to be my friend for the purposes of proving that my Instagram pictures are the nicest, or my tweets are the wittiest, or my Facebook profile preferences are the most sophisticated. I have no interest in making posts to prove that my life is fun and that other people should be envious and want to be me. I enjoy life and I do so on my own terms, without the paranoid need to show it off to the world, and it puts me at no disadvantage contrary to Tufekci’s concerns. I occasionally hear about friends who post images on Facebook of their significant others and they share all of these special moments of their lives, and that is great, but they should have put the phone down and enjoyed a beautiful moment in life without thinking about their phones or about showing it off to anyone else. Turkle really is correct; digital technologies have pervaded our lives to an unhealthy and unfortunate extent.
That pervasion was as clearly evident in this experience as it is in real life, but that is not to say that the experience failed to raise the important questions. Obviously, it has raised those questions, and then some. Do conversations outside of the classroom change thanks to the presence of phones? Absolutely. Pregnant pauses end up being covered up by the tapping of thumbs against phone screens. Glances are diverted away from one another and towards the empty images on our iPhones, and silence overtakes the whole conversation.
And ultimately, that’s where the bigger picture comes into play, not only with regards to the negative implications of the digital age for communication, but the negative implications for everything.
What, for example, does social networking and digitization mean for the basic right to privacy? Anders Albrechtslund contends that “surveillance… is fundamentally social,” that as humans we have a natural propensity towards the surveillance of one another and the enabling of others to engage in surveillance of their own. Though I never like to assume I know better than anyone else—especially a scholar with years of research, training, and experience—I cannot agree with his assessment, which arguably misconstrues socialization, defining it erroneously in a manner that betrays a sort of misunderstanding of the term itself. The concept of socialization should be broken into two basic spheres: indeed, there is a sort of surveillance component—if we wish to call it surveillance—in which private information is willingly shared and disseminated. But Albrechtslund’s thesis falls apart there, because he stops at surveillance and ignores an equally pivotal component: privacy. Just as every individual has a right to share information about their lives in the social sphere, so too do they have a right to keep certain information hidden, and no one can argue that social networking sites are promoting such privacy rights. Reading through Twitter’s privacy policy, several points become clear. “We collect and use your information below to provide our Services and to measure and improve them over time.” In other words, Twitter takes your private information, grants access to that information to third-party enterprises and makes advertisements more personalized. Improving and measuring services sounds so much better than tracking your information to customize ads. But here’s the real kicker: The notion that Twitter and other social networks are merely selling you a product is wrong. Twitter is selling you, because you are the product. Certainly, such an invasion of privacy is not respectful to the foundations of true, positive socialization. I am sure that Albrechtslund would not endeavor to justify the surveillance of a large corporation as opposed to other individuals, but the problem with social networking is that the surveillance cannot be controlled. Your information can be accessed by anyone, from credit card information to Social Security numbers to the number of drinks you had at that party last Friday, and that neither respects privacy rights nor what it means to socialize healthily. A balance must be carefully maintained, and digital technologies are failing to do so.
And then there are the physical implications of digitization, and this is a compelling argument I had never before considered, but it is of utmost importance and must therefore enter the national—and international—dialogue. As Giles Slade argues in “Made to Break,” computers, phones, and other digital technologies constitute a contemporary form of the decades-old practice of planned obsolescence. Sure, we understand that every September, Apple is going to come out with the next iPhone, barely any different from the year prior, and millions upon millions of iPhones will be exchanged, but we don’t really know what happens next. We don’t understand that those phones are actually toxic and go somewhere—or maybe we just don’t want to. My phone, if I chose to recycle it or trade it in, would go to Ghana or Delhi or Guiyu, China, where children would burn it to extract the metals, all the while coming into contact with materials that are toxic and deadly and scar their skin. The difference between me and the rest of the population is that I will milk this phone for all it’s worth, until the iPhone 10 is released and I am carrying the equivalent of an old brick phone, and that is fine with me. Even afterwards I will not trade it in or recycle it, now that I know where it will go, but in time, this phone has to go somewhere; it cannot stay with me forever, and the fact of the matter is that the product design itself and the materials used to create it are not conducive to a healthy environment. What will decades of this abuse do to our environment, and how can we let it happen? Further, how can we ignore the bloody wars taking place in the Congo over the mineral Coltan, necessary to construct our precious devices? If we express such revulsion at the concept of blood diamonds, how can we use these blood devices, that have cost so many Africans their lives?
As a means to the end of solving the problems with smart phones, Google is working on Project Ara, to design a phone in which all the parts are interchangeable and only the pieces need to be replaced, not the phone itself. Is it a noble intention? I would assume, lest I should begin to cynically doubt their motivations, but will it work to solve any of these problems? No. Those pieces will take up less space in the dangerously makeshift landfill they will inhabit in China or India, but they will nonetheless stack up, continuing to pose a threat to the environment. They will continue to incorporate Coltan, relying on the mineral that has proven so deadly for the Congo. No problems will be solved, but the phone will look nice and sound nice enough, and money will be made.
This is really the culmination of a major shift I have experienced during the course of this class. I came in—in all honesty—considering digitization with contempt, looking down on smart phones and social networking. The idealism and the cyberutopianism of the first unit got me thinking that maybe I was wrong; maybe the Internet can be a transcendent place where individuals can come together and socialize and find greater meaning and make something amazing out of a blank canvas. It was very exciting, especially after the positive experiences in the LA Live Chat room. But unit two changed things. Suddenly, these technologies seemed to have troubling implications with regards to our privacy—that would be the first time that idea popped up, but as you know from reading this response, it would not be the last—and our security. Unit three really shifted my thinking by raising awareness of the naiveté inherent in “New Economy” ideologies and cyberlibertarianism as practiced in fiscal policy. Allowing corporations to run amok online—and offline—has had startlingly negative repercussions for this country, and it certainly has not democratized as promised. By unit four, then, I was jaded and began to turn against the Internet once again. I doubted that cyberactivism would ever accomplish any of the ends towards which it is used to work, and now, in unit five, I have come full circle.
I do not mean to make it sound as though this class affirmed my dislike of digital technologies and provided no fuller context. In fact, while I am lukewarm on any cyberutopian notions, I still do see glimpses of hope. Perhaps one of those glimpses is inherent in the fact that so many of the problems that have manifested themselves in the digital age are problems that manifested themselves in different ways in different times. When Mark Poster in Information Please speaks of materialism, he writes that “without media the activity of consumption and the figure of the consumer do not take on their current status as major aspects of social life,” but he paints a more hopeful picture for digital media. “Digital media,” he writes, “radically transform both the cultural object and the subject position of the consumer” (244). By rendering the consumer a “user,” and by enabling all users to become creators of cultural objects—through mimicry or alteration of existing objects, or even creation of their own—the Internet opens the doorway to a new form of consumerism so liberating in nature as to lend itself to something other than consumerism, a system in which consumers become creators. Copyright laws, he contends, have been put in place to defend the established consumerist norms; so is the problem really digital media, or the laws that serve to minimize the freedoms of Internet users?
The consumerist society in which we live is one that has been created by conditions that existed before digital media, and conditions that may well exist if we reach a technological point at which we transcend cyberspace. Consumerism, materialism, and planned obsolescence are not created by the Internet. Narcissism is not created by Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat. Economic inequality is not created by a digitalized economy. Abusive government oversight is not a product of the Internet. A weakening of communication skills and a lessening of true socialization is not merely created by the digital age. The Internet is not inherently democratic—or inherently ANYTHING—but it does have the potential to do good if we use it that way, and perhaps that is what I didn’t understand coming into the class; but I recognize it now. If we used the Internet correctly, if we reignited our zeal for activism, for engagement that effects a true change, as opposed to giving into slacktivism and meaningless support for subsequently short-lived movements, if we became more informed about consumerism and planned obsolescence and where our phone pieces came from and where they’re going, if we thought more consciously about the implications of our social networking, and if we fought for privacy rights, could it be a positive force?
I may be leaving the class with feelings similar to those I harbored going in, but that ignores the fuller picture. I needed to experience the full-circle shift over the course of the semester. I needed to see the bright side, the hopeful roots of our society’s techno-optimism, needed to start buying in, and then I needed to have the rug pulled out from underneath me. I needed to see the real reasons why cyberutopianism is so likely an impossible ideal. I needed to recognize more deeply why I opposed digitization in some of the forms it takes. I came in resentful of social networking, fearing the Internet, but not always understanding why. Now I leave understanding the negative implications in a political sense, an economic sense, an environmental sense, in terms of privacy rights, in terms of human rights—a term which perhaps should not even be used if you are in the Poster camp—in terms of activism. I understand on a broader scale what is wrong with digitization; but I also understand what is right. I understand why there is reason to have hope, why not everything is bleak.
As a nation and as an international community we should be engaging in a dialogue—enabled by the Internet no less—about the positives and negatives of digitization, where it will lead us if we continue on our current trajectory. But first, we have to put down our phones for a minute, return to nature, remember where it all came from, where we were before modern technological advancements. Maybe have a picnic by the river.
Sorry if the spacing is off; for some reason this won’t allow me to leave extra space between paragraphs… And for my documentation, here is my final YouTube video:

Categories: Assignments
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Experience 5: At the James

// Posted by Elizabeth on 11/26/2014 (12:18 PM)

I knew that our final experience on Monday would be unique and cool, because it was required that it take place at the James River. But the simplicity of the project was even better than I expected. We were each… Read more


I knew that our final experience on Monday would be unique and cool, because it was required that it take place at the James River. But the simplicity of the project was even better than I expected. We were each asked to bring a snack to share, and we basically had a class picnic. We drove to the river and walked around to check out the area for a few minutes. We then found a nice rock, laid out our blankets, sat in a circle and, quite simply, chatted. And snacked. Again, it wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was great.

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The beautiful river provided a great setting for our last experience.

Then, about halfway through our time at Pony Pasture, the announcement I had been waiting for came: Nicola collected our phones, and Emily explained that for the second half of the experience we’d be asked not to check or use them in any way. The goal, we found out later, was to evaluate how or if the difference would change our conversation and see if it could reveal something about the effects of smartphones and social media on our daily lives.

I really didn’t notice anyone in our class that was attached to their phone during the first half of our conversation. Our attention was certainly directed towards the snacks in the middle of the circle, but we were mostly engaged and listened to each other as we spoke about TV shows, our futures as liberal arts majors, the upcoming holidays, the dominance of coffee shop chains like Dunkin’ Donuts and all the awesome stuff to do in the city of Richmond.

I actually think that in this particular experience, we really provided support for Tufekci’s argument that social media and portable digital devices are not the problem, and that there may be bigger issues in our society that undermine connection and relationships. We were able to hold a consistent and interesting conversation that involved nodding and eye contact, and while we didn’t necessarily discuss anything very profound, I didn’t feel like we were just making small talk, either.

I think there are two reasons why our experience was so successful in avoiding the distractions of social media. First, I think that the small, discussion-based character of our class, and the fact that we’ve all worked together in even smaller groups in our experiences, made it easy for us to talk casually. That I’m comfortable speaking in front of the eight of us about deep, theoretical academic texts makes it much easier to chat nonchalantly with everyone without it feeling forced.

Second, As Damian mentioned on our ride back to campus, I think we were all still partially in the “class” mindset, so I wasn’t eager to check my phone even during the first half of the experience. I remember sending a few texts in the back seat of Dr. Rosatelli’s car on the ride there, and thinking that it was a little odd to be texting in front of my professor. When we arrived at the river, I considered leaving it in the back seat until I heard someone remind us to bring our phones so we can keep track of the time. Thus, in general, I think that we really avoided the “problem” of social media and a lack of connection that Turkle so passionately promotes, and I didn’t honestly see a significant difference in the quality or character of our conversation after our phones were forbidden.

But it’s also true that when my phone isn’t right next to me, especially in an outdoor and theoretically less phone-friendly setting, I am often looking for it or wondering where it is and if it’s safe. There were certainly multiple jokes made while we were there about phones dropping in the river, coupled with frantic pocket or bag checks just to make sure that the iPhone was safe and sound, for real. Perhaps you could say that I feel lost without my phone, but I think that might be an exaggeration. If I leave my phone at home, or if I had left it behind in the car, I might not worry about it or even think about it. While it is a conscious choice and I sometimes have to remind myself of the value of being “tuned out” or “off the grid,” I actually can appreciate not being attached to my phone.

I say all this, and then this evening as I sat at a restaurant with five of my high school friends, I noticed that for at least 5 minutes about halfway through our dinner all of us were staring at our phones. And these are some of my very best friends that I haven’t seen in a couple of months! It was a sad moment, and I must admit that our discussions in Digital America came to mind.

The truth is, I think, that Turkle and Tufekci both make powerful arguments, which is certainly a conclusion we reached in class. I see ways that Turkle is right, and its scary to think that my friends and I couldn’t just enjoy each other’s company and forget about the texts from our college friends for a few hours of catching up.

This video popped up a few times on my Facebook newsfeed (How ironic!) a few weeks ago, and I think it fits in well with this debate:

I certainly think it’s telling that this is spreading around. Maybe Turkle is right, and I think that the negative effect of social media and digital technology on our ability to form long-term memories is frightening. But social media and smartphones definitely aren’t going away, and just like I didn’t want to be “that girl” that called out all of my friends last night at dinner for being on their phones, I feel pretty hopeless to solve this problem. How can I accuse someone else of checking his or her texts in the middle of a conversation, when I know that I constantly do it too? What’s the solution?

Predictably, as I say in many of my experience reflections, I think my solution to the danger of connectedness making us more selfish and separated is awareness and self-reflection. As I mentioned, I feel fairly confident that I have the ability to disconnect and leave my phone behind when I need to. But I could certainly improve, and maybe not pull out my phone at what should have been an exciting and engaging reunion of old friends. I’m not sure there’s a way to restrict time spent on social media for everyone, but perhaps with more knowledge of Turkle’s beliefs, people would be willing to do so on their own. Then, maybe, it would be easier to evaluate Tufekci’s argument and see whose proposal really holds more weight in everyday life.

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Experience #5 Where is my phone?

// Posted by Brendan on 11/26/2014 (11:21 AM)

I feel as if I did not get to accurately participate in our most recent experience. Over the weekend, my phone broke and as of class Monday, I had yet to get a replacement. I had been phoneless for over… Read more


I feel as if I did not get to accurately participate in our most recent experience. Over the weekend, my phone broke and as of class Monday, I had yet to get a replacement. I had been phoneless for over 24 hours at the time. So when we were asked to give away our phone halfway through the experience, I had no phone to turn in and felt a little disappointed.

That said, I believe I was still able to produce a relevant reaction out of the experience. Initially, I was quite curious as to what our experience would be entail. The only information I had beforehand was that we would be going to Pony Pasture by the James River, that I should reread the Tufecki and Turtle readings and that I would be required to bring chips and salsa. We arrived at Pony Pasture, found a relatively quiet place with a nice flat rock to man and set up a picnic of sorts. Looking around I could tell my classmates were just as curious as I was about why we were having a picnic at the river in a Digital America class. Oh the irony. After some initial hesitation by all parties, the shared food, which included brownies, popcorn, fruit and munchkins, was passed around and a bit of conversation began to develop.

I cannot remember the exact nature and timeline of our conversation. Unfortunately, being phoneless for the duration of the experience prevented me from differentiating between the two parts. Topics that I recall being discussed included: our college majors, the value of a liberal arts degree, Chipotle, our professor’s experiences in Colorado and starting a company, working while in school, and differences between student life in Australia and at Richmond. Looking back on the beginning of the experience, I am impressed with the swiftness that our group dropped the awkwardness of the situation and delved into conversation. I feel that Dr. Rosatelli’s contributions to the discussion probably helped move the conversation along, but I thought the rest of our group did so sufficiently.

I know that I personally felt quite engaged in our discussions, and never really felt distracted. It leaves me to wonder just how different the experience would have been for me had I had a working phone on me. I know that I am the type of person who constantly checks their phone during pauses in conversation or when the attention is on others. I believe that the my complete lack of phone was the most influential part of this. When I have my phone on me, I am constantly reminded of its presence whether it is through a notification I receive or just the physical feeling of the phone in my pocket. Because I knew that I didn’t have a phone with me, I was not being reminded of its presence, and was able to focus my attention on the group conversation without feeling interrupted.

When it was announced that phones would be turned in for the second half of the experience, I tried to pay more attention to my classmates and notice the changes in their behavior, seeing as I couldn’t really judge the change in mine. Although I did not notice others being distracted by their phones during the first part of the experience, I felt that in the second half, some of my classmates were more active in the conversation than they had previously. I cannot say that this is a direct cause of not having one’s phone on their person, but I am led to believe that it part of the reason. Like I said, I think the presence of phone on one’s person can be both a physical and mental distraction. When you remove it from the equation, a person is freer to remove themselves from their reliance on their phone, which gives evidence to Turkle’s argument.

Our final experience proved to be both a rewarding lesson and an enjoyable time. Being able to get out of the classroom on such a beautiful day in November was a pleasant surprise. When our class time was ending, I didn’t want to leave. I was having a wonderful time and could have spent the rest of the afternoon on the rock with the rest of our Digital America class. It was a fitting moment of Zen before we get into the trials and tribulations of our upcoming final projects and I am certainly thankful for that this Thanksgiving week.

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Connected, but alone? – Final group experience

// Posted by Nicola on 11/25/2014 (11:29 PM)

In the digital age, we are constantly connected. Whether it be via email, Twitter, Facebook or texting the rapid advents in technology has made it extremely easy to remain in touch with friends, family and even strangers. Consequently, these… Read more


In the digital age, we are constantly connected. Whether it be via email, Twitter, Facebook or texting the rapid advents in technology has made it extremely easy to remain in touch with friends, family and even strangers. Consequently, these social networking tools have become a mainstay in many of our lives. Heaven forbid if the Internet was to momentarily lapse. However, as we become increasingly connected via these sites, are we actually becoming isolated from one another? This is a fascinating question and problem that has been the focus of much debate in the 21st Century.

After meeting with my group we delineated about how to construct an experience around these pertinent issues. While I for one was under the impression that it would be easy coming up with an idea, given our constant use of the media, it proved more difficulty than expected. The requirement that our experience would have to take places at the James River also proved problematic. How would we emulate the notion of “connected, but alone” there? And what about the weather…November is not exactly an ideal time to spend an afternoon by a large mass of water. However, we drew links between being out in nature (a natural environment), and how it stood in stark contrast to being online (a man-made, constructed environment).  Thus, our idea of a ‘Picnic Potluck at Pony Pasture’ was born. Building upon the concept “connected, but alone” we essentially decided that we were going to sit, have a picnic, and talk to one another for about twenty minutes. However, in order to assess whether there were in fact any differences when you remove technology altogether, we would then collect everyone’s phone, meditate for about two minutes to get them “in the nature zone” and continue the conversation. The ultimate goal was to test Turkle and Tufekci’s theories. Would the conversation deeper in the absence of phones? Did people have more to talk about when they were able to bring things on their phones into the conversation? Was anyone anxious about not having his or her phone, and did that anxiety impact the quality of the conversation?

