Chief Replicator

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New Orleans, LA 69 posts

Emerging Media Episode 10: Gratification of Instagram

Let me first start out by saying that this blog post is super LATE, but it's an extended post, and actually a case study using the tools of Instagram and some real live analytic tracking. Note, this will be my final blogpost for the Spring 2020 semester - an odd semester that had to happen during an international health pandemic, for those of you who are paying attention.

So my main outlet for creativity right now is my camera. I've been covering the pandemic as a photojournalist for a local famed investigative journalism website Bayou Brief, run by Louisiana's favorite, quintessential modern muckracker, Lamar White.

I was compelled to do something related to my Emerging Media class in the Manship School of Journalism at LSU that was happening in REALTIME around the Covid-19 pandemic. My instinct was to grab my camera and become a documentarian, not necessarily my camera phone with intent to make posts for Instagram. But when I first got out onto the streets with my camera and some nice lenses and started taking pictures, I had no idea that I would be getting these published in Bayou Brief, let alone that some of them would go viral on social media. But I knew that the digital affordance that my keen eye and camera would provide me with a sense of composure, in my present moment, living in a relatively deserted French Quarter, a historic neighborhood that enjoys, literally millions of visitors each year - one of the most visited places in Louisiana, let alone the Southern region of the United States.

So here is the catch that we weren't expecting: because of the quarantine there has been a major dip in content creation by individual users. Another project would be to use instamancer to scrape for images of the French Quarter during the quarantine to consider how this dearth of generated content affects the content that IS being published via social media or even news sites.

This also lays the groundwork for a larger campaign, something more immediately sticky, in which I plan to bring some visually rich content to Instagram TV to promote all these efforts. Here is the most detailed blog post I could find that pretty much gives the entire history, scope, present and future for IGTV - which will be part of the future-forward mission. But let me first tell you how I got here.

See the past few weeks while we'd been dealing with this shit-show of a world pandemic, I've been doing a few longer trajectory projects that seem to now have a cross over into this class vis-a-vis Instagram. It has been a real eye-opening learning process, using new tools to track the progress of a campaign in real time. For me it is ok that these images were published a few weeks ago because they will still be new to Instagram as soon as they are published.

When Bayou Brief published the first piece: As the Coronavirus Pandemic Spreads, the French Quarter Empties. on March 27th at around 10pm. In the first hour of the article being released, an organization reached out to me and asked for a repost on their account, which earned it a single photo that was picked up by the New Orleans Jazz Museum and reposted in their own instagram. The first of the famed Preservation Hall. This metrics on this image were telling, as it gathered 354 likes and dozens of shares via FB.

Street photography is a good example of what can be considered organic content. It is unique, and original, and is attached to an aspect of the immediate community. It should also be noted that the NOJM is participating in transmedia storytelling via the combined effort of all their social media put together. NOJM has also been an early adopter, during this pandemic for rich, streaming online concerts, interviews, and other LIVE media.

And then the second story dropped, at the exact time people are used to seeing a rise in local tourism, yet Frenchman Street was a ghost town. The reactions are intense, as these images are certainly a play on people's emotions at the moment, something that makes Instagram sticky. While A Tale of Two Cities: New Orleans Under Quarantine was released on Saturday, April 11th, at around 1pm, the NOJM was craving a pre-release image, and so they ran this shot that generated over 700 likes in a matter of a day.

This time, with even more engagement via Facebook as well. Note: I mention FB because it is part of the connection of multiple social media being a force together, for a better mix of clicks, and engagements, which help understand what is successful and how the metrics help posts get shared with greater frequency.

The Jazz Museum was still so hungry for new visual content around music, that they ran yet another piece, as a preview of my third essay for for Bayou Brief: Staying Connected in Light of the Pandemic This time the likes and shares grew even more: to 1155 likes on IG, with a heightened level of engagement as well via Facebook.:

Here is another shot of mine that the NOJM ran late night on April 30th in honor of First Responders and Healthcare workers in Louisiana. Doesn't matter how many likes it get's but just that it's out there! The NOJM has requested a physical, archival print of this image for their offices, to document a specific moment in time.

So now this has become an ongoing project, and it has landed me an regular column in Bayou Brief as well as a retainer to provided regular content to the New Orleans Jazz Museum and has lead me into conversations with film producers who are interested in funding a documentary, using my photos and captured video footage as a starting point to further document the moment when music DOES return to the streets of the New Orleans and the French Quarter proper.

Emerging Media Episode 9: Deep Technoculture of Reddit

If Reddit is what it claims to be: the front page of the internet, then the front page of the internet is an ugly place. Reddit truly presents a conundrum where there is not only a lack of public leadership within the user ranks and moderators of its forums, but where there is a public space (on Reddit) ie. in the form of a public message board site where ANY discussion CAN take place. Well, almost any. While the very nature of this may sound great to some, or be a utopian dream to others, there are implications of hosting such a space, as it has proven to have the tendency to provide fringe characters with a sense of legitimacy no matter how disparaging or hateful their message is. Reddit, while it may have good intentions, if you are a positivist that is, as it creates a veneer of respectability for everyone, without much accountability that is, theoretically speaking, for anyone.

In other words, Reddit’s existence makes very real, what Bakhtin might call it, a “Carnival of the Grotesque” – where wit as well as depravity all exist in a single space. In Bakhtin’s world both the legitimate ritual and folk festivals are happening at the same time in a critical function of social space, this is a good extended metaphor for reddit.

