Examples of Content Analysis

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.

Ethics & Digital Research:

One of the key criticisms of the social sciences by those in the physical sciences and by philosophers of sciences (see Karl Popper’s critiques of pseudosciences) is the lack of rigor in social science research.  This lack of rigor compared to the physical or “hard” sciences is not because of a lack of empirical evidence to be collected or falsifiable testing that can be done but is a natural consequence of the subject matter being examined, human behavior.  Social science research must be aware of the ethical implications has it attempts to understand the human mind, society, culture, events, etc.  A biologist studying an animal in its natural habitat can observe and take notes, take samples of the animal’s droppings or blood, and then leave with the animal barely wondering what had happened.  A human being would be greatly concerned by comparable occurrences.

As sapient beings, most people argue that humans have the right to not be monitored or have data collected on them without their consent.  This expectation of privacy and personal autonomy are ethical considerations for social science researchers. The mid-20th century saw the development of Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) to ensure that any human-subject research met ethical guidelines and principles such as those found in the Nurmerge Code, the Declaration of Helsinki, and The Belmont Report (Rice 2008).  The Belmont Report produced four ethical research requirements that follow their fundamental principle of respect for persons:

  1. Participants must voluntarily consent to participate in research
  2. The consent must be informed consent
  3. Participants’ privacy and confidentiality must be protected.
  4. Participants have the right to withdraw from research participation without penalty or repercussions.

(Rice 2008:4)

These requirements remain excellent ethical guidelines for social science research but the newest domain of social research, the digital domain, has made it easy to violate the spirit of these guidelines. Calling into question if ethical digital research can be done. This isn’t just an issue of what data can be accessed online but the scale and speed at which it can be analyzed.  Our daily habits can be recorded and be made publicly available information by us or by the platforms we interact with. The use of social media can blur the first requirement above regarding voluntary consent.  People submit census data voluntarily and they interact with social media voluntarily, so why not use the data?  Aside from the issue of public vs private collection of data, there are possible conflicts with the ethical requirements above.  First, in the first rule what is consented to is “participation in the research.” This can be obfuscated with lengthy end-user and terms of service agreements, blurring the second requirement, so those collecting the data can make a case that users have given informed consent.

Second is the effort, or lack thereof, given to the third and fourth requirements.  What constitutes privacy protections is a litigious debate constantly ongoing that is entangled with issues of public safety and bureaucratic procedures. While a person does not have the ability to withdraw from research using publicly available census data, those datasets do not contain information that would violate their privacy or confidentiality.  Research using digitally collected information often has data on individuals and those individuals are typically unable to withdraw from that research.  Even if the data is anonymized, constant comparisons to other datasets may eventually reveal the identity of the individual represented in a particular case (Wallace 2014). Privacy can be violated immediately when data collection can be done by the software is used to quickly scan, comb, and select relevant data as set by the researcher that is then quickly analyzed by statistical programs.  Information someone thought was only accessible to a few people has become a data point in a database that they did not consent to be apart of.

Digital research can be ethically done but the requirements of ethical research as outlined by the Belmont Report need to be treated as a continuous whole and not a step-by-step procedure.  If a person’s digitally generated data is being used in any research, then each step of that research needs to meet the spirit of these requirements. Since digital research effectively involves everyone in the world now, these guidelines set-up to complement and contrast scientific rigor must now be considered more general regulation on how data analysis is performed.  The digital domain has opened access to the individual at a scale that areas of social research have not had before.  Marketing, propaganda, and news can now be targeted towards individuals almost instantaneously.   Ethics in digital research is more than just a question of how social science research is performed but the importance placed upon personal privacy by society and those in power.

IRBs are insufficient to ensure the protection of people in human-subject digital research. Primarily because not everyone partaking in human-subject digital research are required to use IRBs.  This is complicated by research done for marketing purposes since the goal of the research is profit and not knowledge.  Additionally, private think tanks do not necessarily need to use IRBs if they do their own data collection.  Within academic and governmental research, IRB members and researchers may not have a full and proper understanding of the differences in how digital data collection can have different implications compared to physical observations. If ethical protections IRBs are supposed to provide are not instituted as industry regulation for private organizations engaging in human-subject digital research then IRBs exist has a half-measure in protecting participants in any social science research as all data is digitized. These considerations should be part of data production as it is generated on the digital platforms we use and not just as a review of proposed data collection.