While we had worried that the cool (or worse rainy) weather would somewhat derail our experience, the sun was out in full force! We couldn’t have asked for a better day. As we sat near the river eating the spread of snacks it was interesting to note the lack of phone usage. I had anticipated greater use, but as Damian noted afterwards, because we were still technically in class, he felt that he shouldn’t be using his phone. In fact, the only ones to use their phone at all during the first twenty minutes were my fellow group members. Personally, I wanted to snapchat and take photos. Not only do I generally take many photos on my phone, but I felt that having a picnic by the river for class was such a novel thing to do that I wanted to share it with my friends both in Richmond and back home in Australia. The beautiful day only made the pictures even more attractive!

One of several snapchats I took

Just a quick photo

Nevertheless, all class members chatted freely and the conversation that emerged was engaging and interesting. We discussed a whole range of subject areas and there weren’t any noticeable lags. Our ability to maintain a conversation with one another both with and without our phones would seem to affirm Tufekci’s argument that social media and technology is not hindering our ability to communicate IRL. After all, she claims that there is no difference between online and offline, everything is real life.  However, at times our conversation did seem to jump around quickly from one topic to another. It was as if the nature of our conversation mimicked the very nature of how we communicate online. That is, in short spurts rather than in depth discussions (think of the limited 140s characters on Twitter or the innumerable threads on blogs). Thus, Turkle’s assertion that social media is having a real effect on how we interact is fare more persuasive.

Moreover, when the phones were taken away, even though I had not been using it constantly, I did feel strange and oddly unsettled. I found myself double-checking every so often to see where it had gone. In fact, had the food not been there, (acting as somewhat of a distraction) perhaps I would have become even more restless! Again, my behavior certainly affirms Turkle’s view that not only are we becoming increasingly reliant on technology, but also it is, along with social media, changing the way we act and think. As she notes, “We want to be with each other but also elsewhere.”

The goods

In terms of documentation, I was heavily reliant on my iPhone. As previously mentioned, I took photos and snapchats in the first twenty minutes of both the surrounding environment and (I’m ashamed to admit) of the spread of food (see images below). As New Media theorist (and a member of the Turkle camp) Nick Carr would argue, I was essentially looking to my devices to offload my experience and memories rather than actually putting these cultural and interpersonal experiences in long-term memory. However, as the conversation progressed I found myself documenting less and less. After all, when a conversation is engaging one doesn’t feel the need to check or use their phones. As a result, I did not document as much as in previous experiences, particularly once our phones were taken away!

Ultimately, the nature of constant connection in the digital age raises some troubling questions and presents serious issues regarding how we communicate. Despite Tufekci’s compelling and valid argument of the positive role of this new technology, I do find myself leaning closer to the mindset of the Turkle camp. While our experience may not have truly highlighted the changes in our communication, as a young adult immersed within this world I have definitely noticed the shift in the way my peers and I interact. It is a shame too, because as this experience reminded me, being out in nature surrounded by good company and good food trumps chatting online any day.

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Pony Pasture Potluck Picnic Party

// Posted by Aisling on 11/25/2014 (10:49 PM)

How many times have you sat down for a meal and noticed that half of the people at the table are on their phones? Or when was the last time you were talking to someone and realized that they were… Read more


How many times have you sat down for a meal and noticed that half of the people at the table are on their phones? Or when was the last time you were talking to someone and realized that they were paying more attention to the feed on their phone? At least from my own experiences, I have sat down at that table far too many times, and often feel frustrated when I am trying to talk to someone and they care more about what’s going on with their phone. And I can’t that I am not guilty of doing either myself.

For our Experience #5, we wanted to focus on the theories provided by Turkle and Tufekci. Turkle focuses on the idea that connection replaces communication, while Tufekci believes that social media is strengthening connectivity and communication. It was important for us that the experience be relatively fun, as it was our last one and also had to take place at the James River. Somewhat inspired by a conversation that Nicola and I had earlier in class that day about Australian Instagrams, we thought it would be interesting to compare conversations when we did have our phones versus when we did not. We thought about walking around the area or venturing out to the rocks, but ultimately decided to have a picnic at the river. While donut holes and brownies are certainly fun, food is often a good topic of conversation and connection, so we thought that it would be appropriate to incorporate it into our conversation based class. We called it the Pony Pasture Picnic Potluck Party.

James River.

Once we arrived at the river, we spent a few minutes walking through the trails in search of the perfect (and least “nature” smelling) rock for our picnic. We found a rock, and spread a few blankets across it. We then put out the food and sat around the rock.

Our group had thought of ways to incorporate phones into conversation, and I think Emily was trying to do this when she asked me if I had any pictures from my trip to Toronto. Although nobody ended up being interested in the pictures, I thought that it was a good attempt to begin and focus a conversation around a piece of technology.

The idea of a conversation centered around a piece of technology certainly came up during the first 20 minutes, although I didn’t find it to be an extremely significant part of the conversation. I don’t remember what exactly she was showing  people, but I do remember Nicola using her phone to show people pictures of what we had been talking about. Tufekci states, “Social media is enhancing human connectivity as people can converse in ways that were once not possible.” (Tufekci, The Atlantic) I think that this notion was present here, as the addition of the ability to access images instantly added another dynamic to the conversation in order to help the understanding on both sides. In this way, the phone was useful to the conversation and provided a topic for further talking and comprehension of the subject.

However, more so than the way that phones were important to the conversation, I found that the food people brought played an important roll in what we were talking about. From the donut holes to dining dollars, I think that the presence of the food sparked more conversation than the presence of phones. While the phones allowed us to provide images of what we were talking about at the moment, the food at the picnic gave us several different topics of conversation. For example, the donut holes sparked a conversation about chains and local restaurants, which then led us to talk about different local restaurants and chains that we liked. Rather than simply add on to the end of a conversation or remark, the food sparked the initiation and flow of several conversations. For me, at least, I found the food to be more of a “distraction” or conversation point than the present of cellphones.

Food, glorious food!

Although I had expected people to be on their phones throughout the first twenty minutes, I think that the context of the picnic influenced how and when people used their phones. Personally, I wasn’t significantly tempted to be on my phone, however I did check it from time to time. If I had a message I responded, and I took some pictures of the food and the river. However, I found that because it was still “class time” I felt a little odd and even rude pulling out my phone to text. In this sense, I certainly think that the context of the picnic influenced my phone usage. Had I been at a picnic with six of my closest friends, I think that it would have been different. For example, I think that people would be a lot more focused on getting pictures at the river, or snapchatting our riverside picnic.

People Partying @ the PPPPP

Even though I didn’t feel anxious without my phone during the second 20 minutes, there were still a few times when I would reach down beside me looking for it. I would be looking to check the time, or see if my friend had texted me back yet. However, the conversation my friend and I were having wasn’t very important, so I didn’t feel anxious about responded or what her next text might be.

I didn’t notice a huge change in conversation when we put our phones away. Actually, I found that collecting the phones caused the biggest change in conversation, and even seemed to awkwardly halt it for a moment or two. This was interesting to me, as I had expected the second half of the conversation to be much more forced than the first half. However, people did not rely on their phones as much as I had thought they would, so the second half and first half were relatively similar.

Overall, this experience actually helped to restore a bit of my faith in humanity and our generation’s ability to hold decent conversation without constantly checking our devices. Turkle has a compelling argument concerning connectivity vs communication, and as I read her article, I found it increasingly easy to nod my head and agree with what she was saying (NYT). Perhaps this article influenced how I imagined the second half of our picnic to be. I had thought that it would be just like the lunch tables I too often sit down at: silent, apart from a few “mhmms” and tapping fingers. I also know how easy it is to appear to be present in a physical conversation while actually being completely consumed by what is happening on my phone. I was honestly surprised and delighted that this didn’t seem to happen during our experience. While I believe that daily life has elements of technology that both nurture and hurt communication, I found that during our experience the technology did not seem to play a large role in either hindering or fostering our conversations.

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Into the Woods

// Posted by Emily on 11/25/2014 (12:55 PM)

To commemorate our last experience, we headed out to Pony Pasture for a picnic along the James River to “get away from it all.” Since I submitted my law school applications, my time online and on my phone has increased… Read more


To commemorate our last experience, we headed out to Pony Pasture for a picnic along the James River to “get away from it all.” Since I submitted my law school applications, my time online and on my phone has increased exponentially. For the last week, I have checked applicant blogs on the Top Law School (TLS) forum nearly every hour for updates on who’s getting in, and my phone has never more than a foot away. In the spirit of powering down and tuning in, I’ve put my phone on “airplane mode,”and for however long it takes me to finish this reflection, I’m staying off the blogs.

Opinions on the conversational effects of social media and technology (like smart phones, TV, etc.) can be divided into the Turkle and Tufekci camps. Where Tufekci sees social media as a tool to strengthen bonds and “in real life” discussion, Turkle fears that we have sacrificed conversation for connection. Originally, I fell somewhere in between the two “T’s”. Self-reflection and a necessary “wake up call” from my family, friends, and law school admissions consultant/temporary life coach about my obsessive blog and email trolling has pushed me into Turkle territory.

In too-frequently updating my email and reading the TLS forum, I have checked into media and out of my life at Richmond. I’ve spent more time in my room and less time with my friends, growing increasingly accustomed to Turkle’s concept of being “alone together” with the other TLS bloggers. When my group came up with the idea to use the experience to have two conversations, one with phones and one without, I knew that separating myself from my email, even for twenty minutes, would be a challenge, and it was.

Despite my phone-less anxiety, I was impressed with the depth of the conversations we had. We asked each other questions, took active interests in each others’  lives, and there were no noticeable or lengthy lags in our discussion. While it could be argued that the strength of our conversation is evidence of Tufekci’s point, I don’t think our sample of bright, engaged Richmond students represents the average American. Turkle’s examples that he employs to support his claims might be extreme, and as Tufekci points out, he may incorrectly equate social media and social robots, but from personal experience, I think Turkle is on to something when he argues that we’ve come to expect more from technology and less from each other.

For the next few days, I’m going to trade in my forum for family and my phone for friends, tuning out of the anxiety-ridden world of law school admissions and into a calmer reality.


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Final Project: Urban Digitization

// Posted by Joe on 11/23/2014 (9:25 PM)

This is the blog and final project of a group whose assignment project was to create their own digital “smart city”, thanks to Dr. Rosatelli for the referance to this. This particular project out of all the groups’ seemed… Read more


This is the blog and final project of a group whose assignment project was to create their own digital “smart city”, thanks to Dr. Rosatelli for the referance to this. This particular project out of all the groups’ seemed to be most focused on the actual digitization aspect of the city, and what it attempts to accomplish.

-Really interesting article in National Geographic. It’s really surprising to see Dublin, Ireland as a pioneer in the world of urban digitization

- Great website I found all about the future of cities. It has a lot of interesting information on smart city development


- This illustration really helps to visualize and understand the who interactive system of smart cities

- Controversial article in the Huffington Post on urban digitization

- Extremely compelling debate on the validity, effectiveness, and morality of the new smart city movement. This article provide a great amount of valuable perspectives on the subject

- Article in forbes about the financial aspect and issues of smart cities

- Great peice that provides samples of American cities making the move to urban digitization, and the problems and success that they are running into throughout the process




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The Beginning of the End: Final Project on Women, the Internet, and the Media

// Posted by Emily on 11/17/2014 (11:48 PM)

I’ll kick off the posting with a Yik Yak I found a few days ago and screen shotted:


Some food for thought:









1)Read more


I’ll kick off the posting with a Yik Yak I found a few days ago and screen shotted:


Some food for thought:










-Summer 2014: Pew Research Center surveyed close to 3,000 web users & found that more men had reported experiencing online harassment (mostly name calling,) but that women were significantly more likely to be stalked and sexually harassed.

-Findings echo a gendered split in victimization: men more likely to be violently assaulted by strangers, women more likely to be abused by their partners, stalked, and sexually harassed (esp. women 18-24)

-Offline harassment is clearly defined, but online harassment remains an “amorphous” category. Pew Survey didn’t provide context for “harassment,” leaving the term open to interpretation. Received a variety of responses ranging from threats of rape to being called a racist for criticizing a political candidate to chiding for their taste in sports teams, movies, etc.

-Cathy Young from “Daily Beast” thinks that feminist concern about “the Internet abuse of women” has an inherent double standard. Women are treated delicately/more deserving of consideration, and abuse towards men is accepted as the “…rough-and-tumble of public life, to be taken in stride and shrugged off.”

-Don’t know if men or women have it worse on the Internet. “What the Pew study does show is that the Internet is producing a lot of garbage, and men and women are served different flavors.”


-”The Student’s Progress” mural at UVA shows a male faculty member handing a student her bra as his wife comes up the stairs


-UVA has a rape culture problem…rape is normalized “as part of a larger system of attitudes and understandings of gender and sexuality.” Accepts rape as a norm that women have to work to avoid.

-”UVA doesn’t need shock. It needs sustained anger and energy.”–calling this situation an “emergency” implies that this event was out of the norm and insights panic that eventually subsides


-problem of internet harassment rooted in the misogynistic expectation that women are to be silent and subservient

-Internet harassment can’t be shrugged off as occurring “just” online (the Internet is physical and everywhere–there is no such thing as “just” online)

-Internet harassment is a new problem, relatively speaking, but it is not a unique one–it is an extension of the constant & ongoing harassment and violence that women face worldwide–presents new challenges, but the misogyny is ancient

-Ross Douthat (conservative columnist for the NYT) blames modern sexual repression (men are relieving impulses by being virtually abusive) and male anger at women’s changing roles–thinks feminists need to understand this problem as “simply a species of reaction”

-no evidence that the men who are harassing women online are too “shy” to do it IRL, more likely that the men who are abusive IRL are the same ones who exhibit that behavior online (know that this is at least a portion of the pop. because there are forums for men to chronicle their offline harassment of women)

-understanding online harassment as a succession from historical forms of abuse (cat calling, domestic violence, etc) challenges the assertion that it’s a modern phenomenon

-men harass, beat, and rape women because it makes them feel powerful and they expect women to be submissive

-studies show a strong link between a man’s celebration of traditional gender roles and his propensity for domestic violence

-Internet doesn’t create the urge to harass women and it probably doesn’t magnify it either (I disagree with that)–what it does do is make harassment simultaneously more efficient and personal (can reach many women around the world in a short period of time)

-Stalking women online is a much safer bet for the harasser because it’s less likely the cops will come after them, multiple venues for the perpetrator to approach his victim

-need to understand that online harassment isn’t happening in a vacuum–just a new way of expressing a very old sentiment

-long term solution is to keep fighting for women’s equality until any and all notions that they are anything but equal to men are relics of the past


-women’s status on the Internet is proof that technological progress and social progress don’t go hand in hand

-at Summer 2014 VidCon (conference for YouTube creators) women talked about the effects of YouTube harassment on their feelings of personal security and their ability to produce content

-idea that things will get better on their own without intervention is an Enlightenment-era notion–historians call the idea that social progress and technological progress go hand in hand and are inevitable, “the Idea or Myth of Progress”

-Internet has empowered women to start worldwide discussions on issues that matter to them, but they’re not the only ones who see these posts and are weighing in–men can band together to threaten and antagonize women very easily

-female game developers, bloggers, and journalism are easy targets because they’re more public & accessible

- difficulty understanding that the fact that the harassment is occurring on the Internet doesn’t make it any less real–urged to develop a “thicker skin” which turns the problem away from those who are actually causing it

-Katherine Cross (writer): ignorance of Internet abuse called the “Mobius strip: where the Internet is presented as a mobius strip of reality when it’s convenient and unreality when it isn’t–accepts inhumane behavior in this setting as inevitable

-Internet didn’t make men sexist, they were sexist to begin with, just able to express it more publicly & to a larger audience

-YouTube comments, Facebook posts, blog entries, etc. aren’t “just the Internet”

-narrative of social progress deeply flawed

-Enlightenment scholars hailed technology as the savior of humanity–John Locke never could have seen this coming

-”shed the dangerous habit of thought”

5)–this is an NPR interview with Amanda Hess

-complicating this argument is that research into the problem has only just begun

-scholars recently isolating stats that show that women are disproportionately the victims of online threats & harassment

-2006: researchers at University of Maryland set up fake accounts in chat rooms. Female usernames incurred an average of 100 sexually explicit/threatening messages a day, compared to 3.7 for men

-women are a group that is traditionally marginalized IRL, witnessing similar marginalization online b/c the Internet is so connected to our real lives (arguably, it is our real lives)

-users targeting spaces where women are speaking out against misogyny and traditional gender roles as opportunities for gendered harassment

-law enforcement technologically & intellectually ill-equipped to manage the problem–evidence of the disconnect between social & technological progress

-accept that the Internet is real life

-whether or not these threats manifest in physical violence, they’re powerful enough to intimidate & deter women from using the Internet in the ways they want to/should be allowed to


-1/4 women ages 18-24 report being stalked or sexually harassed online (rate is 2-3x higher than for men)

-many websites have ways to block & report offenders, but they can get beyond blocks & little is done with the reports (can create new accounts that allow them to continue old behaviors)

-companies that manage the spaces where harassment occurs are largely male (70% of Facebook employees, 83% of Google’s tech employees, & 90% of Twitter’s tech employees)–may be why the sites aren’t more “tuned in” or motivated to address instances of gendered harassment

-part of the problem is that there aren’t sophisticated filtration systems on these sites that are able to weed out offensive comments–Twitter partnered with Women, Action, and the Media this month on a project that is currently being tested. If successful, it would provide users with an online form to report instances of harassment on Twitter. Twitter would use the data to better understand how gendered harassment functions & how they can better combat it


Some screenshots of recent Yaks (Richmond campus & Philadelphia International)



In response to my presentation on Monday, I got some great feedback from Elizabeth, Damian, and Nicola. Elizabeth told me about Bye Felipe, an Instagram account where users can post screenshots of hostile online reactions they’ve gotten from men after rejecting or ignoring them on dating websites. It’s a total goldmine of information for my project:

Damian sent me two yahoo articles, each with a string of offensive comments, which I think will end up being really valuable as most of my “evidence” up to this point has come from social media sites. Below is a screenshot of a comment posted on an article about Shia LaBeouf’s alleged rape:

Nicola emailed a screen shot of comments on an article about Kendall Jenner’s (part of the Kardashian clan) modeling career that popped up on her Facebook news feed. Kendall is no longer a minor, but I watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians on E! and I remember that suffered a blow from similar comments when she was still a teenager:

What all of this feedback demonstrates is that the harassment and demeaning of women online isn’t just happening on isolated sites. Interestingly, offenders appear not to fear revealing their identities, posting their content freely on public spaces. I would argue that this says something about the state of policing online offenders; they don’t seem at all concerned with being caught or punished. It is also important to take away that no woman, regardless of whether or not she is in the public eye, is  immune to becoming the target of offensive language. Just being and interacting online as a woman appears to open the door for harassment.