As of today, REDDIT is the 19th most visited site on the internet (according to the metrics used by Amazon’s Alexa. If we take a slightly deeper dive into the metrics of Reddit via Alexa’s Competitive Analysis, Marketing Mix and Traffic we start to see how things have changed in the past few years, since Adrienne Massanari’s Participatory Culture, Community, and PLAY - learning from reddit was published.

Adrienne Massanari’s research focuses on how design and culture and platform governance intersect covering the complexities of race, gender, ethics, and digital culture. In her lecture she says, in reference to alt-right groups and “toxic technocultures”: “It’s not that they think all the same, but there are some kinds of fundamental ways in which their ideology connects across these spaces, and also their use of technology connects across these spaces.” They used these platforms in a number of different ways, as a channel of coordination and harassment, even if their purposes are different. These types of users tend to illustrate technological prowess and aggregate public and private content as a tool for harassment. They exploit platform policies that encourage large audiences in lieu of protecting harassment victims. In turn they also participate in rhetorical distancing pointing out that certain outliers in these groups aren’t part of their platform, although these users are still welcomed to participate in the conversation. Furthermore these groups have chosen to coin, target and, attack Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) as their target group to oppose, making audacious claims about their established foes on the other side of the political spectrum.

Because I really like GIFs I'm going to take this opportunity to use several of them as an experimental technique for illustrating a narrative about reddit. This essay will be told through a series of repurposed GIFs reinterpreting scenes from The Matrix and re-contextualizing them with clever subtitles illuminating some accurate, yet overarching themes and stereotypes about reddit.

Here in our title GIF agin from above; we have the moment when our two characters, Morpheous and Neo. Morpheus, seated to the left, offers Neo an opportunity to have two different experiences of reddit. If Neo chooses to downvote, the story ends, and he continues browsing, and "believe whatever you want to believe", Morpheus says. If he chooses the upvote, Morpheus will show Neo "how far up the front page... this post could go".

Next, since Neo clearly chose the upvote, he and Morpheus are now inside of reddit, they bump into a number of businesspeople with various reddit tags on them, including: /r/food, /r/funny, /r/news, /r/diy, /r/christianity, /r/cats, etc. Morpheus has a user tag "/u/morpheus" and neo has a user tag /u/neo on his back. Neo finds himself again unsure of the reality he has chosen. Morpheus says: "reddit is a system, Neo. Subreddits made up that system..., ...and most subreddits have rules. If you break the rules..., ...the mods can take you down." Right then Neo sees a copy tagged as a moderator, then he is distracted when he sees a woman wearing a red dress, in an otherwise monochromatic crowd, with the tag "/r/gonewild" superimposed on her the GIF. "Neo? Were you paying attention? Or were you browsing the dirty subreddits?" Morpheus quips. This is actually a clever GIF that teaches one how reddit works, in a nutshell.

Neo, having found his way out of the Matrix and onto the Nebuchadnezzar, asks Cypher what he is looking at on his screen, "Is that...?", Neo asks, to which Cypher responds "reddit?" yep." Neo then asks "Do you always broswe so fast?" to which Cypher responds "Yeah, all I see is meme, cat, repost..." referencing the banality of content often found on reddit.

Here Neo finds himself inside of a comment thread of reddit with Trinity, and instead of asking Tank for guns, he asks Tank for "Puns,...lots of puns." Tank presses the button with the reddit logo on it and the puns load because that will seemingly serve them well on their mission in the matrix of reddit. If you notice when the puns load Neo looks back to find himself in the section with Hitler's puns on it, illustrating a certain context collapse into a world with a virtual unlimited resources to puns.

Here Morpheus reveals to Neo that he is just part of a system of desiring digital affirmation. Upon being disillusioned Neo has the instant realization that his humanity is a product of the machine of upvotes, only to find himself in an (original) reddit thread on the TV monitor that Morpheus then turns off with the click of a remote to create a perfect loop.

Here, in our climax scene, Neo is able to fighting off all the downvotes shot from the handguns of the the reddit trolls. Upon witnessing this, Morpheus believes Neo is the one, as his upvotes skyrocket in real time, revealing that Neo understands how reddit works at the system level.

End note: Here is a very informative lecture of Massanari’s presented by The Department of Information Science at Colorado University of Boulder in 2018.

Emerging Media Interlude (aka Episode 8) : 21 day COVID-19 Twitter Emoji Study (GIF)

While I was away, I used an AI-powered SMS research tool (ForSight / Crimson Hexagon) to do a 21-day study around Covid-19 using 10k pieces of Twitter data to bootstrap a micro visual communication study of the day-to-day emoji most frequently used. It isn't perfect, I'll admit. But it certainly is interesting. I compiled 21 files, opened them all in a single Preview window, and exported it to a PDF file. From there I used an online file converter Convertio uploaded the PDF to create a GIF. I originally exported this set of files as transparent, so when I converted it to the GIF, it stacked the layers, rather than replacing them, as would be the effect if the background were white, it wouldn't stack the 21 layers. The effect is somewhat maximalist, alarming, and humorous, in a OMG FML WTF tragedy sort of way. Regardless, here it is in its primal form.

Update: I'm going to do a final project around this technique as a study for my final paper/project - looking at March of 2020, Corona Virus, and the use of emoji to display world sentiment around our present moment via the sentiment relayed via these visual communication tools.

Emerging Media Episode 7: Cultural Analytics

Just last week Wednesday I delivered a presentation titled "Surplus Futures: Repurposing Archives via New Media Arts" (presentation slides here) to an auditorium 1/3 full of at Loyola University Art + Design department undergrad students as part of a monthly Design Forum speaker series, where they invite local professionals to present on work philosophies or approached to medium, in order to help students "paint an attainable picture of working as a designer in the South."