It is possible to protect human subjects in digital research but it would require broader government regulation than there is a current political will to enact. Long and obtuse terms of service agreements would have to be made more accessible.  Privacy protections would have to be guaranteed as a matter of everyday living while being constantly surveilled by our digital devices.  The questions become “what kind of privacy protection?” or “at what point is digital data sufficiently anonymized?”  Like most matters of scale there is a gray area and no clear threshold at which data has been transformed into something that individual people can’t be identified.  A single dataset may be sufficiently anonymous within itself but when compared to other datasets that overlap, then privacy could be violated.

For individual researchers, they can take their own precautions after having cleared their IRBs to constantly re-check that their procedure and methods provide the protection of people’s identities and well-being that that is required by ethical guidelines like the ones presented above. If we are using data scrubbers, we need to make sure the dataset we put together has had all unessential, cross-referenceable data removed from it.  That can be anything from travel data to irrelevant (to the research) habits.  If a demographic marker is not a variable in our tests, remove it.   If we are collecting data ourselves or intend on quoting someone in publishable work, contact the individuals.  Even if you intended to anonymize it as “20-year-old on Twitter” that quote can be searched for. If your research topic is a sensitive one then critics and detractors of the person you are quoting may be able to find them.

The social sciences lack the supposed firmness of the physical sciences (which are pretty firm) and are derided as “soft.”  However, this “softness” is important because the subjects of the social sciences are our fellow human beings.  We must have a “soft touch” when it comes to the invasive and intimate procedures that are a part of social science research.  We can inject ourselves into other’s lives and ask them to pretend we aren’t there or hid among the crowds to silently observe and record.  The golden rule, do to others as you would have them do to you, is the ethic of reciprocity and sits above all other ethics. If we wish to be respected and have privacy we must treat others with respect and give them the privacy each individual deserves.

Sean Mahoney – ASSIGNMENT ONE: Getting to Know You

  1. Your name and where you are from
    • Sean Mahoney, Virginia (Now: Richmond, Originally: Northern)
  2. Your major
    • Sociology Master’s candidate
  3. Your research interests
    • Sociology of Education – Classroom and school social dynamics
    • Social & Political Philosophy – Power, Authority, Agency, and Individual vs Community
  4. Your programming experience, if any
    • HTML, back in 2002 (High School class)
  5. What you would like to get out of this course
    • Learning how to fine-tune my test and have better control of data analysis
  6. One interesting, unique or cool fact about yourself.
    • I shouldn’t be able to walk, probably.  My ACLs are basically non-function or non-existent.
    • Less depressing – I’m a Game Master, but haven’t done any since being in grad school.

“Fake News” – an overview of how it starts and spreads.

We seek to drink from the font of knowledge only the only spout is attached to a firehose.  Being online can feel like a constant deluge of information that is impossible to keep up with and difficult to verify.  We rely on knowledge and familiarity to help us filter which news story or post by a friend we choose to interact with. While less stressful than checking up on every story, we end up relying on our biases to make decisions about what we have read.  Social media has sped up this process as Erin Tucker discovered in 2016 when he tweeted a picture of what he interpreted to be buses full of people brought in to protest Donald Trump’s campaign in Austin, TX (Maheshwari 2016).  His photo was shared by his few followers and then thousands of times.  Except the buses were not associated with the protest and Mr. Tucker hadn’t seen anyone get on or off. This incident is a comparatively benign example of fake news, a half-truth with an unfounded interpretation that is then shared among people and the false information is treated as fact.

The more malignant version is when fake news is produced for money. In Tbilisi, Georgia (the country), Beqa Latsabidze capitalized on Americans’ hunger for partisan politics by creating a website that mixed real and fake stories that praised Trump and defamed Hillary Clinton.  Mr. Latsabidze and others like him see what they are doing as “Infotainment.” He was “amazed that anyone could mistake many of the articles [they] post for real news, insisting [the stories] are simply a form of infotainment that should not be taken too seriously” (Higgins, McIntire, and Dance 2016). I question Mr. Latsabidze’s genuineness in this statement.  Particularly because “fake news” and “infotainment” have been around for a long time but better known as tabloids/yellow journalism and satire news respectively. Mr. Latsabidze’s output resembles if someone put stories from the National Enquirer and the New York Times together and then said they were the Onion.