I’m most interested in the historical roots of this phenomenon. Women are being demeaned in a new space online, but the act of demeaning them is ancient. 3500 years ago, the authors of the Bible fixed the status of women for centuries in the story of Adam and Eve. Portraying Eve as submissive to Adam set forth enduring gender roles and expectations that have influenced societies all over the world.

Thinking about this problem in such a broad historical context is daunting. Challenging gender expectations that are thousands of years old in a way that demands societal change is even more daunting. If ever there was a time, though, now would be it. The Internet, for all the scary things it is capable of, can connect millions of people worldwide in ways that inspire reflection and empower change.


Categories: Uncategorized

Final Project: Digitization of Music

// Posted by Brendan on 11/17/2014 (1:08 PM)


Unfortunately, I mismanaged my time during my presentation and was unable to present everything I would have liked to during my final presentation, so I will provide a summary of my current progress for my final project.

The advent… Read more



Unfortunately, I mismanaged my time during my presentation and was unable to present everything I would have liked to during my final presentation, so I will provide a summary of my current progress for my final project.

The advent of the digital age has made listening and acquiring extremely easy and simple for the consumer. Whereas in the past, the acquisition of music required one to physically find copies of music cd’s, records or cassettes in stores or in peoples collection, today, almost all music known to man can be found online in digital files that can be shared downloaded and altered. With these changes in technology, the music industry has been forced to adapt its business model as it attempts to maintain profits and keep up. However, most developments within the music industry during this time have been reactionary measures taken in response to proposed threats to the industry’s business model.

The transition of the music industry into the digital age was accelerated and ultimately decided by the introduction of the peer to peer file sharing site Napster in 1999 which allowed users to download music for free. The record companies were not prepared to deal with the free trade of their copyrighted material that Npaster provided, so they sought legal action to prevent it from happening. The industry was too late, the legal action taken by the industry was not enough to prevent consumers from peer to peer sharing and digital downloads. Although Napster would be shut down, a multitude of similar sites sprung up in its place like Limewire, Kazaa etc. Illegal downloading became the way to acquire music as record sales dropped.

A common sentiment that the free downloading of music was hurting the artists who produced the music being downloaded. The industry took this idea, and reconstructed itself, introducing sites and apps like Itunes that allowed users to purchase music, instead of downloading it illegally. The industry’s response still failed to prevent people from file sharing and downloading as the number of files uploaded and downloaded increased exponentially. However, I am not convinced that illegal downloading was hurting the very artists making the music being shared which led to the question at the foundation of my research: Has the digitization of the music industry hurt artists?

In Free Culture, Lawrence Lessig presents the idea that consumers of music who shared files and downloaded music could we divided into 4 different groups: those who did so as a substitute for purchasing content, those who did so to sample content before purchasing it, those who wanted access to copyrighted material that wasn’t in sale, or those who wanted to freely distribute their own copyrighted material. I find Lessig’s theory to present an accurate picture of how users choose to file share and download music for a variety of reasons. The industry and opponents of illegal downloading believed that most perpetrators of free music downloading are of the first kind mentioned by Lessig, that they do so in place of purchasing content. They failed to account, that consumers would have other or more than one reasons to be participating in this new trend. It is my assertion that more consumers belong to the second group mentioned by Lessig: those who use sharing networks to sample music before purchasing, than anyone to account for. Despite the falls of record sales, artists still continue to sell records and make money despite the advent of free downloading. The music profession was never an industry for many people to make a lot of money and that continues to be so. However, I would argue that digitization has allowed for the expansion of the music community by decreasing the role and power of record companies and has encouraging greater distribution and promotion for artists.

This brings me to the modern state of the industry where online streaming sites like Spotify and Pandora have become a preferred method for listening to and finding new music. In a strong parallel to the discussion regarding the illegal downloading of music and sites like Napster, many artists and others have come out and trashed these online music streaming services for their discrimination of artists. While these services do not provide much if any financial support to artists, I believe that they are still doing good for artists by providing them with easy promotion and access to new fans and recognition. I provided a few case studies to support my stance.

Gotye, an Australian singer-songwriter who is independent of record labels and produces his own music. he had released a few albums to limited success in his native Australia before releasing his 2011 single “Somebody that I used to know”. “Somebody that I used to know” was distributed though numerous social media outlets and ended up gaining huge attention across the globe. The single eventually reached the top of the Billboard charts in multiple countries and made Gotye a lot of money because he was an independent artist and owned all the royalties to the song. Gotye’s case is an example of how artists benefit of the current system in the music industry. There are an increasing amount of independent artists who are making and distributing their own music and finding success. With the digital age, record labels have lost some of the  power they once used to control the entire industry. Although not everyone is buying music legally, artists continue to sell records and make money.

Here is a personal experience of how a consumer like myself can support an artist in the modern day. This winter, I discovered the band Wolf Gang, through a song of their’s I hear on satellite radio. Not knowing much about the band, I looked them up on Spotify and found their 2011 album Suego Faults. I enjoyed this album heavily and listened to it a lot at my computer. Because I liked their album, I decided to buy it on Itunes, so that i could put the album on my Ipod and own it myself. In this example, I am like the second group of file sharers described by Lessig, doing so in order to sample material before purchasing. The story does not end there. In September, Wolf Gang played a concert at the National in Richmond which I bought tickets to and attended. No only did I contribute to the band by buying their album, but by attending their concert. Today, most artists make a majority of their money through touring and playing shows and I was able to contribute to their work. Additionally, going to said concert, I discovered another band called Sir Sly which I soon repeated the process of listening to their album on Spotify and purchasing it. My point is thus: without the digitization of music, I would most likely never have discovered Wolf Gang and been able to support them. The current system in the music industry has been developed by digitization and allows for an expanded growth of artists.


In my presentation, I asked my classmates which of Lessig’s four groups of file sharers that each felt they were a member of. The question produced an overwhelming response with atleast 7 of the 8 people in the class agreeing that they belong to each of the 4 different types of file sharers. This confirmed my suspicion that people do not only download music so that they can avoid paying for it, that consumers have a variety of reasons for file sharing.


Next, I asked my classmates to list several of their favorite artists and how they acquired their music files. The results were interesting. From the information I received, it was clear that there was no standard preferred method for acquiring music. There seemed to be an even distribution amongst buying music from ITunes, converting the files from someone else’s cd’s, or acquiring files in illegal manners such as downloading from the Pirate bay or using a youtube-mp3 converter (the modern equivalent of downloading from Napster, just a less frowned upon service). One trend that I did notice was most of my respondents acquired most of their preferred artists works through the same manner. of the 5 artists Emily listed, she had bought the music for 4 of them off of Itunes Store, while the 5th was the Beatles, who’s albums she inherited through her father. Nicola acquired the music for all 5 of her listed artists by using a youtube-mp3 converter. Aisling acquired 4 of her 5 artists through a youtube-mp3 converter as well. I believe that these results play into my argument as they show that some but not all consumers are still willing to pay for their music and use other sites as an accessory. I think my argument is more supported by the response from Elizabeth. For the 5 artists listed by Elizabeth, each included at least  7 different albums in her collection, significantly more than those listed by other respondents. Elizabeth was also an outlier in that she acquired the files for each artists through multiple means. For her Black Keys collection, she acquired most of their older albums using Limewire or the Pirates bay, but purchased their most recent album on Itunes. In the case of the Black Keys, file sharing served as a method for Elizabeth to trial their work before committing to supporting the band by purchasing an album.

The feedback also brought some insights I had not initially thought of. For example, there was a far greater number of responses that said that they acquired certain music from cd’s of their parents or older siblings. This leads me to think that cd’s are certainly not just a thing of the past and play a role in modern music listening experience, although in a role different from their original purpose. Instead of playing the music, Cd’s are now transferring the music to newer and younger fans.

Looking Forward:

With the results of my presentation as well as the feedback I have received, a few things stand out as I look to move on and complete my final paper. First off, I still need to work on the organizational structure of my argument. Working through the pitch has improved it, but I still need to sort it out into a more clear and concise argumentative approach.

I also think that I need to strengthen my argument with the help of another theorist to complement the work of Lessig. I think I may be relying to heavily on Lessig’s arguments and think another critical opinion would really open up my paper. Most of the research information has come from a variety of articles I have collected as well as Lessig’s Free Culture.

That said, I think with the feedback from my classmates, I am comfortable in continuing to pursue my argument as I see it. With some tweaks and augmentation at certain points, I should be able to produce an excellent final product.



  • music listening statistics for universities across the United States

  • cool interactive map called Serendipity from Spotify artist in residence Kyle McDonald. Tracks how two people in the world will listen to same track at same time.

  • good overlook of the current state of music royalties and how it factors into online streaming sites

  • destroys singing centric televised talent shows
  • positive depiction for new and emerging artists for they have greater control, not limited to hoping to sign with label
  • businesses that support talented young musicians, help gain promotion


  • article from Damon Krukowski analyzing the capalitstic nature of Spotify and Pandora, and criticizing the music streaming services for treating music and musicians as a business rather than art.
  • Taylor Swift recently removed her music catalouge from Spotify, saying “ ”the landscape of the music industry itself is changing so quickly, that everything new, like Spotify, all feels to me a bit like a grand experiment. And I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists, and creators of this music. And I just don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free.”
  • Dave Grohl being awesome in response to Taylor Swift’s removal of music from Spotify.

A few links pertaining to my topic


Categories: Uncategorized

Final Project: Digitisation and the Film Industry

// Posted by Nicola on 11/14/2014 (2:02 PM)

Now that my final project idea has been approved, I must somehow try to narrow my area of interest (the changing nature of film and television in the digital age). I think that the best way to do this… Read more


Now that my final project idea has been approved, I must somehow try to narrow my area of interest (the changing nature of film and television in the digital age). I think that the best way to do this is to focus on just the film or television industry. I’m leaning towards the film industry but I am still conflicted…there have just been so many radical changes to the nature of television within the past several years!

Also, it was suggested that I chose a few key case studies examples to analyse in relation to my topic. Perhaps I could look at some cases involving huge Hollywood blockbusters, some that were successful and others that weren’t and see why this was the case? Or if I was to focus on Television then I could choose a few key shows that demonstrate how social media helped to generate a huge following or how the very nature of how they are made and released is a result of digitalisation.

Hopefully as I continue to research this area my ideas and approach will become clearer!

Below are a few articles discussing box office that have proved useful in providing an idea with the current state of the industry.


And a slightly different perspective from acclaimed film critic Roger Ebert:

19th November 2014
As I’ve been thinking more about the role of social media in reshaping the nature of the film industry, I’ve started researching not only what that impact is, but also how it is being used by the industry itself. Thus, I came across the following article, ‘How Social Media is Revolutionising the Flailing Movie Tracking Industry’, which essentially identifies how social media sites such as Twitter are now being employed to track and, consequently, predict the success of a film.

It was interesting to note in the article that, “Silicon Valley is eager to prove it can help. Google, for example, released a study last June that found that searches for movies — and especially trailers — can help predict box-office performance with 94 percent accuracy.”

Another article I found attributed the lack of success of Interstellar to bad word of mouth, reaffirming my own position regarding the crucial role that social media plays in determining the financial success of a film. While Chris Lee notes how some argue that Interstellar’s long running time can be attributed to its lack of ticket sales at the box office, Rentrak’s senior media analyst Paul Dergarbedian argues that “…there are many other factors affecting the box office and this [length of a film] is just one piece of the puzzle. And there have been a host of long running time films that have done well.” Rather, “Word of mouth really hurt Interstellar,” says one veteran box-office tracker. “There was a backlash against it. A lot of people liked it. But the people who didn’t like it were very vocal about it. And that word of mouth spread like wildfire.” While Lee does not explicitly point to social media in the negative word of mouth, it isn’t unlikely that where people were “very vocal about it” was primarily on social media sites such as Twitter. Again, this reinforces my thesis that the in the digital age, digitisation of word of mouth via social media sites has had a significant impact in determining the success of a film.


23rd of November 2014

Below are a few more articles I have found pertaining to the impact of social media on the entertainment industry. At the moment, I am trying to narrow my focus, but it is easier said than done!

“How Social Media and Viral Marketing are Saving the Film Industry”
Although a short piece, author Anita Lee does highlight some key points regarding how the film industry is utilising social media to increase box office revenue. As Lee notes, “…the silver screen has managed to stay afloat because of the very thing that undermined it in the first place: the Internet.”

The following article by Britt Michaelian looks at Independent cinema in particular. I’m not sure if I will look into this realm in my investigation as it may be too much to get through with a limited amount of time. Nevertheless, it is an interesting facet of the whole shift in the film industry.
Some quotes from the article:
->“For indendepents who tend to have limited financial resources, social media is the key to connecting with engaged audiences.”

->“Independent filmmakers who are looking to produce low budget films can utilize social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram not just to promote films, but also to cast, staff and fund projects.”

->“In the Video on Demand forum, emphasis was placed on utilizing social media in every stage of the filmmaking process – pre-production, during filming and in post production as a means for independent films to stand out from the studio films that dominate 80% of views on VOD platforms like Netflix and Hulu.”

-> “…with a savvy social media strategy, it isn’t just the studios who can build a massive following for films.”

Possible case studies…
Dr. Rosatelli suggested that I might like to look at particular cases that reveal the significance of word of mouth through social media in determining the success of a film. While I am still undecided which ones to focus on in particular, I have come across a few examples that could prove effective in supporting my argument.
Sharknado (2013)
Released as a made for TV movie, Sharknado (a film about a tornado of sharks that destroys a Los Angeles community…) proved wildly successful. It’s success has been largely attributed to the use of social media.
“On 11 July 2013, the night on which Syfy’s made-for-television movie Sharknado premiered, the hashtag “#Sharknado” was a worldwide trending topic on Twitter. Within two hours of its initial airing, the program was the source of 5,000 tweets per minute, making it television’s most social program of the evening, and Syfy’s most social telecast ever.”
“According to Craig Engler, Senior Vice President at @Syfy digital, the network used Twitter to build buzz for the Sharknado premiere. As Engler said in an interview, “Hours before the movie even aired we were retweeting the fans talking about how much they were looking forward to watching it and also tweeting out Sharknado ‘warnings.’”
TV and social media
Although I don’t think I will focus on Television, I have come across several articles, such as the one below, that do emphasise my argument.
-> “Nielsen studies have proven that the more a show is tweeted about, the higher its ratings go. This comes as an addition to the increasing web socialization of television viewing shaped with the help of “second screens” – that is, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Whether through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Tumblr, the idea of sharing one’s viewing experience live and through hashtags is a trend that’s quickly defining what this “golden age” of television excels at: amplifying the fan experience.”
-> ”Twitter lends itself more to the real-time conversation of live-viewing where as Tumblr is more about the extended conversation — beyond the time that a show is airing”
->“People love to talk about television and that’s why TV drives so much conversation on Facebook and Twitter,” Goldsmith said. “It’s a way for viewers to extend the couch and have more people to talk with, share with and make comments. I think as new platforms emerge, you’re going to see even more unique ways to do that.”
In order to bolster my argument I need not only facts and quotes, but also concrete statistics and figures that illustrate the shifting nature of the film industry in the digital age. Thus, I have started to source articles that include such information.

‘By the Numbers: Social Media’s Impact on the Entertainment Industry’

From the article:
“The poll found that a majority of Millenials (those aged 18-to-34-year-old) believe using social media while watching a movie in a theater would add to their experience, and nearly half would be interested in going to theaters that allowed texting and web surfing. Users were asked what they do on their mobile device, if they use it in a theater. About 55% text, 27% visit Facebook, and 19% make a phone call.  And YET 75% of people (all ages) on social networks in this poll say that being able to use their phone in a theater would make the experience less satisfying and more distracting.”
Taken from the study:
December 3rd 2014: Final post

The influx of big, blockbuster films and sequels is by no means coincidental. Hollywood studios are deliberately placing greater time and effort into producing these types of films. In fact, not only are these films now a mainstay, but there is also a growing scarcity of original stories coming from Hollywood. I’m sure we’ve all seen a preview and asked ourselves, “Another sequel?” “Another superhero movie?” And yet it’s still staggering to take a step back and see just how dire the situation has become.

In order to assess why these changes have taken place, I’ve posed the following question:

Q. What is the role of digitization in determining the types of studio films being made?

In response, I will argue that:

A. Digitization plays a crucial role as the advent of social media has made word of mouth much more of a decisive factor than it ever was before.

In order to support my argument, I’ve decided to focus on two fairly recent case studies. The Lone Ranger reveals the impact of negative social media buzz in determining box office success. The film failed to generate buzz and given the now immediate judgement of a film, it lost an incredible amount of money. Conversely, I will look at another Blockbuster (and a superhero film) The Guardians of the Galaxy to highlight that if used effectively, social media plays a crucial role in determining a film’s box office success. Even a less familiar idea like that of Guardians, if it gets the right buzz and anticipation (and generates a big initial weekend), can be a huge success. Moreover, I will assess the manner in which studios are now attempting to hedge against the threat posed by social media. Namely, the marketing strategies they employ. This will include the role of the actor, who has become paramount in generating buzz for a film. In order to keep my paper focussed, I will use Vin Diesel as an example given that he was extremely active in promoting The Guardians of the Galaxy.


After my presentation/pitch I was provided with some useful feedback. For instance, Dr. Rosatelli suggested looking into consumer theories to support my argument, which I intend to do. Several of my classmates also inquired into areas of this topic that I had begun to consider. For instance, the impact that online streaming is having on the film industry was one issue raised. While I did consider discussing this shift in my paper, I’m not sure whether I will have enough time to do so. I may just briefly mention it as a factor, but I will primarily focus on social media as playing a greater role. Moreover, the resulting impact that digitization is having in terms of the actors and their salaries was also mentioned. There are articles being written at the moment discussing the future of the enormous star salary (i.e. paying an actor $50 million for a film) and whether is needed in the digital age with the advent of social media. While this is an interesting question, I do not think it is imperative to the line of argument I am making. Rather, I will focus more time on the current role of the actor in assisting with generating buzz for their film.

Everyone loves a survey!

I decided that the best (and simplest) way for my peers to assist me was by taking a survey. I created the survey in order to find out what draws the target demographic of Hollywood (18-29) to see a film. Is it reviews online, such as those in the New York Times? Do you go and see a movie based on the trailer and marketing? Is it the result of word of mouth? And if so, is that in person, or digitized via social media? By doing so, I hoped that role of social media would become more clear. While many did not adhere to the norms that were reported in a recent poll conducted by The Hollywood Reporter, their responses were nevertheless interesting. Only one affirmed my thesis, stating that the online reviews/buzz via social media are the most decisive factor in why they going and see a film in the cinema. The same individual also was prone to using their phone while watching a film, namely to look up a films imdb page while watching.

