Rhetoric and Writing in the Public Sphere: An Introduction/Technology and the Public Sphere
- 1 YouTube and the Public Sphere
- 2 The Vlogbrothers and the Public Sphere
- 3 Facebook and the Public Sphere
- 3.1 Introduction
- 3.2 History
- 3.3 Sharing Information on Facebook
- 3.4 User-Generated Content on Facebook
- 3.5 Benefits of Facebook
- 3.6 Negatives of Facebook: The Emergence of Slacktivism
- 4 Cyber-Bullying
- 5 Blogs and the Public Sphere
- 5.1 An Introduction to Blogs
- 5.2 Sports Blogs in the Public Sphere
- 5.3 Music Blogs and the Public Sphere
- 6 Twitter and the Public Sphere
- 7 Twitter and the Public Sphere: How Companies Are utilizing the Public Sphere Through Twitter
- 8 Twitter and the Public Sphere: Impact on Politics
- 9 Social Media, Technology and Protests
- 10 Malcolm Gladwell and the Public Sphere
- 11 Clay Shirky and the Public Sphere
YouTube and the Public Sphere
YouTube.com is the largest video-sharing platform where users can create, upload, view and share videos. Three former PayPal employees, Chad Hurley, Steven Chen and Jawed Karim, founded YouTube.com in 2005, and it has since become the third most visited website on the Internet. YouTube allows its users to easily create videos by offering standardized video uploading formats like Windows Media Video or QuickTime so that content of any quality can be uploaded. YouTube provides simple HTML codes so users are able to easily embed videos in blogs and other Webpages. While much of its content consists of amateur home videos, YouTube also serves as a platform for advertisers and companies to provide professional content. One year after its creation, the major conglomerate Google, Inc. acquired YouTube for $1.65 billion. Since then, YouTube has made deals with companies like Warner Music Group, Sony, CBS, BBC, etc. and has become the second largest search engine on the web. In 2007, YouTube launched local versions in Japan, Brazil, France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Poland and the U.K. The same year, Apple’s iPhone introduced a YouTube application, making the website even more accessible to users. Today, YouTube is available in 26 different countries and 43 languages. More videos are uploaded to YouTube in 60 days than the three major Unites States television networks have compiled in the past 60 years.
Contribution to the Public Sphere
According to Jurgen Habermas, the public sphere is a communicative space where people conduct rational-critical deliberation about various public matters. It is a forum for intellectual interaction where one can discover what’s happening in their community, and what social, cultural, and political issues are at hand (McKee, 2005). From there, citizens can discuss these issues to come to a solution. Habermas believes that the public sphere should only include important issues such as politics and not spotlight celebrities, sports, or entertainment. It is not a space for sensationalism or commercialism. Many viewers tune into YouTube videos specifically for sensationalized, commercialized videos for entertainment. However, YouTube’s popularity has led to the creation of several programs, many of which exemplify its contribution to the public sphere. The following YouTube contributions are parallel with Habermas’s expectation that the public sphere should not dilute consumers' intellect through viewing aesthetically or emotionally enticing videos, but instead suggest that they use particular videos to improve themselves through rational, logical argument.
YouTube Town Hall
In 2008, YouTube introduced “YouTube Town Hall.” This is an advertisement-free channel that YouTube users can subscribe to that adheres to the concept of the public sphere more than the other infotainment and ad-filtrated videos on YouTube. YouTube Town Hall allows users to select an issue they are passionate about from a running list at the top of the page and then two members of the United States Congress will appear on the screen that support two opposing sides of the issue at hand. After the user views the two videos and casts their vote on which Congressman they support, the party affiliation of both Congressmen is revealed. This happens after the viewing to neutralize the effect of party bias. The videos with the most positive user support are then backed on the YouTube Town Hall Leaderboard where Congressmen with the most praised ideas are highlighted.
Jurgen Habermas urged that “the recognition of the existence of a sphere distinct from both private life of the family and from political authority of the state” is crucial to promoting a healthy public sphere (Foss, Foss, & Trapp, 2001, p. 239). Since access is granted to all citizens who use YouTube Town Hall, there is a sense of openness that ensures all ideas are accessible and are up for debate. Alan McKee reinforced this principle by recognizing that democracy was introduced and the public sphere began to form when "ordinary" people were allowed to become involved in making decisions about how the country should be run. When the power moved away from the absolute ruler and towards "the people," "the state" was separated from the ruler. YouTube Town Hall encourages that there is no sole apparatus governing the people, but instead, that through rational debate, ordinary people have the ability to govern themselves. According to Robert McChesney, this concept of participatory self-government requires a sense of community and that there is an effective system of political communication that is broadly construed to inform and engage citizenry, drawing people meaningfully into the political issues at hand (Barkin, 2003). YouTube Town Hall successfully ensures democratic participation by encouraging viewers to vote on each issue and also respond to Congressmen with questions they have of their own that they would like to have debated.
YouTube users are able to pose questions they would like members of Congress to debate, and every month, these Congress members review the viewers' top-voted question to create a selection of new videos in response to the questions of the people. Alan McKee describes the public sphere as “a place where individual citizens work out what the community thinks about an issue – and then turns to the state to deal with it” (2005, p. 9), which is exactly what this two-way channel seeks to accomplish. Several hot-topic issues include the budget, the economy, the energy crisis, Afghanistan, education, and healthcare. If a YouTube user is really passionate about a certain issue, they have the ability to share that issue with their friends at their fingertips. YouTube Town Hall has a “Share This Debate” option that features Facebook, Twitter and Email sharing links embedded into each issue page.
With this multifaceted YouTube channel, viewers have the option to either complain to the leaders or be a leader themselves. Every couple of months, YouTube collects information from YouTube Town Hall feedback to see how the parties and ideas fare amongst viewers. Typically, Republican Congressmen receive the most views and Democratic Congressmen receive the most votes. Scripts of debates are also analyzed to see which keywords are most frequently spoken by each party.
“YouTube EDU” is another tool that contributes to information gathering in the public sphere. It is one of the eight different YouTube primary sectors listed at the top of the YouTube homepage. YouTube EDU promotes K-12 learning, college and university level learning, and lifelong learning. It brings learners and educators together in a digital class room that includes academic lectures, inspirational speeches, and many other educational resources. YouTube users have access to lessons from top teachers all over the world along with course lectures from MIT, Stanford, and other prestigious universities. These resources spark teaching inspiration within educators along with creating conversations amongst students. Through YouTube EDU, theoretical concepts come alive.
One of the primary focuses of YouTube EDU is YouTube for Schools. This facet of YouTube EDU allows access to thousands of educational videos and video playlists (separated by subject and grade level) on YouTube EDU that can be implemented within any given school network. If a school decides to set up a YouTube for Schools account, it can help to encourage a controlled and safe learning environment for students where only appropriate videos can be accessed on school grounds. Teachers are able to create playlists of videos for specific courses in their network and can even suggest these custom-playlists to other educators all around the world. This teacher-friendly feature on YouTube helps teachers to spend more time teaching and less time searching.
According to Neil Postman in 1984, one of our biggest goals was to achieve media consciousness, which would help us to understand how we are choosing to consume different types of media (including how we view videos on YouTube today). His initial answer to this problem is to “rely on the only mass medium of communication that is capable of addressing the problem: our schools” (p. 162). While he did not have the utmost faith in schools achieving media consciousness, he did recognize that we were in a race between education and disaster and this made it urgent for us to “understand the politics and the epistemology of the media” (p. 163). In 1984, teachers were not oblivious to the effects that TV was having on their students. When the computer arrived, the effects of TV on human intellect were greatly discussed. This particular area of media consciousness had educators focused on how they could use the TV or computer to control education or how they could use education to control the TV or computer.
Postman argued that “it is an acknowledged task of schools to assist the young in learning how to interpret the symbols of their culture” (p. 163). By educators using YouTube EDU to create custom-made video playlists for their particular course, it displays a keen awareness of what media consciousness is in today’s school system. While educators embrace YouTube For Schools, students are being turned away from sensationalized and commercialized videos that are centered around celebrities, sports, and entertainment and are instead directed to educational videos that pertain to discussions they are having in the classroom. Because of that particular important point of Postman’s, he suggests that placing the primary media outlet at the center of education would be his greatest hope for widespread media consciousness.
YouTube Moderator is an option for a YouTube user to create an online discussion, linked to their account, in an easy and democratic way. This feature allows YouTube users to collect commentary, questions or ideas pertaining to their YouTube channel and see which of these responses are rated with the most positive feedback. The user acts as a moderator and is able to select a group of other users to conduct a discussion with, or leave it open to the YouTube public, choose a topic of their choice, and then use collective wisdom gained from the responses of others to vote on the best submission to a discussion and determine how these submissions can be used to contribute to the conversation on an even greater scale. It is possible for the YouTube Moderator to respond to individual submissions or to respond to the entire conversation in a one-to-many debate. The Moderator option on one’s channel can be enabled or disabled at any time if the proposed conversation is not proving to contribute to the public sphere. However, questions can even be collected from a discussion to be submitted as a potential YouTube interview for President Obama.
Alan McKee (2005) posed the concern that “when people disagree about facts, they can be checked; but when people disagree about attitudes, this isn’t so easily done” (p. 5). The YouTube Moderator feature is ideal for when these conversations with many conflicting viewpoints arise. YouTube Moderator deters YouTube users from having chaotic and unorganized conversations that don’t prove to be conducive for a healthy public sphere.
However, it is imperative that these conversations are not ignored altogether because Habermas believed that social movements are desirable because they encourage an ongoing process of collective discussion within society. Habermas stated that “the contradictions of a society constitute its ideologies” (Foss, Foss, & Trapp, p. 234). Concepts that are in reality distorted and not logical, maintain their legitimacy even though they could not be proven correct if they were topics of rational discourse. YouTube Moderator serves as a powerful source of critical theory to “move society in the direction of emancipation from unnecessary domination through the use of reason” (Foss, Foss, & Trapp, p. 235).
Cultural Participation refers to the interaction, intervening and distribution of information by YouTube users. Diversity is demonstrated on YouTube by its over 13 million hours of video uploaded each year, 70% of which comes from outside the United States. Additionally, there are 35 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute. The extensive use of YouTube is akin to Habermas’ idea of the literary public sphere, where communication and participation are greatly valued. YouTube provides massive streams of digital information daily, available for intervention, commentary and change at any time. The high level of worldwide interaction and immediate distribution that YouTube provides enhance participation and has effectively created a new media culture. No longer does one simply interact with a computer; now, streaming a YouTube video connects the viewer to a user-controlled, complex worldwide culture. The Internet provides users with readily available content, information, art and news just waiting to be mixed and re-mixed on YouTube. YouTube offers a platform for citizens to create debate, modify and build on ideas however they see fit.
YouTube’s millions of users have created an extraordinarily unique and diverse world. Capturing and sharing creativity encourages citizens to express opinions and potentially change policies as well as the culture they are a part of. The creation and sheer usage of YouTube alone has contributed greatly to a shift in the public sphere. Democracy relies on freedom of expression and the ability of citizens to discuss societal issues and form public opinion. Any citizen with adequate Internet access and software can interact with content posted on YouTube. For example, YouTube videos have extensively covered (and possibly created) the hype around the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement; from spreading the movement’s ideals to police violence, YouTube gives users whatever information they want to see. Videos related to a Police pepper-spraying incident have reached over 2 million views, sparking intense controversy all over the country. YouTube provides a platform for rational deliberation, an important aspect of democracy and the public sphere. Since its conception six years ago, YouTube has gone from a video sharing site to a website that has reshaped the Internet, media and political landscapes.
While YouTube provides a platform that encourages discourse and change, it has some significant limitations. There are various factors that prevent YouTube from reaching its full potential in contributing to the public sphere. The most notable limitation YouTube has in regards to the public sphere is that a major conglomerate, Google, Inc, owns it. While Habermas’ ideals would identify this ownership as elitist ownership, the ownership actually creates problems of authenticity. YouTube’s copyright rules are a prominent issue that inhibits the site’s ‘meta-world’ legitimacy. Users have ownership rights to the videos they upload, but YouTube has license to what happens to the video after it is uploaded. The following language from the user agreement demonstrates the issue:
“by submitting User Submissions to YouTube, you hereby grant YouTube a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the User Submissions in connection with the YouTube Website and YouTube’s (and its succes- sors’ and affiliates’) business, including without limitation for promoting and redistrib- uting part or all of the YouTube Website (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.” (YouTube, n.d.) So, while YouTube allows for the potential exposure of a video, the site can also use the video for market research, financial profits, or to gain political power. It would be naïve to think that platforms like YouTube who are owned by major conglomerates exist purely for the benefits of its users. YouTube does not offer superb quality videos and allows only relatively short video times in order to comply with large conglomerates. Additionally, YouTube does not allow their videos to be downloaded, only streamed. This means that creative freedom is allowed while making a YouTube video, but cannot be creatively altered after the video has been created. By being a member of YouTube, one essentially trusts the site not to access or abuse private and personal information and not to manipulate videos.
If videos and information are manipulated, no matter how minute the detail, media fragmentation becomes a massive issue that is difficult (or possibly impossible) to overcome. A message can be easily and skillfully skewed, exaggerated and distorted. This fragmented information can then be disseminated to millions of viewers, creating a huge rift in the public sphere. It’s true; YouTube streams millions of videos a day, but these streams also give millions of opportunities for information to be faked and a message to become slanted. While rational discourse is the objective for YouTube and the public sphere, it is easy for citizens to become unknowingly misinformed, resulting in irrational discussion and false conclusions.
YouTube has created an entirely new culture primed for participation and democracy. While it has limitations, YouTube has the potential to act solely as a tool for the public, free of negative influence from the conglomerate it is owned by. In order for YouTube to be only a public tool, policies must remain neutral on content but regulate structure so that easy access can be provided. Policy should provide general rules and flexible copyright regulations with extremely easy accessibility and high-quality format options. Only then can this platform be truly user-generated and act as a meta-world of different cultures, ideas and most importantly: a catalyst for change.
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Foss, K. A., Foss, S.K., & Trapp, R. (2001). Contemporary perspectives on rhetoric (3rd ed.). Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Pr Inc.
Get more into learning. (n.d.). Retrieved from <http://www.youtube.com/t/education>.
McKee, A. (2005). The public sphere: An introduction. Cambridge: UP.
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Postman, N. (1984). Amusing ourselves to death. New York, New York: Viking Press.
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"YouTube Statistics 02-2011 (February 2011) : From Cave Paintings to the Internet." 2,500,000 BCE to 8,000 BCE Timeline : From Cave Paintings to the Internet. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <http://www.historyofinformation.com/index.php?id=3252>.
YouTube town hall. (n.d.). Retrieved from <http://www.youtube.com/user/yttownhall>.