The goal of my presentation was to engage a new audience in understanding how the skill sets they were building could be matched up with good historic graphic data: namely, premium quality, high-resolution scans of newspapers containing texts and graphics that will be interpreted and reused and programmed not only for commercial projects but eventually for data extraction and digital image processing.

It was very clear to me, looking around the room, that the collection of humans was actually not lacking in cultural diversity, as far as the general make-up of the student population appeared. (I was quite impressed with my initial impressions of the group as I actually had their attention - tools down and all! I asked the design students what types of materials and techniques they wanted for future projects and what wasn’t adequate as they saw it now. The consensus was that they wanted more access to usable historic materials that they could incorporate into their projects. My expectations were exceeded in that this younger generation was REALLY INTO the idea of media archeology as the practice of creating New Media Art has been fully imbedded in their own design practices.

But this got me thinking about this week’s readings when this realization set in: the most imperative step forward is building a new set of metrics for inclusion within the milieu of cultural diversity. A social environment at once in opposition to how an echo chamber functions - because inclusion means everybody is at the table in the same discussion, not homophilic enclaves of the same, usual policy makers deciding for all.

In his paper “Critical technoculture discourse analysis” for the journal new media & society, André Brock states that his approach to examining the specific discourses going-on via Black Twitter was “born of my frustrations with digital divide research, which operates from the technodeterministic premise that access to the “digital” improves the lives of underrepresented groups”. This is where the rubber meets the road, in applying his CTDA in highlighting the technoculture to an understudied group via a semiotic approach to understand meaning. I’m encouraged by this, as a reader and investigator of Roland Barthes’ Semiotics in decoding early 20th century imagery from American newspapers (an approach that is just as valid as it is today and it was then).

I took the time to listen to Katrin Tiidenberg’s lecture on vimeo: “What should cultural analytics be?” as I have also asked myself this question in dealing, conceptually, with how digital image processing might inform new types of cultural analytics. Even though this is NOT a peer reviewed journal article, Tiidenberg makes some incredible points and provocations regarding how these concepts might be employed. First she addresses the implications of the politics, second the power dynamics of how that works via methodologies, and how all that expects, or suggests positivist and inclusive visions. But if there is anything that we might all agree on in studying technoculture, it is clear that because of the biggest players, and how they dominate the digital environment in a so-called “API-apocolypse”. So it’s not like we have just a big brother anymore, as big mother, brother, and sister have all taken stake. Tiidenberg references GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) as being the stakeholders here who, ultimately have the most to gain or profit via our current system. While “many professionals and scholars see datafication as a revolutionary research opportunity to investigate human conduct” more critique is needed to fully unpack how “data capital is convertible, in certain conditions, to economic capital” (as Jathan Sadowski argues). While Tiidenberg may be sounding a proverbial alarm, the writing is however already on the wall, as we want to think social media companies are neutral providers of platforms, when in fact they are essentially farms for our data.

Perhaps the most understated piece of her lecture is the examination of the metaphors and symbolism surrounding the phrase “data is the new oil” or “data is the new ______” or whatever the placeholder may be. She says: “If the comparison sticks, and everyone starts calling data the new oil, as they kind of have, it will work under the surface not only to reflect, but to influence how we think about data.” I find this observation to be salient, as I approach much of my reading with the creative mind of a poet - seeing metaphor in much of ways language is used to define the terms in which scholars discuss their respective topics, and often have problems with how these types of terms intend to become commonplace, or have overlapping meanings, like in the case of filter bubbles and echo chambers. Furthermore the metaphor is extended via liquid terms, and thus the implication comes through that data becomes uncontrollable, when it is not.

Setting our sites on new methods will help us create new environments in which new research can proceed. We grow the onion only to peel apart its layers of information to reveal new insights (with the repercussions that come with the metaphoric tears that may fall while doing so). But the ethical questions must arrive in a more comprehensive and inclusive understanding of how we ultimately thicken that data and what the thickening does for how we cook it down, or process it for visual insight. In a way Tiidenberg is calling for an alternate set of metrics, and while this lecture of hers may not present all the answers, it introduces an idea that simply cannot be ignored. That is: "a truly critical, contextual, and ethical version of data analytics."

The most exciting thing is that the sun hasn’t set on the possibilities – and a new horizon can be set for future endeavors, hopefully aligned with the hopes and dreams for application via the wildest projects possible, conducted by students like the ones I presented last week at Loyola.


In searching for tools that might help me better understand the inclusive nature of Media Literacy, I stumbled upon a small list of “Horizon Reports” produced by the now defunct group, New Media Consortium (which WAS “an ongoing research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on learning, teaching, and creative inquiry in education.”). Although NMC is no-longer, there is still MUCH to learn from these reports in understanding what is at stake in understanding Media Literacy in various educational settings.

Here is the general 2017 report.

Including a Museum Edition for 2010-2016.

An edition focusing on Academic & Research Libraries for 2014-2017.

And one focusing on K-12 for 2009-2017.

And, an aside:

I didn’t want to ignore the idea of Fake News all together, and want to dig deeper (later) into Jack Hamilton’s four pernicious factors of Fake News, as mentioned in his guest column for The Baton Rogue Advocate here.

Emerging Media Episode 6: Sociopolitical Strategies

Little do most people know that the Bernie Sanders' campaign has an official, active Giphy account with just 181 gif uploads that collectively enjoy a whopping 549.5M total GIF views! (Note: this above gif is NOT one of them, this is Larry David, humorously portraying Bernie Sanders on SNL). But the question at hand is pertinent, pastiche or not, do these oddly viral digital affordances and tools give the Sanders’ campaign an edge? Who knows. But what it does do, by design, is give people a way to interact with the curated content, put together by the campaign, and it’s affiliates, for individuals to personalize their own digital media platforms with branded political, albeit digital, “swag”.

