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Communication Dans Un Congrès Année : 2012

Global consumers and citizens: social media arenas


Social media are now extensively used around the world, especially by younger people; for example, over half of all U.S. teenagers create media content on a routine basis, and one third of teenagers using the Internet share content that they create. Social media users have already figured out how to take charge of the media environment and create a participatory culture (Jenkins, 2008), although precisely how much they participate as opposed to more passively consume is a matter of some debate (Burgess and Green, 2009). With the momentous spectacle of how new media forms such as YouTube, Facebook and twitter augmented the Arab Spring movements of 2010, it is more important than ever to understand and to theorize the roles and limitations of social media.It is impossible to discuss new media without understanding the ways in which they are in constant discourse and interchange with existing mainstream media. YouTube, for example, has contracts with network television in the U.S. for making available normal "television" fare; YouTube itself sponsors contests in order to create celebrity and contribute to broader publicity-making machinery; branded content now circulates within YouTube as a part of normal marketing operations. The mechanics of commercial popular culture intersect and blend with the much-lauded participatory culture that Benkler (2006) and Jenkins (2006) celebrate, and in so doing raise questions of authenticity and the potential for these forms to contribute to emancipation and democracy. How social media function for political speech or politics more generally is a special concern, particularly as conventional media appeal less to younger people. Nielsen, the audience assessment company, reported recently that for the first time, television ownership in the U.S. has decreased, suggesting that people are watching video fare on a variety of devices and platforms beyond the "normal" TV. Young people often do not use televisions; rather, they view video and interact with other fare using a variety of devices, including computers.What exactly is the nature of the user-generated content world? In the most positive light, this is a culture that some scholars have identified as one (1) with low barriers to entry in terms of artistic expression and civic engagement; (2) having strong support systems for sharing and creating content; (3) possessed of informal mentorship mechanisms; (4) characterized by the notion that one's contributions do matter, that there is an important social connection among members of the culture (Jenkins, 2009). However, if these strong user-centered values espouse the commons and a vision of the public interest, how do they survive in an avowedly commercial-leaning environment such as YouTube, a platform created with the idea of building audiences for advertising by enabling people to share videos for personal pleasure?This paper theorizes some of these developments in terms of what they might mean for how we view the broader communication process at this historical moment, focusing on political speech that embodies the best of what some might call participatory culture. Using the social media platform YouTube as a case in point, the "The Alexandra Wallace case" will be examined in terms of its participatory and dialogic elements.In early March 2011 Alexandra Wallace, a junior at UCLA, posted a 3 minute video on YouTube titled "Asians in the Library." Two days later the video went viral, the dean of students was looking into disciplining her, an embarrassed UCLA chancellor was calling her comments shameful, and campus police were investigating threats against her. But there was much more than that: students responded, not just with the usual spoofs and retorts, but also with reasoned appeals. In essence, the video created a public sphere, a place where between videos, music and comments, and yes, diatribes, diverse groups of interested people were communicating with each other. There were hundreds (thousands) of posts within the first three weeks of the incident, and they came from around the world. The Alexandra Wallace saga illustrates the speed and scale of these spaces - within hours, the video began to elicit responses from other UCLA students. This particular video now has over one million hits on Google, with hundreds of thousands of views and response videos of YouTube-related material.The extent to which people actually speak with each other is analyzed, and the framework of social interaction through YouTube is dissected using network analysis. The case serves illustrates how the ubiquitous communications environment thoroughly blends offline and online identities, even as it enables new social institutions and social functions to take shape meaningfully *within* cyberspace. The qualities of political speech break free from authoritarian control, channeling discourse and argument both serious and profane to widespread citizens and participants. In this, the analysis demonstrates how YouTube recuperates the 'sensuous politics' that political scientist Michael Schudson's laments disappeared from the U.S. in the early 20th century. The virtual cultural communes (Castells, 1996) facilitated by new digital environments are the newest shape of civil society, although they operate differently from earlier civil institutions. James Gee's (2004) similar idea is dubbed "affinity spaces." The individual, cultivated and shaped by industrially-based work contexts and mass media of the 20th century, has new opportunities to communicate very directly with a group that is larger than one's immediate social circle of family and friends. The contemporary Internet environment is morphing into precisely the sorts of communes Castells suggests. Rather than simply functioning as sites to passively "share" ideas and photos and work, locations such as Facebook and YouTube actually organize resistance and create discursive space. The way this operates goes well beyond the spoofs and LOLCats sorts of material we are all familiar with on YouTube. The operations of reputation, combined with the viral qualities of the Internet, and the pleasures of humor and irony through spoofing, render these new forums some unique and powerful qualities. In particular, these spaces or opportunities blend the older position of the audience or consumer (as a receiver) with the opportunities to easily act as citizen and as producer or critic. While early web 2.0 systems might have been limited to allowing or facilitating peoples' "likes" (or the absent "dislike"), the conventions of social media systems such as YouTube and twitter invite us to retheorize how virtual forums might function as institutions. The dark side of the viral nature of these social media platforms also deserves some mention. Even though Wallace took down the video within a few hours, the damage was done: it had been copied and reposted, and it went viral very quickly. Wallace herself received many negative messages, even threats. She ended up leaving UCLA because her post made her infamous on campus. Arguably, this is a cultural commune run amok for Wallace, but in this it is not dissimilar to other cultural forums that can shun the politically incorrect, although rarely with such broad participation and diversity of perspective.The operations of short, user generated videos are more than the products of people who have leisure time. They are emerging as significant opportunities for political and personal statements intended to reach others, and they capture waves of public sentiment that ebb and flow. While they are not always intended to be controversial - and indeed, Wallace's video was not intended to generate the discourse that ensued - the fact that they do function in that way, and often make their way around the globe, suggests that this platform may have a significant role as a new plank of civil society.
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Dates et versions

hal-00840592 , version 1 (02-07-2013)


  • HAL Id : hal-00840592 , version 1


Sharon Strover. Global consumers and citizens: social media arenas. Communiquer dans un monde de normes. L'information et la communication dans les enjeux contemporains de la " mondialisation "., Mar 2012, France. ⟨hal-00840592⟩


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