The Vlogbrothers and the Public Sphere
Hank and John Green started their vlogbrothers channel on January 1, 2007 as a challenge to cease all text-based communication and vlog every day for one year. The way it worked was Hank would vlog on Monday, John on Tuesday, Hank on Wednesday, and so on. This was the only way they could communicate with each other for the entire year. The project was known as Brotherhood 2.0.
On December 31, 2007, Brotherhood 2.0 came to an end, but the brothers decided to keep making videos for their viewers who adopted the name nerdfighters. The nerdfighter community or Nerdfighteria as it has become known, are brought together by the idea of fighting to make the world a better place and eliminating the negative aspects of the world (referred to as “worldsuck”). As of April 30, 2012 they have 957 uploaded videos, 686,350 subscribers, and 217,126,321 video views. Though many of their videos are fun and random, Hank and John like to bring our attention to issues they deem important from time to time. These issues range from helping raise money for charity to bringing the viewers’ attention to what SOPA is all about.
They have also started spin-off channels such as truthorfail, hankgames, crashcourse, scishow, and hankschannel. Out of these five channels, two of them are educational “shows” hosted by the brothers. Hank teaches you biology and John teaches you world history on crashcourse and over on scishow, it is strictly Hank discussing anything and everything science related.
Viewers can engage with the video content by leaving comments, sending the user messages, or even posting a video response. “The Internet […] offers us the chance to ‘talk back’ to the media, creating dialogue instead of passivity.” Hank even created VidCon, an annual YouTube conference (2012 marks year three) to bridge the gap between the YouTube content creators and its viewers, where they can gather and enjoy a celebration of the community, with performances, concerts, and parties. It's also a discussion of the explosion in community-based online video and hosts an industry conference for businesses working in the online video field.
If the viewers like the user enough and are big enough fans of them and their content, when the user promotes something s/he likes or ask for help with a charity they jump at the chance to be part of it. John Green is a published author with a repertoire including Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and The Fault in Our Stars. When the last book was released on January 10, 2012, he promoted it profoundly on the vlogbrothers channel. He promised he would sign all 150,000 copies of the first printing and he ended up signing that and more because fans of the vlogbrothers/John Green went out and preordered the book to create the demand for his signing every single book. I believe Hank and John realize their faithful following and they use their “power” to promote good and useful things to ultimately try to decrease worldsuck.
“I think it’s important for writers to be in the public sphere. Imagine if writers were considered celebrities, on par with rock stars and movie stars. Writers are often intellectuals and thinkers. If we put them in the spot light and their opinions carried as much weight with the public as some of the other celebrities do I honestly believe our society would be greatly enriched.” This is exactly what John gets to do through some of his videos with his brother Hank virtually by his side.
Videos That Make You Think
Hank and John’s videos could definitely be described as “infotainment” at times because though they give us important facts and thought provoking questions, they do it in an entertaining way. An example of one of these videos is one called Idiotic Governance: How Our Political Discourse Hurts Our Economy in which John discusses things from Canada's heroic elimination of the penny to how divisive political discourse—on both sides of the aisle—hurts both the American people and the American economy. He discusses these things and what he thinks about them all while biking a 30-mile loop around Indianapolis on April 3, 2012.
John give examples of poor policy making including “Congress's failure to secure long-term funding for the FAA, Congressional Republicans' refusal to pass a long-term highways bill, and by Congressional Democrats refusal to consider sensible Medicare reform that might bring better health care outcomes to more older Americans while bringing cost savings to Medicare” (vlogbrothers).
He gets especially frustrated about the FAA because it’s paid for entirely by a tax that he believes most travelers are more than content to pay. He goes on to say that Congress let the funding for the FAA lapse over the summer, so they couldn’t collect that tax on every ticket. Now you would think the money that would have gone to the tax went into the hands of the people buying the tickets, but that is not the case. It instead goes into the hands of the airlines because they raised their prices by the exact amount of the tax (vlogbrothers). Now, would you have even given something like this another thought, especially if it wasn’t covered in the news? People like Hank and John bring things to our attention that we would otherwise have never known.
At the end of his rant, he expresses what nerdfighters call the “giant squid of anger” about how the tax money is going into the airlines’ hands. One of Waisanen’s infotainment models included “a growing concern that critical reasoning has been replaced by mere opinion, unwarranted emotions, and subjective comments in the Internet age.” He also says that “even in talk shows, reporters ‘do not calmly discuss issues with an eye toward possibly finding common ground; they instead rudely interrupt each other, yell, and shout, with each participant striving to be more sharp-tongued than the others.’” I feel that John’s “giant squid of anger” might be construed to be this sort of behavior, but in fact it is just him filming all by himself with no one to provide any other input. There are other videos where he has someone with him and in those cases he stays quite calm and makes valid points in a level-headed manner.
The Bank of Nerdfighteria
“The Bank of Nerdfighteria is a bank that expands the entire – wait for it – globe.” Yes, this is a virtual-only bank that has two arms: the lending arm and the giving arm. John jokes that most banks also have a taking arm, but they “decided to dispense of that one.” The giving arm, also known as The Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck, is where nerdfighters can donate money that will be distributed to non-profits selected by Nerdfighteria and the YouTube community through the Project for Awesome. The lending arm works through Kiva where we can loan money to developing world entrepreneurs to help them with things such as renovations and stocking retail businesses. John said that he has loaned money to over 70 people and he has “never not been paid back, said the novelist using a double negative.”
John also gives us the bank’s quarterly reports in his vlogs and the last one Actually Free Money! (Really.) The Bank of Nerdfighteria's Quarterly Report was given on March 13, 2012. He addresses the giving arm first and reminds us that last time they had over $9,000 donated and “today we have $30, which represents a tremendous success.” The money went to charities such as K.I.N.D. (Kid In Need of Desks), This Star Won’t Go Out (cancer foundation), Harry Potter Alliance (human rights), Water.org (cleaner water), and Kiva. Then John addresses the lending arm, hosted by Kiva, and how they went from $75,000 in loans to $239,000 which represents a 319% quarterly increase. To address the Actually Free Money! part of the title, a generous man gave money so that 20,000 people could give $25 to their choice of person or group at no cost to them. If that kindness could spread like wildfire, where might we be in areas of politics and economics?
This is an amazing way to use the public sphere to open our eyes and get us to see and potentially help “decrease worldsuck” as nerdfighters would say. I believe Nerdfighteria is much different than other groups of people online. We have friends on Facebook that will like a cause, but will do little else to further its reach. We also have Twitter where we can get quick little blurbs about what is going on in our world, but most of us read it and move on. We can even look at YouTube as a whole and we see a lot of cute cat and baby videos, but these are all weak ties. Somehow, Nerdfighteria rose from a weak tie arena and created an online (and offline) strong tie community. They donate their money. They get together to support what they believe. They try to make a difference in the world even if it’s just making people aware as a first step, but I believe nerdfighters can go a long way in making a difference in the public sphere. And it all started through videos from Hank and John cutting out text-based communication and only communicating through vlogs.
- Waisanen, Don and Takeshi Suzuki. "Audience Roles in an Infotaining Public Sphere: Polarization, Critical Deliberation, or Epideictic Engagement?" University of Southern California. 2007. Print.
- Eyes Are Like Champagne. “The cliché of an author is that they’re recluse.” Octopus Co. Aug. 12, 2011. April 27, 2012. http://theoctopusco.tumblr.com/post/8830665814/the-cliche-of-an-author-is-that-theyre-recluse.
- Green, John. "The Bank of Nerdfighteria." Vlog. Nov. 11, 2011. Apr. 26, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2j81lEqBCe0&feature=plcp.
- Green, John. "Actually Free Money! (Really.) The Bank of Nerdfighteria's Quarterly Report." Vlog. Mar. 13, 2012. Apr. 26, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lisqjq0-YE&feature=plcp.
Facebook and the Public Sphere
The public sphere has experienced many changes since the Internet was created in 1992. The Internet provides a gathering for societal discussion and facilitation. Social media has had a direct effect on public discourse and discussion influencing political action in the public sphere. As the worlds largest social network, Facebook is valued at nearing the 100 billion mark (Arthur, 2011). Other major social media sites include Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Google +.Facebook is the biggest and most well-known social networking website available today. In fact, as of April 2012, Facebook had more than 900 million active users. Additionally, the April 2010 Social Media Today estimated that 41.6% of the U.S. population had a Facebook account.
The recent popularization of social networking sites is changing the way people interact throughout the world. Words like “friends” and “community” are being re-defined. Users are discovering new ways to become involved politically, socially, and globally to connect with a worldwide generation of young people. Facebook gives ordinary people a real chance to actively participate and become part of the public sphere.
Harvard student, Mark Zuckerburg, initially started Facebook as a website called Facemash. After successfully hacking into Harvard’s data base and accessing everyone’s student I.D pictures, users could compare students in their school and choose which one was better looking. The site gained immediate popularity, and Zuckerburg faced expulsion after being charged by the administration with breach of security, violating copyrights, and violating individual privacy. The charges were eventually dropped. The following semester in January 2004, Zuckerberg began working on a new website which he called “thefacebook.” Membership was limited to only Harvard students at first, but within the first month, more than half of the undergraduate population was registered. By March, thefacebook had spread across the north-east to colleges like Stanford, Columbia, and Yale. In June 2004, Facebook moved its base of operations to Palo Alto, California, received its first investment from PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and dropped The from its name after purchasing the domain name “facebook.com” in 2005 for $200,000. Most recently, in April, 2012, Facebook bought the picture sharing application Instagram for 1 billion dollars. Today, Facebook is the second most visited website (behind google) and attracts users from all over the world to share, post, update, and become involved in the newest form of the public sphere.
Sharing Information on Facebook
As the public sphere is an area where individuals freely discuss societal problems, the mere existence of social media sites gives access to such discourse. Through the action of “wall posts”, information can be readily shared from one user to the next. A “wall” in the Facebook world refers to a specific users board of posts. Users who are “friends” on Facebook can write on their friends’ wall, sharing information, YouTube videos, websites, etc. It has become increasingly apparent that youth are the most apt at sharing and promoting original content. “Media sharing has emerged as one of the preeminent online activities of the ‘social web’. Over half of all Internet-using teens are ‘content creators’ who create websites or blogs, share original media like photos or videos, or remix content into new creations.” (CSW and Online Behavior, 3). This shows the power and influence that user generated content can have on those who view it. It is also apparent that most active Facebook users are youth. A second facet for sharing information is accomplished by updating ones “status”. This is when users share information, again possibly including YouTube videos, hyperlinks, personal comments, etc., on their own walls. This lets their personalized Facebook community, (whether they have limited the sharing of information to themselves, their friends, or the public), receive and share information. When a wall post or status update is read and has struck the reader positively, they then have the ability to “like” the released data. The more people who “like” shared information on Facebook, the higher priority that said wall post or status update has in their newsfeed. This allows the most popular or trending Facebook posts to be the most accessible on users news feeds. The public sphere encourages discourse to either form consensus or agreed dispute. Facebook encourages such actions by allowing users’ friends’ to see and then comment on the shared information. Through such applications, discourse is encouraged and promoted through Facebook. There were several instances in 2011 in which social media sites, most notably Facebook, assisted in the promotion of political ideologies. This was particularly obvious in the 2011 Egyptian and Libyan revolts.
One function in particular that promotes social awareness in the public sphere is the social reader application. This allows Facebook users to read articles available on credible sources such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and CNN. This not only allows readers to read the articles, but it also allows them to see which of their friends’ have viewed and read them. By taking into account the relationships that they have with the people who read the articles, users may be more or less inclined to read the subject. There are many other similar Facebook applications, all allowing users to access information on Facebook via other media sites. In an interview with an 18-year-old regarding her use of a social application called “Hot Dish”, where news is readily available, she reiterated the aforementioned point. “For Jackie, it’s a go-to social media site within her Facebook network. She goes there, she told us, to ‘check in to see what articles other people had posted and to read their comments’ on thoughts she had shared” (Greenhow and Reifman, 53). Researchers Christine Greenhow and Jeff Reifman add that “If we want to inform, educate and mobilize an engaged citizenry-as the vision for active participation in solving 21st Century challenges-then we need to make sharing news and experiences fit easily into young people’s lives.” (Greenhow and Reifman, 54). By embracing this new technology, those youth who have previously avoided print journalism can now receive and share the same information in the public sphere. Facebook has successfully added easy applications that give users ample opportunity to collect and disperse information to their friends and extended networks. Unfortunately this also allows users to produce information that may be incorrect. “It’s your beat and you want to be the first to know if there is a breaking news story…This is a great way to stay on top of information, but be careful what you retweet on Twitter or share on Facebook; another news organization or journalist could be incorrect.” (Walsh, 40) By sharing inaccurate and erroneous information, other users could become misinformed and disillusioned to the truth.
User-Generated Content on Facebook
Facebook and other social media sites are large producers of user-generated content. Users are not the only individuals to upload information. Public and private corporations, celebrities, and politicians all have the ability to upload content gearing towards their “fans”, stretching the realm of the public sphere. This allows fans and celebrities to maintain closer contact by readily sharing information in a quick and easy way. Facebook has been considered by some as a public sphere of its own. However, instead of being a private sphere in the larger, omnipresent public sphere, “Facebook was construed by some as part of the public or ‘semi-public’ sphere” (West, Lewis, & Currie, 624). Facebook has a direct role and responsibility in the expedition of shared ideas and discourse in the public sphere. Information travels expeditiously on the Internet, especially on one of the most popular websites in the world. As Facebook is the most popular social media site in the world, the ability to link to other social media sites only increases its value. Facebook and Twitter have allowed user posts to be “linked”, meaning that when a user makes a post in one social media site, they have the ability to link their profiles and share their information via Facebook and Twitter. Many websites have installed similar linking abilities to easily share information. Some websites have buttons that readers can push which lets them update their Facebook pages with the information they’re reading.
Benefits of Facebook
Facebook has revolutionized the way people across the globe communicate, organize, think, and interact. The instant communication and user profiles allow friends, family members, and acquaintances to stay up to date with people’s lives they otherwise may not. Instead of calling or writing a relative or friend, users can browse profiles to see recent pictures, statuses, etc. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s study, titled “Social Networking Sites (SNS) and Our Lives”, “Facebook users are more trusting, have more close relationships, get more social support and are much more politically engaged than others.”  Furthermore, Facebook has the ability for users to promote businesses for free, express themselves in a public environment, share pictures, and stay connected with relatives or lost friends. In essence, Facebook allows people of all backgrounds to connect and interact instantaneously via a web platform.
Political Activism on Facebook
Political campaigns now have the ability to reach supporters in the public sphere though the use of Facebook. By posting updates on campaigns, politicians now have unprecedented access to reach not only those who subscribe to their sites, but also the extended networks that are able to see information that has been re-shared. A study conducted on the effectiveness of sharing such information on social media sites was studied in Romania during the presidential race of 2009. As in many cases, Facebook was “the most popular social network in the country.” (Aparaschivei, 44). The successful use of such social networks directly influenced how the Romanian campaign unfolded.