In the journal article “Personalization, gender, and social media: gubernatorial candidates’ social media strategies” McGregor, et. all, state: “Social media have enabled for everyone a new culture of personal identity construction that is at once both private and public. The ability to share photos in particular provides new opportunities for politicians to share glimpses of their daily lives in the same way that many social media users now routinely do.” And I don’t think it should be lost on people that the Sanders campaign uses Giphy. Because, simply put, there is something to be said about spreading a positive, pervasive, friendly, ubiquitously charismatic display of character across all social media platforms, big and small – in a way that perhaps more fully permeates, or saturates the complete, complex culture of our technology-driven society, beyond the collapse of the context of our everyday lives, before the horizon of the internet levels that field. Here we find ourselves, spending an increasing amount of our day, like, WHERE? Answer: on the internet, where our favorite political icons are now made into funny viral videos and playful emojis. I’m into it, it’s nerdy, it’s political. The revolution still will not be televised. It’ll be advertised.

If political style as Groshek and Koc-Michalska define it is: ‘political style as the repertoires of performance that are used to create political relations’ then each of our main personalities certainly have what appear to be QUITE defined styles, each in a certain sense a fringe candidate, where the fringe has now, in an age of drastic ideologies, become the reactionary populist mode (!?). What a pill to swallow. But here we are. Presidential candidates know they need to be “out there” covering flat surfaces with their image, if they can. Yesterday it used to be political flyering, today it’s advertisements on Facebook. But as a student of the juggernaut like media machine, I’m coming fast to understand that the political influencer game isn't as simple, always, as being a single actor on one platform in one social network or ecosystem, it requires a type of canvassing like never before.

In the article “Media audience homophily: Partisan websites, audience identity and polarization processes”, Shira Dvir-Gvirsman states: “when one is embedded in an online environment that boosts one’s political self, this specific aspect of one’s self-identity is activated, becoming more dominant than others.” The bottom line, and what all candidates know, but perhaps Sanders and Trump both know best, the cult of personality has a small margin, and the best case scenario, is that someone, some ordinary citizen has a slight preference for one candidate over another, and perhaps a gif might help do that? Furthermore, Dvir-Gvirsman’s conclusion states: “Audience identity did influence preference, regardless of the political slant of the content. In addition, there is some evidence that audience identity influences perceived extremity and salience of political identity.” So all these little tricks of social media, every last post and tweet and gif and meme, will continue to be social collateral in the twisted network of web, internet, IoT, and well, the communication networks at large.

While Trump dabbles in the apotheosis, Sander’s also has his own message, and, as far as what the recent debates have shown he is ramping up for, must at some point deliver its own Coup de gras against Trump, just as Trump effectively did (where he’s stood true to his word or not, is a different story) claiming his intention to “drain the swamp” in the Replublican debates in 2016 – which in its own way, captured the imagination and creativity of a fed-up voiceless public, and with it came a tremendous response of support from the wide, populist base of the Right.

But the landscape is unpredictable, as just last week the Washington Post reported that “Bernie Sanders briefed by U.S. officials that Russia is trying to help his presidential campaign” – Sanders officially announced that he had been briefed by the US officials that the Russians were trying to help him in his bid for the Democratic nomination, likely because the Russians believe he would be the candidate most easily defeated by Trump in 2020. Instead of being consumed by the information, Sanders decides to call out Putin as being the one behind these efforts, and takes the higher road, stressing a high standard for the American people, who want a fair and honest election without outside interference from foreign governments, BUT that IS the story – they’re ALREADY doing it! So on the flip side to the coin, let take a look at how yet another news agency, this time MSNBC, decides to cover the story, in a video piece titled “Sanders calls Putin a thug, tells him to stay out of US elections” with its usual amount of SPIN, deflecting the actual severity of the accusation, and creating a controversial headline simply out of Bernie Sanders’ response, likely to get clicks on the article.

Of course, in the end, Dvir-Gvirsman found that “users assign importance to a spectrum of features characterizing a media outlet, among them the affinity of its content and of its audience” - and so we’re left with what we ask for when we sign up for every new account and check the box off on every new user agreement: a curated existence.


For a completely different but historically relevant take on how past not-so-different media shifts affected how the public perceived a Presidential candidates, I am reminded of the first ever televised presidential debate in 1960 between JFK and Nixon. I know this is a topic that is often analysed by political theorists and historians, but it’s key to look at here in Emerging Media, because it is a media flashpoint of sorts – showing how a hyper-real display of moving images affect the public’s persona of an individual, their charisma or lack thereof on any given day. The inception of the televised debate as part of the American political process is fascinating! Give it a watch and then look at a brief analysis from The Smithsonian.

Kennedy-Nixon First Presidential Debate, 1960

How JFK's Clever TV Strategies Helped Him Win the Election

Emerging Media Episode 5: Analyzing the Twittersphere

In late 2017 Twitter expanded the allotted character count, doubling it from 140 to 280 for users to have twice the space to say what it is they had to say in each post on their platform. One might think this would have had some large effects on their platform, but, oddly enough, this shift had little effect on the Twitter ecosystem, as the vast community of users set the tone for the platform’s unique character constraint when it comes getting the message out. As Tech Crunch reports that: “Twitter is still a place for briefer thoughts, with only 1% of tweets hitting the 280-character limit, and only 12% of tweets longer than 140 characters. Only 5% of tweets are longer than 190 characters, indicating that Twitter users have been for so long trained to keep their tweets short, they haven’t adapted to take advantage of the extra room to write.” It seems as though the poetry of the platform is brevity. Although some interesting things did happen, namely, the language users tended to employ changed in more subtle ways, for example, such as a shifting of creative abbreviations often appearing with text speak, such as “gr8”, “b4” or “ur”, back to their full terns of “great”, “before” or “ you are'' respectively. And while this doesn’t tell is all that much, aside from making messages more formal, or direct, other tools would be needed to more comprehend something like sentiment or network analysis. Good thing we have Crimson Hexagon for this type of look into the crystal ball.