The Onion is perhaps the most well known “print” satire news at the time of writing.  It is known that it is satire and “understanding where the paper comes from… adds to our ability to discriminate likely legitimate stores from actual fakes” (Rubin 2019:1018).  It is hard to trust what you read at a glance when the stories have been aggregated or shared via social media.  You may not know the origin of a story, only seeing the headline, and interpret a more important meaning than the satire, tabloid, or click-bait title should have been given.  So while “fake news” has been around for a long time, social media has made it more difficult to determine what is the genuine article (Mihailidis and Viotty 2017, Timmer 2017, Rubin 2019).  This has lead to an increase in calls for better media literacy among the populace.

Social media places many blocks to media literacy as a matter of its nature. The chain of hyperlinks can be longer than a user wants to spend on an article they have a passing interest in reading (Mihailidis and Viotty 2017).  A shared link can have your friend’s impression instead of a subheading or opening sentence in the post. The companies that run the platforms can be affected by financial interest to allow particular behaviors to occur (Timmer 2017, Rubin 2019).  As with Mr. Latsabidze above, income for these platforms comes from ad revenue so there is motivation to post stories that will obtain clicks.  Sensationalist headlines designed to attract clicks can be simple click-bait (Rubin 2019) or it can appeal to people with a conspiracy mentality (Landrum and Olshanksy 2019). The issue of “fake news” isn’t limited to politics.  Scientific reports can suffer from false information being dispersed when that information supports a person’s world view (Landrum and Olshanksy 2019).  Scientific literacy is as important as media literacy but most research has gated access, creating fertile ground in conspiratorial minds. The current state of online access leaves academics in an ivory-walled garden that others cannot enter.  If we wish to tackle “fake news” our knowledge should be as open as we ask their minds to be.

Art Assets Licensed via Adobe Stock. © leremy.

REFERENCES

  • Higgins, Andrew, Mike McIntire, and Gabriel J. X. Dance. 2016. “Inside a Fake News Sausage Factory: ‘This Is All About Income’.” The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2019 (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/world/europe/fake-news-donald-trump-hillary-clinton-georgia.html).
  • Maheshwari, Sapna. 2016. “How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study.” The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2019 (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/business/media/how-fake-news-spreads.html).
  • Landrum, Asheley R., and Alex R. Olshansky. 2019. “The Role of Conspiracy Mentality in Denial of Science and Susceptibility to Viral Deception about Science.” Politics and The Life Sciences 38(2):193–209.
  • Mihailidis, Paul and Samantha Viotty. 2017. “Spreadable Spectacle in Digital Culture: Civic Expression, Fake News, and the Role of Media Literacies in ‘Post-Fact’ Society.” American Behavioral Scientist 61(4):441–54.
  • Rubin, Victoria L. 2019. “Disinformation and Misinformation Triangle.” Journal of Documentation 75(5):1013–34.
  • Timmer, Joel.  2017.”Fighting Falsity: Fake News, Facebook, and the First Amendment,” Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal 35(3):669-706

Go Public, Write A Novel

Coinciding with the rise of social media, public sociology as an explicitly designated discipline is relatively new.  Its purpose is to bring the “publics” into the discussions regarding social issues and research that impact them. In turn, non-academic audiences gain information about what academics have learned and can be motivated towards social and political activism thereby contributing to the body of knowledge. Over the last decade, social media has allowed sociologists to reach wider audiences and for those audiences to interact in kind. But it may not be enough.

Kieran Healy gives three aspects of social media that facilitates public sociology. It is easier to share your work with others, to be seen and converse in “real-time” or “shifted” via comments and replies, and to measure engagement by counting reactions, comments, shares, etc. (Healy 2017:771). The second aspect is essential to the “public” part of public sociology; the ability of the public to interact regardless of the original poster still monitoring their post. The downside is as your impact grows you become a larger target for harassment from those who disagree with or dislike what you post. Additionally, the desire to measure engagement can be problematic. Academic institutions can easily track and rank the intellectual output of their employees since these measures lead to knowledge about what works on social media. Unfortunately, Academics are not being rewarded by their institutions if their online work successfully reaches and grows an audience. Amy Schalet (2016) points out in her article, “Should writing for the public count toward tenure?” that what does count is publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals or books through university presses. This latter point is an opening to another tactic public sociology can take, fiction writing.