On January 17, 2001, during the impeachment trial of Philippine President Joseph Estrada, Phillipine loyalists voted to disregard key evidence compiled against him. In less than two hours after the decision, thousands of angry Filipinos arranged a protest via text messaging. Over the next few days, millions of people arrived to join and express their grievances, and within 3 days, President Estrada was gone. This event marked the first time the public was able to coordinate a massive and rapid response to a political injustice through social media. According to Clay Shirky, author of The Political Power of Social Media, “As the communications landscape gets denser, more complex, and more participatory, the networked population is gaining greater access to information, more opportunities to engage in public speech, and an enhanced ability to undertake collective action. In the political arena, as the protests in Manila demonstrated, these increased freedoms can help loosely coordinated public’s demand change.”
Similarly in the United States during the 2008 presidential election, the use of social media was imperative in increasing favorability for the candidates. In a study conducted by researchers Julia Woolley, Anthony Limperos, and Mary Beth Oliver, the “Results indicated that group membership and activity levels were higher for Barack Obama than for John McCain. Overall, Barack Obama was portrayed more positively across Facebook groups than John McCain” (Woolley, Limperos, and Oliver, 362). As Newsweek called it, “The Facebook Effect” has increased youth mobilization during election season by creating a way for students to share and access campaign information to support candidates. This phenomenon can be explained in part by the generational divide on how we consume information. A study performed on an Ohio college campus reported that 58 percent of students polled accessed the Internet every day for election news and information. Printed newspapers serve as a daily source of political information for just 15 percent. By creating, sharing, and promoting political campaigns’, discourse between Facebook users heightened. Through the sharing of such information, political activism increased as more and more individuals shared websites, YouTube videos, and personal opinions on their Facebook pages. Unlike T.V or radio, the two-way directionality of Facebook allows for everyday users to absorb ideas and post responses. Videos can go viral to be watched by millions or people can simply post statuses proclaiming their views. Groups can be organized to raise awareness and take action on social, political, or global issues. Now, more than ever, people have the tools to change the world.
Negatives of Facebook: The Emergence of Slacktivism
Background of Slacktivism
A new term is buzzing around the internet world, quickly taking place of the word activism. The creation of practical systems for “lazy” activism was caused by the multiple social media outlets that have become such a popular trend in this generation. This new term is called slactivism and it is feeding into a downward spiral of lethargic attempts to advocate for change. If you were to Google “slacktivism”, several pages would appear of definitions and scenarios that include this term. Slacktivism is a combination of exactly what it sounds like: slacker and activism. Ironically enough, this word has been created to describe someone who poses as an activist but in reality, only does the bare minimum of what is expected of them in order to feel as though they have made a difference in the world. The shift from good-hearted, committed activists to lazy, uninterested slacktivists is being fueled by the popular social media forum, Facebook. The internet as a whole is creating and supporting this type of movement, but Facebook in particular is the kindle to the fire. People are much more inclined to engage in questioning or exhausting movements if they are able to sit behind the comfort of their computer screen, doing as little work as possible. Facebook has become a world of its own, creating a platform for conversation involving activist movements, personal beliefs and scandalous opinions without forcing people to fully commit or associate with a particular cause or action. It is evident that conversation is being created through Facebook, but is this type of conversation even beneficial for the public sphere? Is it better to have superficial efforts pooled together through the Internet to initiate change than nothing at all? Although Facebook does create a motive to talk, exchange thoughts, share opinions and express concerns, people are becoming too complacent with the convenience of the easy accessibility to contribute, causing the original intent of activism to take a turn for the worse.
Contributing to the public sphere has become a much easier task, but to what extent is this increase of conversation even beneficial? Slacktivism through Facebook generates a troubling problem with the dialogue in the public sphere. In this generation, people are much more inclined to participate in a heated political debate or show their support for gay rights through the click of a “like” button or the change of a profile picture. In the mind of the people, they are doing a good deed. By sharing a picture or re-posting a story, the culpable voices in their heads are silenced because the guilt of not contributing or attempting to make a difference vanishes. Most people believe in this philosophy, but in actuality, many of the Facebook efforts for change fail to make a larger mark on society. It takes more than just a click of a button to make a difference and with the escalation of Facebook, less and less people are willing to resort back to the foundation and meaning of true activism.
Recently, the Facebook community reached out to those battling for the rights of gay marriage by changing their profile pictures to a pink and red equal sign. Although this action raised awareness for the gay/lesbian population, it merely took each person under ten seconds to participate. The profile picture was changed, kept up for a day (if that), and then taken down to be replaced by yet again, another picture of the Facebook user laughing with her friends or kissing her boyfriend. The point of the matter is, if the gay/lesbian community were to reach out to the people who participated through Facebook and ask them to help protest outside of the court building, would they? The answer is most likely not. It is the simple realization that society is only concerned with making a change or solving a problem if they can do it behind their computer screen and at lightning speed.
KONY 2012 was a virally spread video that surfaced to the tops of most Facebook users timeline page at some point throughout the year. The video was made by Jason Russell in the attempt to try to capture Ugandan leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Joseph Kony . Russell and two of his friends created the group Invisible Children, several years prior to making his film, in an attempt to stop the LRA and their unethical practices for the good of the children. Their main goal behind this video was to bring awareness to Americans, capture Kony, and then go to Uganda and help rebuild and restore the battered country. In spoken words, the whole plan sounded like a great cause. On the internet, it looked even better. The video reached 100 million views within six days of its initial release. This 30 minute video was clearly well targeted, orchestrated and produced. Oprah Winfrey even joined the crowd in the attempt to spread the video, releasing a tweet with the hash-tag #KONY2012, which help the total views sky-rocket to over 9 million .
Instead of using this awareness, and involvement of influential celebrities, to help rally troops to support the children of Uganda, it was used to create a sense of fame for those involved. Statistics have been compiled that compare the amount of views, clips, and sites associated with the Kony video to the amount of views that a Harry Potter series received . This statistic alone proves how the media and social networking sites corrupted the true meaning and efforts behind the movement in the first place. Eventually, another shift from representing the abolishment of Kony from Uganda was initiated when Russell, the main man behind the film, was caught naked and deranged in another video online. Instead of focusing on his main cause, videos and news stories flooded Facebook timelines, creating a new discussion, and not in a positive light. The discussion now transferred from supporting a good cause, to mocking the man behind the cause. News anchors were talking about the new video, social media sites were talking about the new video, and Russell himself was even on TV talking about the video. Once again, the cause had been forgotten as the public sphere became swamped with nonsensical, irrelevant clutter.
Not only are the people not directly involved in specific movements caving to the laziness that social networks permit, but even the people orchestrating the movements are reluctant to become actively involved through face-to-face rallies. It was not just the one-click followers that got sucked into yet another trap of the slacktivism game, but the members of the Invisible Children group were overcome by slacktivism as well. Invisible Children ended up spending more time and money trying to virally spread their activist video, than actually working on their humanitarian actions. Only 32% of the funds raised from donations actually went to rebuilding efforts, while most money was redirected towards funding the film, paying for plane tickets and completing payroll .They honed in on the efforts they could make behind the computer screen rather than focused on rebuilding a country in need.
Malcolm Gladwell’s Opinion on Facebook “activism”
Malcolm Gladwell, a well-known, experienced writer and author, recognizes the falsity behind slackers protesting through a hyperlink or a profile picture. He feels as though social networks have allowed the act of participation to sky rocket, but at the cost of motivation . Now that clicking a button is considered being an active member in society, the dedication to put forth change stops there. Facebook has become more so a tool to promote rather than a place to aggressively and whole-heartedly fight for a cause. Gladwell feels that these new tools, created through social media, have redefined social activism.. There are no more sit-ins, or protests, or sacrificing your body to make a difference. There are only like buttons, and picture sharing and video posting, which have caused activism to divert from its original roots. Gladwell makes a powerful statement in his article from The New Yorker titled, “Small Change” that does an exceptional job of explaining the drastic shift from activism to slacktivism: “Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools”. Activism is no longer based off the desire to make a change or the inclination to physically act in a protest. Instead, activism has transformed into slacktivism due to the tools that the public has access to.
Although social media, and the internet in its entirety, acts as a platform for spreading ideas, creating conversation and being an activist, its messy structure leads to tangents that stray away from contributors true intentions. Facebook campaigns are becoming more and more popular which inevitably is leading to more and more falsely advertised activist movements. The process of clicking a button has become a trend associated with “doing good” for society. People are becoming minimalists in the sense that they are fooled by the one-click phenomenon. To many active members in the Facebook and social media world, this type of activism is beneficial, monumental and effective; but is it? It is without a doubt that Facebook groups, pages, status' and shares generate large numbers of “supporters”, but that is exactly the problem. These so-called Facebook campaigns are strictly fueled by the contributor’s eagerness to gain more followers. Not by the eagerness to promote change or act outside of the cyber space world. When numbers become the most important part of an activist movement, the core of the cause is corrupted by a superficial group composed of many participants with little motivation to act. . Soon slacktivism will cause all of our efforts to surface and rise to the top of a Facebook timeline, and that is where they will peak before the next slacktivist decides to act, pushing the last movement down the page to eventually die out.
Criticisms of Facebook
In Malcolm Gladwell’s Small Change: Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted, he draws similarities and differences between the current revolutions and social activism of today, and of the 1960s. More specifically, the civil rights movement. Gladwell argues that the activists today have fewer vested interests in the subject. Referring to the 1960s civil rights movement, Gladwell says, “All of the applicants—participants and withdrawals alike—emerge as highly committed, articulate supporters of the goals and values of the summer program.” In essence, what matters most in the success of a political movement is the individual’s personal connection to the cause.” Although Facebook is a good way to raise awareness and spread ideas, the overload of causes to get behind hinders the user’s ability to act upon one which they deeply care about. Gladwell writes, “Social networks are effective at increasing participation by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires.” For example, it is much easier to “Like” a Facebook group than to actually donate money or protest. This weak involvement causes little real societal change, but the user feels as though they have contributed with a single click.
In Neil Postman’s Technopoly, he explains the ancient story of King Thamus. In the story, Thamus entertains a young inventor named Theuth. Theuth was the inventor and promoter of many things including numbers, calculation, geometry, astronomy, and writing. King Thamus expressed approval or disapproval for each of the new technologies, but when it came to writing, Thamus responded, “ those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of by their own internal resources.” Direct parallels can be drawn between the story of King Thamus and modern society. In Thamus’ society, the new technology of writing redefined words like “wisdom” and “memory”. Similarly, Facebook in our society is redefining words like “friends” and “community”. In either case, surface benefits have underlying cons that may have deeper psychological effects than expected.
Although Facebook claims to be a social networking site, critics claim it is actually digging a grave for individual’s interpersonal skills. While we are online, we feel as though we are in a bubble and can secretly look into other people’s lives without real confrontation. If there is something we don’t agree with, we can become invisible and not deal with it. When dealing with an uncomfortable situation, those of us who escape to Facebook regularly are less willing to approach a person face-to-face and grow as an indiviual. Poet T.S Elliot compares people’s relationship with technology as though we are housedogs enjoying a fresh piece of meat while our house is burglarized.
The sad reality is that people love their escapes. People love being able to disappear from any awkward situation and reappear in a virtual world void of judgment or embarrassment. As Neil Postman writes in Amusing Ourselves to Death, Aldous Huxley had the right idea in his dystopian novel, Brave New World. In the story, Huxley saw a world where people come to love their oppression and adore technologies that undue our capacities to think. Huxley theorizes that in the age of technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come with a smiling face than obvious exterior sources like in George Orwell’s, 1984.
People are no longer forced to be alone or to think for themselves. Facebook and social media users can escape into a virtual world instead of self-reflecting on things that really matter. People are less willing to journey into their own psyche because technology has offered constant distraction and entertainment. Although Facebook has been good for staying loosely connected with individuals, the underlying psychological damage is an unintended consequence that has affected an entire generation.
Facebook is present in every continent of the world, in most countries and is continuing to grow in popularity. By keeping up with technological advances such as the computer, iPad, iPhone, Droid, and others, it is impossible to escape the reach of Facebook. Thus, both politicians and political activists’ must realize the power of social media sites and utilize them for their benefit. “Facebook, widely used by students, is designed to facilitate communication between different groups of ‘friends’” (West, Lewis, & Currie, 615). This is the primary goal of the public sphere: to openly promote political discourse. Facebook is assisting in this process by promoting discourse by Facebook users. Undoubtedly there will be more social media sites that will grow in popularity as so many others before Facebook has done. However, as consumers in the Technological Age, it is imperative that users of such sites realize the positive political discourse that can be facilitated through such sites. The public sphere is ever changing, and so is the way individuals share information in it.
The creation of social networking sites like Facebook has changed the way people communicate on a daily basis. The new ability to connect with vast amounts of people has revolutionized the way information is introduced and spread among the public sphere. Although Facebook has been positive in raising awareness and allowing for self-expression, critics suggest the capability for constant distraction from real life is destroying genuine relationships with yourself and others. Facebook will continue to change the way our global population thinks, acts, and communicates. Fantastic possibilities lay in the hands of Facebook and social media alike. Now, more than ever, ordinary people have the tools to change the world, it just depends on how we use them.
- [Shirky,The Political Power of Social Media]
- .“KNOY 2012: The Video, The Background, The Critics”, “Chicago Now’, 9 March 2012. Retrieved on 17 April 2013.
- . Antonia.[ http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/apr/20/kony-2012-facts-numbers “Kony 2012 in Numbers”],”The Guardian”, UK, 20 April 2012. Retrieved on 17 April 2013.
- , Malcolm. “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will not be Tweeted”, “The New Yorker”, 4 October 2010. Retrieved on 17 April 2013.
- , Kali. “Trading slacktivism for activism: A Facebook status isn't enough”, “The Daily”, 23 January 2013. Retrieved on 17 April 2013
- [Malcolm Gladwell, Why the Revolution will not be Tweeted]
- [Neil Postman, Technopoly]
- [Neil Postman, Amusing ourselves to Death]
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“Cyber-bullying involves the use of information and communication technologies to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others.” This was the first formal definition of the act originally introduced by Bill Belsey, a Canadian educator. Cyber-bullying may include threats, sexual remarks, hate speech, false statements, ridicule, or unwanted contact. In the United States there are two different variations of harassment over the internet, cyber-bullying and cyber-stalking. Cyber-stalking is the use of the internet to stalk and harass an individual. When the interactions occurring are between an adult contacting a minor, the actions are distinguished as stalking. The purpose of these actions is to intentionally embarrass, intimidate, or threaten others. “The ‘victory’ for the cyberbully becomes enacted in the punishment the victim inflicts on himself. These punishments can take many forms: a complete decimation of self-esteem, a cycle of self-harm, a complete abandonment of identity,” states Dr. Traci Zimmerman in her proposed journal article, Cyberbullying and the Panopticon: Using Technology to Discipline and Punish. Often times, bullies harass others via the internet because there is a lack of consequences for their actions. Although the effects of sending a message to someone over a social networking site may not seem as severe as the classic school yard bullying, the effects can be drastically worse.