So we've arrived at a point where researchers have a relatively new ability to look inside the collective human psyche to determine, often to a fault, what is catching buzz, how this information moves, how connections are established, how communities grow, who plays what roles in proliferating what views, and who are the gatekeepers. When we can take a close look at all of these things together we can paint a fairly revealing picture, that is, if we know what we're looking for. Subsequently the whole network is actually quite visible, and the data can be pooled and examined in a multitude of ways, with new insights revealed through clever visualizations or elaborate studies of hashtags used during political events, a media blitz, or social flashpoint of some sort, such as is examined in “The affordance effect: Gatekeeping and (non) reciprocal journalism on Twitter” by Jacob Groshek and Edson Tandoc. In their article for the journal Computers in Human Behavior, the authors take a critical look at who is really serving as gatekeepers on the Twitter platform by examining the technological affordances and the reshaping of journalistic norms for routine for legacy journalists, non-legacy journalists, and media influencers. What was the most surprising, in a certain sense, is how Twitter serves as a platform of power for all parties but in different ways.

Legacy newsgroups (members of media organizations that were established outside of the web, long before its existence), enjoy a much larger user base on the platforms, likely due to their recognition and footing as established editorial voices in the field, but they actually don’t engage with their user base nearly as much as the other stakeholders discusses. It appears that these news groups use Twitter to see what is going on, or use it to observe the general sentiment and figures around an issue, but tend to engage less with them. On the other hand, it seems that Twitter was built more for non-legacy news groups, or at least these individuals or companies have used the platform to champion their operations and become influential players in the online environment of news sharing and aggregation. These non-legacy groups enter directly into the conversation as players in the landscape and use the platform most effectively for news gathering and newsmaking. Individual influences, though, seem to have the strongest sense of individual voice, or at least this is where these influential actors are able to, with great success, raise their profile and message. In my opinion these people are the ones that have the most to gain from such a position, because it does, in a sense put them on the same playing field as news agencies, because, although they may not have the same vast follower base, they can still participate and have a major impact on the conversation, as we were able to see play out in Groshek & Edson’s three week study around the political flashpoint of a Grand Jury acquitting Michal Brown slayer, police officer Darrwn Wilson of all wrongdoing. These types of moments serve as unique moments where heightened level of activity reveals some illuminating details of how the network actually functions and who is pushing the news and to who and then who is pushing it onwards and then on from there.

Not only is that the case, but we can also take a close look at how “yellow journalism” plays out, because a major benefit is being able to see how false or fake news is also shared and reshared and which actors are performing these types of operations, be them bots or bad actors with multiple user accounts that bolster the disinformation campaign. The aforementioned study really digs at how the medium is the message and how new players can bypass the process of the traditional press, so to speak “They can also break information, photos, and videos through social media about news events they happen to witness, jumping the gates of traditional journalists.” This is a great benefit for individuals who seek to amplify a key alternate voice in a moment in time, but the flipside is how this can be manipulated by those aforementioned bad actors. But their finding as specific and the most surprising part of the study arrives with the understanding that "while legacy journalists were among the most popular users in terms of numbers of folowers, they were no longer the most influential in terms of generating discussions and gatekeeping information."

lastly an anecdote: A few years ago I was taking elevator from the top floor of Canal Place where I just had a meeting with a reporter at The Times-Picayune. During the short two minute trip I overheard two reporters talking candidly about how many tweets, retweets, and shares their most recent articles enjoyed. If this is still any indicator as to how journalists seek approval in today’s news climate, it certainly doesn’t explain the recent folding of the paper and acquisition by their competitor. I wonder if they survived the merger. I’m also curious if these reporters might do good by considering a proper analysis of the platform they are using - rather than worrying about how well the work showed up on social media, they can get a deeper look behind the process. But is this something we really want journalists to utilize, or should they just focus on getting the story accurate, they best way they can, and leave the twittersphere as a space for reaction, dialog, feedback and constructive criticism?

Emerging Media Episode 4: Filter Bubbles & Echo Chambers

At first I was confused by the interrogative nature of the title of Axel Bruns’ book Are Filter Bubbles Real? but soon discovered that the book itself presents an expansive dialogue that explores the deep inquiry, because the answer to the question comes in the process of understanding it. Bruns’ work addresses the abstract by trying to let the terms take form in real time.

The goal here is to understand a little more about what is going on in the bucket that contains a much larger question of our time: comprehending the factors that contribute to Technological Determinism versus those that determine Social Constructivism and being able to see them both, sort of anamorphically, like in he GIF above. Bruns’ question allows us to remain relatively agnostic as the social scientist seeking for answers that exist at the moment, and somewhat, in the metaphors of others.

