Suing Twitter

A footballer in England sued Twitter and “persons unknown” several weeks ago after a super injunction he had obtained in order to prevent media outlets from revealing he had an affair was supposedly breached by users of the social media website. Since, lawyers and public alike have stated that it would be impossible to find Twitter liable for this.

It seems the number one issue with this is jurisdiction; Twitter is a global social media site through which people from across the entire world communicate. As with the other affects of globalisation, the move to a ‘global community’ seems to be halted when confronted with national governments and laws.

Though I also see a problem with Twitter itself; it is a public space, but used for many private reasons. It is as public as talking to a friend on the street is, and it is capable of spreading rumours just as gossip moves about town. Users do not authoritatively publish news and information the same way newspapers or television networks do; they discuss with friends.

MySpace, Facebook, and even online forums have the same problem. Creating relatively private spaces paradoxically in very public spaces is proving to be very difficult, and perhaps the shortcoming of the Internet. Though Facebook and Twitter are obviously successful, their ability to facilitate public bullying and inappropriateness has left them open to attack from the mass media and brought our idealistic vision of the perfect global public sphere back to earth. Everything published on the web is permanent; read or recorded somewhere. Not even our bank details are safe.

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Week 3: Ranking Tactics and Virtual Communities

While discussing YouTube, José van Dijck argues that the site’s interface influences the popularity of videos through ranking tactics that promote popular favourites (Reader, page 94). How do ranking tactics impact on the formation online ‘communities’?

The emergence of Web 2.0 and social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and WordPress has prompted many to discuss the impact of social interaction online upon traditional societies and social structures. The rise of virtual communities, communities based on shared interests via the Internet rather than geographical location, is often associated with a “move increasingly towards the creation of a global virtual society, which optimistically promises unlimited/uninterrupted democratic freedom of speech and self-expression, as well as the general revision and revival of the so-called public sphere” (Koskinas and Tsekiras, 2011: 41). While it is completely idealistic to say that they promise “unlimited democratic freedom of speech and self-expression”, it is often thought that those interacting and participating online promote cultural citizenship by being more involved in and aware of a global society (van Dijck, 2009: 44). However, it is much less straight forward than this.

Popular video sharing website YouTube is one website claiming to be for the sake of online communities. “It is your community! Each and every user of YouTube makes the site what it is, so don’t be afraid to dig in and get involved!”, the site claims. Though, YouTube is less passive than this implies. The website’s interface displays collections of videos suggested for certain genres, with links taking you to pages dedicated to comprehensively informing you of what is popular and ‘top of the charts’ regarding, say, music videos. Further, YouTube have created their own blog in order to update you on the latest trends for YouTube videos and search patterns.

Another example of a website that works to create a user generated content community is radio station Triple J’s Unearthed site. It states that it is “a music community open to musicians and public alike”, which allows unsigned artists to “upload and share their best tracks … with the ever growing community of music fans”. Its homepage, though, offers similar structures to that of YouTube, by presenting featured music and artist spotlights, alongside a selection of reviews, a list of recent uploads, and a chart listing the top 5 songs on the website.

The interfaces and, particularly, the ranking systems that these sites use play a role in “maneuvering individual users and communities” (van Dijck, 2009: 45). They are understandable; websites such as YouTube need to inspire any passive users they attract for financial reasons. Though they are an element of user generated content (UGC) websites that are not entirely considered when it is claimed that “new networked technologies lead to enhanced involvement of recipients as well as to active cultural citizenship” (van Dijck, 2009: 45). This assertion is generalized; there are many different variables, a significant one being ranking tactics, which aim to shape and mould the formation of online communities. Claims that an idealistic public sphere, a “citizen-designed, citizen-controlled worldwide communications network” (Rheingold cited in Koskinas and Tsekiras, 2011: 41), will inevitably be formed are premature; sites like YouTube have some degree power in forming these communities and controlling them. Though it is not obvious, ranking systems often direct us to forming communities on their basis and, therefore, sites controlling these systems have control over the creation of such networks.

References:

van Dijck, J. (2009), ‘Users Like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content’, in Media, Culture and Society, vol. 31 no. 1, pp 41-58.

Koskinas, K. and C. Tsekeris (2011), ‘General Reflections on Virtual Communities Research’, in China Media Research, vol. 7 no. 1, pp 39-47.

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Week 9: YouTube and Celebrity

A) Burgess and Green argue that: ordinary people who become celebrities through their own creative efforts “remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (Reader, page 269). Discuss giving an example of a YouTube video (embed it into post). 

There is much talk about how the Internet and new media have resulted in a “democratization of cultural production” (Grossman cited in Burgess & Green, 2009: 21) and the associated idea that it has allowed those with raw talent to permeate the world of media fame and success (Burgess and Green, 2009: 21).  Particularly, it is the rags-to-riches stories of YouTube users who have found celebrity via their amateur videos that have inspired many to assume that the clear distinction between the ordinary person and the celebrity is blurring (Burgess and Green, 2009: 22).