Don’t consider yourself creative enough? Consider how creatives have found similar success and problems on social media as academics have. The Web has removed gates for many who wish to share their works, leading to a proliferation of fine art and storytelling. It has also allowed for an intersection between creative and academic works.  Ben Wellington’s I Quant NY blog, combines his skills as a data analyst with his interests in city planning and improv comedy to write articles on infrastructure data that people actually read. He explains in a TEDx talk that it was his capacity for storytelling that drew attention from people and city institutions (TEDx Talks 2015).  However, storytelling can be difficult when the story is on-going and dynamic, as is often the case for the socially relevant stories sociologist want to tell. Fiction is not so constrained since it can have an end even if it’s not “the end.”

Literary fiction has been telling us stories relevant to their day for generations. Larry Isaac (2009) illuminates novel writing as part of social movements’ cultural productions. Labor Problem Novels were popular enough in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to be a subgenre of their own. “This process of genre differentiation changed literary cultural stock in ways that provided new materials for class-based understandings of the world” (Isaac 2009:958). But a single story is more a reflection of the culture or attitudes from one group than an implement of social change. It is the collection of cultural output and their diffusion through society can push social change (Inglis 1938, Albrecht 1954, Savci 2006). Research from the last few decades suggests that cultural diffusion is not reliant on social elites and has more to do with our social networks and surrounding socializing forces, such as media (Strang and Meyer 1993, Pierotti 2013, Schwadel and Garneu 2014). Perhaps the proliferation of media is even the cause of this. Gabriel and Young (2011) demonstrated how reading narrative stories can provide a connection to fictional social identities. When surveyed afterward, readers had self-associations with either wizards or vampires depending on if they read Harry Potter or Twilight.

Public sociology should make use of the connections people form with fiction. Some university presses have imprints for fiction publishing. It is not enough for sociologists to put their works out into the world; they must be read and be popularly diffused.  When you think you are going to write the next “Outsiders,” write “The Outsiders” instead.

Art Assets Licensed via Adobe Stock. © leremy.

REFERENCES

  • Albrecht, Milton C. 1954. “The Relationship of Literature and Society.” American Journal of Sociology 59(5):425–36.
  • Gabriel, Shira and Ariana F. Young. 2011. “Becoming a Vampire Without Being Bitten.” Psychological Science 22(8):990–94.
  • Healy, Kieran. 2017. “Public Sociology in the Age of Social Media.” Perspectives on Politics 15(3):771–80.
  • Inglis, Ruth A. 1938. “An Objective Approach to the Relationship Between Fiction and Society.” American Sociological Review 3(4):526–33.
  • Isaac, Larry. 2009. “Movements, Aesthetics, and Markets in Literary Change: Making the American Labor Problem Novel.” American Sociological Review 74(6):938–65.
  • Pierotti, Rachael S. 2013. “Increasing Rejection of Intimate Partner Violence.” American Sociological Review 78(2):240–65.
  • Savci, Evren. 2006. “Forging the Tools for Literary Content: Reflection Theory vs. Cultural Logic.” Conference Papers — American Sociological Association, 1. http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy.library.vcu.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,url,cookie,uid&db=sih&AN=26642280&site=ehost-live&scope=site.
  • Schalet, Amy. 2019. “Should Writing for the Public Count toward Tenure?” The Conversation. Retrieved November 25, 2019 (https://theconversation.com/should-writing-for-the-public-count-toward-tenure-63983).
  • Schwadel, Philip and Christopher R. H. Garneau. 2017. “The Diffusion of Tolerance: Birth Cohort Changes in the Effects of Education and Income on Political Tolerance.” Sociological Forum 32(4):748–69.
  • Strang, David and John W. Meyer. 1993. “Institutional Conditions for Diffusion.” Theory and Society 22(4):487–511.
  • TEDx Talks. 2015. “Making Data Mean More through Storytelling | Ben Wellington | TEDxBroadway.” YouTube. Retrieved November 25, 2019 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xsvGYIxJok).
  • Vezzali, Loris, Sofia Stathi, and Dino Giovannini. 2012. “Indirect Contact through Book Reading: Improving Adolescents Attitudes and Behavioral Intentions toward Immigrants.” Psychology in the Schools 49(2):148–62.