So the question remains: if Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers are essentially real, does the poetics of techne use these terms to conveniently describe some other technological phenomenon that IS happening but evades being a topic of research due to the elusive process of its own cause and effect. This essay will attempt to address why we can’t put our finger on the matter, as well as what we do know and why it’s important. Bruns’ work takes a look at the leading research in the field and has done the work to determine that there are not clear and fundamental definitions of these terms as being used in political and legal frameworks, in an attempt to reassess and reapply them in a field based more in cognitive sciences. To proceed, Bruns’ presents some working definitions and qualities of these terms to help us understand how they function:

An echo chamber comes into being where a group of participants choose to preferentially connect with each other, to the exclusion of outsiders. The more fully formed this network is (that is, the connections created within the group, and the more connections with outsiders are severed), the more isolated from the introduction of outside views is the group, while the views of its members are able to circulate widely within it. Defining the terminologies remains the imperative:

A filter bubble emerges when a group of participants, independent of the underlying network structures of their connections with others, choose to preferentially communicate with each other, to the exclusion of outsiders. The more consistently they exercise this choice, the more likely it is that participants’ own views and information will circulate amongst group members rather than any information introduced from the outside.

Thus echo chambers are about connectivity in closed groups verses overlapping publics and filter bubbles are about communication tactics of deliberate exclusion versus widespread sharing.

While Bruns’ work concerns the way these filters and echoes work in a larger sense, he pays special attention to web-based activity during election seasons because it is a time of heightened interaction AND polarization. This means that during these times people resort to accessing the latest news and information, usually using a series of different devices and platforms. All these observable patterns are determined by a mixture of not only algorithmic curation and shaping, but also personal choice, hence it is also key to note that these effects play out differently via the use of search engines as well as engagement via social media. Viewing these pieces individually is essential in answering an unanswered question: when exactly does it turn from a small isolated community filter bubble to a more fully defined echo chamber, which may really only be possible on the fringes of political ideology and culture.

If anything, Bruns points out that we may be living in a “national filter bubble” where search results show very little variation as to where we get our news, which is actually, overall a very small selection of news sites. Both the right and the left are up on understanding their own views as well as the views of others, hence many users don’t necessarily go through the process of actively blocking such sources, even if people more actively seek out their own sources with views that agree with theirs. Part of the reason that people even use social media is to be engaged with people who have shared interests, which at the same time there is no determinate disconnection. Moreso with social media there is the possibility of connecting with anytime of interest, so the platform itself, while it may contain filter bubbles, is not a large filter bubble, but more driven by homophily, or individuals internal preferences.

Lastly, the call to action seems most critical and apparent via Media Literacy! This is something I feel strongly about as we begin to grasp at an understanding of such things as context collapse and device divide It seems important that a more elaborate program of study, even a survey, will soon become essential for all college students, in any course of study, to stay current in their practices and strategies of literacy and communication.


Here is an illuminating YouTube video “Are Filter Bubbles Real? Axel Bruns” of a lecture at West Sydney University School of Humanities and Communication Arts in June of 2019 by Axel Bruns. It is noted that Alex Bruns is the ARC Future Fellow and Professor in the Digital Media Research Centre at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. I’m curious how approachable he is on these topics as I’d like to learn what types of qualitative and quantitative research he might have recently utilized in expanding his most current research, as well as what sort of cutting edge tools he might be working with at the moment. Are some of the AI Powered research tools we’re learning about able to address or reveal some of the methods of viewing these types of anomalies he’s talking about.

As a related side note, I’ve been monitoring the New Hampshire democratic primary using Crimson Hexagon to run a few different studies of data surrounding not only BUZZ, but also public opinion using key hashtags related to the primary. and candidate twitter accounts. As well, the day before the election, I will also start looking at the top influencers and influencing voter groups to see what commitments they’ve made to which candidates to gain insightful metrics on the US political election process in this historic moment in time, during a heavily contested election cycle.

another useful resource I stumbled on while writing this post:


Association of Internet Researchers: AoIR

Axel Bruns Homepage: "Snurblog"

Ignas Kalpokas's book review for the London School of Economics and Political Science

Echo Chamber? What Echo Chamber?
Reviewing the Evidence from Snurblog

Emerging Media Episode 3: Attention Economies

To heighten everyone's nerves for a moment, before we renter into the cerebral world of Matthew Hindman’s postulations, because I think it’s critical to examine the most up-to-date emerging topics as they happen, in relation and content, and this one is very new...

As of last week, we now have a tool to monitor and control our Off Facebook Activity. Announced, just a few days ago, an article on VOX, “How to delete what Facebook knows about your life outside of Facebook”, highlights the bells and whistles of a new tool that let's users “tell you which companies are supplying Facebook with information about your real-world activity — for example, that you visited their website or purchased a product from it.” Are we finally going to be able to control our own information at this new microscopic level, or is it, in itself, a trap / tool to record an even deeper level of user information?

According to a blog post from August 2019, Facebook announced: “Now You Can See and Control the Data That Apps and Websites Share With Facebook”. Written by By Erin Egan, Chief Privacy Officer, Policy, and David Baser, Director of Product Management for Facebook, the public announcement comes with a hefty amount of spin from the top: “Many apps and websites are free because they’re supported by online advertising. And to reach people who are more likely to care about what they are selling, businesses often share data about people’s interactions on their websites with ad platforms and other services.” I find this wording to be particular and minced, putting ‘people’ at the front of the syntax and ‘services’ at the end, makes it sound like it part of an empathetic society, when in reality they are outright telling us that our information is bought and sold by those who buy and sell it. When they write: “to help shed more light on these practices that are common yet not always well understood, today we’re introducing a new way to view and control your off-Facebook activity,” they don’t exactly state for who they created this for, themselves or for the users. And, I guess, in the end, we know that while it may be both, the ability to get MORE out of that IS them.

