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 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.
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 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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.