Legislation and awareness campaigns have arisen to address cyber-bulling as it has become more prevalent in society. There are currently no specific laws that deal with cyber-bullying, so lawmakers nationwide are seeking to target it with new legislation. As technology and bullying have evolved over time, so must the laws. The nation’s legislation must grow to adapt the current society it governs. Often times this legislation isn’t passed because of the fear of the limitations on the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
18 U.S.C. § 875 regulates interstate communications. Provision C of the statute criminalizes threats made via the internet stating, “Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”
The Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act aims to address harassment in higher education institutes. If passed it would require that all universities and colleges receiving federal funding have policies in place that prevent harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, sex, color, nationality, race, disability, or religion. This mandate would allow the U.S. Department of Education to provide training to higher education institutes in prevention and counseling for harassment.
More federal regulations need to exist because the state laws have little or no power if there is wrongful action across state lines. The Commerce Clause of the US Constitution specifically states that only the Federal government can regulate commerce between the states, this includes electronic communication.
§646.9 of the California Penal Code and §1708.7 of the Civil Code specifically address cyber-stalking. In 2009, the laws require that public schools create policies to attend to the problem of online harassment. Under the same law, school officials are permitted to punish students guilty of cyber-stalking through either suspension or expulsion.
In response to the suicide of Jeffrey Johnston, Florida passed the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act in 2008. Johnston was a 15 years old, who had suffered from online harassment over an extended period of time. The act requires school officials to inform parents of both bully and victim in cases of known cyber-bullying. If the school is not in compliance then federal funding will be withheld.
In 2010, Massachusetts passed one of the toughest anti-bullying laws in the United States. It was in response to victims Phoebe Prince and Carl Walker’s suicides after being harassed. This law prohibits cyber-bullying and requires training for both faculty and students. The law further requires school administrators to inform parents of bullying as well.
In 2008, Missouri altered its current statues on bullying and harassment so that it would include stalking and harassment through electronic communications and cyber-bullying. This revision was in response to the suicide of Megan Meier.
Megan Meier was 13 year old girl that had committed suicide after being bullied on the social networking site MySpace. During the investigation it was discovered that the young man that she had been bullied by was actually the mother of a classmate. The mother, Lori Drew, had made a false account under the name Josh Evans and had been harassing Meier as the boy. This was taken to court, but Drew was not found guilty of any criminal charges. Since there was no precedent for this case, Drew was released unscathed.
In 2001 Texas enacted the Stalking by Electronic Communications Act. In the law was later modified to include provisions regarding commercial networking sites defined as “means any business, organization, or other similar entity operating a website that permits persons to become registered users for the purpose of establishing personal relationships with other users…” Because of the recent controversies surrounding Facebook and MySpace, the state saw a need to differentiate commercial networking sites from other means of electronic communications.
The state of Washington holds the schools responsible for prevention and response to cyber-bullying. Their law requires school officials to enact policies that address general bullying as well.
Electronic Speech and the First Amendment
According to the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.” The idea of being able to freely express one’s ideas was so significant that the Founding Fathers prominently placed it at the top of the Bill of Rights. Speech that isn’t protected by the Constitution includes fighting words, true threats, or incitement to crime. The U.S. Supreme Court has made it apparently clear that online speech is entitled to the same constitutional protections as traditional speech. Because free speech is such an important aspect of the foundations of the United States, many lawmakers try to steer clear of limiting it, no matter how grave the possible outcome.
When corresponding with others through non-verbal forms of communication there is a lack of the context clues that you receive when having a conversation in person. Facial cues, tone of voice, and body language are all lost when communicating through a keyboard. So a message that literally says “I’m going to kill you,” could mean just the opposite. Text that used to be clearly a threat can convey a different message entirely; this is where the difficulty in regulating speech comes in. In many cases, it’s complicated trying to understanding the true intent of a message.
This is why many of the current laws regarding cyber-bullying or cyber-stalking leaves the responsibility of preventing and addressing cyber-bullying in the hands of the school officials. It has been argued in countless free speech Supreme Court cases, such as Tinker v. Des Moines and Morse v. Fredrick, that the students still retain their rights in the classroom, however they are significantly limited.
Tyler Clementi was born on December 19, 1991 and raised in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Clementi had told his parents that he was gay just a few days before leaving for college at Rutgers. After meeting his roommate, Dharun Ravi, they barely interacted during their time together.
Clementi contacted Ravi about having their room for the evening on the nights of September 19 and 21. Ravi had met Clementi’s older male friend, before going to a friend’s room down the hall, Molly Wei. Worried about theft, Ravi placed his computer where he could have the webcam on and watch over his belongings. Ravi and Wei viewed the video stream and saw Clementi and his male friend kissing. Ravi proceeded to post onto Twitter “Roommate asked for the room till midnights. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” Later that evening Wei returned with more people, Ravi was no longer present in the room, however a video of Tyler and his guest kissing without any clothing on was.
On September 21, Clementi had requested the room to himself. In response, Ravi pointed the web camera at his bed. Ravi sent messages out to his friends informing them about his plans for a “viewing party,” along with directions on how to view the video stream. After returning to the dorm room, Clementi noticed the video and contacted a friend saying he had unplugged his roommate’s computer to avoid any more public streaming. Later during investigation Ravi has claimed that he had a change of heart and had powered down the web camera before.
Clementi followed Ravi on Twitter and saw the postings about the webcam viewing the next day. Following the first incident, Clementi filed a request for a single room. After September 21 Clementi filed another complaint with a RA and other housing officials. Ravi posted on Just Us boys and Yahoo message boards about the incidents and the complaints. He commented that “He [the resident assistant] seemed to take it seriously.” The following afternoon the RA confronted Ravi about Clementi’s complaints and suggested that he explain his actions to Clementi himself.
On the night of September 22, Tyler Clementi posted to his Facebook from his cell phone, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” Clementi left a suicide note, which was never publically released.
Ravi, not having seen Clementi’s posting on Facebook, sent Clementi the following messages just five minutes after:
"I want to explain what happened. Sunday night when you requested to have someone over I didn’t realize you wanted the room in private. I went to Mollys room and I was showing her how I set up my computer so I can access it from anywhere. I turned on my camera and saw you in the corner of the screen and I immediately closed it. I felt uncomfortable and guilty of what happened. Obviously I told people what occurred so they could give me advice. Then Tuesday when you requested the room again I wanted to make sure what happened Sunday wouldn't happen again and not to video chat me from 930 to 12. Just in case, I turned my camera away and put my computer to sleep so even if anyone tried it wouldn't work. I wanted to make amends for Sunday night. I'm sorry if you heard something distorted and disturbing but I assure you all my actions were good natured."
Following up ten minutes later with:
"I've known you were gay and I have no problem with it. In fact one of my closest friends is gay and he and I have a very open relationship. I just suspected you were shy about it which is why I never broached the topic. I don't want your freshman year to be ruined because of a petty misunderstanding, it's adding to my guilt. You have a right to move if you wish but I don't want you to feel pressured to without fully understanding the situation."
On September 22 Clementi’s wallet was found on the walkway of the George Washington Bridge, his car, cell phone, and laptop was also discovered nearby. On September 29, 2010 Clementi’s body was retrieved from the Hudson River.
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Zimmerman, Traci A. "Cyberbullying and the Panopticon: Using Technology to Discipline and Punish." Present Tense: A Journal of Rhetoric in Society (Unpublished). Print.
Blogs and the Public Sphere
An Introduction to Blogs
Blogs have become an increasingly popular Internet phenomenon over the past decade. Because of their recent introduction into the public sphere, many are still unsure of what exactly a “blog” is or what “blogging” involves. There are countless definitions available but Google provides us with the basic idea: it defines a blog as “a web site on which an individual or group of users record opinions, information, etc., on a regular basis.” Bloggers.com, one of the most popular sites used to help people create their own blogs, attempts to explain the endless possibilities they present by stating, “A blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet. A collection of links. Your own private thoughts. Memos to the world. Your blog is whatever you want it to be. There are millions of them, in all shapes and sizes, and there are no real rules.” The ever-increasing number of blogs has even lead to the creation of sites that exist solely to help you navigate through them, categorizing them by subjects or styles so you can choose those that appeal to you most.
Blogs provide our society with an entirely new type of electronic genre that allows writers to post, viewers to read it, and both parties to engage in a conversation regarding it. One of the most important, innovative aspects of blogs is the ability to facilitate this type of two-way communication and encourage open participation from the public. Bloggers can choose to conceal their identity by writing under an alias or make themselves known by using their actual name, but anonymous or identified, they open their personal thoughts and opinions to the public whenever they post. Blogs differ from other forms of print media because they are constantly updated with new information. As with any other form of media, many have come to criticize blogs while many others encourage their use. Despite conflicting viewpoints, blogs have become integrated into our modern society and possess the potential to completely alter our public sphere. Whether this alteration if for better or for worse remains up for debate.
Criticism of Blogs
There are countless critics who fear that blogs will only damage our society in terms of our communication and information processing. Anyone can create a blog about anything, which may seem to increase the available sources of information—the minority of which are actually credible and of quality. Blogs also allow readers’ feedback but a great deal of the responses given are not intelligent or in any way constructive. Therefore, some believe blogs simply spur mindless conversations that do nothing to contribute to the expansion or improvement of the public sphere.
Andrew O’Baoill, a doctoral student in the Institute of Communications Research at the University of Illinois, wrote an essay entitled “Weblogs and the Public Sphere” that discusses the potential impact of blogs on our society. He bases his assessment on the work of Jurgen Habermas, who claimed that an effective public space must include three key features: participation must be open to all, participants must be considered equal, and any issue can be raised for rational debate. O’Baoill analyzes all three of these requirements and explains why the blogosphere has yet to achieve these ideals. In terms of open participation, he recognizes that with the easy-to-use available tools, even those with limited technological literacy are able to produce their own sites but it is the time commitment that prevents many people from becoming involved. Bloggers must be able to keep up with the constant flow of news output and come up with creative content on a daily basis. The idea of spending hours each day browsing sources and contributing to debates dissuades many potential bloggers from even trying. There is also some sense of exclusivity as the Internet population in general tends to be younger, wealthier, and more educated individuals. This impedes on Habermas’s requirement of equal rank. O’Baoill discusses how there are “A-list bloggers” who are considered far more popular and credible than others. They may have this advantage because they have more experience in the blogosphere or because they have outside connections that help to promote them. In either case blogs of these individuals and/or groups receive more attention than most, leaving other blogs ignored. In regards to allowing the public to engage in rational debate of any topic, O’Baoill presents the argument that blogs tend to concentrate on ephemeral issues with “little true insight or productive results” (3). Though there is some good analysis available on blogs, a great deal of it comes from stories first published by the mainstream press. It is because of these arguments that O’Baoill claims that blogs do not yet meet the requirements of Habermas’s ideal public sphere.
Praise for Blogs
Many firmly believe that the introduction of blogs has expanded the public sphere in a positive way. Blogs are often viewed as an improved form of interaction that allows for the increased flow of information and networking. The public masses that have not been able to share their opinions through other forms of media are now able to make their voices heard and those who are well informed and publish great material are able to become authorities in their field. Blogger Jochen Friedrich wrote an article, “On Blogging or a New Era in the Transformation of the Public Sphere,” that claims blogs have lead us into a new era of enlightenment. He declares that “these new forms of communication and networking break the traditional constellations of the public, political sphere, the media, etc.” (1) as they provide a new platform for public discourse and allow for more open communication. Many support the increasing popularity of blogs as they break through the barriers upheld by other forms of mass media and provide the public with a much more effective public space.
Andrew Sullivan, a well-known and respected blogger, also promotes the use of blogs and emphasizes the positive impact they make on our public sphere. His article “Why I Blog” shares his personal reasons for being involved in this Internet network and shows its advantages over more traditional forms of media. He considers blogs to be revolutionary as they provide every writer with a means to publish and reach any reader instantly. Bloggers are not limited by editors’ critiques or publisher’s incompetence but instead, they are free to post whatever they want, whenever they want. Sullivan acknowledges that many claim this lack of censorship can lead to inaccuracy and unprofessionalism but counteracts this argument by pointing to the intense scrutiny of readers. Because blogs allow readers to share any questions, comments, or criticisms they may have, bloggers are forced to edit themselves in response or risk losing credibility. He also addresses the concern that blogs are a superficial medium that encourage brevity rather than in-depth analysis. He claims that blogs are actually able to achieve greater depth than other forms of traditional media because of their use of one technological innovation: the hyperlink. This tool allows readers to immediately view the sources a writer is referring to and adds much greater context than anything on paper.
Sullivan makes a great analogy as he claims a blogger is like the host of a dinner party: “he can provoke discussion or take a position, even passionately, but he also must create an atmosphere in which others want to participate” (3). It is through this type of open discussion that blogs are able to pivot us towards the relative truth. Bloggers post, readers contribute and add complexity to the idea, and together they create a credible source of information. Sullivan is one among many that promote blogs as an idealized aspect of the public sphere.
Feedback on Blogs: Helpful or Harmful?
In analyzing a blog’s contributions to the public sphere, it is important to look at the conversations blogs ignite. Those who condemn blogs claim that the majority of the subjects they discuss are trivial and the feedback they receive is foolish while those who support blogs claim they lead to well-informed discussions of important events. To investigate these claims, one need look no further than the comments section of any given blog. Unfortunately, it is difficult to conclude which viewpoint is correct as there is countless evidence available for both.
The Huffington Post, among the most well-known blogs in existence, provides readers with countless posts on a wide range of topics. A single post can garner up to tens of thousands of comments from all different viewers. Under the politics section, a post entitled “Obama Secertary of State, Defense Picks Expected to Be Announced in Next Two Weeks” discusses how the recently re-elected president will soon choose his nominees for secretaries of State and Defense. This decision is of national importance and many viewers voiced their opinions on the matter, yet not all were able to make intelligent contributions. User Sheena Schmidt posted the comment, “Yesterday on the News and Tv a black congressman said the white senitors got thier white butts kicked by the blacks, and were just starting… this is what its comming to race war.” Someone with the username KsMiass immediately responded by saying, “Sheena, when you get out of the 3rd grade and can spell correctly, then you can continue to post blogs. Until then, don't write anything dammit!” This unfriendly exchange continued on for several more comments until it ended with a statement from Darque Wing that declared, “Here's to another four years of conservatives mouthing off, unburdened by reality or grammar.” This is far from civil discourse. Sheena’s comment is not only irrelevant but also very unintelligent as her grammar, spelling, and vocabulary demonstrate. Her comment then led other users to continue the conversation in a negative way, insulting one another rather than discussing the issue the post tries to introduce. This type of interaction seems to bring down the public sphere rather than improve it.