But back to the centerpoint here, and Matthew Hindman's The Internet Trap. In its essentiality Hindman is wanting to give us a tool that allows us to fight the battle of concentration and dispersion, in an effort to more fully address new disparities and level the playing field, where, as Time Berners-Lee opined: “There is no top to the WEB”. But we know that at the present time this is wholly unntrue. Hindman’s state-of-the-situation speaks of how audiences and revenues are concentrated, a small-scale peep hole that is presented above (I would add that this above information, about how FB uses our information + a more full understanding of the facebook’s ads manager environment from a research/ advertisers perspective can give a unique overlap of perspective that is incredibly insightful). An examination of this information from the user’s side here is astounding, each click, each selection, each interaction on a particular app is included and monetized, based on this new user’s view. This is, in real-time, what Hindman might argue as the process where “attention transaction replaces currency” using his dystopian-leaning example. The key concepts arrive at how exactly these larges players have an online advantage and how the audiences end up following in a concentrated law of patterns, and, in essence, aggregating the power all in one place.The tilted playing field is real and the effects and advantages, be it via data architecture, design, or cutting edge advertising advantages - the power and influence is overwhelming.

Finally, in other related emerging media news: "TikTok Permanently Bans Live Action Over Unspecified ‘Community Guidelines Violations"’ effectively silencing an aggressive pro-life propoganda group from their platform - perhaps a discussion for class?

Also food for thought: Have you ever had a sneaking suspicion that your phone is listening to you? Well, you can decide for yourself, but this is a summary of how one journalist thinks it all works.

Further Resources: I decided to go down the rabbit hole a little bit to understand some context and background. For my own notes, I created some other quick access poots to explore the roots of ideas of Matthew Hindmann (Matthew Hindman - GW | Department of Political Science (Current), many of which can also be found in his previous influential work The Myth of Digital Democracy, some of which can be consumed here, via YouTube:

Interview with Matthew Hindman, Internet and Politics (Youtube 2008)

“I think we need to think hard about what kind of trade-offs we’re willing to make. There would certainly be an advantage to having a more substantively representative blogosphere, having a public sphere that does a better job representing not just one gender both genders, and less overwhelmingly white, but at the same time there certainly are some advantages to having a blogosphere that is so focused on the thoughts and ideas of elites, it’s a very mixed blessing”

Matthew Hindman: The Googlearchy and Politics (Youtube 2011)

  • “Sites that win on the web are sticky”

  • “The rule of the most heavily linked...sites that get a lot of links from sites that also get a lot of links from sites that also get a lot of links are the sites that tend to rise to the top of the Google ranking”

  • “Simply because politics isn’t very important on the larger web, doesn’t mean that the web isn’t important to politics.”

  • “It was very long ago that a very large chunk of what campaigns actually did was convince people to put pamphlets in envelopes. That really doesn’t happen anymore in campaigns, and it’s important to understand that these information technologies and the growth of the web come hand in hand with other information technologies that change the way politics work.”

2 of 3 Myths About the Media: Audience, Business, and Money (Youtube 2011)

BookTV: Matthew Hindman, "The Myth of Digital Democracy" (Youtube 2011)

Matt Hindman (George Washington University) @ The Academy of Global Governance (2012)

Emerging Media Episode 2: Digital Division

In her essay: "Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in the Internet Skills and Uses among Member of the "New Generation", researcher Eszter Hargittai takes a methodological approach to question the assumptions and investigations of the digital divide, namely the basic demographic and socioeconomic predictors of internet access, namely: age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, income, employment status, and place of residence. Her research distills these preconceived notions and refocuses a hypothesis around Internet users' "online skill and diversity of Web usage". Her work and methodology reveals some of the contours of inequality. Figures 1 and 2 in her essay illustrate internet use variables in relationship to parental education as well as race/ethnicity, revealing an upward trajectory when it comes to the level of education background of “digital natives”, whereas her results were more varied when discussing race, web-use, experience and autonomy. The take-away here, as the literature suggests, is that age and education are only two factors used in examining digital inequity, and yet it is really a combination of autonomy of use, Web-use skills, and their considerable variations and deviation by user background. Her work here is still a moving target, and certainly required a nuanced approach, utilizing both qualitative and quantitative elements, to more comprehensively study these relationships. The popular rhetoric at hand that web savvy Digital Natives are somehow automatically better equipped for navigating this environment does not hold true, but is largely still attributed to those who live more privileged lives (college students). So, according to her study, the internet, in the end, is set up to benefit those more privileged, and doesn’t magically level the playing field as a utopian sandbox of diversity.

Synthesising disparate characteristics of the digital divide remains the greatest challenge. In her essay “The digital production gap: The digital divide and the Web 2.0 collide” Jen Shradie opens the door on the claims of digital democracy and digital inequality through the lense of not merely participation, but also, production, as in who is making content for the public sphere. Like Hargittai, Schradie point to a class-based gap in revealing which digital voices are amplified and which voices are missing. Schradie’s study pulls from a larger pool of data, examining over 40,000 surveys conducted in an early phase of the web 2.0 boom. What isn’t surprising, again, is that the preconceived notions of the Web being an “egalitarian public sphere” are yet again up against the wall when looking at large amounts of user data, or as Schradie states, “Digital production inequality suggests that elite voices still dominate in the new digital commons.” So from another angle, somewhat Marxist in it’s repercussions of how this era’s mode of production, how society is organized around the production of these new digital/material necessities of life, a somewhat techno-feudal-capitalism, if you will - where access and digital elitism rise to the top, hidden in plain site across numerous platforms and social networking sites. Shradie outlines her definition of the activities which are included in this production gap, including building websites and writing blogs for public consumption, sorta like this one. In her she addresses the argument as to what it means to be a producer, which requires its own framework of digital production - categorizing different web-based activities and their intentions, ie. the relationship between cultural production and consumption is quite detailed and nuanced as well, especially when considering audience and outcomes of each individual activity performed on the internet. Her methodological validity seems sound, and her models are easily digestible, revealing layers of inequality, not only between high school and college educated, but also the poor and working class, the later being considerably marginalized.

