Tag Archives: public sphere

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 7: The Purpose of Blogging

Geert Lovink (2007: 28) argues that: “No matter how much talk there is of community and mobs, the fact remains that blogs are primarily used as a tool to manage the self”. 

Blogs are capable of being many different things. For Terry Flew, it is the fact that blogs are able to be “A collaborative space, a political soapbox, [and] a breaking news outlet”, which allows them to “have a positive impact on reinvigorating the democratic public sphere” (2008, 157). However, others, such as Geert Lovink, argue against this, and claim that blogs do not necessarily rival the mass media  (2007: 8). Instead, Lovink claims that, rather than being concerned with adhering to the ideals of Habermas’ public sphere (Flew, 2008: 164), they are primarily used to “structure one’s life, to clear up the mess, [and] to master the immense flows of information” (2007: 28).

For example, we can look at popular music blog Idolator, which is considered the 35th best entertainment blog by Technorati, a site that helps users browse blogs. Idolator provides a different example to personal blogs for examining Lovink’s theory that blogging is for “master[ing] the immense flows of information” (2007: 28). For example, on the 5th of May, 2011, blog posts on a new song from Beyonce, American singer Lady Gaga’s latest music video, and Justin Bieber’s run-in with an egg hurler at one of his concerts in Australia were published.

The article on Justin Bieber, written by Becky Bain, adds limited light-hearted commentary to an article published by Yahoo! News, while the post on the release of Beyonce’s cover version of “God Bless the USA” reiterates details of the song, posted originally by entertainment blog Just Jared.

Both of these posts support Lovink’s theory that blogs are primarily about managing information, and that they have not significantly changed the state of democracy in the public sphere as they do not “create autonomy and overcome the dominance of media corporations and state control” (2007: 36); Rather than challenging the media or contributing something original, the majority of the content posted on Idolator is information that has been organised together, on the basis of their relevance to pop culture music, from various news sources.

However, Bain’s blogpost on Lady Gaga’s latest music video offering presents us with something different. Bain collects and compares seven reviews of the American singer’s visual accompaniment to her song “Judas” and contributes her own (or Idolator’s) opinion of the piece. Obviously, there is a reliance on the media released by Lady Gaga, as well as the seven other news and blog sources, however the information received from these sources has been compared and critiqued; there has been an encouragement of media scrutiny, which has led to discussion and argument amongst the comments of the blogpost. The contribution of users in this way disagrees with Lovink’s belief that blogs do not prioritise critical views and an active, participatory community (2007: 28). Rather, it is an example of the “sheer proliferation of voices and opinions” that Flew discusses (2008: 166), which, for Brian McNair, generate “a significant augmentation of the degree of diversity of viewpoints available to users of the globalised public sphere” (McNair cited in Flew, 2008: 166). Though the content’s social importance is to be questioned when discussing it in relation to the public sphere, it does prove that blogs do not only manage information, but they are able to promote critical debate and discussion.

References:

Flew, T. 2008, ‘Citizen Journalism’, in New Media: An Introduction, Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Lovink, G. 2007, ‘Blogging, The Nihilist Impulse’, in Zero Comments: Blogging and Critical Internet Culture, Routledge, London.

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