Though these examples of poor public discourse are common, there are innumerable examples of intellectual conversations on blogs. Talking Points Memo, yet another reputable blog that draws in more than 400,000 viewers a day, posted “How Democrats Main Filibuster Reform Would Work,” which explains exactly what the title suggests. Readers responded directly to the post and various threads were created as people responded to one another as well. One among many conversations was started by user Tim Kane, who claimed, “Republicans are not going to be in the majority for about another decade and a half, perhaps two, if ever.” Another user named Austintine agreed with this statement as he replied, “You know, I'm wondering if Reid wasn't waiting until after this 2012 election, when the chance of losing the Senate to Republicans was so high, to propose these rules.” Watergate Mike responded to this thought by saying, “No, Austinite, it is because the rules of the Senate maintain that changes to the way they do business may only be proposed and debated and voted on the first day of the session.” This led to a slight dispute among viewers who went back and forth discussing the rules of the Senate and how the process of reforms work. Though not everyone agreed with one another, everyone engaged in a civil conversation that revolved around the topic at hand and worked to gain a better understanding of our Senate. This serves as a prime example of putting blog feedback to good use.
Blogs may be a recent phenomenon, but their constantly increasing popularity has caused them to become a major aspect of our public discourse. Millions of people use blogs each day to voice their opinions and to hear the opinions of others. Each one discusses different subjects, portrays different perspectives, and ignites different kinds of conversations but what they all share in common is that they impact the public sphere in some way. Some argue that they are detrimental while others believe them to be beneficial and it seems that there is strong evidence to support both claims. Whether we like it or not, blogs possess an incredible amount of power in the public sphere and it is up to its participants to determine how to use it.
Kapur, Sahil. "How Democrats Main Filibuster Reform Would Work." Web log post. Talking Points Memo. N.p., 6 Dec. 2012. Web.
“Obama Secretary of State, Defense Picks Expected to Be Announced in Next Two Weeks.” Web log post. Huffington Post. N.p., 4 Dec. 2012. Web.
O’Baoill, Andrew. “Weblogs and the Public Sphere.” Web log post. N.p., n.d. Web.
Sullivan, Andrew. “Why I Blog.” Web log post. N.p., n.d. Web.
“What's a Blog?” Blogger. N.p., n.d. Web.
Sports Blogs in the Public Sphere
Aside from being viewed as entertainment, sports have become one of the biggest businesses in the world. Whether it’s the BCS National Championship, the NBA Finals, or the World Series, billions of dollars are trading hands each year through different sports. Recent developments in technology have brought us into a new era of sports coverage. Instead of passively reading the newspaper the morning after a game as fans used to do, people today are able to constantly keep in communication with their favorite teams through their smart phones, computers, and more. ESPN has helped to create an around the clock, 24/7 sports culture.
The downside to this new kind of coverage is that it has created an even bigger distraction than before. As much as it has become a legitimate business many social critics would still consider sports to be a trivial matter. In his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman explores Aldous Huxley’s idea that we are becoming a culture distracted by entertainment. As Postman puts it, “Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.” The recent developments in technology have allowed people to become so distracted by entertainment that they do not think about anything else. Sports, perhaps above all other things, are a culprit of providing these distractions. People identify so strongly with certain teams that it takes over their lives.
As the power of social media has emerged, blogs have become one of the most popular mediums through which people talk about sports. Sports fans have begun to use them to discuss and argue about their favorite teams and topics. The blogs range from the most popular, like Bill Simmons on espn.com, to local message boards discussing high school sports. The argument from fans is that blogs give them a unique opportunity to interact with other sports fans and voice their opinions. Many journalists and sports professionals dismiss the credibility of these sites and believe that they are only used to trash athletes. One thing that has become clear in the recent years however is that whether good or bad these blogs have had a major influence on the way that sports are now discussed in the public sphere.
The definition of a blog, according to Wikipedia, “is a type of website or part of a website supposed to be updated with new content from time to time.” It can be used to as a noun, as in “Justin’s blog,” or as a verb, as in “Justin is blogging.” It is a space where the writer can provide commentary on any subject he or she chooses. It is sometimes interactive, featuring pictures, videos, and links to other websites relating to the blog posts’ content. Blogging evolved from online diaries where people would write personal accounts about their lives. One of the first people credited with creating the modern blog was Justin Hall, a student at Swarthmore College, who started a personal blog in 1994. As technology has increased bloggers have found ways to make their sites more visually appealing and in the process gain a larger readership . Aside from the personal blog there are numerous other kinds of blogs including corporate, organizational, and many others.
As sports blogs have evolved they have taken many different forms. Two of the most popular blogs in today’s sports blogosphere are run by ESPN’s Bill Simmons. After writing briefly for the Boston Herald and the Boston Phoenix, Simmons began his own online column, which he named “The Sports Guy.” Over several years Simmons began to gain a substantial following which eventually earned him a job offer from ESPN. He began writing for ESPN’s Page 2 in 2001. His following continued to rise as fans enjoyed his position as a regular sports fan. He has since gone on to write the best-selling Book of Basketball along with many other projects. He now runs two blogs, "The Sports Guy" on Page 2 of espn.com as well as his latest creation, grantland.com where he gets help from other contributors. Simmons is known for his ability to combine pop culture references with factual-based sports opinions to create an entertaining read.
It is important to note here the shift that has occurred in sports reporting and discussion. While newspapers continue to be in decline, Simmons in 2009 was averaging 1.4 million page views per month. Sports fans want to identify with a man who calls himself "The Sports Guy." Simmons often says things that reporters wish they could say and things that fans are screaming on their couch every weekend. There is an important distinction however between Simmons blogs and many of the other ones that pop up across the Internet. Simmons got his start as a newspaper reporter and has spent years around college and professional sports. He has done countless interviews with famous athletes. Simmons is able to contribute successfully to the public sphere because his opinions are considered credible, as he has had years of professional experience.
Another blog has gained popularity in recent years, one that in some respects is quite different from ones created by Bill Simmons. Deadspin heralds itself as, “Sports news without access, favor, or discretion.” The website was created in 2005 and the original editor-in-chief was Will Leitch. The blog brought a new humorous perspective to sports writing. The stories were not as much about investigative journalism as they were entertainment. Typical posts range from, “Buffalo schoolteachers charged with humping in the bathroom at this weekend’s bills game ,” to, “ At Least Jerry Sandusky’s Dog Understands him .” Although there are cases of serious journalism featured on the site, it is often overshadowed by the articles that are more focused on sarcasm and entertainment.
The controversy begins to come in when one tries and differentiate between the credentials of those involved in this discussion. In 2008, long-time reporter Bob Costas hosted an HBO special discussing the benefits and disadvantages of sports blogs and in particular, Deadspin. The round table panel that discussed the topic included Will Leitch, award-winning novelist Buzz Bissinger, and NFL wide-receiver Braylon Edwards. During the show, Bissinger went on an obscenity-laden rant, berating Leitch for the writing featured on Deadspin. “They’re dedicated to cruelty, they’re dedicated to journalistic dishonesty, they’re dedicated to speed,” said Bissinger about blogs. “The quality of the writing generally in blogs is despicable.” Leitch believed that Bissinger was missing the point and making generalizations about blogs without realizing their potential benefits. The detached perspective that comes from not being a journalist in the press box is something that Leitch feels enhances his writing.
The most revealing aspect of the show was that this argument turned into a shouting match more than anything else. As is true of many T.V. programs today, people sit across the table from one another and see who can yell the loudest. Oftentimes the person with the most outrageous opinion is the one who garners the most support from the public. Some of the most popular sports television shows, including “Around the Horn” and “First Take,” are nothing more than half hour screaming matches. Although sports have certainly encouraged this type of discussion, they are not the only subjects of the public sphere who participate in it. Shows like “The O’Reilly Factor” and “Nancy Grace” have also blurred the lines between investigative journalism and biased punditry.
The Effect on the Public Sphere
The larger point in this discussion is that journalism started out as a way to bring unbiased, factual news to the general public and now the standard has changed. The line between fact and opinion has been blurred to the point that it is hard to tell which is which. The information that people use to make decisions is often very biased. In order for a public sphere to function as it should, people need to be informed about issues. The problem that we now face is that much of the information we are receiving through media outlets has already made up our minds for us. Whether it’s from a sports blog or from CNN, information must now always be taken with a grain of salt.
The issue that must be decided is who is qualified to give us our information. In the case of sports, while the tradition of sports reporters is long and respected there is some value to this new perspective of bloggers. Many people are able to relate to these blogs because the writers share many of the same qualities that normal fans do. “I’ve never quite understood the idea that, ‘Well now I’m a journalist so now I cheer for no team.’ Really? Why’d you get into sports in the first place,” says Will Leitch. That being said, the tendency to focus on negative and trivial aspects of sports is something that many blogs are culprits of doing, including Deadspin at times. The most effective compromise would involve a blending of the two styles. Blogs could feature both writing from actual sports reporters as well as full-time bloggers.
Biased news leads to unfair opinions which can never help form a healthy public sphere. As technology continues to improve the opportunities for people to spread their opinions is going to increase exponentially. Part of an informed citizen’s job is to decide what sources he or she finds credible when listening to news programs. As much blame as the media deserves, we as citizens ultimately hold the power to make our own decisions. Instead of, “amusing ourselves to death,” we need to do the work to stay as informed as possible whether it be in politics, social issues, or even sports. The future of the public sphere will depend on who takes this job the most seriously.
- Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Penguin, 1986. Print.
Music Blogs and the Public Sphere
The distribution of news and information has undergone a drastic change since the beginning of the 20th century. News distribution went from exclusively newsprint and word of mouth to radio and television and now, in the 21st century, online. In the 1900s radio journalism gained a popularity never before seen. Media demagogues such as Edward Murrow and Walter Cronkite emerged as trusted figures that objectively and thoughtfully dictated news to Americans. Journalism in music was not untouched by these evolutions. John Peel, a British Disc Jockey, record producer and radio journalist, became a pioneer of music journalism in 1967. Peel was famous for his candour on the air and his eclectic taste in music. Peel’s Radio 1 show was most popular for its regular ‘Peel Sessions,’ which consisted of four songs recorded by a guest artists live in Peel’s studio. This radio program was the first public forum for musicians and artists to become visible to a wide radio audience and to perform and discuss their work. Peel conducted his show on BBC Radio 1 show and ‘Peel Sessions’ from 1967 until his death in 2004.
The days of John Peel and Walter Cronkite are over however, replaced with radically decentralized sources of news and information. In place of these champions of journalism, we find a huge increase in the popularity of Blogs and other Internet medias. Music Blogs exist today in the forms of MP3 Blogs and Blog Aggregators and function as a free forum of information for artists. The legality of some of these Blogs is in question, though, for the most part, Music Blogs have found their niche in the public sphere and are not likely to fade from public view.
The Music Blog Boom
Since 2002 Blogs as a form of media have become more influential in the shaping of public opinion in the public sphere (Werde). This has had significant impact in the content of the public sphere. Journalism in the music industry is no exception. Audioblogs or MP3 Blogs are one such evolution within Blogs as a medium for the public sphere. Audioblogs offer music files that a subscriber can download. Typically these are MP3 files, hence the term ‘MP3 Blog,’ but blogs can release music in many other formats as well. Fluxblog is one of the oldest MP3 blogs on the Internet. It was launched in 2002 and began posting songs available for download by the end of that year (Pasick). The Blog is described by Matthew Perpetua, Disc Jockey and founder of Fluxblog, as “a musical diary for my own purposes,” and that his goal is to “help out obscure or grassroots artists gain publicity” (Pasick). Other popular MP3 Blogs include Soul Sides, and The Tofu Hut, who have operated for several years without prosecution from the Recording Industry Association of America. The distribution of music belonging to signed artists is illegal by national copyright law, and many MP3 Blogs engage in illegal activity of this type. In general however, MP3 Blogs have enjoyed certain exemption from the RIAA. The RIAA has refused comments on the legal status of many Audio Blogs to reporters from USA Today and Wired Magazine. Michael Ryan, owner of Royal Magazine and Royal Music, operates two MP3 Blogs and quote “Highly doubts that everything that I am doing is legal, but I haven’t heard from the RIAA or any of the artists or their record labels yet” (Pasick).
The Legality of Audio Blogs
Since the Internet boom of the late 90s and early 2000s, many websites that facilitate piracy online have emerged. Programs such as BitTorrent, LimeWire, and Kazaa are well known Internet services that engage in online piracy. The RIAA has launched several lawsuits against LimeWire and Megashare based on their copyright infringements of artists signed to American recording companies (Schiffman). Current legislation states that any file that is currently produced by a recording label cannot be distributed without paying for it (“Legal Aspects of File Sharing). The first peer-to-peer case of file sharing was in 2001 with the A&M Records v. Napster. Napster, in 2001 was a program similar to LimeWire and Kazaa, and offered free file sharing. The 9th Circuit Court held Napster liable for copyright infringement and mandated that Napster must begin charging a fee for music downloads and pay artists their respective royalties (“Legal Aspects of File Sharing”). In 2009 the Secure Federal File Sharing Act was introduced to the House of Representatives. If passed, this legislation would forbid federal employees from peer-to-peer file sharing on computers used for federal government work. According to the Audio Home Recording Act Files that contain albums or songs by artists that are not under contract to a record label however are legal for free distribution online (“Legal Aspects of File Sharing”). Files of this type include songs that were at one time produced by a label, but are currently not, songs that an artist released independently, or songs that a signed artist released that does not violate that artists recording contract. This has led to a large following of Blogs that distribute Bootleg Recordings, live recordings of shows gathered by the audience members. These kinds of files are free to be shared peer-to-peer according to the current legislation (“Legal Aspects of File Sharing”).
Oliver Wang, Disc Jockey and freelance writer, manages Soul Sides, an MP3 Blog dedicated to the distribution and discussion of hip-hop artists. Similar to Fluxblog, which Wang cites as his predecessor and influence, Soul Sides posts music files that are available to the public for free download. Also similar to Fluxblog, Wang has not suffered any legal action on behalf of record companies or the RIAA. Some claim that the RIAA turns a blind eye towards many obscure independent Audio Blogs, instead focusing on the ‘main offenders’ of online piracy such as Napster and LimeWire. Yet Wang is engaging in a project to digitalize 7,000 vinyl albums of class hip-hop songs for Soul Sides (Werde). This hardly constitutes a meager threat to the royalties of some artists. RIAA has since failed to comment on the existence on popular blogs such as this (Werde).
The Benefits of Audio Blogs
In April 2011a new source of free music in the public sphere emerged. YouMusic.com is a self-proclaimed ‘music discovery site for all independent musicians’ (Danicio). On YouMusic, artists can obtain free web-space in which they can post and share their music. The music an artists puts on YouMusic is then available for download at no cost (Danicio). The Internet can now be seen to play the same role that John Peel and other Radio Journalists did in the 20th century. Music Blogs such as YouMusic offer the visibility that Peel afforded to his select artists to the public sphere through use of the Internet.
