Why We Post – Week 3

The Impact of social media on politics and gender

flickr photo by UN Women Gallery https://flickr.com/photos/unwomen/5475551048 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

This week’s field sites were a city in southeast Turkey and five villages in south India associated with a high-tech development centred. The findings from the study which we discussed over the course of the week included:

  • Public spaces on social media tend to conform more to the locally dominant social norms; and more private spaces on social media tend to include more alternative expression of gender and politics.
  • Social media is a technology that allows things to happen easily and this leads to it being a double-edged sword.
  • Scalable sociality as a means to increase the distance between the private and the public.

The two themes discussed in this week’s exercises are more sensitive issues, which presented me with an additional issue to consider. I’ve always been incredibly careful about what I post online, whether through social media or not, so I try to steer clear of topics which might result in someone developing a view of me I would not prefer. If for example I expressed particular views on ‘Brexit,’ immigration or the Health Service, then I would be concerned that someone would be uncomfortable with the views I espoused. Strangely, I’m far less worried about doing that offline, where I have the freedom to explain at greater length, to have the luxury of being able to gauge the mood and where I can quickly deal with any misunderstandings.

It is perhaps not surprising to find that readily sharing political views varies across cultures around the world. In some areas, expressing a particular view can attract unwelcome attention from the state or in some cases, more local sources of authority. The freedom to express our views is largely taken for granted here in the UK, but are not universally enjoyed. For some, social media have been liberating, providing a communication channel they never had previously. Others worry about the public exposure their views would receive, compared with airing them within the family home or local coffee shop. Scalable sociality once more comes into play, since thoughtful and considered use of social media enables the selection of different audiences, with different levels of public-private exposure. Interestingly, in the discussions, several people remarked how rapidly one’s views can be distributed. There are advantages and disadvantages here, but it’s worth considering whether rate of distribution might be another dimension within scalable sociality. To what extent is the speed with which your views spread under your control?

Reflections

The discussion posts related to politics entangled within social media taught me more about life in other countries than I could ever have expected. I never realised the situation in Brazil was so tense and so polarised. In fact it was only when I caught a world news slot on the mainstream media quite late in the week that I became aware of the political turmoil there. It was interesting to balance that overview from the perspective of British media with the ‘inside’ view of Brazilians posted in the discussions.

I was intrigued by how some fellow course members responded to the views of one of the Indian field site interviewees. He had intimated that some of his friends didn’t know how to use Facebook. My peers remarked how strange it was to think there might be a right or wrong way, which prompted me to think whether there a different way of thinking about this might be as multiple Facebooks. I discussed this at (much!) greater length here.

In a previous post I mentioned a fellow course member with particularly entrenched views. Although I had originally not intended to engage him, eventually I gave way … and was glad to have done so. I found that seeking to pose an alternative view, in the most respectful way possible, required me to revisit my own knowledge and positionality. Similarly, when I came across another post critical of the research methodology in the study, I found that before responding, I needed to review and refresh what I know about ethnography and to seek out further information. I didn’t just blindly respond with my opinion. This supplementary activity actually resulted in me unearthing new insights for which I was grateful.

With the halfway point of the course now passed, I’m starting to notice the same ‘regulars’ posting comments. I don’t often see new people, so I assume those who were going to stick around have stuck around. I wonder too whether people largely have a pattern to their studies? Some might have blitzed through all the materials at the start. Others might be working at the weekly pace, but within that may have their own patterns; working at the weekends for example. If you do develop a routine though, that means that you’re more likely to encounter others who have adopted a similar routine. Does this mean you’re restricting the number of people with whom you can interact? I guess it depends on the extent to which you can scroll through all the comments made in a particular exercise, and whether those people who did the work a while ago are still around to answer any questions you posed to them?

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