Content analysis is a method of research that examines the contents of media to find trends and themes within the topic being studied. Traditionally, a source may be focused around the research topic, such as a book or film, or be more general with a focused element, such as a news article. The ubiquity of the constant and neigh-instantaneous access of information the Internet provides has made content analysis easier and has also expanded the media that can be analyzed. Online forums and social media have turned informal social interactions into analyzable records that previously would have required an ethnographer to spend months to years studying and interacting with a group of people. The following two articles discussed are examples of what content analysis looks like in the digital age.
Internet forums are a predecessor to what we understand as social media today. Instead of a constant feed of post and information, forums are organized with varying levels of specificity that can provide a more in-depth and long term look at the community around a particular topic. In Keeping it In “The Family”, Dr. Gina Longo studied how people discussed and advised on transnational marriages on the Immigration Pathway’s regional forums. She was seeking to understand how community members in these forums defined red flags in a transnational relationship to determine if it was genuine (romantic) or fraudulent (just so the immigrating partner could obtain a green card). The focus was on two regional forums: the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) forum and the Belarus/Russia/Ukraine (BRU) forum since those two had the highest proportion of threads about red flags. Longo lurked on the forums for two years – or as she phrased it “ethnographic immersion… as a bystander” (2018:475) – analyzing member’s post to understand the “what, how, and why” of their stories. The key difference between the members of each forum was that MENA primarily had American women asking for advice on MENA men while BRU had American men asking for advice on BRU women. Dr. Longo found that the ideology and expectations of “the hegemonic family” in America were present in the gender and sexual double standards present in how members of the MENA and BRU forums judged marriages to be “genuine” for immigration purposes (2018:471).
“Women’s sexuality and gender differentially structure the process of negotiating red flags for men and women petitioners, and the right to confer citizenship. This provides sexual privileges to men citizens, allowing them to use their sexual pursuit of young, desirable, foreign women to prove their manhood to peers while bestowing their citizenship status more freely upon their chosen mates. However, women citizens with the same intentions are considered desperate fools, incapable of controlling their emotions or the border. Consequently, their relationships appear more suspect and in need of policing” (Longo 2018:487).
Behaviors that were red flags for women on the MENA forum were seen as normal or acceptable for men on the BRU forum. Examples that Longo highlighted in her article are short courtships, fertility/virility, sending money, and sexual interest. The only congruous point on these issues with fertility/virility as it is ok for men to be older in a relationship but not women in either forum.
The other article analyzes how digital feminists have used the Internet to “challenge the rape culture they experience in their everyday lives” (Keller, Mendes, and Ringrose 2018:22). Rape culture consists of many elements that serve to objectify and subordinate female sexuality, ranging from policing of women’s bodies and clothing to street harassment to sexual assault. In Speaking “Unspeakable Things,” Drs. Keller, Mendes, and Ringrose used the anti-street harassment website, Hollaback!, and the social media platform Twitter for their analysis of how women and girls speak about their experiences with rape culture. On Hollaback!, they read through stories of street harassment that entailed highly sexualized comments, the witnessing of obscene gestures, being followed/blocked/corners, or being leered at (Keller et al. 2018:26). On Twitter, they followed the hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported and interviewed some of the teenage activists there. They found that the use of social media platforms made the issue of rape culture more visible and outlines a new method of mediation and connection for the women and girls to communicate their experiences.
Both of these studies worked to capture the nature of the online communities analyzed and how they communicate about the respective research topics. Keeping It In “The Family” shows how forum members discuss their ideologies on what transnational relationships should look like. Women on the MENA forum express protectionism and caution, warning newcomers about be wary of MENA men looking to take advantage of “desperate” women. On the other hand, men on the BRU forum demonstrate ideas about masculine power and control over female bodies with one member stating that “looking for love” isn’t necessary when looking for “a wife, concubine or whatever” (Longo 2018:478). Speaking “Unspeakable Things” provides multiple examples of how some women and girls found being able to discuss rape culture via Twitter had provided an important outlet. One interviewee credited the “solidarity and support [found on Twitter had given] her the strength and power to report her rape to her campus security” (Keller et al. 2018:29). In collecting their data, Keller, Mendes, and Ringrose discovered another element within the content of Twitter as they found a high number of teenaged feminist activists on the social media platform.
Each of these studies provides different looks into how to interpret and reason with the content being analyzed. Longo uses an inductive method by experiencing the lingo or jargon used by the members of the forums and turning those phrases into quantifiables instances. What particular themes and the associate ideologies and behaviors would be expressed by the forum members is not something Dr. Longo would necessarily have know going into the study. The method used by Keller, Mendes, and Ringrose appears to be deductive when analyzing Hollaback! at least since particular street harassment behaviors, such as obscene gestures or highly sexualized comments, are more likely to be known variables. They could have had an idea of how they were going to group and quantize the stories and other content they read.
As I am relatively new to content analysis, there is nothing I would do any different in these studies. As presented, each article appeared to have a solid grasp on the topics they presented. There are potential areas where information could have either been added to these studies or form a basis for further study. Longo’s study could be expanded to examine degrees or kinds of “other” that occurs in the forums in regards to the transnational partner in the relationships being discussed. MENA men are treated as potential sexual or financial predators while BRU women are viewed as objectified bodies. For Keller’s, Mendes’s, and Ringrose’s study there could be further exploration of what goes into women’s decisions to interact online/on social media and then deciding (or not) to take action offline as well. Every research method has its benefits and drawbacks and each paper must present itself as succinctly as possible while remaining informative so it can be difficult to determine what additions would truly enrich these or any other studies once they are published.