Bandcamp, MySpace, and SoundCloud offer similar services to YouMusic. On each of these sites, artists can post and discuss their work with others at no cost to the performers or the audience. With the absence of any financial gain to the artist, the benefits of audio media on the Internet comes in the form of publicity. An artist’s work gains popularity and visibility in the public sphere through the distribution of music through peer-to-peer file sharing. The RIAA also has a stake in the distribution of free media online (Schiffman). Often, artists will distribute only partial albums or select songs online. These leaves the listener with the option of buying the album itself to hear the rest of the artists repertoire. This kind of selective distribution is an effective form of advertisement for a record label (O'Donnell and McClung). The increase in popularity of Audio Blogs, and Blogs in general, has increased the visibility of the content in these medias exponentially. Google too has reason to advocate the continued existence of MP3 Blogs. AdSense, a program under the supervision of Google, is a program which anybody, bloggers, publishers, nonprofit groups, or freelance writers, can sign up for (“AdSense”). This service allows AdSense users to automatically serve text, image, video, and rich media adverts that are targeted to site content and audience (Schiffman). This means that Google profits from the existence of Audio Blogs that are frequently visited online.
There is a new need for the organization of blogs on the Internet, give their overwhelming numbers on the Internet. Certain websites, referred to as ‘blog aggregators,’ have emerged to facilitate this need for structure. A ‘search aggregator’ is a search engine that compiles results from multiple search engines at the same time. Blog aggregators, such as Techmeme, a technology blog aggregator, and Topix, a news aggregator, compile blogs from multiple search engines such as Google and Bing. Using mathematical algorithms, these blogs can also filter their results to reflect the most visited or cited blogs primarily.
The Hype Machine is one such aggregator and compiles its results based on the most visited or blogged about music releases (“The Hype Machine”). Since its inception in 2005, The Hype Machine has been profiled by CNN, Wired Magazine, and The Guardian and has been hailed as “one of the 100 essential websites of 2009” ("The Hype Machine"). The Hype Machine’s results come from a selection of about 1,500 music blogs that offer a range of services from audio streaming to MP3 downloads (“The Hype Machine”). The Hype Machine has been praised for its inclusion of links to Amazing and iTunes above each post, offering the client the opportunity to buy the music they find on the site ("The Hype Machine").
Even more than audio blogs themselves, blog aggregators like The Hype Machine have further increased the visibility of artists in the public sphere. The decentralization of news into the frontier of the Internet is brought back together in a kind of structure through the use of blogs and their aggregators. This is an evolution of a medium that was once solely the domain of radio and newsprint.
“AdSense.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. Web 11 Dec. 2011
Danicio, Camelia. "Great Time to Be an Independent Musician." YouMusic Inc. EBSCO. Web. 1 Apr. 2011.
“The Hype Machine.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. Web 11 Dec. 2011
“John Peel.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. Web 11 Dec. 2011
“Legal Aspects of File Sharing.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. Web 11 Dec. 2011
Pasick, Adam. "MP3 Blogs Serve Rare Songs, Dusty Grooves." Music and Technology. USA Today. Reuters, 8 Aug. 2004. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. <www.usatoday.com>.
Patrick O'Donnell, Steven McClung. "MP3 Music Blogs: Their Efficacy in Selling Music and Marketing Bands." Atlantic Journal of Communication. EBSCO. Web 11 Dec. 2011
Schiffman, Betsy. "MP3 Blogs Offer File Sharing Even the RIAA Could Love." Wired.com. Wired, 12 Apr. 2007. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.
Werde, Bill. "Music Blog Boom." Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 11 Dec. 2011.
Twitter and the Public Sphere
Social networking sites have become a huge part of American society, and there is no denying their influence on the way communication has come to be defined. Twitter is no exception, and has entered this movement as a major contributor with the numbers to prove it. Yet despite its rapid growth and popularity, this service as a whole does not offer anything revolutionary to society and counteracts the ideals of the public sphere. Although it is important to note the basic benefits that particular tools offered by Twitter appear to have, users must keep the consequences of using this service in mind and be aware of the negative effects using Twitter has on their own involvement in the public sphere.
Twitter was founded in early 2006 by Jack Dorsey and was designed to allow users to communicate via short messages known as “tweets” with others in the system. Originally set up for these tweets to be shared through SMS (Short Message Service for sending brief text messages between mobile devices), the maximum number of characters allowed to make up the length of each tweet was set at 140—a limitation that remains in place today despite Twitter’s evolution to broader uses.
This microblogging service combines various elements from different social network sites, particularly blogs, but with notable differences. Just as with other social networking sites, Twitter allows users to create their own profiles and connect with others, but these connections are done so through the act of “following” others. This lets the user see the tweets of those they are following, known as followees, as they show up in reverse chronological order on their homepage. Other users can also choose to reciprocate these follows, and each has the option of making their streams of tweets public or private. The number of profiles followed is at the discretion of each participant—some follow thousands including celebrities and other strangers while some only follow a few profiles of those they know.
At its beginning, Twitter registered around 400,000 tweets every three months in 2007. This rose to 100 million tweets in 2008 and continued expanding until February 2010 when users were sending 50 million tweets per day. In 2011 there were about 140 million tweets posted daily, and most recently, on March 21, 2012, Twitter celebrated its sixth birthday, announcing that the site had reached 140 million users and 340 million tweets per day.
Detrimental Effects of Twitter on the Public Sphere
The public sphere is characterized by its accessibility as a place for exchange and marketplace of ideas where people can come together and have enlightened conversations about what is going on in society. This space is designed for citizens to subject themselves to various public opinions in order to form their own, and in doing so, engaging in participatory democracy through deliberation and debates. When looking at the role Twitter plays within the public sphere, particular tools such sharing messages in 140 characters, hashtags, and the direct messaging with the “@” symbol are significant. However, the presence of these features does not mean that Twitter is being used to benefit the public sphere. On the surface, these tools can be useful, but their overall effect on the public sphere in terms of forming public opinion and participating in enlightened conversation prove to be detrimental.
Twitter and Public Opinion
Because Jack Dorsey originally believed the site would be used for simple status updates, the 140 character limit on tweets was born. However, with its increasing expansion from an SMS system, Twitter’s services have clearly outgrown these personal status updates and evolved into a space where users can share most anything they want, including personal opinions. This forum for expressing opinions on particular subjects is significant within the United States because it allows for accessibility to a public voice.
However, Twitter is in no way revolutionary with this feature because any other social networking site offers the same basic tool. What does make Twitter’s platform of expression both unique and detrimental to the public sphere is the glaring character restriction. Although it has been hailed by some as a benefit because it forces users to be creative and concise when sharing their thoughts, such a limitation counteracts the ideals of the public sphere as a marketplace of ideas and realm of social life where public opinion can be formed.
When users see the messages of their followees appear on their homepage, they are only being exposed to a maximum of 140 characters at any given time. The fence that this restriction puts up hampers what could potentially be a beneficial tool for forming a well-informed opinion. In order to establish a successful marketplace of ideas, there needs to be ample space to do so. Having to shorten meaningful thoughts is directly in contrast to this, and viewing such simplistic representations of different opinions is not enough for users to fully develop their own.
Hashtags are words or phrases that are prefixed with the pound (#) symbol, and serve to mark individual messages as being part of a larger topic. This feature functions on Twitter as a way for users to selectively expose themselves to particular topics of their choice. The search tool allows users to see discussion forums taking place in real-time as indicated by the hash symbol placed before a string of text. When a user types in a hashtagged topic, they are directed to the feed of messages including this text and can see what people they are following are saying as well as complete strangers. At the same time, if enough people are having this specific conversation, it becomes what is called a “trending topic” and appears on the homepage of every user. In this way, users can use Twitter as a resource to find out what is going on in society by seeing what everyone is “talking” about and what they have to say.
Although the hashtag feature can be useful in terms of spreading public awareness, this is all it can do. Malcolm Gladwell shines light on this issue by questioning if social media is actually solving a problem that needed solving in the first place. The answer with Twitter is no. Without its services, Twitter users would get the same effect by looking at one daily news site and the various headlines of the day, then choosing which articles to read. Simply being exposed to a variety of topics (whether trending or sought out by searching a hashtag) on Twitter does not correlate with a user developing a well-informed opinion. Although these short phrases of text seem beneficial because they operate in real-time feeds, the constant updates leave no room for a forming a valid opinion—something that takes time.
This seemingly useful tool can only serve as a starting-point for forming this opinion because hashtags only equate content, not substance. In order for a user to become a well-informed citizen successfully participating within the public sphere, they would need to turn to outside resources to learn more about current topics that interest them. Twitter discourages this by giving the illusion that reading what a few people have to say on a particular subject is enough before moving on to the next topic everyone is talking about. This kind of limited participation and lack of a user’s ability to develop an informed opinion are both consequences of this tool as it operates within the public sphere.
Twitter as a Conversation
Another important aspect when considering social media within the public sphere is its ability to foster a conversation, and in turn, participation, among citizens. As scholar Danah Boyd points out, “the stream of messages provided by Twitter allows individuals to be peripherally aware without directly participating". In addition to serving as a way for users to become peripherally aware and direct their attention to specific discussions, hashtags function as a way for users to contribute their own perspectives to the conversations already taking place as well. Instead of simply looking at a variety of topics and what others are saying about them, Twitter users have the ability to use these tags in their own messages as a way of contributing and talking back. This makes what you say available to see for anyone else searching that trend as well as all of the people who subscribe to and follow you.
But users need to realize that such a feature is not as significant as it appears to be. Adding another 140 character message to a streaming topic does not make for a conversation, let alone the participatory democracy that defines the public sphere. It can be useful in the sense that just like the other tools, talking back with hashtags gives a starting point for having a conversation about a particular issue. However, these contributions do not add up to something meaningful unless there is a thought out, enlightened exchange of ideas taking place, and between the character limitations and lack of informed public opinion, this is far fetched.
Twitter users need to be aware of the false sense of a bidirectional nature that the site provides. Contributing a mere 140 characters of text to be lost among other users with the same tagged material is not talking back. Twitter can only provide tools such as hashtags that give users the ability to dip their toes into the larger conversations they wish to be part of. The degree to which enlightened debate and conversation can take place on Twitter is small, and users thinking they are effectively participating by placing a pound symbol in front of some text is highly detrimental to the public sphere.
It is especially important to note that different users offering their own separate ideas without talking directly to others is the opposite of having a conversation. In an attempt to accommodate this, Twitter created the @reply as an available form of direct messaging for users. Using the @ symbol before a user’s name is an indication that a tweet is addressed to a specific profile, and each person can see when they have been linked to in a message as an “Interactions” branch off of their homepage. Because Twitter is a multi-participant public environment, the @ symbol serves to get the attention of specific people in order to carry on a conversation with them through initiating or replying to a message already said.
The introduction of the @reply can foster a basic exchange of ideas and open debate, but neither to the degree necessary to benefit the public sphere nor in any way different than instant messaging. In this way, Twitter is not solving any problem that existed before its creation, but instead has made it worse. Even though users can communicate directly with each other, the character limitation prevents any meaningful interaction between users by short-circuiting these one to one conversations. Therefore, despite providing a tool for conversation, the @symbol has little effect on user’s participation.
When one user engages another in discussion, it is nearly impossible to formulate a well thought out response that fits within the limit. Because of this, meaningful interactions become cumbersome, and users are discouraged from debating and deliberating because they can’t think of shorter ways to communicate their ideas. At the same time, it is common to lose followers who do not want their feeds inundated with constant back and forth conversations between users when they are not involved. This causes exchanges to be short, once again preventing a space for progressive debates and conversations, and going against the ideals of the public sphere.
Although Twitter provides useful tools with the potential to have beneficial effects on the public sphere, the problem is that potential is all it has. Twitter is nothing new. It is simply another way of doing what has always been done, but in a different, “simpler” way. However, simplicity does not equate effectiveness. The intended simplicity of 140 characters of expression does not make expressed messages more meaningful, just as hashtags and @replies do not foster any kind of meaningful opinion or interaction among users. Jurgen Habermas characterized the public sphere as being a place of free and unrestricted discussion, and Twitter clearly violates this. Users need to be aware of such consequences so they do not get caught up in the false sense of involvement Twitter provides. Though the tools do make for a very basic level of participation, such a low degree of involvement is detrimental to the public sphere. Users need to turn to other resources and modes of communication to be the well-informed citizens a successful public sphere thrives on.
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- Foss, Sonja K., Karen A. Foss, and Robert Trapp. "Jürgen Habermas." Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric. Web. 27 Apr. 2012.
Twitter and the Public Sphere: How Companies Are utilizing the Public Sphere Through Twitter
When comparing the popular social media sites in today’s society, many will argue that Twitter is one of the most quick and effective. It is a swift way of interacting, and its simple design and content of only 140 characters make it less distracting than other sites. Individual people, celebrities, politicians, and companies use Twitter from all around the world. It is a way for people to stay connected to one another, and a way for people to interact in ways they never expected, like tweeting at a celebrity or a company. However, some of the post popular tweets are tweeted by companies and businesses. Twitter became part of the new wave of marketing and advertising, because if its speedy nature, its low or no cost, and its ability to reach almost anyone. When discussing how companies use Twitter, in his book Twitter Marketing: An Hour a Day, Hollis Thomases says that, “Twitter generates energy. Like any other energy source, Twitter fuels, ignites, and powers. Twitter fuels conversations, Twitter ignites controversy, and Twitter powers innovation. This innovation occurs all over the place: in the web development community, in the media, in fundraising, in activism, and in business marketing. If this energy is harnessed correctly, it’s got a bright future. If it’s not, this energy could wind up wasted or, worse yet, depleted and we’ll choose or be forced to move onto another platform. (Section 3.1)” Twitter has entered the public sphere as a way for companies to not just advertise to their companies but to help create a brand, interact with customers, and promote small businesses.
Twitter as a Branding Tool
Many companies use Twitter as a branding tool to establish the impression they want to leave in the public sphere. Twitter is useful mainly because of the ability to search through the site. For example, if one searches for a company name, it will come back with what people are saying about it. This is especially useful for companies to see what impressions they make on the public. It is also an effective tool for a company to see what products people are looking for, and for a company to write a speedy response to that type of tweet. Many consumers are more apt to tweet about a complaint, than write to the company themselves, which provides much more feedback for the company (Thomases, Section 3.1). This gives the company a chance to redeem them self after a negative comment and to make their customers happy. In Jamie Turner’s Book, How to Make Money Marketing your Small Business on Twitter, he provides a few tips on how to build your brand on Twitter, particularly when responding to negative comments by consumers. He suggests first following the angry consumer on Twitter, then to personally address their concern. He also suggests only using positive responses and solving the problem efficiently, like reimbursing the customer, or giving them a coupon. Turner also says that according to research, if a customer has a bad experience that is quickly responded to, the customer will share their experience with three to five others, therefore sharing your brand with other clientele (Page 5). Using these guidelines, the company brand can benefit from the conversations people are having through Twitter’s public sphere.