Perhaps most telling were the responses I received to the following questions:

  1. What type of film you most likely to see in the cinema and why?

Interesting (but not surprisingly), of those surveyed it was the men that preferred to see the larger budget, blockbuster films. For instance, Joe (20) noted, “… if I am going to spend my money on a movie ticket when I could easily see it free online in a few weeks, I want a real movie experience that is can only be experienced at the cinema. Brendan (20) echoed these sentiments, “Mostly high budget films that make use of sound, and grand visuals the most. I watch most films outside the cinema, so when I go to see a film, the cinematic setting should have contribute substantially to the experience of viewing said film.” These responses further support my claim and the growing trend that given Hollywood’s desire to target this core demographic and thus reap financial gains, they are producing more of the same. In other words, blockbuster films, sequels of those films and so forth.

What’s next?

Aside from now bringing my argument together, I still think that I could strengthen my theoretical framework. Whether that means extracting more information from social media theorists such as Danah Boyd or finding other sources (such as consumer theories) I will have to see. I will also continue to draw some conclusions from the surveys I received to assess whether any of the responses will be of use or shed new light on my paper topic.


Categories: Assignments / Blog / Essay / Pictures / Uncategorized

Final Project Research — Cyberutopianism and Politics

// Posted by Damian on 11/12/2014 (4:34 PM)


I have received some really great feedback via my survey and I am ready to begin finalizing my project. I have known that I would be able to leave early, not having any final exams, so I began work… Read more



I have received some really great feedback via my survey and I am ready to begin finalizing my project. I have known that I would be able to leave early, not having any final exams, so I began work on a rough draft for the final essay before the Thanksgiving break. At that point I had done enough research to be in a position in which I could begin laying the groundwork for a final piece. Much of the research below was done as I continued working on the piece and was tailored so as to fit the research that I needed to connect some of the puzzle pieces–metaphorically speaking. I submitted a rough draft to Dr. Rosatelli last Tuesday and she let me know that it was in good shape and that I would simply need to wait for feedback and keep updating the research. I did so, finding another counterpoint to Adrian Chen’s anti-Anonymous fervor, as well as the centrist angle from Time. I also needed updated figures for spending on the 2014 midterms, and that is reflected below. Besides that, I really wanted to wait and see what my classmates had to say about my presentation, which was largely my essay in a presentation format. Their responses were great. All five agreed that the topic was relevant to them, which was good. I needed to make sure that I expressed the fact that this matters for us, and I think it is apparent that I did. The second question is the one where obviously there is room for improvement, as 2 students felt that I only gave somewhat of a call to action. One commented that there wasn’t a clear idea of what our response should be, and the other said that he/she wasn’t sure how he/she could personally respond. I think I am understanding where these two students are coming from, and so I have a plan of action ready to fix this. I think that simply explaining that third party candidates have a better chance of winning doesn’t necessarily convince an audience that by rallying around an independent candidate and rejecting the corporatized two-party structure, we will make a difference. So I want to give a real example of a third-party candidate who had a great shot at winning and ultimately only lost because of higher-than-expected Republican turnout, and that is Greg Orman, who was such a dominant Independent candidate in Kansas that the Democratic candidate dropped out ( A third-party candidate, with no allegiance to either side and less financial backing than Republican incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts nonetheless gave the incumbent a run for his money, claiming over 42% of the vote and, while still losing, proved that independent candidates will be a force to be reckoned with going forward. That’s something we have to keep in mind, and though it seems broad to simply advocate siding with third parties instead of condoning the actions of the Democrats and Republicans, I think that if we do engage to research independent candidates and if we engage actively in campaigning and getting out the word, and if those candidates can be afforded some semblance of resources, as was Orman, they’ve got a great shot. Politics takes a lot of work, and those answers aren’t always directly evident, and I think that’s a bit of a challenge in this instance, for students to understand HOW to make it work, but that would necessitate a lengthy political explanation that would probably detract from my central focus, so my hope is to provide a call-to-action to look to independent candidates while understanding that there is a real-world parallel, that this is not some over-idealistic message, and that we can elect third-party candidates if we put in the effort that Orman’s camp put in and if we can capitalize on the historically low approval ratings for the GOP and Democratic Party. I hope with a real example that becomes much clearer. But on an extra-political level, I understand that there was some confusion as to what I meant when discussing the formation of new organizations. Again, I cannot necessarily provide a handbook for how to create an activist organization, as I have never done so and am not really sure how you go about doing that, but what I can provide is an example of a real organization working today that is working against many of the evils of which I spoke, and that is the Free Press Organization. I recently found out about them while reading some random news and found the website for their “Free the Internet” movement: … I was skeptical. This group, I thought, must be backed by some large corporations, but in fact, it refuses to take a cent from any corporations, from the government, or from political parties: … I was still skeptical, so I turned to, and found that the group does a very small amount of lobbying, and looked into the two bills for which it lobbied: . One was a law that would allow TV service providers to provide a la carte programming and the other was simply a law that cemented how military spending would look for the year 2014: and I’m not really sure why it would lobby for a bill that was pretty straightforward and simply established how military spending would be allocated for the year, and I will keep my eyes open for any information indicating why, but nonetheless, both seem like harmless pieces of legislation for which to lobby, compared to something like an Internet Sales Tax law. The group’s lobbying efforts are minor, however, compared to the grassroots movement it is leading in favor of Net Neutrality, and this is where I am truly impressed by the group. It is partially cyberlibertarian in nature, but by refusing to accept corporate cash (which I would believe since its lobbying is minor due to lower fiduciary reserves, as Opensecrets’ figures reflect), it reflects the balance of which I spoke in the presentation, balancing an understanding of the importance of an egalitarian Web (i.e. Net Neutrality) with the understanding that regulation–online and offline–is always necessary and that corporations are not inherently a force for good. That is lost in translation with a group like Anonymous, which while anti-corporate is so anarchic and contradictory that any positive balance is lost and the whole ideology comes across as horribly destructive, which it largely is. Hopefully with a real example of an organization that we could stand behind, it becomes clear that Free Press is one of countless organizations out there that we could endorse as citizens. I also, however, do want to emphasize the importance of the fact that perhaps the organization that we must support does not yet exist, and that’s where the self-exploration comes in. I cannot tell you how to start a successful movement, but I can tell you we’ve been given some of the keys to it thus far, and that becoming informed truly is the first step to understanding how to move forward in such an endeavor. In such  way, I think that providing real world examples will be the most appropriate response to the concerns raised, reminding students that my suggestions are not vague, idealistic fantasies, but realistic visions, that my call to action is to become informed, to learn what the next steps are, and to realize the foundation has been set for us to take those steps. All students agreed the material was obviously important, and for that I was thankful. They also all agreed that signs of research were abundantly evident, and that was great, because I have felt I’ve done well in that regard, but I wanted to make sure. The only other concern that was raised was raised at the very end, with a suggestion to define some of the terms of which I speak/write. I am not too worried about this, because I only cut out the definitions due to time restraints, since I had planned a 15-minute presentation but had to fit it into 10. I couldn’t allow for all of the exposition that I wanted and instead had to give a bit of a broader overview. The paper, I am sure, gives a much more thorough definition to the terms, even ones that we have discussed, as I always like to write a paper under the assumption that anyone who reads it would be clueless about the topic (this is not a jab at Dr. Rosatelli so much as a simple philosophy on writing!). I am immensely thankful for the feedback and will be making the revisions mentioned above to the paper. It will be all the stronger as a result, and I am very confident and pleased with how the final project will turn out. I cannot thank my peers enough for their responses and suggestions, and if anyone has any other ideas that they would like to share, I am receptive as always and would not mind listening. I hope that what I have outlined here makes sense as a reasonable solution to the concerns raised, and I am excited to submit a final product that has undone the errors of my earlier drafts and does justice to the topic at hand.

11/30: … This is a bit of a rebuke of Adrian Chen’s anti-Anonymous spin, since it was suggested I try to get some differing opinions on the matter besides just Quinn Norton’s one example. It is particularly helpful in discussing the fact that the group took down white supremacist radio host Hal Turner in 2006 (yes, I know this was discussed in the documentary, but I forgot about it until I read this article). The article also notes that Anonymous took down the Westboro Baptist Church’s website in 2011, and that is a bit of a rebuke of the notion that Anonymous has a bad record on racial and LGBTQ issues (even though, for the most part, it does). The article gives eight examples of positive efforts from Anonymous, but those two are the most important and relevant for my paper. … This article is not entirely pro-Anonymous; it is more centrist in nature, simply explaining the situation with Anonymous and its involvement in Ferguson. It is significant for several reasons… 1. It notes that the group is intervening in Ferguson to push the federal government to pass legislation that would more strictly regulate police conduct (a good thing), 2. They don’t know how many Anonymous members are in Ferguson or working on behalf of the efforts in Ferguson (not necessarily a good thing), and 3. A group member had previously misidentified the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, so how can we trust information we get from them, and how do we know they are reliable in any respect? … This is an update of the spending on the 2014 midterms, since I didn’t quite update those figures as much as I could have; this will be very helpful and provide the timeliest, most accurate statistics.

11/23: … This is an important story from the standpoint that it informs my discussion of how cyberutopian faith in a deregulation economy would influence the deregulation of corporate involvement in the political system, and how each side is now exploiting cyberutopianism and the belief in the Internet and the “New Economy” as something inherently democratic to promote further a culture of corporatism and increased donations in an era in which corporate money is becoming all the more necessary to ensuring victory in elections. That then sets the stage for my discussion of the artificial, profit-driven exploitation of cyberutopianism versus the more genuine but more troubling digital utopianism of Anonymous and the political movement in which it is a central figure.

The way my paper should turn out at the moment is an introduction describing the shift of cyberutopianism ideals from left-leaning counterculturists to the right-wing, libertarian coalition of New Communalists and the New Right, and then explaining the culture of deregulation that was created by the notion of a “New Economy” and the inherently democratizing power of the Internet, then describing Citizens United in that context and how it changed the relationship between Washington and corporate powers, and explaining what that means for cyberutopianism as a political ideal and the fact that both sides use it merely as a means to a money-central end, and then moving discussion to Anonymous as a major digital-utopian force outside of the two-party structure and the troubling implications of standing by them. Ultimately the discussion will culminate in the question of which side we choose to stand on in light of the new political order created by the cyberutopian libertarianism of the New Economy and the excessive corporatism and contradiction of democratic values inherent therein.

11/22: … I found this video in a quick Google News search for Anonymous and saw that they are declaring a cyberwar on the KKK… This is very interesting because the Nation article I cited a few days ago clearly argues that the organization is NOT the anti-racist organization it purports itself to be. This would be interesting to juxtapose with a more realistic and thorough depiction of the group’s history…… This is a description of the group’s Habbo Hotel raid in 2006, in which they sent messages like “Pool’s Closed due to AIDS” while playing as black avatars and forming a swastika, something they insist was not intended to in any way be racist, even though, as the article points out, its native 4Chan is “peppered with homophobic and racist comments.” In 2008, several Anonymous group members hung a sign with the same black Habbo avatar that read “Pool Closed” as a joke intended to keep black children away from the pool, even though the group insisted the joke was in no way intended to promote bigotry, saying that the joke was merely “an Internet fad.” … Further discussion of the multitudinous contradictions inherent in Anonymous and its “identity crisis.” It basically just bolsters most of the arguments I’ve made up to this point.

11/19: … This article intrigues me from the standpoint that on a fiscal level, Occupy is taking a direct stance against both parties, insisting that both Democrats and Republicans have served to enhance corporate power. Now I am going to look for stories that relate to the concept of the “New Economy” in relation to the Democrats and Republicans and I’m looking for information that hopefully should pin down a trend of both sides actually feeding into New Economy ideals in some way, as I did to a lesser extent in previous entries. … This is yet another interesting article from the standpoint that a bill putting in place an Internet sales tax was supported by Amazon as a means of competing against physical retailers, even though it would require Amazon products to be taxed, undoing the unfair advantage that online retailers have. It is a complicated economic reasoning, but long story short, the company knows that an Internet sales tax would hurt smaller online retailers more, giving them an advantage on the online marketplace. The article notes that most Democrats supported the Internet sales tax, which actually indicates that Democrats are not for a completely free and open Internet. In this way, I wonder if fiscally, in terms of the New Economy, our discussion of politics in the digital realm will make a bit more sense, as opposed to the ideas regarding cultural objects and the freedom thereof online. Republicans theoretically remain cyber-libertarians in terms of fiscal issues, with House Speaker John Boehner having shot down the sales tax legislation and other Republicans, like Ted Cruz ( opposing it as well. But here’s where things get confusing, as always: Cruz insists that the legislation is a result of the lobbying of large corporations, and while it seems like a hypocritical excuse from a party with support from large corporations, it does offer a reminder that economically speaking, we have two parties that are very much taking support from corporate entities and this cyber-economics discussion isn’t even that clear-cut politically speaking. As the Bloomberg article above points out, this sales tax was also supported by Wal-Mart, and they are one of the largest lobbying organizations in the world (… So economically speaking, this is a very confusing political discussion. While Republicans are taking millions of dollars from corporations like Wal-Mart in their fight against the minimum wage, Democrats are taking millions from Wal-Mart in their fight for an Internet sales tax. Democrats seem to be playing hardball with corporations, but is that the full picture? Absolutely not. Each party’s platform seems to be in line with how we would assume they should vote on these key issues: Democrats support taxes online, and Republicans oppose it. The former is anti-corporation, the latter pro-. But that’s not an adequate picture, and while this reflects equally on politics outside of the digital realm, it has serious implications in the digital realm as well. And let’s move away from party leaders altogether and look at party members, because there are some interesting things to note here, as well, going back to some of my early findings on Net Neutrality, an issue with economic repercussions… … According to this poll from The Washington Post, both Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly oppose Net Neutrality. And if that isn’t confusing enough, let’s consider why on earth the Republican Party would remain so firmly opposed to Net Neutrality if 81% of Americans disagree. It might seem that the GOP remains dependent on contributions from cable companies, but Comcast–by a slim margin–gives more to Democratic recipients than to Republican recipients (… So whose side are they on? Well, both the easy answer and the complicated answer is the same: they’re on their own side. As the Forbes article–which is written by a conservative–explains, these corporations are simply pushing for any policies that benefit them. If a Democrat is going to support legislation that benefits their economic interests, they will reciprocate with donations and support. And that’s where the complicated nature of all this becomes abundantly clear. No longer can we simply say that one side is more pro-corporate than the other, because both are receiving millions upon millions of dollars from these entities. In many ways, the advent of the Internet and the digital sphere has merely complicated matters even more, with issues like Net Neutrality and the Internet sales tax elucidating the fact that fiscal politics in the digital age are no longer so black-and-white. … This is a bit of a different issue altogether, but I just found this, and I think this is one of the more interesting points to make. This is an official White House response to a petition calling for more lenient copyright laws. The White House actually responds at the above link and calls for more regulations on copyright infringement and enhanced financial penalties for those who fail to comply with the law. This is so fascinating, because it affirms President Obama, a Democratic leader, as being in line with the GOP in opposing copyright infringement and further opposing any legislation that would make copyright more lenient. Both sides–or at least the leadership thereof–support enhanced copyright legislation and oppose the more cyber-libertarian approach embodied by Lessig. Again, this gets confusing because Lessig’s Mayday PAC gave mostly to Democrats, in spite of this support for copyright. It is also confusing because, as this Newsweek article ( points out, many Silicon Valley companies actually support free cultural objects online since it attracts consumers to purchase digital devices. So many of the largest corporations in the world have reason to support more lenient approaches to copyright, and do support more lenient approaches, but that isn’t reflected in the actions of the Democrats or the GOP. I suppose perhaps they can rely more on the support of other corporations. But really, that’s a key point here: principle isn’t guiding cyber-politics, let alone politics itself; money is. This cannot be defined in terms of politics because of the money that is guiding the decisions of each party. Each side takes the stance it needs to to ensure the continued support of the corporations upon which it relies for donations and lobbying cash. But what does that mean for a post-political organization like Anonymous? If anything, it reflects a sort of fatigue with corporate-led politics, and subsequently can explain some of the group’s anarchic proclivities, but it leaves us with a really tough question. As voters, who do we turn to? How can we turn to Anonymous if it so fervently stands behind cyber policies so lenient as to be considered anarchic, and if so many of its members have proven to be misogynistic, racist, homophobic, etc? Anonymous is one of the leading forces in the push against the government’s crony capitalism, but should we be siding with them? If we don’t, who do we side with? Both parties are making decisions based on money, especially in terms of digital issues. Neither is necessarily a defender of cyberutopianism on every issue, only the ones that can generate support and donations. Certainly no one could support that, so voters who oppose corporate influence on government are left in a position, very much reflected in cyber politics, in which we really can’t support one side or the other. Nonetheless, each side is leading us forward into a post-political age in which we see our beliefs not in a spectrum and we see conflict not taking place between two very different parties so much as we see two similar parties in a fight against cyber-libertarian groups that are so radically cyberutopian that they call for anarchy. At least that’s what I’m seeing in my findings… Alarming.

11/17: … This is fascinating because it is an openly left-wing critique of cyber-utopianism from the viewpoint that it conflates things like “crowdsourcing” in the “New Economy” with digital sharecropping, or even digital plantations and suggests heavily that cyber-utopianism has its roots in libertarian ideologies, which it does, again making this issue even more confusing. How did cyber-utopianism begin as something advocated by libertarian conservatives like Newt Gingrich and end up wielded by Anonymous, a perhaps anarchic group that leans any which way but right? It is also interesting to note that Anonymous, while extremely averse to conservatism, in embracing anarchism, embraces a small-government (in their case, a no-government) approach to politics that is almost a form of extreme libertarianism, closer to the right wing than the left. Yet the actions they take, like protesting Arizona’s immigration legislation or fighting Ugandan homophobia, show that they are not on the right at all. It could simply boil down to the fact that Anonymous, one of the leading powerhouses in contemporary cyberutopian political thought, is an anarchic organization, or is post-political as I had first believed. I am starting to lean towards the former as opposed to the latter, which perhaps will cement my paper as an explanation of the evolution of cyberutopianism and the fact that we should be careful to buy into the ideology now that it may have anarchistic repercussions.