In waxing a little poetic, I can’t help but to ask myself a somewhat rhetorical question: does Matthew Arnold’s assertion still hold true: “THE CRITICAL POWER IS of lower rank than the creative.”

A few final notes:

In closing, a few months ago, I was blindsided by a viral video of actor and comedian, Sacha Baron Cohen delivering a speech as the recipient of The Anti-Defamation League's International Leadership Award, which goes to "exceptional individuals who combine professional success with a profound personal commitment to community involvement and to crossing borders and barriers with a message of diversity and equal opportunity. Through his alter egos, many of whom represent anti-Semites, racists and neo-Nazis, Baron Cohen shines a piercing light on people’s ignorance and biases." (full transcript here)

Cohen, in his most heavy handed moment, says: "Today around the world, demagogues appeal to our worst instincts. Conspiracy theories once confined to the fringe are going mainstream. It’s as if the Age of Reason – the era of evidential argument – is ending, and now knowledge is delegitimized and scientific consensus is dismissed. Democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat, and autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march." He goes on to say: "The greatest propaganda machine in history. Think about it. Facebook, YouTube and Google, Twitter and others – they reach billions of people. The algorithms these platforms depend on deliberately amplify the type of content that keeps users engaged – stories that appeal to our baser instincts and that trigger outrage and fear."

If Cohen is attempting to address the elephant in the room, than he has the right audience to do so. But if anything, as Business Insider reports, the message fell on deaf ears, as Facebook’s response included them simply reiterating the status quo of their policies, which critics are quick to point out they don’t REALLY uphold, falling short on their fact-checking policies surrounding political ads, all while we ramp up for the critical 2020 election season.

P.S. - Here is a cool interactive web map illustrating the digital divide through maping a survey of internet speeds in high shcools around the globe:

Header source:

Emerging Media Episode 1: The Moving Target

A few years ago, a clever Harvard researcher put together this engaging video and slider, titled: "Evolution of the Desk" - an initiative borne out of the Harvard Innovation Lab with the goal to "illustrate the impact that technology has had on our lives over the last 35 years." You can view the video/slider here:
I'll come back to this is a second, but for now it's frightening and fun to consider the implications of how the analog environment morphed into a series of digital applications.

While reading this weeks essays, I was struck with a thought that wouldn't leave my mind: where and when does our actual identity become our avatar, and when do we become our avatar as part of our actual identity? On what arc of the social media plane to we stop being ourselves and become our greatest impression, our platform? At what actual point on the XYZ axis does content collapse? As danah boyd references in "Making Sense of Teen Life", the content is absent from understanding the motivations of how an individual might "perform" a detail of affiliation online. This can be, and often is, taken out of context to an individuals benefit or disapproval. Either way, there are lots of judgements happening with or without our ever knowing. So the question begs: how much of YOU do YOU really want out there?

Next this got me thinking about feminist philosopher and cultural theorist Judith Butler, and how she emphaises gender "perfomativity" - this had me considering how her theories might be used to decipher certain aspects of how individuals perform their identity online. (Here is a simple slide show I made outline Judith Butler's life and theories). Is our character / personality / gender performed in similar ways on-line, or is our on-line performance more relegated within the constructs of the platform? (these rhetorical thoughts that will solidify with more reflection).

Also, because boyd references the idea of "affiliation", this also reminded me of Jib Fowles legendary essay from 1982 (dated but still incredibly useful in deciphering human motivation via ANY media) "Advertising's Fifteen Basic Appeals" which really gets behind the theory of how advertisers appeal our basic emotions via clevewry coded messages, imbedded within imagery and text (I could also go down a rabbit hole here, enacting richer theories RE: Roland Barthes on Semiotics, but later). The Fowles piece is a crucial baseline for me in understanding our social media landscape because it really distills motivations back to somewhat simple human pathos, our real emotions that are certainly well at play in the SNS landscape of image and word.

Moving forward and back to boyd's essay, I found it stunning how she created a safe space for the teen she was observing at her own peril, meaning: she, in the moment, allowed for the teen she was observing to let loose and become comfortable with her, observing the intensity of the teens' social story became a physically embodying experience for boyd as a researcher, as someone who exhibits great concern in her research subjects. This was an incredible example that illustrates the researchers need to engage in her research on multiple levels, or through multiple channels, to understand a bigger picture of what she is seeking to observe: the individual's personal identity AND their surrogate identity online.

In "Sociality Through SNS" boyd introduces us to SNS as a phenomenon, where profiles allow us to create agency, connect to an intricate network, and then explore within that platform. What struck me most, and what I neglected to see for my own self, was the idea that my profile isn't just my own, yet the profile is constructed not only by a user but also everyone else in their chosen network. This is where we have to admit that what we're looking at is a moving target, a media that asks for us to study is while it is also actually changing, in real time. It is multifaceted and asks to be attended to by researchers who seek to observe "both the technical and social components of these socio-technical systems". The desktop video above helps me situate these readings and study of SNS within that broader landscape of Web 2.0, somewhere between CMC scholarship and the entrepreneur tech scene, where it appears to be thriving.

Notes: Jib Fowles, ETC: A Review of General Semantics, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Fall 1982), pp. 273-290, Published by: Institute of General Semantics