Thursday, March 31, 2011

'Frape' and homosocial solidarity

This week I have been working on a chapter for my new book.  The topic is inauthenticity in social media, and it contains some discussions of Facebook 'rape'.  At the outset, I want to say that I know the term is really problematic.  When I use the term here I don't want to trivialize debates about rape.  But as a shorthand to describe what happens when a third party accesses and publishes inauthentic material on a private Facebook account, I'm keeping it for the time being.  Here is a short extract from what I have written this morning. I'm not sure it is going to make it in to the book, as I am reaching over the word count, but here goes:

The inauthentic identities projected through ‘frape’ are often not as innocuous as they might claim to be. , ‘Frape’ often involves projecting sexual identities for the victim. This aspect of ‘fraping’ drew the attention of one of my former students who wrote his term paper on the parodic qualities of ‘frape’ as a means of denaturalizing the mechanics of gender performativity (Butler 2008: 187-188). Here I want to suggest that the gaps made apparent through the incongruous tellability of ‘frape’ are a resource used to position the victim, perpetrator and the ‘knowing’ audience within a shared social identity of heteronormativity.

When ‘frapes’ contain sexually explicit material, they often project a sexual identity for the victim that falls outside conventional representations of heteronormativity. This can range from homosexual activity, bestiality, promiscuity to activity with a woman who doesn’t conform to stereotypical, western standards of sexually attractive appearance (see this site on advice for Facebook 'rape' for examples). Because the implicature of ‘frape’ interprets the locutionary content of the update as untrue, this presupposes the ‘authentic’ identity of the victim to be other than if not opposite to that projected in the ‘frape.’ In other words, when the ‘fraped’ projection is queer in some way, this presupposes the sexual identity of the victim to be heteronormative.

The process of ‘fraping’ thus enables the perpetrator and audience to display homosocial solidarity, and to trivialize identities outside heteronormativity as an out-group of ‘others’ who are really the target of the joke, not the victim at all. The potency of ‘fraping’ is all the more significant, if we consider Facebook as a heterosexual market place where performances of identity are embedded in the circulation of social capital. The value of inauthenticity in this context is dislocated from ontological value and its apparent playful creativity to put to serious heteronormative work.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Susan Herring's plenary at GURT 2011

I've just got back from GURT 2011.  All the plenary speakers gave wonderful talks.  To help me reflect on what they said, and to share some of the concepts with those who didn't get to go to GURT, I'm posting some summaries of ideas selected from the notes I took.  The first up is Susan Herring, whose inspiring and influential work remains right at the forefront of CMC.

Susan Herring proposed a new concept which she described as Convergent Media CMC or CMCMC. This is defined as: Text based CMC that takes place in convergent media formats in which it is typically secondary, by design, to other information or entertainment-related activities.

CMCMC overlaps strongly with web 2.0, but it raises issues for those of us studying the discourse which emerges in these contexts. These include

• Convergent media CMC discourse and language and language use in CMCMC environments

• Content: tags, updates, annotations

• Contexts: location based SNS, new audiences, localization of SNS

• Usage patterns media co-activity (the use of multiple platforms within one genre)

• Media affordances such as walled gardens, friending, social tagging, recommending, awareness indicators

• Adaptive strategies: e.g. #, @, RTs, performed interactivity (e.g. in blogs)

She proposed a three part lens for approaching this, using the distinction between the qualities which are:

• familiar,

• reconfigured,

• emergent.

These are not simply chronological distinctions, but reflect the complex ways in which genres relate to what has gone before and what is genuinely ‘innovative’. It is inspired by Crowston and Williams’ (2000) classification of reproduced, adapted, and emergent web genres, and reminds of the dangerous tendency to claim newness when there are historical precedents for a form (e.g. blogs, in relation to handwritten diaries).

Examples of different types of reproduced, adapted and emergent web genres include:

• Reproduced – course syllabi, scholarly articles

• Adapted - news sites, geneology sites, e-journals

• Emergent – hot lists of links, homepages, blogs, wikis

There is a trend over time for web genres to shift along a continuum from reproduced to adapted to emergent forms, where older genres appear to become more new over time. For example, the SNS Facebook, comes from the print facebook genre but reworks this in novel ways. This observation is nothing new, and social informatics reminds us that new technologies are first put to old uses until new uses of the technology emerge.

Web 2.0 which is Familiar

Herring argued that media convergence results in qualitatively different text types, but that there are many familiar aspects of web 2.0 discourse that remain current including the study of:

Textuality, interactivity, nonstandard orthography, gender differences, code switching, flaming, email hoaxes/scams, etc.