11/16: … What fascinates me is the extent to which this article emphasizes the ways in which Anonymous is far from a liberal organization, even though you have people like Quinn Norton talking about the group like it is in this piece: … Anonymous hacked the Ugandan government websites to protest its homophobic legislation, yet post horribly homophobic statements online… They also protested Arizona’s strict immigration laws, which could reasonably be viewed as a rather liberal move, since the legislation was from conservatives. And notably, some also insist they helped make Occupy what it was–another liberal movement. But actions taken and comments posted online show a refusal to adhere to even the liberal ideas that they sometimes defend. Yes, we must first consider the group’s horizontalism and the fact that there is no central leadership, but even so, the group almost seems to be anti-everything, except perhaps anarchy, which is a scary thing. This is where the idea of cyberutopianism comes in, as Anonymous seems to believe that with a free and open Internet, all people could coexist and perhaps we wouldn’t even need governments. Cyberutopianism as embodied by Anonymous has essentially manifested itself as something that places its trust so excessively in the Internet as to advocate perhaps for the dissolution of governments, if it is even fighting for any larger goal at all. And, ultimately, that is the question. Is Anonymous fighting for anything in the end, or is it just fighting AGAINST everything? But the group in general, so horizontalist as to offer a multitude of contradictions in its ideology, does indeed seem to be–if not anarchist–then firmly post-political, as the Nation article seems to intimate… “Coleman sees Anonymous as part of a great geek political awakening, along with Edward Snowden, WikiLeaks, the Pirate Party and Debian programmers, ‘clearly part of a wellspring of hackers and geeks who were taking political matters into their own hands and making their voices heard.’” … The common thread between them is digital utopianism, and if Anonymous represents anything about this new counterculture, this cyberutopian movement, it is the post-political nature of it all… Paragraph about Fred Turner’s argument is vital. The predominantly liberal counterculture marked a substantial change in American politics once the New Communalists put forth their vision of new societies away from the masses, in their return to nature. But as those communes collapsed, they turned to the Internet that they had begun to romanticize, and it’s easy to see that that is where Anonymous is now: they have set up camp away from the rest of society, in the confines of the Internet, hidden away in places like 4Chan, still holding that unending faith in the cyberutopian potential of the Internet, carrying on the message of Wired and other products of the New Communalists and their so-called “techno-optimism.” And this is where it gets really confusing, because they are indeed carrying on that message, which is starkly libertarian in nature. If Anonymous is anarchist, or apolitical, or even slightly left-leaning if you view it more ideally like Norton, how does that reconcile with its fundamental libertarianism? It doesn’t… Once again we come to the same sort of conclusion, that Anonymous, the 21st-century manifestation of the New Communalists and cyberutopian thought, is the embodiment of the post-political world.

11/12: … This is very interesting from the standpoint that President Obama makes a statement that the Internet is one of the greatest gifts to our economy… That’s a very “New Economy,” cyber-libertarian stance from a Democratic President. He directly refers to the Internet as one of the most democratizing forces the world has ever known, which is fascinating because it takes the digital determinist stance of finding the Internet to be inherently democratic… Rather cyberutopian thinking. … I first heard about this PAC from a Politico story I had to analyze for my News Media and Society class and knew this would relate. Again, we see an instance of a cyberutopian individual–cyberutopian in the thinking that if reforms are made, the Internet can be a liberating force–who is standing by mostly Democrats (and in the context of this specific election cycle, failing as a result) and putting forth a pretty anti-libertarian message of “no big money in politics.” Lessig, who we have talked about in class before, was once a member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, of which Esther Dyson was a member as well… The same Esther Dyson whose “Magna Carta” was endorsed by Newt Gingrich and accepted by the GOP… So Lessig, whose conception of a free Internet has a proclivity to fall under the distinction of cyber-libertarianism, has been pushing for a fiscally anti-libertarian policy, removing big money from politics. Is there a difference between libertarianism “IRL” and online? (Sorry, I’m thinking out loud and droning, but if people like Tufecki, a cyber-libertarian, insist that digital dualism is false, then cyber-libertarianism is no different from actual libertarianism… Correct? Does this make any sense? So is Tufecki wrong? This is pretty off-topic, but it’s just so complicated and confusing.) … Here’s where it gets interesting, because after all this discussion of the fact that Democrats seem to be pretty cyberutopian and support Net Neutrality and such, we find this, from Time Magazine, and this suggests that the vast majority of conservatives in this country (4 out of 5) support Net Neutrality, even though their party leaders may not. So clearly, the cyberutopian ideal of a free and open Internet is not something that is isolated to one party or another, and that’s vital to understand if I’m talking about how cyberutopianism is no longer only endorsed by one party over the other, and it stands in stark contrast to the way things once were.

An overview of the shift I’m trying to portray:

As we studied in class, the Counterculture movement in the 60s was largely fearful of computers and digital technologies, fearing specifically dehumanization. That would eventually change as a result of New Communalist efforts (namely efforts like Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog) to show a path forward in technology as a transcendent force that could bring people together and serve not to dehumanize so much as to liberate mankind under Norbert Wiener’s theory of cybernetics. Indeed, the New Communalists, an ideologically liberal subset of individuals, were perpetuating a message of digital utopianism. As they grew older and began to inhabit the private sector, they would move to the right, under the theories of a “New Economy,” and standing behind organizations like the aforementioned Electronic Frontier Foundation in the 1990s. The “Magna Carta,”  which called for a free and open Internet that would act as a democratizing force and which represented the hopes of a laissez-faire digital economy, was in many respects the culmination of this shift, as it was endorsed by Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and became a major part of the GOP platform. The once-liberal counterculturists had become Republicans, taking their digital utopian ideas with them. The 21st century has brought with it immense change, however, as Democrats, too, are standing behind measures (like Net Neutrality) that are inherently cyber-libertarian and see an open Internet as a democratizing force, as President Obama insisted. The post-political aspect of all of this comes in when we consider the fact that for most conservatives to support Net Neutrality as well is to align themselves with people like Lawrence Lessig, who is most certainly not a proponent of laissez-faire economics. Though conservatives may not hew closely to his ideology on every last issue, Net Neutrality is only one of many issues on which it is clear that, digitally speaking, Republicans and Democrats share more in common than might normally be expected. In fact, on many of these issues, each party’s respective stance betrays a sort of contradiction with regards to the supposed core tenets of their ideologies.

Take the notion of cybersurveillance, for example. Conservative individuals on the right, like Ted Cruz, are fervently opposed to such measures. The government’s intrusion into users’ privacy is an interference in the free and open Internet that cyber-libertarian organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation seek to create. That is a cyberutopian ideal, in which a free Internet is looked to as a liberating force. But let’s consider the implications of an Internet which is not subjected to the surveillance of any force, and in which we see cases like that which is described in Amanda Hess’ “Why Women aren’t Welcome on the Internet.” Twitter is an entity that is firmly opposed to cybersurveillance and fights off government attempts to access its users’ information. As a result, law enforcement is crippled in its attempts to handle death threats, rape threats, and other misogynistic comments made towards women online. This stands in stark opposition to the “tough on crime” stance that Cruz and many other Republicans take (for example, note that he is on the record as wanting heightened monitoring of sexual predators… … But can that be reconciled with his cyber-libertarian opposition to government surveillance?).

The lesson here, thus far, is that the issues we have discussed in class are markedly post-political. Does this argument make sense? And is cyberutopianism necessarily a core component of that argument? Sorry I wrote so much. “Excessively verbose” seems to be my default setting.

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Final Project Research–Cyberactivism

// Posted by Elizabeth on 11/10/2014 (7:02 PM)


Bringing together all the research and feedback I’ve done to write my final paper on cyberactivism seems really overwhelming, but it’s also exciting, and I think I have a lot of great stuff to pull together into what will… Read more



Bringing together all the research and feedback I’ve done to write my final paper on cyberactivism seems really overwhelming, but it’s also exciting, and I think I have a lot of great stuff to pull together into what will hopefully be an insightful and interesting work. It seems like my project pitch on Monday went well and that everyone understood how my research on Bye Felipe, Greenpeace Greenwire and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge supports my argument. I think using these case studies will really keep my paper focused and make my argument seem very well supported.

I was so grateful to receive feedback from my peers about my project as it has developed so far. Specifically, I asked them to consider the presence of “hashtag activism,” or their friends or acquaintances posting about political or other social issues, in their day-to-day use of social media. I hoped they would reflect on what this means for cyberactivism, and think about if it’s at all effective or just irritating. While there was some variety in the answers I got, there was a general consensus among all four responders that activism doesn’t necessarily belong on Facebook. Damien, for example, brought up the worthwhile concern that many people who continuously express political opinions on Facebook or other networks are actually very uninformed. I think this is a great point, and it will be interesting to consider with regards to slacktivism; I could definitely see this as a component of the issue, but I’m not sure what the theory might say about such an idea. Emily and Nicola actually both confessed to deleting or blocking users who post about societal issues on their pages and have opposing views from their own. Aisling seemed to mind less that such users were present on her social media networks, and she said that she appreciated observing the conversations her peers are having about social issues. But she also recognized that activists might be better off in their own spaces. It will be really interesting to consider all this insight as I write my paper.

In general, I still plan to argue that because of the dangers of slacktivism, cyberactivism will continue to be most effective when coupled with offline organized and acts of protest. Evidence for this argument can be seen in an analysis of the success and progress created by the Bye Felipe and ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, and in my paper I’ll specifically consider issues of slacktivism and awareness raising as they relate to these two campaigns. In this space I’ll also consider what the research says about slacktivism and try to tie in this theoretical evidence with my own thoughts on the first two cases. I’ll then take the argument a step further by analyzing the purpose and effectiveness of Greenpeace Greenwire, and considering how it could shape future uses of cyberactivism. What I find most significant about this final case, however, is that its creators and users have no intention of exclusively using Greenpeace Greenwire to promote environmental protection, and I’ll argue that while cyberactivism is a powerful tool, it will be most successful in creating change with supplementary efforts. In this section I’ll reflect briefly on the comments I received from my peers about activism on their social media pages and networks, and I’ll use their comments about these experiences as additional support for the idea that activists could probably benefit from the creation of spaces catered to their interests, whatever they may be, online.



Quick thought re: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge–what about Ebola?? Where is the giant campaign soliciting donations for a disease that’s devastating Africa? Is there proportionality here?



As I’m going through and reflecting upon my research so far to solidify my argument, I want to highlight a passage about the Bye Felipe campaign that I think is really relevant to my overall topic of cyberactivism and its strengths and flaws. The creator of Bye Felipe writes:

“While Bye Felipe (a take on the meme ‘Bye Felicia‘) uses humor to take away some of the power these insults may carry, I also like to point folks to the Tumblr ‘When Women Refuse,’ which chronicles the serious problem of actual violence women experience at the hands of men who have been rejected.

I have been asked multiple times, ‘What’s the answer to this? What can these dating sites do to curb this problem?’ And I struggle to answer, because this is just a symptom of a larger problem. Censoring these messages may help in the short term, but the messages featured on Bye Felipe are like an immortalized version of the catcalls and threats women receive on the the street every day, just walking around and existing. Until we change the cultural atmosphere, women will continue to receive these hurtful messages online and in real life.”

An interesting perspective on the point of the online campaign–Tweten implies that Bye Felipe is a humor-based approach to cyberactivism meant more to chronicle these offensive messages and empower the women receiving them, not necessarily to call for corrective action to this problem. Of course, in a very Quinn Norton-esque explanation, the campaign creator also implies that these messages are a greater reflection of the treatment and harassment in society, and not isolated to the online spaces that can be seen on the Instagram account. To solve this issue, she seems to argue, would require a greater cultural shift in the treatment of women in our society.

Here’s the blog post:



Interesting proposition in reason #2: The author claims that the Ice Bucket Challenge creates a sort of competition among charity organizations to develop their own viral campaigns. Is this true? What about IBC spin-offs? Also, does this imply that charities are/will be creating online campaigns specifically?

Here’s a list of a few international Ice Bucket Challenge offshoots:



It seems that “slacktivism” is a term inherently associated with digital technology. This article defines it as “…the use of low-barrier digital actions to effect change. These actions are somewhat less energetic than traditional activists are used to, to put it mildly: clicking on a button to upvote a statement encouraging change, adding your name to an online petition, and in its most persistent (or pernicious) forms, adding a hashtag to a tweet, changing your online avatar and altering your status.”

But were there “slackers” in historical protest movements outside the digital realm? What form could a “slacktivist” have taken in the past?



One of the (very important and valid) questions Dr. Rosatelli posed after I submitted my research proposal about cyberactivism concerned the parameters I’ll use to measure the “success” of activist movements. Certainly, success would consist of governmental or societal change; these are tangible results that provide evidence of progress. The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, though, is a little bit harder to evaluate, and I’ve run into a bit of a roadblock in answering Dr. Rosatelli’s question in the context of this campaign. Its tangible results are certainly the money raised for ALS research, but the campaign is also praised for raising awareness about the relatively unfamiliar disease.

So, what about raising awareness? People throw around the term constantly, and I’ve heard it used both mockingly and genuinely. Does raising consciousness, as it’s also called, really matter? Does this count as success in any activist movement? Or did it only really apply to ALS because it was previously such a little-known problem?

The author of this piece says no: “But the funny part about all of this awareness-raising is that it doesn’t accomplish all that much. The underlying assumption of so many attempts to influence people’s behavior — that they make bad choices because they lack the information to empower them to do otherwise — is, except in a few cases, false. And what’s worse, awareness-raising done in the wrong way can actually backfire, encouraging the negative activities in question.”

The author goes on to explain, and seems to particularly attack hashtag activism.

Note::: Googling “raising awareness”  and “the importance of raising awareness” automatically brings up articles about the Ice Bucket Challenge!!



To add to my case study about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and the issue of wasting clean water, (see the photo from my very first research post) I wanted to dig a little deeper and compare the two problems. Obviously, they’re both devastating issues, but is the critique of the challenge as an ignorant campaign to correct a “first-world problem” really valid?

Matt Damon, co-founder of a nonprofit called, really called attention to this issue with his ice bucket challenge video:

Here’s a blog post from a particularly bitter observer of the IBC:

And a photo from that post–it’s thought-provoking, despite its grammatical error:



A few additional sources:::

The Guardian on slacktivism:

I definitely would like to hunt down this book:

I also need to look for more information about “researchers Phillip Howard, Mary Joyce and Frank Edwards of the Digital Activism Research Project (DARP)” as mentioned in this article–looks like it could be a great source for scholarly research on this topic



Part of what I’m looking at in my final project is Greenpeace’s social networking site, called Greenwire. It’s really the first of it’s kind in terms of a social network designed specifically for activists to connect online outside of traditional platforms like Facebook and Twitter–and I find it really inspiring. Check out the “About Greenpeace Greenwire” link (at the very bottom of the page) if you want to read a little bit more about the site and its purpose:

Recently on Greenwire, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts in response to and in support of the protests going on in Ferguson, Missouri since the shooting unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Of course, Greenwire and Greenpeace is primarily designed to promote grassroots environmental activism, but all conversation seems to be welcome. I think it’s really interesting to consider not only specific activist campaigns and social media use, but the presence of the greater progressive movement as a whole on social media sites and how people interact and start conversations on these platforms. A couple of articles/issues I’ve found discussed on Greenwire include:

Sweatshop labor–

Again, Ferguson–



A comprehensive video about Bye Felipe, shown on a segment Good Morning America. The video talks about publicly shaming the men sending these offensive messages, revealing the harassment women face in online dating, the effects of anonymity on these mens’ comments, and making positive social change to combat the issue:–abc-news-sex.html



I don’t think I want to extend my project to include a discussion of Ferguson–this would add a lot of material to an already far-reaching paper/project, and it could also perhaps be difficult because it is still such a current and ongoing issue. Still, I’ve seen post after post discussing the topic, particularly on Facebook, and I feel like I should record some of the most powerful statuses and links I’ve come across.

One person wrote about this article: “If you read anything about Ferguson, read this:”

A petition calling the government/people to take action even after Darren Wilson is not indicted:

An unorthodox Thanksgiving post:

“As we all prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, it is important to acknowledge that it was not a day that commemorated the unity of indigenous Americans and settlers, but of the massacre of Pequot people. This country was built on the genocide of people of color with the slave labor of people of color and continues to function as a system of militarized racism. Unarmed black men are shot down without consequences, and yet people are still more concerned about rioting. This is not an isolated incident. It is a pattern of systematic oppression that causes many people in this country to live in fear of law enforcement, because this is not a system that was designed to serve and protect them. ‪#‎IndictAmerica‬ ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ ‪#‎Ferguson‬

This one deals directly with slacktivism! :

“Please, please, please everyone, channel your anger into something other than Facebook rants. DO something real.”



An interesting critique of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge I found on Twitter:




Some simple background articles about my project and cyber activism:



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#4 The Foundations of a Protest

// Posted by Brendan on 11/03/2014 (1:30 PM)

The most recent section of our class focused on counterculture as it exists in the more modern digital age. For the past few weeks, we have foucsed on the #Occupy movement, Anonymous hackers, 4Chan and digital pranking. We have found… Read more


The most recent section of our class focused on counterculture as it exists in the more modern digital age. For the past few weeks, we have foucsed on the #Occupy movement, Anonymous hackers, 4Chan and digital pranking. We have found that activism in the new age takes on an entirely different process than what was seen in the 60′s and 70′s. The most glaring part of the new era is how digital media has become both a necessity and a limitation to the fundamentals of counterculture.

For our 4th class experience, the group of Damian, Elizabeth and myself decided to stage a protest of the high levels of E.Coli found recently in the Westhampton Lake on our campus. Our protest had two separate but intertwined elements that included the launching of an online campaign as well as a physically staged protest that took place outside our campus Library on a Wednesday afternoon.

Before we could get started, we needed to decide on a rallying cry that would act as the forefront of our initiative much like #Occupy became a term that represented its entire movement.. We came up with the moniker CleanURlake, using our university’s abbreviated name as a pun that also represented our goals for the protest. The name would serve as a handle for our protest’s initiative and would be instrumental to our online campaign.

We began our protest with a online media blitz, creating accounts on Gmail, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to promote our CleanURlake movement. We also posted a message to the anonymous posting app Yikyak, which gained notoriety for its.We began the blitz by posting information about lake and its years of contamination including the recent Collegian article that brought to light the Lake’s ridiculously high E.coli levels. We hoped to attract as much attention to our cause as possible, but found we could not gain followers if no one knew about our cause. So, each of us began reaching out friends, asking them to like the respective pages across platforms while we engaged in our physical protest. The tactic gained us followers and likes, but the results were inconclusive within the class hour.

Due to time constraints, our physical protest could not last longer than 30 minutes, but within such a short amount of time, our cause generated more interest than we would imagine. As we stood outside the library entrance, holding signs bearing hashtags like #IspyeColi and displaying our @CleanURlake handle, we garnered the attention of passing students who seemed almost shocked by our presence. I was surprised to see that many students had no knowledge of the recent report claiming high levels of E.coli in the lake, and that we were the first to bring the issue to their attention. Our display even gathered the attention of two Collegian reporters, who posted a picture of us to The Collegian’s Instagram account and dedicated an entire story to our protest (the article can be read here: The physical part looked to be the more encouraging aspect of our protest.

Our protesters in action

For the next few days, I monitored and sporadicly updated our various online pages for our protest to keep track of the traction our movement had gained. As of this post, Our Facebook page generated 18 likes, our Instagram 18 followers, and 1 twitter follower. Sadly, we failed to gain a lot of online attention as most of the likes or followers were members of our class. The results proved that our physical protest by far had more impact than our online campaign.