Weak social networks when you have to grow up early.

What stands out regarding those who have not adopted social media use in Social Media Divide is that they all have experienced some degree of social instability. The anticipation that demographic characteristics that make up the digital divide, such as socioeconomic disadvantages, would make up the same kind of people who were non-adopters of social media. The results instead showed that social isolation in the offline/physical world correlated with not using social media.  These people have been separated from the ability to hold normal social lives by circumstances that prevent stability and control in their lives. There are those who are either unintentionally dependent on relatives or were unprepared to have people dependent on them.  A third factor that can occur separately or compound the previous factors is that of job instability, where they are constantly seeking or striving to keep a job with no real connection to any continuing career.  These stress factors make so that their schedules are unreliable and thus unable to make the time for meeting up with old friends or making lasting new friendships.

As has been described in this and past readings, social media use is often supplemental to physical world interactions. Be it continuations of  regular social contacts or facilitation a long distance relationship of some form, the use of social media helps maintain and grow one’s social capital.  Those who have become isolated in the physical world do not have much social capital to start with and do not see the value in investing it a manner that can be seen as ephemeral. Much like the stock market, you feel like you need to have the capital to risk before investing it. Additionally, their current social situations leave them with obligations to dependents or their, typically low paying, jobs or simple it out the means to reach out.

Often these non-adopters also ended up having to leave their educations behind for one reason or another.  High school and college years are when most people make those social connections and learn how to use the latest technologies.  Without the ability to tap into these resources the non-adapters end up in a self-reinforcing cycle were the lack of use of socialization methods decrease their ability to access them in the first place. At least on an emotional level, which where socialization as the most effect.

Having worked retail for the majority of 20’s I can tell that I have seen this many times.  Those who had settled in to make a career out of retail would often use social media to keep in contact with their family, friends, and coworkers.  Some would have those dependent on them as described in the article but since they had settled in with their job they had at a sense of security about them that allowed them to open up to others.  Those in lower positions who didn’t have social support structures in place followed the model present here pretty closely.

The Race to Make an Impact

FIRST!

A common comment on many posts through out the web.  Particularly before the era of social media when static forum or bulletin board style posts were prevalent. There was rarely any other content in the comment beyond someone exclaiming “first” in it.  The idea is that the person will get something out before anyone else and will receive the most attention. With the coming of social media this transformed from simply commenting on events but posting about them as well. Now that content creation is easy and spreading it has been simplified, anyone and everyone is able to push their perspectives, ideas, and art out into the world faster than ever. Since everyone can publish almost as fast and as soon as they can produce, when something topical or newsworthy happens a race of sorts starts.

Suddenly a deluge of political cartoonist come forth to comment on what has transpired, but not everyone can draw.  Instead people edit images in programs such Photoshop or GIMP so they can express their creativity and ideas using images others have already created.  The race for attention produces those who will try to cheat as any competition does. Some will edit certain images together to give a false image of what is occurring in the world to make it more sensational.  Take the image of the Statue of Liberty being hit by wave during Hurricane Sandy 4 years ago. This was edited from a promotional image for the movie “The Day After Tomorrow.”  This was an edited image macro that was designed to draw the attention of others by showing something extraordinary. Sometimes an image doesn’t even need to be edited, someone can take an image from a past yet similar event and claim it as something from the current event. As with the Army guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, that rainy image had been taken many weeks before. An image posting, edited or not, can be done multiple times even because it’s practically guaranteed that someone hasn’t seen that image before.  It can be as innocuous as trying to post edited storm pictures to posting a picture of someone saying they died in the latest tragedy because they owe your friend money.  The drive to put content out there often coincides with the drive to obtain attention.

Sensationalism has worked in journalism for years and years, so it is not unexpected that it works in social media, where everyone is a reporter, commentator, and pundit.  It has been to increase sales, ratings, and now views or likes.  If you can grab people’s attention you have obtained a moment of excitement for yourself. If you are able to repeatedly grab their attention and hold, you now have a modicum of power that be exploited.