She reminded us that familiar phenomenon are often overlooked in favour of newer, more exotic forms of CMD and that the ‘innovations’ may be mistaken for new, or assumed to be different by virtue by virtue of the passing of time. When we study web 2.0 we need to trace relevant antecedents to gain perspective.

Web 2.0 is Reconfigured

Reconfigured genres include:

Personal status updates, quoting, retweeting, small stories, ad spam,

For example, Facebook updates not innovative forms which emerged out of the blue. Rather they date back to emotes in MUDS and MOOS (Cherny 1999). But in Facebook the updates are reconfigured as core content, not peripheral, and presented as threads in a multimodal site. Reconfigured phenomena can be tricky to identify as they can be mistaken for emergent CMD. In order to see that the genres are reconfigured, the analyst must apply comparative insight, comparing the functions of one genre with another

Web 2.0 which is Emergent

Emergent web 2.0 has no antecedents. Examples include authorless discourse (e.g. wikis), Multimodal UGC (voicethread) video blogging and exchanges (you tube), computerised programs for forum posters (link builders).

In summary, Herring argued that some apparently new phenomenon have online or offline antecedents, and as analysts we need to be aware of these. We should then question why certain discourse phenomenon persist, adapt, or arise anew in technologically mediated environments. She contrasted the influence of technological, social and linguistic factors, arguing that interaction seems most likely to be reconfigured, so while social identities are already formed, the format for turn taking structures can change. We might find new formats for online talk (in Retweets, updates voice over threads) but the gendered styles for example, might stay the same.


Friday, March 04, 2011

Becoming 'resident' in twitter: acquiring the language

Earlier this week I was talking to Alan Cann (@ajcann) about digital skills for new academics. He pointed me in the direction of David White’s distinction between digital residents, who integrate social media with their personal and professional life, and digital visitors who go online to carry out specific, selected tasks and then log off again. To exemplify his point, Alan pointed out that I was resident in Facebook but a visitor in Twitter. It’s a good job he didn’t look at this blog, or he might have concluded that I had moved out.

But this made me think about my use of Twitter, which really has been only visitor-like, but has begun to migrate more towards the behaviour of a resident this week. One way I recognise this is the changing ways which I have begun to use the conventions of Twitter talk.

Twitter talk for aliens: unintelligible life signs

Before using Twitter, the timelines on a Twitter profile looked like gobbledygook to me. I could not make sense of what anyone was saying at all, or who they were saying it too. This is not the stance of a visitor, this is viewing Twitter as an alien discourse.

Twitter talk for tourists: recognising the road signs

I started my Twitter account (@ruthtweetpage) months ago, but didn’t use it, even though I began to understand the difference between updates, direct messages, hash tags to signal topic threads and @messages to indicate a user’s name. This was largely due to reading the work of danah boyd, Susan Herring and their colleagues. This is a crash course in Twitter talk for tourism purposes (you look from the outside but don’t join in, just like being on holiday and only being able to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and ‘hello’ in the native language.)

Twitter talk 101: updates, links and questions

I actually began to send a few tweets now and again. I knew how to post an update, even how to add a link shortened through a site like tinyurl. I made it as far as asking questions. But then I felt a bit put off, because it seemed like no one answered. I figured I had no friends on Twitter, or it was just a really dumb question I had asked. It felt a bit like being an undergraduate who was not really sure how to contribute to a discussion in a conference plenary session.

Twitter conversations: connecting with the @ symbol

And then I realised that if you want to see what people say back to you in Twitter, you have to click on the @mentions tab. This is where you will find the public replies people send you (as opposed to Direct Messages). And there were the answers to my questions – doh! And suddenly I felt very bad that I had not said thank you, so I posted some tweets doing just that. Then I realised that using the @username was a good way to demonstrate your network of connections and to get your own name circulated in the twitterverse. I’m starting to get a little more proficient in this now, to the point where I instinctively want to use my colleagues’ twitter names than their institutional email addresses.

Advanced Twitter: modifying Retweets and hashtags

I gave a paper last week on celebrity practice in Twitter to the School of Media where I work. One of the members of the audience (@Flygirltwo) asked me if I had searched for hashtags in my dataset, as this was a good way of promoting topics by making them searchable. I hadn’t and I realised that I haven’t started to do this yet. Clearly this is a step in Twitter literacy beyond my current level of fluency. Likewise, modifying Retweets (forwarded tweets). I know it is possible to add a comment to a Retweeted message by editing it, but can I work out how to do this? Not yet. If you could explain it to me, I would be very grateful. Then send me a tweet so I can practice and let you know that I’ve read your tweet talk.  And maybe I might move a little bit further towards residency in Twitter rather than being an occasional visitor.