What Our Facebook Page looks like Currently

So What does this all mean?

When we came up with the idea to stage a digital protest, we had hope to provide a further look in the counterculture movement. Despite our time constraints, I thought the experience succeeded in displaying the contradictions that have arisen in the counterculture era through the presence of digital media. We had sought to create a digital campaign, but found that our campaign would be fruitless without our efforts in our physical protest. The experience leads me to believe that one cannot simply prove to be a “netizen” through efforts to like or follow pages online. These things are merely arbitrary and provide no traction to the movement’s real cause. Sure, protests can certainly be organized online as was seen through Anonymous’ worldwide displays against Scientology, but it is the physical nature of the protest that as seen in the Anonymous protests and #Occupy that serves as a method for counterculture. These physical demonstrations maintain the values seen in the early days of Counterculture with it’s hippie movements, sit-ins and obscure protests. In short, the values of early Counterculture are still present today, but the advance of digital society does little to make them more powerful.

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// Posted by Joe on 11/03/2014 (1:19 PM)

Sure, I am not afraid to admit it. I was extremely hesitant most of the day leading up to our experiential protest in front of Boatwright Memorial Library. I had already decided that I would not wear a mask… Read more


Sure, I am not afraid to admit it. I was extremely hesitant most of the day leading up to our experiential protest in front of Boatwright Memorial Library. I had already decided that I would not wear a mask or create any sort of anonymity going into the protest as I felt that if I were supporting a cause that I actually do believe in such as the contamination of Westhampton Lake, I should put myself out there and truly establish a position on it. As I walked from my previous class to the library however, to start planning our protest, I felt a deep sense of imminent embarrassment and fear. Putting myself out there and protesting for the lake, with six other classmates, right in front of the library where hundreds of students who I see every day would pass by, was an enormously embarrassing and awkward thought to me.

I was appeased early on in the beginning of class as I realized we would first be heavily planning out our strategy both physically and cybernetically before we went out and started physically protesting. The beginning phase of our class-long protest was to create a presence online. We discussed in our strategic planning what made protest movements like ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and ‘Kony’ so successful and wide-reaching. We needed to know what the key ingredients were to create a successful movement. We realized that we needed short, catchy embodiments of our movement that could be easily recognized and would resonate with people. The first step needed to be the creation of this small message that people could remember and would associate with our cause. We realized that hashtags were clearly the the most effective and simple tool for accomplishing this goal and making that first step in establishing awareness of our movement, as well as allow connection and curiosity to our online presence. After much deliberation, we decided we would name our movement ‘cleanURlake’ using the hashtags # cleanURlake#URecoli. We wanted to use a combination of catchiness with rhyming or a play on words to make our message memorable, and somehow incorporate UR to establish a clear connection with our movement and the University of Richmond.

To make proper use of these hashtags that we had designed we needed to create our online presence that these hashtags would connect to. We designed our hashtags and online presence with the goal of virality in mind. In the age of digital protest that we have entered, virality is essential for a successful and widespread movement. Almost everything successful in the digital world survives through viral content that gains a presence across different domains throughout the web. Considering how much time people today spend on different social media platforms and the way we digitally consume information, a viral presence would increase a movements awareness and effectiveness drastically. Like memes, a viral video, picture, song, or even idea clearly becomes a strong digital cultural object and in turn make the associated movement a more vague cultural object as well (Viercant).

We realized however that with the time and resources provide that virality was a most unrealistic goal, though it was good to have in order to simulate the creation of an activist movement in the modern digital age. To create our online presence we needed a sort of infrastructure across multiple platforms through which people at Richmond access and consume information. We needed tools within the cyberworld to make people aware of our movement and the issue we were protesting. We assigned group members to create spaces for our movement on the most popular social media platforms, all called cleanURlake and connected with the created hashtags. We made a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Yik Yak post, and I was tasked with creating a Tumblr blog page. Tumblr allows the blogger to be more creative so I wanted to make our blog look as official and competent as possible. To create a base I posted a few articles from the collegian about the lake pollution and I also made a text post telling followers to also follow us on other social media sites and I added a picture of people skating on the lake in the 60s to diversify the blog. I also changed the format and theme of the blog page and put in a picture of the lake as a permanent background page. I felt quite proud of the page and very comfortable as I was creating it behind the screen of my computer, and once I had finished, it was my turn to replace one of our group members in the physical world to protest outside the library with the protest signs and hashtag cards we had made. I had to leave my safe zone on the web and physically protest where everyone I know could see me. I realized however that this physical aspect is absolutely necessary. It is at its very least the initial spark that is needed to actually force people to look at you and your movement, and maybe go look up that catchy hashtag on instagram.

This combination, while in our case on a very small scale, is clear to me as the real effective way to protest digitally in the digital age. We had a clear message, a short goal and succinct reason for our protest that people could latch onto, and read more about if they wanted to in many domains over the web. Hacktivists like the group Anonymous use a different method, cyber-jamming and pranking in the digital world (albeit on a fairly large and impactful scale) to superficially send a message, using their power in cyberspace to disrupt the physical world. This is their form of activism. This does not, however, incorporate the majority of people for which the issues they are protesting even effects. These people are not being informed or allowed to join the cause and put their voice into the movement.

We ended in our set proest time by putting up a few signs on the bulletin board within the library, and attached a couple hashtag cards to it, so that people would see it and maybe keep looking us up, gaining more awareness.

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Experience 4: What’s at stake?

// Posted by Elizabeth on 11/03/2014 (1:05 PM)

I remember chatting nonchalantly with Damian, my fellow group member for this fourth experience, after class a week and a half before our project was due. We both agreed that it would be so cool to do develop and participate… Read more


I remember chatting nonchalantly with Damian, my fellow group member for this fourth experience, after class a week and a half before our project was due. We both agreed that it would be so cool to do develop and participate in some sort of protest to go along with our class discussions of the rebirth of counterculture and new forms of activism in the digital age. We were concerned, however, that organizing an effective and powerful protest would be difficult to do with the limited time and number of students our class alone offers. We ended the conversation with a sort of mutual shrug, a casual promise to keep brainstorming what we could do with our class, and a cheerful “See you on Wednesday!”

Flash forward to a week later. Our group met, discussed our options, and eventually put Damain and I’s initial concerns aside and pursued the idea of participating in a protest. We wanted the campaign to have two parts: a physical and a digital demonstration. For the physical protest, we would make signs and stand outside the library for approximately half an hour. For the digital protest, we would utilize social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook and apps like Yik Yak and Instagram. We decided that it would be most relevant to protest a campus issue, with the hope that something affecting our campus community would have the greatest potential to start a conversation at UR. We brainstormed such problems and came up with a concise list: UR’s coordinate college system (the separation of the men’s and women’s colleges and Dean’s offices), the problems with our campus’s dining options (in particular, the lack of dining options after 9:00 PM) and the conditions of Westhampton Lake, which contains high levels of bacteria such as E. Coli and is generally polluted. In true democratic fashion, we would allow students to vote on their preferred issue. And thus the CleanURlake campaign was born.

Inspired by the social movements in recent years that we read about in class, including Occupy Wall Street and the hacktivist group Anonymous, our group decided that we too would adopt a policy of “horizontalism” for our two-part protest. In his piece “Inside Occupy Wall Street,” Jeff Sharlet describes this value simply; in the context of Occupy, it was “the evasion of organized leadership,” and an attempt by the 99% to avoid a hierarchy or power structure in their movement—which made sense, considering that the existing hierarchy in American society was essentially what they were protesting. In the context of our project, the idea was simpler: we just hoped that our protest would be a truly collective effort, that we could organize the campaign together as a class and that our group could be participants, not instructors, in the experience; this was done both to test the effectiveness of leaderless-ness and to ensure that no one was made uncomfortable in the process of our protest.

As we all discovered, our “horizontal” approach had its issues. First of all, we as a group made a big error in choosing not to reveal to the class that we were attempting and testing this tactic. Initially, instead of inspiring them to participate (although they did eventually, and were very creative and engaged in the effort), this generated confusion while they awaited instruction from our group and we ultimately wasted time that could have been spent “getting the (digital) word out.” And in reflecting on the literature and history of the term, this is something we should have recognized and predicted: horizontalism didn’t just develop in either of the two movements we studied, but rather was established from the start as valuable to each of the groups and thus inspired participation from thousands of individuals, each bringing their own beliefs and goals to the table.

Fortunately, though, our issue and the mini-movement we attempted to create didn’t necessarily have all the problems of horizontalism faced by those larger groups like Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous. Because there were only eight of us in the class, we were all clearly in agreement that we were choosing to protest the conditions of Westhampton Lake because the water is contaminated by E. Coli and other hazardous bacteria and elements (namely, Nitrous and Phosphorous from fertilizer run-off) and because we all agreed that the problem was too significant to be as unknown as it is on our campus.

Then again, each of us seemed to bring different reasons for our feelings against the lake to the table. Emily was frustrated with the inability of her organization to host its philanthropy event that involved boating on the lake. Damian had a friend who accidentally fell in the lake and suffered sickness afterwards. I was most angered by the persistence of this problem, despite a continued awareness by school administration that the lake’s water quality is dangerous, and the lack of demonstrated action to improve its conditions—as The Collegian article reported, the school banned students from swimming in the lake due to its toxicity thirty-eight years ago, in 1976. Perhaps, should our campaign to clean up the lake continue and grow into a larger effort by the campus community to address the issue, we would begin to differ in opinions or proposals about what should be done to solve the problem of the dirty lake. Without a leader to streamline our beliefs and represent our general views to campus administration, we could come off just as disorganized as Occupy or Anonymous—but that’s only speculation.

To return to Damian and I’s original hesitation about executing an effective protest for this project, we were right to be as worried as we were about the potential of our small, short class. I’m not sure what ultimately allowed us to overcome these concerns, but somehow they fell to the wayside, and I think our group went into the experience overly optimistic. Again, that we didn’t communicate our “horizontal” intentions contributed to this confidence, but we should have at least considered the need for an established campaign name, slogan and hashtag without Dr. Rosatelli’s help.

But this is not to say that I regret our decision to protest the conditions of the lake or that I am not satisfied with the results of our experience. We inspired an article in our campus newspaper, The Collegian, and there was a real, if temporary, “buzz” around our efforts. So the question remains: were we successful?

On the one hand, I certainly see elements of “slacktivism” in CleanURlake’s digital presence. There are now eighteen likes on the Cleanurlake Facebook page. The truth is, I believe I could increase that number easily, as could the other students in the class, if I invited more of my friends to like the page. But as sad as it is, I believe that even if I did get 50 more people to click the like button on our page, those additional likes wouldn’t necessary make our message more powerful or our campaign to clean up the lake stronger. And in fact, of the eighteen existing likes, ten are my mutual Facebook friends, and I wouldn’t be surprised if five of those ten would admit that they actually don’t give a sh*t about the pollution in the Westhampton lake and really just liked the page in an effort to support me as their friend. The reality is that likes on our Facebook page, upvotes on our Yik Yak post and followers on our Twitter and Instagram accounts aren’t necessarily an accurate reflection of student concern or even awareness about the conditions of the lake, because liking a page or following an account are mindless actions that require minimal effort.

On the other hand, I do believe we raised awareness about this issue, and while we can’t measure it to be sure, I’m confident that our various posts on social media inspired someone to search for more information about the polluted lake; the threat of E. Coli certainly caught people’s attention.

What’s more, we have no idea the potential this small effort may have for the future. While we intentionally chose an issue local to UR’s campus, who’s to say it couldn’t inspire support from other places outside of Richmond? I think if we had chosen to combat an issue more like the coordinate college system—an institution that many argue is old-fashioned and even promotes sexism—perhaps we could have garnered more attention. Either way, it’s true that anyone who searches, intentionally or not, #ispyecoli or #cleanURlake online will discover our various social media outlets. This is still a powerful notion to me, even if nothing ever comes of the project, considering that we were just eight students with computers and a cause. And this is certainly an instance where I believe that Saskia Sassen is right to argue that with the help of the Internet, the local can become global and vice versa in a sort of “feedback loop” that makes digital technology an incredible tool and creates a new realm for global activism.

Maybe one day, another group of students will decide that they want to be able to take full advantage of the Westhampton Lake and be able to paddle around it in canoes on sunny afternoons. I hope that they’ll search The Collegian’s archives, as we did, and read our story. But even if that never happens, I’ll still consider our protest to be a meaningful, thought-provoking and fun fourth experience that allowed us to reflect on the impact of digital tools and Internet culture on activism and social change.


A clip from the physical protest outside Boatwright Memorial Library

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Trial and Error

// Posted by Emily on 11/03/2014 (12:35 PM)

While thinking of ways to reflect on our most recent experience, I kept returning to the relationship between online and “IRL” protests, and the question of which was more effective than the other. Mid-thought, I realized that I didn’t necessarily… Read more


While thinking of ways to reflect on our most recent experience, I kept returning to the relationship between online and “IRL” protests, and the question of which was more effective than the other. Mid-thought, I realized that I didn’t necessarily have to answer this question on my own. I googled “online protest forums,” with the intent to post my questions to the protest experts, and the search lead me to, an Anonymous (big A!) forum.

In the spirit of transparency, I must admit that out of fear of entering into the Anonymous world, I hit the “back” button and spent a solid fifteen minutes looking for other forums to post on. Right or wrong, I had visions of hackers seeing my post and deciding to drop documents on me for just fun. Though it was a far-fetched fear, Grigoriadis’ “4chan’s Chaos Theory” and “We Are Legion” made the fear just realistic enough to make me pause. After a self-induced reality check (really, who was going to care enough to drop documents on me?) I bit the bullet, signed up, and posted.


This social media experiment was a total bust. My post was viewed by thirty others on the forum. One lone member, “Anonymous Button,” offered an offensive and thoughtless response (see below). After “We Are Legion” portrayed the members of Anonymous as the rough edges of the activist world who never shied away from expressing an opinion, I was a little disappointed in the lack of turnout. Perhaps I didn’t pose my question appropriately; controversial phrasing might have inspired more users to bite. Can’t win them all, I guess.

“Anonymous Button” wasn’t the least bit helpful, so I thought back to our experience to analyze the relationship and effectiveness of online and “IRL” protests. We spent the first part of the experience posting the #cleanURlake cause to social media spheres on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Yik Yak, and the second part protesting the bacterial contamination in Westhampton Lake in person outside the library. Going into the experience, I was unsure about how the protest would be received on the Internet, thinking that the social media posts would fly under the campus radar, and that a group of students with signs acting completely out of character would be more effective in generating attention.

As of Sunday, our Instagram had 18 followers, the Facebook had 7 friends (all from Digital America,) and the Yik Yak had been “up voted” (the equivalent of a “like” on Facebook) 103 times. Our “IRL” protest inspired a second, much more bitter Yik Yak, which was quickly removed (I suspect due to “down votes” from other members of our class). Though it wasn’t up for long, I think this Yak evidences the twenty-first century inseparable relationship between the Internet and the real world. A Richmond student saw our protest in person, and responded to it in a social media outlet online.





It’s impossible to determine whether our “IRL” protest generated the Yik Yak likes, or if they happened without any knowledge that the protest ever happened. It would be easy to say that the online protest was more effective, because it can be quantified by the number of followers and likes. But I don’t think it’s that simple. In retrospect, maybe no other users on responded to my post because there just isn’t an answer to the questions I asked. We are in an age where online protests and “IRL” protests go hand in hand, and valuing one over the other based solely on effectiveness holds the potential of threatening their dual significance.


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Online and IRL: Protesting in the Digital Age

// Posted by Nicola on 11/03/2014 (10:02 AM)

What lurks beneath the surface…?

While protests have occurred throughout time, the shift into the digital age has witnessed a new method of doing so – online. This media activism has spurned some successful and not… Read more


What lurks beneath the surface…?

While protests have occurred throughout time, the shift into the digital age has witnessed a new method of doing so – online. This media activism has spurned some successful and not so successful protests in recent memory. Moreover, it has raised some interesting questions regarding the role of the Internet and social media as a tool for activism. Drawing on these ideas, the fourth experience that I found myself participating in was a protest – both on and offline.

Having never participated in one, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would we be aggressively promoting our cause? Or would it be a more peaceful demonstration? After voting to protest for a cleaner lake here at the University of Richmond, we were given the direction to bring along props to aid our demonstration. I decided against donning any sort of anonymous mask. While the idea behind making oneself anonymous can be very effective and has been utilised in protests such as the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, I felt that given the subject of what we were protesting it wasn’t as relevant. Instead, I decided to wear a self-made visual sign with an image of Blinky (the three eyed fish from The Simpsons). I thought that this popular culture reference would be both humorous and easily identifiable for my peers in association to our concern regarding the lake.

Blinky the three eyed fish (see episode, “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”)

As we began preparing, it became clear that we would need to apply some ingenuity and flair in order to be noticed and truly heard. To some extent then, a protest can be seen as an advertising campaign. You must be able to sell your ideology or the movement won’t pick up enough of a following to make any noticeable difference. We deliberated as to what would be most effective? Fear? After all much of the American public’s attitudes and beliefs are shaped by fear (see recent cases of Ebola) Or would we use humour? Or perhaps be shocking and controversial? And we couldn’t forget the importance of visual material! But first we needed a name, hash tags and a slogan for our project. Looking to some of the more successful protests that were also rooted in an online environment we recognised the importance of a simple, yet effective name and associated tags. For instance, in the case of Occupy Wall Street, their slogans “We are the 99%” and “This is what democracy looks like” were short, to the point and easy to adopt.Drawing upon this approach, we decided on the following:

  • Name of project: cleanURlake.
  • Hash tag: #URecoli #cleanURlake
  • Slogan: I spy E-coli

With our name finally decided, we proceeded to create posters and flyers as well as setting up a variety of online environments whereby we could conduct our protest and spread the word. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram and email accounts were all activated. A Yik Yak (a popular social media app here on campus which allows people to anonymously create and view posts within a 1.5 mile radius) was also sent out. By establishing a variety of different social media accounts we aimed to boost our online presence and increase our chances of the campaign going viral. After all, the importance of information going viral in the digital age is paramount. Our culture thrives off of the viral video, image, and other media formats. Given that so many individuals (at least in the Western world) primarily access their information via the Internet, and particularly social media sites, any viral content will be likely noticed. However, with that said, getting something to go viral is no easy feat. There isn’t a rulebook or guidelines to doing so, but involves a fair bit of ingenuity and luck. Perhaps if we had had more time we could have also put together a video, seeing as a viral video can provide unprecedented publicity, ‘…the movement has spawned celebrities – like LaGreca, who lambasted a Fox News reporter in a YouTube clip that went viral…’ (“Inside Occupy Wall Street” in Rolling Stone) and has even helped kick-start profitable careers (Grumpy Cat).