By using the search tool, companies can also see what their competition is doing, and how they are being discussed in Twitter’s public sphere. For example, if Dunkin Donuts typed “Starbucks” into the search bar they would see what others say about it, what current promotions they hare having, and what Starbucks tweets about. This may help them reevaluate how they promote their company, while figuring out what works, and what doesn’t. For example, one Tweeter tweeted “I hate people that work at dunks, I really do. Starbucks people are all pleasant and dunks people are like the black lady at the DMV. (Norjie, Twitter)” If Dunkin Donuts saw this tweet, simply by searching “Starbucks”, it might lead them to reevaluate their customer service. This can also lead to companies performing informal surveys on their Twitters accounts (Turner 4). In this case, Dunkin Donuts might tweet, “How can we make our customer service better?” and they could receive a beneficial response from the interaction between themselves and the public sphere.
Twitter in Small Businesses
Twitter is not only an effective tool for large corporations like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, but it is also affects the smaller public sphere when used by small and local businesses. Since Twitter has no cost, but a large impact, it has been a way to promote smaller businesses in a more equal way with large businesses. Twitter is also resourceful for small businesses because many companies have limited time and resources for large-scale advertising campaigns, and Twitter requires very little time and energy (Thomases, Section 2.4). In research done by Sage America, a small business software supplier, they established that 51 percent of small business said that they have gained and retained customers using Twitter this year. They also conducted that 260,000 small businesses now use social media, and 41 percent of them think Twitter is the most effective and resourceful (Thomases, Section 2,4). There are also tools like TwitterLocal and LocalTweeps that help local people find businesses and services in their areas (Thomases, Section 2.4.2). With this tool, businesses can now be searched and they can reach a wider scope of clientele.
Dunkin Donuts: How a Large Corporation Views the Use of Twitter
Tyler Cyr, Web Communications Manager for Dunkin Donuts describes in an interview with Brian Solis how Dunkin Donuts has been able to use social media to engage their customers. He discusses that when the brand first joined Twitter, their avatar was Dunkin Dave, the solo voice of Dunkin Donuts. However, as the site grew and as the company became more familiar with Twitter’s role within a company in the public sphere, they transformed from Dunkin Dave to just Dunkin Donuts. Cyr describes this change as a better representation to their followers, because Dunkin Donuts is a brand of many people coming together, instead of one person, and they can relate to their fans in that way. They were using their brand as a whole to include the many voices that work within their company to create their “fun and friendly” brand. They wanted to be seen as relatable to their customers, and they wanted their Twitter to show that. Cyr also discussed how Dunkin Donuts’ objective is to be “fan” centric versus “sales” centric. Since their fans are essentially their customers, if they engage and interact with them on a closer level, then they will be more willing to stay loyal customers and spread their support (Cyr, “Dunkin Donuts”). This example shows how Dunkin Donuts responded to their Twitter audience by altering the way they present themselves in the public sphere. They were able to use social media as a way of branding themselves and as a way of identifying with their customers.
A Real Life Example: McDonald's
One of the best examples of how important the use of Twitter is in the public sphere of company and customer relationships is when McDonalds was able to respond to one of their customers through Twitter. A mother of a 6-year-old boy tweeted angrily that her son received a “Littlest Pet Shop” toy in his happy meal, when he was really expecting a toy made for boys. One of the members of McDonald’s Social Media team, tweeted her back a “You tweeted, we listened” card, and mailed a letter of apology and a toy, to her and her son. McDonalds was unaware that this mother was also a blogger, and wrote about her experience, defending negative tweets about McDonalds from there out (Parry, “McDonalds”). Rick Wion, McDonald’s director of social media said that, “now she's on Twitter defending us when someone has something negative to tweet about us, and that's all because of one interaction we had with her. Twitter can help to put a human face on a brand” (Parry, “McDonalds”). This interaction showed that any company could personify a brand, as well as use Twitter to interact with their consumers and improve the business as a whole.
Twitter Guidelines for Businesses
It is important for businesses to follow guidelines while marketing themselves through Twitter, because with its speed and following, a company does not want to make mistakes. Sarah Gunelius of Bloomsburg Business Week, discusses the guidelines for a company Twitter. Companies must have a plan, because it can be hard not to get overwhelmed by the Internet world. She also discusses the content of the tweets, and how it is important to not over promote the company, because followers will get annoyed or frustrated. Instead of self-promoting, she suggests posting links, recipes (if applicable), tips, events, etc., to help keep the fans engaged. She also advises companies to always use positive posts, to keep engaged with what the followers are tweeting, and to learn what responses they are looking for (Gunelius, “Twitter Do’s and Don’ts”). These rules are important because Twitter is becoming a major tool for companies to use in promotions, and people may be seeing these posts every minute, or everyday.
Twitter has entered the public sphere as an important tool for people to discuss and solve problems, to interact, and to share ideas. It has transformed from a medium where people tweet about daily activities, to a medium where companies can transform their companies, as seen above. With the rapid change in technology from year to year, it is important for companies and businesses to parallel what their consumers are doing and what mediums they are using, in order to come together to share their thoughts and ideas.
Cyr, Tyler. "Dunkin’ Donuts Uses Social Media to Improve Customer Relationships and Experiences." Interview by Brian Solis. Brian Solis. 7 Nov. 2011. Web. 13 Dec. 2011. <http://www.briansolis.com/2011/11/dunkin-donuts-uses-social-media-to-improve-customer-relationships-and-experiences/>.
Gunelius, Susan. "Twitter Do's and Don'ts - BusinessWeek." Businessweek - Business News, Stock Market & Financial Advice. 8 Mar. 2011. Web. 13 Dec. 2011. <http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/mar2011/ca2011037_164304.htm>.
Norjie. Twitter. 11 December 2011.
Parry, Tim. "McDonald's Wins Twitter Followers with "McWinning"" Chief Marketer Magazine - Marketing Trends, Best Practices, Research. 8 June 2011. Web. 13 Dec. 2011. <http://chiefmarketer.com/social/McDonalds-Twitter-Mcwinning-CRM-0608tp2/>
Thomases, Hollis. Twitter Marketing: an Hour a Day. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley Pub., 2010. Web. http://proquestcombo.safaribooksonline.com/book/web-applications-and-services/9780470562260/who-s-using-twitter-for-what/small_and_home-based_businesses#X2ludGVybmFsX0ZsYXNoUmVhZGVyP3htbGlkPTk3ODA0NzA1NjIyNjAvdW5kZXJzdGFuZF90d2l0dGVy
Turner, Jamie. How to Make Money Marketing Your Small Business on Twitter. FT, 2010. 15 Oct. 2010. Web. 11 Dec. 2011. <http://proquestcombo.safaribooksonline.com/book/sales-and-marketing/9780132615419>.
Twitter and the Public Sphere: Impact on Politics
The Twitter Election of 2012
In our most recent election, social media played its largest role yet. Although Facebook and blogs made an appearance, Twitter was the social networking site that made quite an impression and took control of the media by storm. As we continue to see the world changing around us each and every day, the changes in the media are happening particularly quickly. Twitter has begun to change the speed of the news cycle and its deliverance. While Facebook has previously emerged onto the social media and political scene and the “brief age of political blogs shaping the political narrative has passed” (Mills, 2012, para. 1). Twitter was a relatively new and exciting media outlet for this election. The mainstream media is now being forced to report how social media is interpreting and reporting things on their own. In the presidential election of 2012, Americans were able to engage themselves in the conversations of the election and of the campaigns. The two candidates seemed more personable to their voters by using their own Twitter accounts. The site was also often used as a predictor for the outcome of the election. Although some critics state that Twitter was not the sole influencer of this election, these three aspects show how Twitter was able to importantly impact Americans and create the concept of “The Twitter Election.”
During the 2008 Democratic and Republican conventions, there were a total of only 360,000 tweets compared to the 14 million during the 2012 conventions (Mills, 2012). Citizens began to feel a sense of engagement during the debates when they could tweet, especially during the first presidential debate, which sparked 10.3 million tweets (Mills, 2012). This became the most tweeted about event in the history of our country (Mallon, 2012). These increasing numbers showed that people were reengaging themselves in the political process by interacting both with the candidates and with each other (Mills, 2012). It created a very natural conversation that aided the public in participating in the debate and election itself. While it was reported that only 13 percent of Americans were using Twitter, this does not mean that the others were not feeling the impact of the site through the mainstream media (Mills, 2012).
On the day of the election, people were tweeting posts of photos of the long lines at polling places, about casting their vote, and even “commenting on a viral video of a malfunctioning voting machine” (Gaudin, 2012, p. 1). Twitter gave us something to tweet about every second throughout the election process. It was not only a means of engaging, but it also had an effect on how immediately we could respond to things. Mills (2012) point out that individuals no longer had to view the reactions of others on the television, but they could instantly react along with everyone else on this online forum. With these new opportunities in this election, the citizens of our country were able to jump straight in and lend a hand to the public sphere itself. By actively engaging our opinions and our voices, we were given many opportunities to add relevance to situations like the election to our society as a whole.
Promoting By Candidates
Fouhy (2012) emphasized that both of the candidates “have actively embraced Twitter” to directly connect with voters and also to “drive the political conversation in a way that reaches far beyond the site” (para. 11). The Obama and Romney campaigns have realized the importance of seeming personable to their supporters by reaching out to them through media in which American’s are very comfortable. Although the pressure of the high-paced social network is strong, the candidates sometimes had to take the necessary immediate measures to keep up with the fast pace. They were not always able to do so in a positive way, for example when Romney gave a premature response to the Benghazi situation, which was interrupted negatively (Mills, 2012). As stories emerge faster and often burn out even faster, the candidates had to have their campaign workers on their toes, knowing when to address problems or exploit their rival (Mills, 2012; Fouhy, 2012).
No matter what the two candidates tweeted during their campaigns, they were likely to gain donations. Sloan (2012) reports that those exposed to political tweets were 98 percent more likely than the average Twitter user to visit a donation website. It is also interesting that the average Twitter user was 68 percent more likely than the average user of the internet to visit the same donation website (Sloan, 2012). The impact of Twitter on an individual’s political activism can help them feel included in the election and as though a particular candidate needs their support. The social network also included its own tweets on Election Day to promote political activism by simply encouraging Americans to vote. While it may be important to some that the candidates are showing their concern by personally tweeting, it can be helpful when others promote the candidates as well.
President Obama’s tweet of a photo of him hugging his wife after he was re-elected became his most “retweeted” post ever (Gaudin, 2012). His significance to the American people through his Twitter shows the need and the effect of the site on individuals and on the election as a whole.
Predicting the Outcome
While it was argued that the election would not be lost or won on Twitter, the amount of followers and the Twitter Political Index gave a prediction as to what was to come (Fouhy, 2012). At the time of the election, Obama had over 20.9 million followers with Romney slightly behind at 1.4 million (Mallon, 2012). This meant that Obama had 8,000 times the social pull of the average user on Twitter, and Romney had 800 times the pull (Mallon, 2012). However, we know we cannot depend on that alone, especially since one candidate was already in the presidential position. Therefore, Twitter created the Twitter Political Index that measures the feelings of users’ tweets toward the candidates (Twitter, 2012). In the past two years, Obama’s trends in scores have matched his approval ratings measured by Gallup polling (Twitter, 2012). The correlation between the numbers show that the predictions made on Twitter could end up being accurate.
The Twitter Political Index showed Obama leading in the swing states of Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, and Ohio on Election Day (Fitzpatrick, 2012). Although Obama was taking the majority of them, Romney was reported to be ahead in Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, and Virginia (Fitzpatrick, 2012). Although these may not have all been accurate numbers, Twitter certainly gave voters an idea of the outcome. By voicing our opinions as voters, we can give each other an indication of what will happen in the near future. Twitter allows for our voices to be heard, and they can help us see how we have made a difference. Without this site, the election may have been interpreted differently and not have given reassurance to some. Twitter continued to show how that the majority was in favor of the current president because in every swing state, he was tweeted about the most (Fitzpatrick, 2012).
Although it is apparent that this presidential election was greatly influence by Twitter, some feel differently. Twitter was part of the social media that was able to collect copious amounts of data for the election, as well as other sites. The use of Twitter’s charting and mapping tools show the aspect of data usage and collection that ultimately was the influence on this election (Wilhem, 2012). Marc Andreessen, “one of Silicon Valley’s best-known and often spot-on prognosticators” (Sloan, 2012, para. 4), clarified that the Internet needs to play a bigger role than it did. With future elections being influenced by the Internet like the television was able to influence the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon debate, Twitter will have to play a more important role as well (Sloan, 2012). Twitter will have an opportunity to evolve and situation itself into an election period differently than it was able to this year. Unless other types of social media take over, which very well may be the case, Twitter will be able to influence a future election in a much bigger way. Some feel that it’s only impact was allowing individuals to tweet about the subject, and this did not do enough. There was still a large focus on the television in the 2012 election, and not enough on the Internet and Twitter (Sloan, 2012).
It has been predicted that the elections in the future will solely focus on the Internet (Sloan, 2012). However, Twitter on its own has changed how we discuss politics and religion. In general, we are no longer afraid to post our opinions on social media (Sloan, 2012). The social media site is no longer only for enjoyment, it is a way we can join and engage ourselves in politics and in Habermas’ public sphere. We have become so reliant on the Internet for constant information and gratification that we have begun to turn away from the mainstream media. However, this does not imply that social media only has a negative effect. We must begin to think about and use social media and Twitter in different contexts. This real-time tool that allows such an engagement can focus our minds and our hearts on a bigger realm. We have the power to question what we hear and interact with what we see like we have done in “The Twitter Election” of 2012.
Fitzpatrick, A. (2012). Twitter sentiment for Obama, Romney split in swing states. Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com
Fouhy, B. (2012). Twitter plays outsize role in 2012 campaign. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com
Gaudin, S. (2012). Twitter a big winner in 2012 presidential election. Computerworld. Retrieved from http://www.computerworld.com
Mills, S. (2012). How Twitter is winning the 2012 US election. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk
Mallon, M. (2012). #ElectionTalk: The role of Twitter in election 2012. Glamour Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.glamour.com
Sloan, P. (2012). Mark 2012 as history’s last ‘social media’ election. CNET News. Retrieved from http://news.cnet.com
Twitter. (2012, August 1). A new barometer for the election. Twitter Blog. Retrieved from http://blog.twitter.com
Wilhelm, A. (2012). Twitter launches new visualiztion tool to track engagement with election topics across the United States. The Next Web. Retrieved from http://thenextweb.com
Social Media, Technology and Protests
Facebook is not only a social networking site, as it may have intended to be, but has transformed into an effective open forum for protesters to organize and share goals. Look at the "Facebook Revolution" in Egypt, the term coined for the revolt that overthrew longtime Egypt President Hosni Mubarak. In 2011, social media helped organize places, times and items needed for the protests, in addition to recruiting participants and spreading the word of violence against the protesters (Perlmutt). The results were so powerful that 30-year President Mubarak completely cut off Internet access to the 20% of Egyptians who possessed it (Perlmutt). Upon reopening of social media web sites, Egyptians posted videos to YouTube and tweets to Twitter pronouncing their freedom, which spread like wildfire across the globe. Facebook allows users to create groups and events that connect them to what is happening, making protests like this more possible. This revolution illustrates the immense power that social media holds in organizing and fueling protests.