Many celebrities today have used YouTube to showcase their talent and creativity in attempt to gain fame and fortune without having to rely on the immensely powerful mass media. Ted Williams, who was homeless at the time the following video of himself was published on YouTube, is a unique example of someone trying to generate attention and profit from the video sharing website.

Williams originally was appealing for work as a radio presenter on the side of the road. A journalist recorded his voice, interviewed him, published it on YouTube, and generated millions of viewers within a short amount of time. His popularity on YouTube prompted numerous American television shows to interview him, which led to a plethora of job offers, one of which included a free house, and even a reunion with his mother, whom he had not seen for 20 years.

Following the huge popularity of his YouTube video and the number of job offers he received, newspapers headlines, such as “Homeless man with ‘God-given voice’ gets job offers thanks to YouTube”, were quick to appear. Though his story is quite unique, he was labelled an ordinary person made a star alongside the likes of Justin Bieber, Susan Boyle, and Rebecca Black thanks to the video sharing website. However, it would be wrong to insinuate that it is entirely to YouTube’s credit that these people become celebrities, and that the site offers a path to fame that bypasses the mass media and empowers those with creative talent.

As Burgess and Green write, “when ordinary people become celebrities through their own creative efforts, there is no necessary transfer of media power: they remain within the system of celebrity native to, and controlled by, the mass media” (2009: 23). Their success and fame is measure by their exposure on older media; television shows, recording contracts, album releases. While Williams gained popularity due to YouTube, it was only through television coverage and the subsequent job offers that he became a ‘star’. The market of success “is measured not only by their online popularity but their subsequent ability to pass through the gate-keeping mechanism of old media” (Burgess and Green, 2009: 24). Though money can be made through advertising on YouTube, it, perhaps on a different scale, makes celebrities in much the same way as cafés do by hosting ‘open mic’ nights; it gives people a platform to draw attention to their talents and, ultimately, appeal to rather than bypass, the mass media.

Reference:

Burgess, J. and J. Green, (2009), ‘YouTube and The Mainstream Media’, In YouTube: Online and Participatory Culture, Cambridge: Polity Press,  pp 15-37.

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Week 11: Piracy

B) Medosch argues that: “piracy, despite being an entirely commercially motivated activity carried out in black or grey markets, fulfills culturally important functions” (Reader, page 318). Discuss while giving an example online. 

From creating flawed copies of sheet music for us to play on our pianos at home (Johns, 2002:68), to creating perfect copies of digital recordings and listening to them on the train or in our spare time, there has always been a desire to explore music and creative content, regardless of what copyright laws tell us not to do. Piracy lets us discover film industries and music genres that we’d never even think of or be able to find in any shop. As Medosch writes, “It gives people access to information and cultural goods they had otherwise no chance of obtaining … [people] can use piracy as a counter-hegemonic force by giving them a chance to empower themselves through obtaining information, knowledge and sophisticated cultural productions” (2008: 81).

For example, Jerome Bixby’s 2007 small budget film “The Man from Earth” gained huge popularity due to piracy. The film became the 5th most popular movie for visitors of the Internet Movie Database website after blog Releaselog reviewed it and provided its readers with links to illegally download it. Previous to the blog, it was rated the 11,235th most popular film and its producer Eric Wilkinson credited Releaselog with the drastic rise in popularity, which led to better distribution and, after Wilkinson had directly thanked Releaselog, a better connection with the fans of the film, who then found themselves donating via PayPal for the film. As Evgeny Morozov writes, “If you are in Norway or UK it may be impossible to find a movie like “The Man from Earth” in your local DVD store … All those whose movie tastes are to the far-right end of the long tail have little alternative to piracy”.

Conversely, it is obvious that piracy is not just for the smaller films and the media content that is not well known. Popular albums are available at any local CD shop, yet we still find the music industry claiming CD sales have decreased and that piracy is responsible. Though it is unethical to be taking an artist’s content illegally for free, or distributing it for your own profit, piracy does not always deny producers the financial recognition they deserve. Morozov continues, “in the case of “The Man from Earth”, 2,000 people who downloaded it encouraged 20,000 more to go and check it out in cinemas and WalMarts by giving it a top IMDB rating. By losing money on 2,000 viewers, the film made money on 20,000 more”. This is obviously not always the case, though it does show that piracy is not always financially bad for artists.

What is certain is that piracy has opened up too many avenues for consumers to be able to be stopped. It is up to record labels and film studios to compromise and find a way to make media content widely and easily available, while still maintaining a “respect for cultural production and the life-long commitment of people” (Medosch, 2008: 95). After all, the pirates supposedly costing these industries billions are their very own customers (Katz, 2004: 186).

References:

Johns, A. (2002), ‘Pop Music Pirate Hunters’, in Daedalus, 131: 2, pp. 67-77.

Medosch, A. (2008), ‘Paid in Full: Copyright, Piracy and the Real Currency of Cultural Production’, in Deptforth. TV Diaries II: Pirate Strategies, London: Deptforth TV, pp. 73-97.