A few examples of our online presence

Our Yik Yak gains momentum!

However, the inherent difficulties of conducting a protest became apparent fairly quickly. While it was easy enough to go outside in front of the library with signs and flyers to give out to fellow students and faculty, the physical act of rallying IRL (in real life) does require one to be completely uninhibited. As a more reserved, non-confrontational individual the idea of chanting and screaming was difficult for me to immerse myself in. However, I was not alone as our predetermined chant, “Dirty lake, what’s at stake?” (Everyone loves a chant that rhymes!) remained dormant. Here, our small numbers (only seven of us) also perhaps hindered the effectiveness of our protest. After all, protests are often bolstered by “bodies, accompanied by noise” and in the case of Occupy included ‘…bongos and tablas and tambourines and full drum kits with snares.’ (“Inside Occupy Wall Street” in Rolling Stone)

Our protest site (i.e. In front of the Boatwright Library)

My fellow classmates in action

Further, while I thought the group’s horizontalism approach was a clever idea given its popularity among more contemporary protests (i.e. Occupy Wall Street), it was certainly no without its flaws. In implementing this method, it took a long time to come for my peers and I to reach a decision regarding what the core ideas of the protest were and what the name/slogan/hash tag would be. While we were all provided the chance to shape the protest, it ultimately highlighted how pertinent a single leader and voice can be in executing ideas, and ultimately a successful protest.

Nevertheless, the experience did raise a pertinent issue in the digital age as to whether activism online can ever replace a physical protest. I’m not convinced it can. While it is easy to like or follow an online protest movement, the problems of such “slacktivism” arise. Just because an individual hits ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ on various social media sites, does not solve the issue at hand. It may generate buzz and therefore garner attention in the media, but how long that attention will last is questionable. A new issue may arise and simply push it to the background. This flaw in online activism has seen the failure of such campaigns (I.e. ‘KONY 2012’ and ‘Bring back our girls’ among others). Moreover, online activism is just as risky as real life protesting. While many may think they are safe behind a computer screen, this is certainly not the case as demonstrated most recently in the current protests occurring in Hong Kong. As reported in The Wall Street Journal (October 19 2014) by Gillian Wong, ‘A man was arrested on suspicion of posting messages online that urged people to gather and agitate at a protest site…’ Wong further goes on to note the impact of such an arrest, stating that, ‘The move—one of the first such arrests during three weeks of demonstrations—could potentially chill the protesters’ use of the Internet and social media to mobilize large crowds.’ Thus, it is clear to me that the two (online and IRL) aren’t mutually exclusive and work far better when utilised together (again demonstrated by Occupy, the Tunisian protests, etc.).

While it was difficult to document during the protest given that we were so actively involved, I did manage to take a few screenshots and pictures to aid with writing this reflection. Also, in order to remember some key facts while protesting, I typed them into my phone using my notes app. However, what was particularly useful as a piece of documentation was an article written about the protest by a reporter for the University of Richmond’s independent student magazine, The Collegian (to read it, click the following link: This article also served as a reminder of the protest and provided a more objective view of the event itself.

Our protest appearing on The Collegian’s Instagram page

Ultimately, while we may not have introduced a deafening noise into the signal, I believe our protest certainly brought to light a genuine environmental concern on campus. After all, while protests at my home university are a daily occurrence, with students constantly lining the main pathway chanting various slogans and bombarding any passers-by with flyers, here there seems to be little to no student activism. While many (including myself) often try to dodge the constant harassment and groan about the influx of information, this experience certainly provided me with a new perspective on just how hard it is to effectively protest – whether it be IRL or online. Next time I’m approached or handed a flyer I will certainly think twice before hurrying off!

For more information, check out the protest online:

  • Twitter: #cleanURlake
  • Instagram: @cleanURlake
  • Facebook:
  • Email:

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Cyberactivism and the #CleanURlake Protest

// Posted by Damian on 11/02/2014 (10:07 PM)

For this experience, my group, which included myself, Elizabeth, and Brendan, decided to have students organize a protest—in two senses. The first component of the activity involved the establishment of an online campaign, including a Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook

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For this experience, my group, which included myself, Elizabeth, and Brendan, decided to have students organize a protest—in two senses. The first component of the activity involved the establishment of an online campaign, including a Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook account (CleanURlake). We also tried to start some hashtags, including one named after the accounts and #URecoli. Students also utilized Yik Yak, which was appropriate considering it is an anonymous social network, and much of our decision in class revolved around the concept of anonymity and the authenticity (or lack) thereof.
After laying the online groundwork and starting to spread the word, students were left with the responsibility of leading a physical protest in front of Boatwright Library. We simply asked students to come prepared, with signs, with evidence of research and a sufficiently strong knowledge of pollution in the lake, including the perturbingly high levels of E. Coli. We also offered flyers, which included the aforementioned hashtags, so as to pique students’ interest and perhaps even get them talking online. Below is a link to a YouTube video, which includes footage of the protest, as well as a few pictures from before, during, and after the protest, just to put the experience into perspective.
The approach to this experience was wholly unique in terms of the fact that it was based so strongly around the concept of horizontalism, which stands firmly opposed to hierarchical structures of any kind. In our case, it was our intention to lead this experience by not necessarily taking the lead and acting as co-participants instead. One need not look too far to realize the inspiration for such a decision: In “Inside Occupy Wall Street,” Jeff Sharlet notes that Occupy’s “resistance to organized leadership has proved enduring… The evasion of organized leadership that for many began as a tactic—leaders are targets and weak links, subject to prosecution and co-option—has now grown into a principle.” We translated the horizontal proclivities of Occupy and other movements staged in both a physical and digital realm to the confines of our own class experience, so as to measure the viability of horizontalism and to determine whether it helps or hinders a movement.
To some extent, I am unsure whether or not our experience was a completely fair representation of horizontalism in activism. My group had left the horizontal aspect up to question, hoping to surprise students with the experience. Ultimately, that was a mistake. I think we were inspired by the previous group’s emphasis on surprising the class with their experience, and we decided to go a similar route, not wanting to give much information away ahead of time. However, what we did not consider—or at least what I did not consider—was simply the fact that group three’s experience thrived with the element of surprise. When students could not come in prepared to take part in a digital divide simulation, and when they were simply thrown into writing a response to the question of whether or not digital copyrighting perpetuates inequality, they were left with a more authentic experience. When a group like Occupy, or at least the individuals who get the proverbial ball rolling, decide that they want to lead demonstrations, they do so not on a whim, but over time. They prepare, and we should have recognized the importance of fully informing students so as to enable them to prepare as they needed. I believe that we did with regards to the physical protest, but we did not with regards to the social networking component. So was horizontalism successful in our case? Well, not as much, but one has to take into consideration the context of which I have herein spoken.
I firmly believe that in movements like Occupy, fighting for purely democratic values and fighting against hierarchical structures like those evident in capitalism—specifically the so-called New Economy’s nested hierarchies—it is fundamentally logical and necessary for the movement to be based around a structure that empowers all equally. For how can you criticize any hierarchy without ensuring that you do not propagate one of your own? Nonetheless, is horizontalism practical for movements like Occupy, and does it allow a movement to expand and mature at an optimally exponential rate? I would like to think so, but I have my doubts.
A large portion of class discussion involved another activist group, Anonymous, which initially emerged from the anonymous forum site 4Chan. In 2008, it made its first “big” move and targeted the Church of Scientology in Operation Chanology. Suddenly, a movement that had started with Internet trolls who rotated between using 4Chan’s random /b/ board, planning pranks on children’s games like Habba Hotel, and executing DDoS—or Distributed Denial of Service—attacks had matured into something much more politically powerful. Amassing almost 10,000 protesters worldwide, Anonymous proved it had the clout to effect some real change. What it didn’t have—and still doesn’t—is centralized leadership. Like Occupy, Anonymous is a horizontal movement. While that may reflect well simply as an indication of authenticity, as opposed to hypocrisy, the implications for Anonymous down the line were troubling. Suddenly, the movement was split, between those members of Anonymous who wished to return to the simple delights of trolling and the so-called “moralfags” who wanted to work for a social good. For all the wonderful things Anonymous seemed to be doing in movements like Operation Titstorm, which targeted the Australian government for its censorship of the Internet, there remained a sizable contingent very much like Lulzsec, an Anonymous splinter group which looked not to engage in noble campaigns, but rather to return to trolling. The group pulled such stunts as hacking into the CBS News website and posting a false story about Tupac Shakur (who was, they assured readers, in New Zealand, very much alive) for its coverage of whistleblower Chelsea Manning, with which it agreed. Protesting the actions of a government is one thing. Attacking a news source because you don’t like that they published certain information is another, and it contradicts the notion that you believe information should be free. If information is free, it should be freely publicized by media outlets, and freely editorialized upon by the writers thereof.
The problem with Anonymous is also one of its strengths: that it remains so loyal to its horizontalist roots. When Lulzsec—which no longer exists—hacked the CBS News website, did Anonymous condemn their actions and work to ensure that such abuses of power would not occur again? There isn’t any leadership to do so. It remains contingent on individual members to make a choice, whether to use their movement for the forces of good, or to allow it to drift into the deeply troubling realm of intolerance and chaotic trolling. No leadership exists to steer it in any one direction, so the future is uncertain. Can horizontalism work? In certain cases, yes. It certainly has proved fruitful in select cases involving Anonymous. Operation Payback constitutes the group’s most successful endeavor by far, as its work with Telecomix—a coalition of Internet activists—helped to keep the Internet running in countries like Tunisia where governments had attempted to censor and block use by the populace. In many ways, in getting Middle Easterners in these countries back online, Anonymous played a central role in the overthrow of despotic regimes like that of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. It did so without any central command from the top, with the help of “hacktivists” all across the globe. But can Anonymous remain a movement dedicated to the liberation of oppressed peoples, and to fighting all institutions that work in any way to oppress or to suppress information? If its various factions allow it to be split, what is its strength? Can the solidarity inherent in the demonstrations of Operation Chanology be upheld going forward? The answer is certainly unknown. The movement’s choice to remain horizontal, even as it has gained more mainstream attention and effected more sweeping change, has proven wise, for the time being. For as much harm can be done by splinter groups, much can also be done by centralized leadership, if its power is abused.
Whether or not horizontalism worked for Occupy is also a point of contention. Though it served to the movement’s benefit for some of the same reasons as it has for Anonymous, could an organized command structure have provided more guidance? With actual leadership and an official platform, critics like the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib, who complained that Occupy “doesn’t really take you to a particular bumper-sticker action,” may have been silenced, or at least pushed to engage in a substantial debate on the issues, as opposed to merely denouncing the organization’s framework. The problem with Occupy is that, unlike Anonymous, the change it effected isn’t exactly abundantly clear. Is America more wary of corporations—and the immense political influence and power they wield—today than it was five years ago? Likely not. Has Congress passed sweeping reform that keeps corporate influence in check and regulates the private sector more thoroughly? Most certainly not. Has economic inequality been reduced? Again, a resounding no. Then there is the biggest question: Does anyone care? Some people do, but do the majority of Americans feel compelled to become engaged and continue Occupy’s work? Perhaps, but I don’t really see them. Anonymous is the major force right now, and its primary emphasis has not been on economic inequality and corporate influence in the United States. So was Occupy destined to fail, or did horizontalism seal its fate? I work on the argument that Occupy “failed” simply from the standpoint that the aforementioned questions above have been answered with “no”s, even if the New York Times’ Charles Blow has written that the movement ingrained the notion of excessive inequality in the minds of Americans. We cannot be so sure. Even if it was not an abject failure, can it even remotely match up to movements like the women’s suffrage movement? As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich notes, the push to grant women the right to vote was able to sustain itself over the course of many years because they won small victories time and again that gave the movement hope. What small victories has the Occupy movement won that can keep it moving forward? At the moment, Zuccotti Park is devoid of Occupiers, and the physical demonstrations seem to have all but died out. So what exactly is the next step? Is there any? I would contend there is, but it will likely require the leadership of another movement, one that, if horizontalist, must doubtless use its horizontalism to its advantage, as opposed to allowing itself to drift into the anarchic realms of a platform-less, misunderstood campaign.
All of that being said, our experience certainly provides no clearer an answer to the question of horizontalism in activism. Surely, we, like the Occupiers, failed to use it optimally, to our advantage, which led to some initial confusion and disorganization. But I look past the first 30 minutes and to the subsequent 50, and I see glimmers of hope. The physical demonstration was small, as it should have been expected to be with only 7 students in the class, but an impact was clear. I was shocked to find that most students were unaware of the E. Coli levels in the lake. As I held my sign demanding “For your students’ sake clean up the lake,” I received questions like “What’s up with the lake?” People just didn’t know, in spite of a well-done—and relatively recent—piece of reporting by the Collegian. “I knew it was gross,” another student said, “but I didn’t know about the E. Coli. That’s really scary.” It really is. And I hope that that student, if he didn’t like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter, at least went back to his room and did some research, or told a friend. I truly believe that what made our experience successful, in spite of early disorganization and the fact that we did not know how exactly to use horizontalism to our advantage, is the fact that we raised awareness of a serious issue with serious implications. Students who have fallen into the lake have subsequently become ill, but seemingly a majority of their peers were unaware of the presence of the bacteria and the dangers posed thereby. That we were able to connect with dozens of students and talk with them and open a dialogue is important. It means that any impact will be felt not simply during the experience, but after. And that is where I see more success. Students from the Collegian, hearing about our project, came out to write an article, which, once published, shot to the top of the list of most-read articles. It is precisely that sort of publicity that gets a conversation started, and that offers a reminder to those in command that students are informed and concerned and, more crucially, that they want to make a difference. I am unsure that change will be made, but I do sense that there is reason to believe we have started a conversation. On Yik Yak, our post ended up on the “hot” list, with over 40 up-votes. That becomes all the more impressive if one considers the fact that many of the “hot” list entries involve demeaning comments or jokes. We made the list by offering a positive comment and getting students thinking about a legitimate issue.
On the digital front, though, I sense that the question Robert Reich posed to Occupy is the same question we should pose to ourselves: What is the next step? Students insist that they will continue running the Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, but, in all honesty, I have my doubts. I do not see that as a failure of the experience. I see it instead, as an unusual sort of success. One of the central questions I wanted us to pose in this experience was whether or not online campaigns can last. We see countless examples in the media of campaigns like Kony 2012 that start a widespread conversation before abruptly dying out. Most likely, the online push for the Redskins name to be changed will prove to have a similar fate. Can online movements last, and if so, how? Anonymous surely provides an example of an online movement that has lasted, but it helps that its constituent members are hackers and that their daily routines often revolve around the use of computers and of the Internet. What of the movements like Occupy or CleanURlake, which are constituted not of hackers and 4Chan trolls, but of average students with average knowledge of computers whose schedules are jam-packed and who have more to worry about than a dirty lake or economic inequality? How does an online movement stay alive, winning small victories to give itself momentum, propelling itself forward whilst keeping its participants engaged and informed? Certainly, it is possible to keep an online movement alive, but we have yet to see one that lasts and makes a long-term change, or at least without corporate assistance. What perturbs me is that in searching for examples of successful online campaigns, I only find instances like that in which Google and other Silicon Valley giants teamed up to fight SOPA. Sure, millions took to Twitter and Facebook to voice their opinions, but political change only seems to be effected when corporations throw their hats in the ring. Only then, when money talks, does Washington listen. Nonetheless, I digress, and the central intention of my discussion here regards the social networking campaign our class vowed to keep running. If students fail to do so, it offers a pungent reminder that in many cases, the users of the Internet are too busy—or too disinterested—to use the freedom at their disposal to do something constructive. Students need to ask themselves why we move on so quickly, why we forget about the movements about which we once professed to care. I recognize that not every student in the class cares about the lake (though they should), and not every student will feel compelled to continuing working to have the lake cleaned. For those students who are concerned, though, we need to be asking these questions, and considering the implications.
Lasting online campaigns are rare, and that is for a reason. It is extremely difficult to perpetually keep participants in a campaign interested for months and years on end, and while I might contend that such is a problem springing not from any flaws in cyberactivism so much as from the individuals engaged therein, it is difficult to ignore the point that Reich brings up when discussing women’s suffrage. What allowed that movement to survive for years? What kept its participants engaged? Why didn’t it fizzle out after a few months like Kony 2012? The active engagement in physical protests undoubtedly plays a role. Simply liking a Facebook page or retweeting a tweet requires a few seconds of effort. Making a sign, organizing a demonstration, and working actively to engage passersby requires hours, if not days, of work. The convenience of digital technology is a double-edged sword, ultimately creating an inclination of cyberactivism to be rendered merely “slacktivism” and encouraging the sort of mass acquiescence—as individuals fall victim to the notion that change can ever be a click away—that keeps movements from enduring.
In all of this discussion, what has been thus far left out is the concept of pranking in relation to activism, as well as the Internet meme. How do these concepts fit into the lessons taken from our experience? Most certainly they are not irrelevant to the topic at hand, playing a pivotal role in cyberactivism. Christine Harold in “Pranking Rhetoric: ‘Culture Jamming’ as Media Activism,” contends that “[p]arody derides the content of what it sees as oppressive rhetoric, but fails to attend to its patterns” (191). As a proposed solution, she looks to pranking. Unlike parody, pranks “do not oppose traditional notions of rhetoric, but they do repattern them in interesting ways… strategically augmenting and utilizing the precious resources the contemporary media ecology affords” (208). For the most part, I concur with Harold’s analysis. The Barbie Liberation Organization is more successful than something like Adbusters’ “Blackspot” sneaker campaign because instead of directly attempting to send a message, utilizing mainstream corporate techniques, the B.L.O. sends no direct message and offers only an altered version of an existing product, in effect subverting the system, using it for its own purposes, as opposed to attempting to work against it. In the digital realm, pranking is often seen in the form of Internet memes. Limor Shifman in “Memes in a Digital World: Reconciling with a Conceptual Troublemaker,” notes that “[s]ocial norms, perceptions, and preferences are crucial in memetic selection processes,” and indeed she is correct (366). The study of memetics is crucial to engaging in a thorough sociological examination of the users of the Internet. When Chris Crocker’s “Leave Britney Alone” video is rendered something homophobic, contradicting the purposes for which it was created, that says something about the people who make those videos, watch them, and give their up-votes. What does it say that so many people responded by, in essence, cynically trolling Crocker’s video? What does it say about trolling, the Internet’s version of pranking?
Indeed, pranking can do much good, and certainly it has the potential to do more than mere parody, as Harold contends, but on the Internet, has it done that good? Show me a political meme or a meme intended to bring about some important social change, and I’ll show you five like one of President Obama with the words “Where the white women at?” below it. Sure, trolling doesn’t have to be racist, sexist, or generally prejudicial in any way. There is nothing inherent within trolling or pranking that makes it so, but nonetheless it remains a force for a great deal of very ugly, very negative things, when it could be serving as a force for so much good. And this is the point at which we begin to recognize just how ugly and negative much of trolling has become. When the perpetrators of Internet death and rape threats are dismissed as “juvenile pranksters,” as Amanda Hess notes in “Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet,” we should pay attention. Because that wording isn’t accidental. Yes, dismissing it as pranking trivializes the issue, but this brand of trolling—this insidiously hostile, violent, misogynistic brand—is what pranking on the Internet has become for too many individuals, and that is far from what it should be. When the Biotic Baking Brigade shoved a pie in the face of Bill Gates, it was irrefutably puerile behavior, but it came with a message—albeit an indirect one. As Gates wiped pie off of his face, he was brought down to everyone else’s level. Sure, maybe some people think such a stunt is immature. Maybe others disagree with the potential message of such an action, but the point is that there was a constructive message, not merely something derisive, like threatening to brutally rape and murder a feminist. That may be an unfortunate manifestation of what pranksters on the Internet have become, but it’s not the same pranking of which Harold writes. The very act of pranking—and the foundation thereof—has been perverted.
Quinn Norton argues that “[t]rolls gonna troll,” and that we ought to ask what “[c]ivil inattention, the custom we have of ignoring people you don’t know in public space in order to give them privacy” looks like on the Internet, and I recognize the point she is making. I believe it is an important one. But is there ever an acceptable context in which we can feel free to casually throw around terms like “/b/tard Faggot?” Should we simply ignore those who choose to use such terminology and recognize that “trolls gonna troll?” I don’t think so. Because we can choose to hide those ugly elements of the Internet from ourselves, but in the end, you cannot quarantine ideas on the Web. Slowly but surely, those ideas propagate. They manifest themselves in new and surprising ways, in new and surprising locations. The trolls who call each other faggots end up making memes that circulate around the Web and influence the thought patterns of unassuming social networkers and Internet users generally, who alter or mimic those memes and disseminate potentially prejudicial ideas themselves. So maybe it seems reasonable to simply advocate that people “don’t feed the trolls,” but inaction and a refusal to combat the dangerous ideas being promoted by trolls will only serve to worsen the problem. Indeed, it has. It should not come as any surprise that the same individuals who were online referring to women as “bitches” and objectifying them in dreadful ways ended up harassing female writers, sexualizing them and fantasizing about rape. Certainly, to go from simply objectifying to threatening to rape someone is not a simple transition. You don’t objectify on Monday and make a death or rape threat on Tuesday. The problem, in my estimation, is that by choosing to look away, only considering the context collapse of the Internet as opposed to the wrongful nature of trolls’ words, we are encouraged those actions, words, and ideas. We have fed the trolls by refusing to feed them. We have afforded them an anarchic space to chaotically destroy, piece by piece, without oversight or discretion, surely enough egging one another on, encouraging each other’s sexism, encouraging each other’s racism, encouraging the very idea that a woman with whom you disagree can deserve to be raped or slaughtered. Not all pranksters are sexists or racists, nor are all trolls. Doubtless most do not threaten to rape or kill. But there is a sizable contingent prevalent within that community that does, and to dismiss it as anything other than a problem would be a grave error. Pranking is a wonderful tool to be used by concerned citizens and activists across the globe, and it should be used wisely, for the right reasons, in the appropriate ways. But an overarching problem with the Internet is becoming evident: As with Anonymous, there simply is not enough control over the troll community to ensure that the actions being taken are constructive, healthy, and for the betterment of society. Such is an important understanding that I will return to shortly. It informs my cautious stance on the unit as a whole.
Nonetheless, while I would stop short of advocating for government oversight of trolls, fearing that we would infringe upon their freedom of speech, I also agree with Norton to the extent that these issues must inevitably be handled “IRL.” A troll who perpetuates harmful ideas does not simply pull those ideas out of nowhere. Those ideas come from parents, or from students in school who heard it from their parents. Those ideas are promoted as the education fails to adequately combat prejudice. Numerous studies indicate college graduates are less prejudiced on average than high school graduates. What is the public education system doing wrong, and what are colleges doing correctly? If we can answer those questions, and if we can reform education meaningfully—as opposed to having politicians issue their hollow calls for a “dialogue”—we would see a change, and that would have positive ramifications for the Internet and for the women who are now terrorized by spiteful trolls. The true solutions to the problems with online pranking and trolling lie to a large extent in real-world solutions. Does cyberactivism have a role to play, however, and is it an effective enough force to effect such consequential change?
Before I answer that question, however, I digress once more, simply for the purposes of answering an important question that I posed to the class. Mark Poster in “Information Please” is troubled by the discourse of human rights. The “inherent problem in the term ‘human rights,” Poster writes, is “that it requires a string of supplements to account for its impossibility” (69-70). From the inception of the notion of such rights, it has been tied closely to citizenship, as was the case in the French Revolution. That definition of citizen is no longer relevant or valid. Globalization and the post-national world of the digital age have both redefined citizenship in such a way that fighting for human rights may serve not to liberate individuals, but to legitimize Western hegemony and leave countless in the same—or worse—position they are presently. As a solution, Poster proposes the concept of netizenship. He explains that the netizen is “the formative figure in a new kind of political relation, one that shares allegiance to the nation with allegiance to the Net and to the planetary political spaces it inaugurates” (78). Norton suggests a similar solution to the problems women face on the Internet, with the concept of cyborgs, a closely-related notion. So looking back and recognizing the pivotal role the netizen plays in this unit, I asked the class: Were we acting as netizens?
For me, the answer is yet to be determined. I believe that, as a class, we shared an allegiance to the nation—or, on a smaller scale, to the University of Richmond and the well-being of its students—as well as an allegiance to the Net, with our emphasis on a social networking campaign. The question largely hinges on the issue of whether or not students continue the push. Is one a true netizen if he or she engages in activism—both cyberactivism and IRL activism—and then simply stops? Netizenship is an active concept. The title “netizen” is earned by someone who engages in the community actively and often, who does more than simply just raise awareness of an issue, but takes an active role in educating and recruiting others to engage themselves as well. A netizen not only stands in front of a library with signs, but goes further, standing up and questioning those in power, expanding their efforts, pushing to win the small victories their movement must win. The netizen continues to build online movements, continually developing ways to keep participants engaged. If students continue to build this movement, I believe they can call themselves netizens. If they—as I fear will be the case—leave it at this and do nothing more with the lake, we could not accurately classify ourselves as such. That is a valuable lesson, and if students fail to actively engage going forward, I see it not as a failure of the experience so much as a success in and of itself. Netizenship is not a term to throw around as so many do. It is something that must be taken seriously, and if one wishes to act as a netizen, he or she must take the initiative in earning that title. I hope that in reflecting on the experience, students are coming to the same realization.
All of this discussion is great, but a final question remains: Does cyberactivism even work? Can it work just as well as it might for a clean lake movement as it might for something more sweeping, like ending misogyny on the Web? As always, I will not pretend to have all the answers. This issue is enormously complex, to such an extent that as I try to wrap my head around all of the most complicated questions, I have difficulty untangling the web of contradictions that any possible answer presents. Nonetheless, I will try my best to provide some semblance of a response here that gets to the heart of the issue both adequately and accurately. I believe cyberactivism can work, but I question whether some of our most noteworthy cyber movements have been pushing for the right things.
If anything was made abundantly clear in our experience, it is that cyberactivism requires a very careful balance between the physical aspect of protestation and the digital component. Simply forming Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, and Tumblr accounts does nothing for a movement if no awareness can be raised. Surely, infrastructure is in place on the Web that enables individuals to raise awareness digitally, but such infrastructure remains inadequate. Physical protests are required to get people talking, to inform them of the problems, to get them to follow your account or like your page, or give you an up-vote on Yik Yak. Cyberactivism is nothing without a physical component as well. If such a balance is ensured, and if participants in a movement engage both in social networking campaigns as well as actual public demonstrations, cyberactivism can be something quite powerful. Anonymous’ efforts in the aforementioned Operation Payback constitute the most hopeful example, especially considering the fact that their efforts came without corporate assistance. A grassroots campaign can be led, and cyberactivism can be an effectual force, if handled correctly and used to fight for the right things. But are we fighting for what’s right?
I don’t ask this question because I see the world in a black-and-white matter. So much of the world is but a mater of interpretation. What is “right” is surely a subjective question. But I pose it because of points that Jaron Lanier makes. Lanier, who was a pioneer of virtual-reality technology and is now a research scholar at Microsoft, has turned against the Web—more specifically, against the concept of cyberutopianism and a fully democratic Web. Americans love the word “democracy,” to such an extent that we throw it around injudiciously. Do we, however, understand what it means? Sure, it sounds wonderful when Anonymous declares that information should be free, but what are the implications of free information? Lanier suggests, “once we made information free… middle-class people… were consigned to the bread lines.” I am not sure I fully agree with Lanier’s argument, in that the purported demise of the middle class has not simply emerged from a vacuum. The availability of free music did not simply render the middle class a relic of the past. Such is an oversimplification of complicated economic issues, including wealth distribution in the United States and trends over the past several decades. Lanier may be making a somewhat valid point, but he misses the mark in oversimplifying and looking past other factors in the problem of which he speaks. Where I concur almost wholeheartedly with him, however, is in his assertion that anonymity constitutes an “enabling and foreshadowing of mob rule, not a growth of democracy.” I say I agree almost wholeheartedly, because I think he misses a more accurate definition of democracy. What is actually the difference between mob rule and democracy? The United States is not a democracy by its nature. It was not founded to be one. On the contrary, it was intended to be a republic. Sometimes, that seems to be forgotten, especially when democracy is a term with such positive connotations, and an easy one to throw around at that. I have never been a proponent of pure democracy in the non-digital realm, so why have I been so enticed by it online? When I ask whether cyberactivism is being used correctly, I mean to refer to this issue. When Anonymous pushes for a—in the words of Artie Vierkant—Post-Internet world, in which objects are not specifically owned by anyone and may always be in flux, are they pushing for the right thing? When Christopher Poole promotes anonymity on 4Chan as a representation of people’s most authentic selves, is he pushing for the right thing? When we push for a freer, “more democratic” Internet, are we pushing for the right thing, or are we just instilling anarchy? Online, what keeps a democratic Internet from becoming an Internet of mob rule? What exactly is the difference if no one is in control but the people themselves? What kind of Internet would we see if our cyberactivism led us to a point at which no one were in control but the people, if nations themselves were rendered a thing of the past and we were beholden only to the Internet, as some cyberutopian theorists have posited will happen? What then will we expect to see? Will it be the democracy of which we have spoken but do not understand, or will it be something else, something uglier, something more dangerous?
By no means am I fully anti-democracy, but I far prefer the notion of a republic to that of a pure democracy from the standpoint that I am unsure whether it is wise to entrust the people alone with the power to control something like the Web. I doubt that cyberactivism will ever be powerful enough to eschew government and corporate control, but nonetheless, the fact that organizations like Occupy and Anonymous—which represent arguably the foremost examples of netizenship—push for a fully democratic Internet and the minimization of government and corporate controls should lead us to ask if that is an appropriate and prudent course of action. So much of what we have discussed heretofore—government surveillance, economic inequality in the New Economy, cyberutopianism—involves the notion of a democratic Web, and I personally have often taken a stance very much in favor of democratization. In no way am I arguing that that is wrong necessarily, so much as one should consider the implications. Cyberactivism, if used to effect such potentially harmful change, may not be the positive force it could be. Cyberactivists must be cautious, realizing for example that while the NSA’s extensive surveillance of the Web is unacceptable and unconstitutional, the inability of governments to regulate the Internet leaves women at risk when they receive death threats. Pure democracy is nothing simple, and though Lanier is certainly not completely correct, he is making an important argument that cannot be neglected.
As always, the class experience raised innumerable questions, only a few of which I have been able to discuss here. I am proud of the experience; in spite of the disorganization of the opening half hour—a result of our mishandling of horizontalism and our failure to adequately inform the class of our horizontal intentions, I think the class was left with an immensely valuable lesson. I hope that they have engaged in it fully to realize the connections to the unit as a whole, and I hope, in the end, that while they may recognize the potential of cyberactivism, they also recognize the need to carefully consider that for which we use cyberactivism to advocate. Much of the class discussion heretofore has led us to this point, at which we explore cyberactivism as a potential solution to problems that may have been thus far encountered. Individuals like Lanier encourage us to ask ourselves whether falling in line behind groups like Anonymous, rather than questioning some of their motives and their philosophy, is the most prudent decision. Cyberactivism is indeed a powerful force, and it can be used for so much good. We need to be making sure, then, that we aren’t allowing it to be rendered something much more destructive.