Libya experienced similar virtual organization of protests around Feb. 17, 2011. It was reported that Libyan authorities shut down the Internet a few days later, hoping to stop the organized use of social media by rebel forces (Fox). But violence escalated as former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi launched a war against them. Following months of brutality, Twitter rumors said Gaddafi had left Libya (Fox). Two months later, photographs of the deceased leader spread on Twitter. Ultimately, NATO Commander Admiral James Stavridis pronounced the end of the war on Facebook in late October (Fox).
On Dec. 17, 2010, a 26-year-old Tunisian vegetable vendor set himself on fire after police stole produce from his stand (Fox). This suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi, a college graduate who was unable to find work within his area of study, ignited a revolution in his home country that extended across the Arab world (Fox). Young Tunisians began organizing on Facebook and Twitter to protest the oppressive regime of the country's 23-year President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, with Bouazi as their role model (Fox). On Jan. 14, Ben Ali fled the Tunisia, seeking refuge in Saudi Arabia (Fox).
The Arab countries illustrate how powerful social media’s role is in political change and movements. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and cell-phones all were key actors in organizing thousands of people in these revolutions. These instances show how countries lacking strong, organized opposition to a dictatorship can still overthrow a government with the help of social media channels. This is especially seen in those cases where the government recognized the real threat that social media posed when attempting to completely shut down the Internet.
More recently, thousands of Russians took to the streets of Moscow in one of the biggest opposition protests in years (Reuters). Such protests against Vladimir Putin's rule, as president from 2000 to 2008 and as prime minister since then, have rarely drawn more than about 200 people, and usually riot police rapidly disperse them (Reuters). But on Dec. 4, the rally attracted approximately 5,000 people, many of which were responding to calls on social networking sites (VKontakte and Facebook) to "continue the revolution" (Reuters). In addition, tweets were sent by protesters from Triumfalny Square in central Moscow (Reuters). Protests against Putin’s party have been communicating via Facebook and Twitter, utilizing social media to organize their ideas. This was illustrated when nearly 40,000 people signed up to attend a rally planned for Dec. 10 on Facebook, despite attempts by government-run television to label such gatherings as dangerous and the protesters themselves as violent mobs (Weeks). These protests were fueled by YouTube footage of alleged vote rigging by the country’s ruling party (Weeks). On Dec. 10, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Moscow, which is the greatest number to assemble since the fall of the Soviet Union almost two decades ago (Weeks). Japhet Weeks’ “Moscow Protests Get Legs with Social Media” featured a quote from writer Sergei Shargunov, “I want to say a big hello to Twitter and Facebook. Hoorah Internet! Today they [points at Kremlin] can't control us thanks to social networking sites and us" (Weeks). We can see that the protesters are well aware of the integral role that the Internet and social media web sites have played in organizing these protests. In China, citizen activism is intricately linked to Internet activism (Yang). Since the late-1990s, the Internet has become a platform that allows users to create online petitions and protests (Yang). The Chinese government keeps the Internet under strict control, but the power of social media web sites like blogs, online communities, podcasts and YouTube-like sites have allowed people to protest and petition online (Yang).
Social media isn’t just transforming protests overseas. In July 2011, Americans began targeting bankers, launching off their protests with a blog post. Beginning around mid-Sept., protesters marched through Lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park (Fox). Now, the Occupy (#OccupyWallStreet or #OWS) protests have spread across America, criticizing the growing disparity between the very wealthy (the 1%) and the working and middle classes (the 99%) (Fox). The Occupy protests have been broadcasted across a multitude of channels, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. People across the country are able to experience the protests as they happen, all thanks to these developments in technology.
Take the Bank Of America’s decision to withdraw a to-be implemented $5 monthly debit card fee in Sept. 2011. Little did anyone suspect 22-year-old Molly Katchpole and an online platform for petitions called Change.org to thwart the bank’s new plan. Kathpole closed her account, shredded her debit card on camera and transferred her money to a community bank (Dias). Her efforts were rewarded with 206,000 signatures on her petition and the subsequent withdrawal of the Bank of America’s new debit card fee (Dias). Websites like Change.org allow people across the country to organize for causes they are passionate about in the public sphere.
Protestors can now share their experiences with people from across the globe within seconds, all through YouTube. In Nov., police used pepper spray on students protesting at the University of California. We now no longer have to rely on just the word of eyewitnesses and police officers, because it was all uploaded to YouTube hours later. In the video, students are sitting with their arms linked on the campus’ quad in a nonviolent protest. After asking them to disperse, the police officers spray them with a can of pepper spray. The incident shows how new social media can act as an important check on authority at times where we once had to rely on eyewitness accounts. It is much more powerful for people to see an event actually unfold than to hear it retold by a newscaster.
In addition to social media, advances in technology have opened the door for political protests and participation. Smartphones allow individuals to take pictures on their cell-phones and upload them to social media sites instantly. Likewise, individuals can record videos that can be instantaneously uploaded to Facebook, YouTube or other video streaming web sites. In all of the cases presented, it is evident that social media and advances in technology have opened the door for political participation. Social media web sites allow millions of users to connect virtually to share goals and ideas, petition and organize actual protests. The Internet is especially useful for countries without a well-organized opposition to the government to ignite revolutions.
Dias, Elizabeth. "The 22-Year Old Who Led the Charge Against Bank of America." Time. 7 Nov. 2011.
Fox, Zoe. "9 Social Media Uprisings That Sought to Change the World in 2011." Social Media News and Web Tips. The Social Media Guide. Web. 14 Dec. 2011. <http://mashable.com/2011/12/07/social-media-uprising-activism/>.
Perlmutt, David. "'Facebook Revolution' in Egypt Shared at Queens | CharlotteObserver.com & The Charlotte Observer Newspaper." Charlotte News Panthers Bobcats Sports Banking | CharlotteObserver.com. Web. 14 Dec. 2011. <http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/02/24/2086441/facebook-revolution-in-egypt-shared.html>.
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Weeks, Japhet. "Moscow Protests Get Legs with Social Media | Europe | English." News | English. Web. 14 Dec. 2011. <http://www.voanews.com/english/news/europe/Moscow-Protests-Gets- Legs-with-Social-Media-135549658.html>.
Yang, Guobin. "Online Activism." Journal of Democracy 20.3 (2009): 33-6. Web.
Malcolm Gladwell and the Public Sphere
Malcolm Gladwell is a well-known author and a journalist at the New Yorker. He is a commentator on issues within the public sphere. He has written three best sellers: Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers, which discuss social phenomena. He is a strong believer that the next revolution will not occur within various social media networks, and has written several articles on this theory, which are outlined within this chapter.
Gladwell feels that social media reinvented social activism, making it easier for the powerless to collaborate and give voice to concerns. He argues that activists were once defined by causes, but are now defined by tools. An example of this is in the way that Twitter was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for organizing Iran’s freedom protests.
Despite all of this, Gladwell feels that the next revolution will not occur through social media. He says that innovators are merely solipsists (those who cram every stray fact/ experience into a new model). Gladwell feels that the marvels of communication technology have created a false consciousness of the past by outsizing enthusiasm for social media. In other words, he feels that we have forgotten what true activism is.
Activism, Gladwell states, starts with an ideological fever, and a highly committed group of people who have strong ties to one another (such as friends) and take revolutionary action. Social media platforms are associated with weak ties and do not lead to high-risk activism such as the kind that took place during the Civil Rights Movement. High risk social activism, Gladwell feels, require deep roots and strong ties.
Gladwell strongly believes that the Internet exploits the power of distant communications with efficiency because there are more connections with acquaintances versus true friends. Social network sites promote a sense of laziness in terms of activism because people are more likely to sign up for something that is easy to do and brings them a sense of social acknowledgment and praise. Social networks are effective at increasing participation by lessening the level of motivation the participation requires. Social media merely motivates people by making allowing them to make “sacrifices,” which are not truly sacrifices at all.
The crucial distinction between new and old forms of activism is that social media does not employ a hierarchical organization. A single central authority does not control the networks that a social media site creates. Decisions that are made through consensus are tied to loose bonds. Networks without a centralized leadership have difficulty reaching consensus and setting goals, making them prone to error. In Gladwell's eyes, social media cannot provide the discipline and strategy that civil rights movements of the 60's could.
From Innovation to Revolution
In response to the power of social media in terms of politics, Gladwell argues that social revolutions in the pre-Internet era did not suffer from a lack of cutting-edge tools. The Internet did not actually solve a problem because in the absence of social media, political uprisings would still have been possible. He recognizes that social media allows citizens to coordinate rapidly and easier, but he does not feel that this has as much of an impact. He has coined this type of social change as “slactivisim.” He feels that the “weak ties” of acquaintance-networks cannot generate the deep investments that fuel social activism.
Does Egypt Need Twitter?
Gladwell states that “How people choose to communicate with each other now is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.” He feels that “We now believe that the 'how' of a communicative act is of huge importance.”
A strong point Gladwell makes is that “People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along. Barely anyone in East Germany in the nineteen-eighties had a phone—and they ended up with hundreds of thousands of people in central Leipzig and brought down a regime that we all thought would last another hundred years.”
Gladwell feels that crediting Twitter with the social change that has occurred in other countries is technological determinism. The spark in the people of the country and the strong ties that bind together those people within the revolution are what actually make it effective.
Clay Shirky and the Public Sphere
Clay Shirky is an American writer and instructor at various universities who focuses on the effects of the internet on society and the ways in which the two interact. He has published two books on the subject: Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations (2008) and Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (2010). Here Comes Everybody has been called “the bible of the social-media movement.” 
Clay Shirky’s essay “The Political Power of Social Media” published in Foreign Affairs magazine defines and presents a case for universal, unrestricted access to the internet. This is the Information Age in which almost all knowledge and opinions can be found online with the click of a button. Some oppressive governments have tried to prevent citizens from taking advantage of this by restricting and censoring internet access. In 2012 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced plans to fund the development of tools that will provide internet freedom and access to informational sites such as Google, Wikipedia and Youtube to oppressed and censored nations so that citizens may avoid propagandized culture and brainwashing.  This is essentially the next step in the plan to spread democracy. While Shirky is an advocate for internet freedom, he claims that social media such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and even texting are more important and necessary tools for democratic thought and activism than mere information.  Social sites in which large, diverse groups of people can share and discuss opinions fuel the public sphere and inspire thoughts of change when it seems necessary to the people who are being governed. In addition to the informative aspects of social media, it also provides large, loose groups of people with a way to combat more organized and disciplined groups such as governments or armed forces. Shirky explains that large groups depend upon shared awareness to accomplish goals, which means that each member understands the situation at hand and also understands that the other group members understand as well.  If everyone in a group is like-minded, then they can work together toward a cause without the guidance or directive of a single leader. Social media is an excellent tool for shared awareness and allows people who may not know each other intimately or at all to act together in protest effectively without learned discipline and training allowing for quicker action. With social media, one message can reach a huge number of people quickly and cheaply, an improvement to the “word-of-mouth” technique used previously. This helps activists to take advantage of stasis and act within narrow windows of time. In 2001 a single text message was shared and forwarded until over a million people gathered in protest leading to the corrupt Philippine President’s impeachment. They had a limited amount of time while the trial was happening and may have missed their opportunity had the information been shared at a slower pace. Shirky concludes his argument by suggesting that the U.S. should focus its attention on social media and its communication potential rather than informational sites, because, in the end, protests are going to be organized by people who can share their opinions with many people quickly. In addition, those opinions will be informed and well thought-out because social media provides a forum for discussion and correction. The nations that need activism most are those that are being censored and have limited or no access to the internet and social media. By providing these oppressed peoples internet and allowing them to communicate with each other and with other nationalities and philosophies, we can provide them with a fighting chance to change their world.
Gladwell vs. Shirky
There has been an ongoing debate between Malcolm Gladwell and Clay Shirky about the role of social media in modern activism. Gladwell’s first essay “Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted” published in The New Yorker magazine spurred Shirky’s “The Political Power of Social Media” shortly thereafter. This in turn led to a conversation of essays between the two in Foreign Affairs titled “From Innovation to Revolution: Do Social Media make Protests Possible” in which they discuss how social media has changed the face of activism and whether or not this change is for the better. Gladwell posits that social media leads to “slacktivism” where many people put forth minimal effort to participate in activism without leaving their for a short period of time before forgetting about it or losing interest. Shirky acknowledges that this is a valid observation, but he responds with the notion that “the fact that barely committed actors cannot click their way to a better world does not mean that committed actors cannot use social media effectively”. He provides examples in which social media played an integral part in exacting great change such as the South Korean protests against U.S. beef in 2008 in which many of the participants were inspired by the discussion on a website , and the defeat of the Communist Moldovan government due to information shared via text and online. These examples demonstrate that social media, if used correctly, is a powerful informational and organizational tool. As a second point, Gladwell claims that the news has over sold social media and that, while it is helpful, it is not radically innovative, as many people seem to think. He suggests that before a technological advancement can be considered innovative it must solve a pre-existing problem; protesters were organizing and enacting movements long before social media was available. He claims the role of social media in the events that Shirky alludes to in “The Political Power of Social Media” is irrelevant because those events could have occurred without social media. Shirky claims that social media is, in fact, necessary. Many activists are inspired to act by facts or new opinions posited by others online in blogs or on websites. Social media has expanded the public sphere allowing for more opinions to spread further faster and has provided a fast, cheap and easy method of communication and organization so that protests can happen quickly and with such force that they are more effective than they would be had they been spread by word of mouth. Shirky equates the innovation of social media with the invention of the printing press, which radically changed the way people learn and communicate in the public sphere. Social media has taken communication to an entirely new level that has expanded the public sphere to include the entire world.
- Gladwell, Malcolm. "Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted." The New Yorker 4 Oct. 2010. Web.
- Gladwell, Malcolm. “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.” The New Yorker 4 Oct. 2010: 1-10. Newyorker.com. Web. 28 Nov. 2012.
- Shirky, Clay. “The Political Power of Social Media: Technology, the Public Sphere, and Political Change.” Foreign Affairs Jan.-Feb. 2011: 1-9. Foreignaffairs.com. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.
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- Gladwell, Malcolm, and Clay Shirky. “From Innovation to Revolution: Do Social Media Make Protests Possible.” Foreign Affairs Mar.-Apr. 2011: n. pag. Foreignaffairs.com. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.
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