Katz, M. (2004), ‘Capturing Sound: How Technology has Changed Music’, Berkeley: UC Press, pp. 158-187.

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Lawrence Lessig on Copyright and Creativity

YouTube has evolved as a medium for which we are able to interact which each other, our personal lives, our public lives, and, most prominently, pop culture. The examples Lessig use in the above video are quite extreme, however they manage to get his point across. YouTube is predominantly a space for creative output, for sharing videos. It is not (primarily) about making money. To not be able to film someone dancing to some music and post it on YouTube is not what copyright laws should be aiming for. We can only imagine if this moved to copyright laws not permitting musicians to cover songs and post them on YouTube, or not allowing guitarists to film a tutorial for how to play a song on the guitar, or denying individuals the right to create ‘How to look like so-and-so’ makeup tutorials. The mass media should not be promoting passivity among their audiences; though perhaps, in accordance to consumerism, they should be, for the sake of communication, discussion, and, most importantly, democracy, active interaction with pop culture is vital. When copyright works to stifle this, it is in the wrong.

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Week 8: Web Design and Visual Metaphors

Alan Lui discusses the use of visual metaphors from older media in web design and argues that such metaphors “naturalize the limitations of the new medium by disguising them within those of older media” (Reader, page 228). Discuss while giving an example of a website.

The Internet is unpredictable. Its spatial form is dynamic, variable, and spontaneous. Though this flexibility implies greater diversity and a certain openness that allows for a multitude of design options, it is, as many amateur and professional web designers have discovered, limiting; or, rather, very hard to harness. Such is the nature of the Internet that every person, via his or her individual laptop, desktop, connection, or browser, has a unique experience of the same webpage.

Alan Lui explains that the frequent designs we see on the web that adopt the aesthetics of older media are created to compensate for, or hide, these limitations (2004: 228). He argues that these designs “recognize the spatiotemporal disturbances of the medium … [and] accommodate those disturbances through clever metaphors” (2004: 227). By recognizing the limitations of the Internet, and associating them with the limitations of older media, web designers allow users to understand the environment of the webpage more. This is not to say that when we visit The Age website we believe we are reading a newspaper, but that we understand and are more familiar with the limitations of a newspaper than the varying limitations of the Internet.

Generally, not only are the visual metaphors implemented in order to naturalize the “limitations of the new medium”, but also the content and nature of the site. The more obvious examples of this are newspaper websites; The Age, The Guardian, and the New York Times all utilize basic web designs that imitate the layout of the newspaper; an old medium.  They do so in order to familiarize their visitors with both the website as a whole and their content, which is news. The New York Times page contains the same newspaper header and tabled format that every user could associate with their printed format.

Sitotis.hr

Another example is Sitotis.hr (above), a Croatian company offering printing services. The content is displayed on an image of a personal organizer wallet. In doing so, the site organizes its information in a familiar way, and hides the limitations of the website within that of the organizer. Though we cannot, on the Internet, see two different web pages on the same site at the same time within the same window, Sitotis.hr hides this limitation by showing that, in an organizer like this, you also cannot see two pages at the one time; in order to see a different page, you need to click on the tab of the wallet (or flip to a certain page, if we are considering it physically).

In constructing web designs in this way and disguising new media limitations within that of old media, websites are able to familiarize their visitors with content and present it in a way that naturalizes the inefficiencies of the web and its spatiotemporal characteristics.

Reference:

Lui, A. (2004) ‘Information is Style’ pp.195-230 in Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 

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Social Media and ‘Gamification’

I came across a really interesting blog written by Keith Lee on Social Media, particularly twitter, from a gaming perspective.

It is the same sort of thing on Twitter when people tweet celebrities and ask for a ‘RT’ – a re-tweet. People want more and more followers. They want more people to hear what they say, but for what reason? for the sake of forming an online community to discuss and debate social issues, or for the self, as Lovink believes is the case for blogs?

Perhaps it stems from the idea that social media empowers users. That through exposure on sites such as Twitter, WordPress or YouTube we are able to voice our thoughts or opinions or talents and have them heard by everyone on the Internet. That we do not need to be discouraged by the state of the public sphere in the media and in the ‘real’ world, as, online, there is a democracy, and every view can be published. People want more people to listen to them online so as to empower themselves.

Though the question remains how real this empowerment is. By having 8 followers on Twitter, am I genuinely engaging with 8 people, forming a true community with those people? Do they follow me just in the rare case that I say something that is of interest to them?

I suppose the University of Melbourne Twitter page is a much better example of what a Twitter page should be. They distribute relevant information, though also actively engage with its followers (one example of this is its compiling of students’ favourite places to study). Though, on the other hand, perhaps it is expected that the University’s page is engaged with its followers as it is, after all, a community institution. If, perhaps, more individuals could adopt the same approach, maybe we would be on our way to forming the utopian global public sphere everyone seems to assume is the destination for social media.

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