Categories: Assignments
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I Spy E. Coli

// Posted by Aisling on 11/02/2014 (6:12 PM)

“Ana Luna Adventures- The Ocean is out there…. Are you?” Kinda catchy, right? That is the caption that received the most “likes” on the Facebook page I created this past summer. The Facebook page was for the catamaran charter boat… Read more


“Ana Luna Adventures- The Ocean is out there…. Are you?” Kinda catchy, right? That is the caption that received the most “likes” on the Facebook page I created this past summer. The Facebook page was for the catamaran charter boat I worked on. I created the Facebook page for the purposes of marketing and advertising, with the hopes that people would see the page on their newsfeeds, learn more about Ana Luna, and eventually book a cruise as a result of the page.

When the page went live, it needed likes. People won’t take a page seriously if it doesn’t have a lot of likes. I sent invitations to “like” the page to a bunch of my friends from home, boarding school and college. Through these connections the page began to gain likes, and become more “official looking” (more likes= more people endorsing it= people more likely to like the page/ be interested).

I would post pictures and status updates daily, about the different cruises and any deals that were going on. Although everything I posted got attention, it was the attention of my friends, and most of them lived in the US or England. The page came to be somewhat of an inside joke amongst my friends locally and abroad, and even people I hadn’t personally spoken to knew about my summer job and #AnaLuna. My friends would share Ana Luna’s posts, and comment on the pictures, but not because they were interested in cruises.

Although the page did generate genuine likes from tourists who had been on the boat or locals who were familiar with the business, the majority of the likes came from my peers. In this sense, the page got a lot of attention, and the name Ana Luna spread throughout my circles both in Bermuda and abroad, yet it was not the attention I had hoped for when I created the page.

The Ana Luna

Experience #4 focused on the idea and elements of protests, both virtual and physical. We were asked to come to class with a protest tool and some knowledge about what we were protesting: the E. Coli levels in the lake and its general uncleanliness. I painted a sign that read, “I spy E. Coli,” and brought along a few other props. These included an orange hat that conveniently says, “water hazard” across it, an FBI hat, some goggles, and a pair of handcuffs. While I think that the water hazard hat is relatively self-explanatory, the other items might not necessarily be so. I thought the FBI hat might be interesting as the FBI is an organization of power, and in this sense the hat would represent a certain element of investigative power for the protest. The goggles were representative of the fact that people cannot safely swim in the lake, even if they have the means to do so. Although the handcuffs received some glances and even straight up questions, I did have a reason for including them in my prop collection. In a similar way to how people tie themselves to trees in some protests, I thought that someone might be interested in handcuffing him or herself to something as a way of experiencing this element of the physical protest. (Needless to say, the handcuffs never left the library room.)

The handcuffs left behind…

The first part of the experience was to begin a viral presence. To achieve this we targeted social media sites such as Yik Yak, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I was assigned to the creation of the Instagram account. Before we could set up our designated profiles, we had to come up with account names and a slogan for the project. After much back and forth brainstorming, we decided on “cleanURlake” as the project name, as it could be taken as “clean your lake,” “cleaner lake,” and included “UR.” We decided on the slogans/ hashtags “UREColi” and “I Spy Ecoli.”

The sign I bought to protest

So, with the account names decided, we each set to work designing our online profile. I put together the Instagram account, and began collecting images to post. However, an Instagram account with no followers is not only depressing, it is also relatively pointless. To gain followers I messaged my friends the name of the account and asked them to follow it. I then posted in the field hockey group chat, asking them to follow the account. Shortly after I reached out to them, both my friends and the team began following the account and liking the pictures. Easy peasy, right?

A post from the Instagram page

After the accounts were set up, it was time to move the protest from the virtual world and into the physical world. We geared up with our protest props, and headed outside the library. As there were only 5-7 of us protesting at one time, I felt that it was quite difficult to achieve the proper essence of a protest. Instead of feeling like we were influential, I felt as if we were awkward and in the way. Although we did have a few students chat with us or agree with the cause, it often seemed as if students were trying to avoid us and felt uncomfortable by our presence. In this sense, it was hard to feel like we were making much of a difference, or effectively getting our point across about the lake.

My classmates protesting outside the library

In the documentary, We are Legion, one man describes the change from protesting as himself to protesting with a mask on. He talks about how much different he was able to act once his identity was veiled, and how he came out of himself and into the protest. His actions became unattached to his identity. Although I didn’t wear a mask as I protested, certain aspects of the experience helped me to understand the feeling he describes. While I was outside physically protesting, I was Aisling Gorman, standing with a sign in front of one of the most heavily visited spots on campus. Anything I did would be tied directly to Aisling Gorman, and Aisling Gorman would be held responsible for it. Knowing that my actions and identity were so intertwined made me feel somewhat timid, and careful in the way that I protested. Admittedly, I was worried about my image.

However, the Instagram page presented an opportunity for me to protest the E. Coli in the lake under a name that wasn’t necessarily my own. Although my friends knew that it was Aisling Gorman posting the pictures, I was hidden behind the handle @CleanURLake…. It wasn’t really me. I found that I was much more active on the Instagram page than I was outside, even though I was acting from a handheld screen. The Instagram account was my mask.

Another photo from the Instagram page

Overall, both the virtual and physical protests were interesting to me, for different reasons. Coming into the experience I had expected the physical protest to be much more effective, and had thought that we would make much more of a ruckus than we actually managed to create. At first I was pleased with the followers and likes coming through on the Instagram page, however, as I saw more and more friends throughout the week, my feelings changed. I noticed that I was constantly being asked about “this eco friendly Instagram page.” I realized that, for the most part, the people who had followed the account didn’t actually know what they were following. They had only followed it because I had asked them to. They did it for Aisling Gorman as opposed to @cleanURlake.

Although the explanation of the page did generate some meaningful E. Coli related conversations, these conversations occurred in the physical as opposed to the virtual. Coming to the realization that the page wasn’t popular in itself reminded me of the Ana Luna Facebook page I had set up this summer. While both pages got plenty of attention, the attention was attracted by a factor that was somewhat separate from the page itself. It has led me to question the effectiveness of such pages, and to wonder at what point do these pages actually reach legitimate efficiency. Even though the process involved in the virtual presences of Facebook and Instagram may appear to be easy, gaining legitimacy and efficiency for the pages is much more difficult. I found this experience to be interesting and worthwhile as it provided an insight into the workings of a protest, while also unexpectedly connecting to my experiences this past summer.

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