 

 

 

 

Trolls of all Shapes and Sizes

An internet troll is someone who purposefully posts inflammatory content  to online communities.  In his article, “Hate mail and cyber trolls: the view from inside public health,” Simon Chapman talks about the people who have sent him hateful and accusatory comments and email.  The article is predominantly examples of  the particular insults, the forms they take, and the places they occur.   Chapman points out how those who accost him with character defamation, misinformation, and threats are those who either have connections to industries Chapman has impeded in the past, such as tobacco companies, or are speaking anonymously.  The anonymity of many social platforms allows for people to express many points of view to the extreme as they wouldn’t be willing to in public since social recriminations are reduced to almost nothing.

However, this lack of social recriminations doesn’t necessarily mean that the extreme views presented are genuine. Sometimes these Trolls post inflammatory content solely for the purpose of causing others on the platform to react.  Whether these statements are genuine to what the Troll believes doesn’t matter, just that conflict, anger, and possibly even fear was caused by their work.  The anger is the main point as that often causes people to behave irrational which in turn will cause arguing in the comments.  This conflict will embolden some people who do agree with the Troll’s post and this cause conflict.  On other hand, the goal maybe to make the original poster or target to back off from their position entirely by threatening or insulting the target.  In either case, the result of conflict or fear means the Troll has been given power over the discussion. This is seen as a win to the Troll and therefore a validation of their behavior.

A statement used to combat this in many forums is, “Don’t Feed the Trolls.”  Meaning that if you don’t engage with them, then they can’t gain control the conversation.  Much like a bully in the real world, they are looking for reactions and the attention that comes with them.  This is certainly true when conflict is the goal. Same with fear the majority of them, however there are those rare moments were someone isn’t just bully but a genuine threat to your safety.  While in face-to-face interactions this is an immediate threat that is typically easier to recognize, it’s not so cut and dry in digital interaction.  There have been stories of people who take something so seriously, they will fly hundreds of miles just to stab another person.

Treating Trolls as digital bullies is the best way to deal with them. Ignore them if you can and if they don’t go away seek help from someone via that platforms administration or someone in the physical world that can work with the situation.  The internet and the web are about openness and the freedom so express any idea in whatever manner. This will clearly lead to many people trying to spread harmful and incorrect ideas, but there will be just as many people, if not more, there to be helpful and correct what has been done wrong. Just remember Cunningham’s Law, “the best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question, it’s to post the wrong answer.”

My Adaptations

Merton’s Typology of Modes of Individual Adaptations is a highly amorphous way of describing how people function and cope in society.  A person could be in a conformist in one regard, an innovator in another, and a rebel in yet another.  Merton uses his five types to analyze how people deal with the pressures of society.  The Conformist is someone who accepts society for what it is, desires the same things as society, and accepts the methods of how to obtain those desires.  The Ritualist and the Retreatist both accept society for what it is as well but agree with it’s desires, yet the Ritualist at least participates in that society.  The Innovator and the Rebel both see a need for change in society.  The Innovator is some who agrees with the overall goals but seeks new ways of obtaining those goals while the Rebel wishes to changes both the goals and methods of that society. These desires/goals and methods/means are how Merton explains our institutional norms and the patterns in them.  As we move through society encounter different social groups who have linked their cultural objectives with the norms and mores that have developed around them, aka traditions.  These traditions are often institutionalized to further the cause of obtaining those cultural objectives.  Such as when a government agency is formed to regulate or protect some aspect of our society we care about.

Since we all move through these types in our lifetimes I figured I should look back at certain parts of my life and see how they relate to the typology.  What two year old isn’t a rebel?  They have no care for goals or means of society, they are out to please themselves and of course two year old me would find great join in screaming as loud as possible.  At 6 most of us are probably conformists.  Some maybe innovators as they seek to subvert the rules a bit but most of us are seeking the approval of society via our parents.  With the strict upbringing of my parents I was probably the most truthful kid in my class, what a nerd.  By age 18 most of us have started down our own paths, mine was mostly that of the ritualist.  After high school, that I had coasted through, I didn’t even bother applying to any college and went straight to community college.  I started working retail and cared more about my hobbies (video games and anime mostly) than doing anything with my life.  Even though I eventually settled on a major I didn’t really do anything with it for years.

At 22 I was in my second attempt at  college working towards my AS in Social Science.  I more of a conformist at this point as I worked retail and went to school with the intention of furthering my scholastic career.  That got interrupted by comfort at my job and a long term relationship.  At age 24 that relationship had ended and I had returned to being a ritualist.  I had moved up in the company I was with at the time, had drifted away from my academic goals, and the money I was making made it easier to embrace my hobbies.  Over time I realized I had to find some conformity or I would continue to be unhappy.  I had the choice of conforming to being management in retail or I could conform to academia.  At age 30 I am here at VCU having been inducted into Alpha Kappa Delta, the sociology honor society.  I am clearly a conformist when it comes to academics and the scholastic institutions but it is my goal to become an innovator for how academia looks at itself in the years to come.

The picture is a collage of me. Left to right, top to bottom: Age 2 playing with a second cousin, Age 6 with father and middle brother (youngest was two months away), Age 18 Cosplaying at an anime convention, Age 22 at my father and step-mother’s wedding, Age 24 doing a haunted house station with youngest brother, and Age 30 at my AKD initiation.

Arbitrary in application on applications

Henry Louis Gates Jr. states in the first paragraph of “Race” as the Trope of the World that race is “so very arbitrary in its application.”  How various biological characteristics are culturally constructed to create this label of “race.”  Often this was used with exclusionary purposes in mind by the ones doing the labeling.  Perhaps one of the earliest examples of this comes from the Greeks, where you were either Greek or a barbarian.  That term grew to mean those who were uncivilized or uncultured among the Romans, which describe those not of the Greco-Roman civilization even though those people had names for themselves that the Romans knew and used as well.  It is this idea of civilization, of being civil and civilized, that has driven the need for such classifications beyond just “us and them.”

Gates discusses how Europeans view writing, “secondary to reason [but] is nevertheless the medium of reason’s expression.”  Writing is one of the requirements for what is classified as a civilization in the social sciences.  Writing is how history is recorded, large transactions are managed, and how information can spread long distances mostly unaltered from its source. “We know reason by its writing, by its representations” is the idea being inferred here. However, the spoken word is just as capable as writing in the transmission of culture and reason in a one to one interaction.  The desire by Europeans to classify and understand everything during the Enlightenment lead to further classifications of different groups of human beings, with White Europeans at the top.  Also who was included in “White” has changed over time.  Many of the people making these claims in Britain and America were of  Germanic decent, a group of people that were one of the barbarian tribes the Romans fought against.  Now they used the Romans letters as their own and tried to systematize the idea of race.  The African slave girl, Phillis Wheatley, that Gates uses an example of Africans who did learn to read and write as a method to combat the European view they were in “a lower place [on] the great chain of being.”  This lower place is how Europeans had justified the enslavement of Africans, by thinking of them as not fully human.

That great chain of being was also used to place other groups within Europeans as well.  Slavs, Irish, Romani, and ethnic minorities within nations were often classified lower before they obtained their “Whiteness” in the 20th century.  Many members of these groups take pride in those separate designations now as they use them to define their ethnic origin yet U.S. society only reflects part of this.  We see it in applications and government forms as we are asked about our race and ethnicity.  Some cover basic geographic regions and skin colors while others breakdown ethnic associates even further.  Some even include an “other” category so you can write in the designation of your choosing.

My father is one of those people who use the “other” category, he writes in “Celt.”  For those of unfamiliar with who Celts are, by today’s standard it is those with ancestry from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall, Brittany, or Galatia. My father is someone who wants to display his Irish ancestry and separate himself from what I simplify as “the Legacy of Rome.”  He looks at the history of European conquest and doesn’t see himself there.  The great empires of Europe weren’t Hallstatt, Gaul, Eire, or Cymru. It was the Romans, the Franks, the Angles and Saxons, the Spanish, the Germans, the French, and so on.  People want to be proud of their identity, whether it means changing the way people see the one your stuck with or by redefining yourself.  As a man with white skin who doesn’t see pride in that history of conquest, accentuating his Irish ancestry is a way to distance himself from that.  Not that I’m sure he’d see it that way.

It is interesting, from a historical perspective, to see how conquerors have justified their conquest.  Some have done it simply because the believed they could, some because they believed they were better than others and that their victory proved it, and others believed they were better and conquest was their way of spreading their superior way. It was seen as a duty and a right.  That right gave them permission to exploit those “lesser” than them.  The lesser they were, the more you could exploit them.  Africans were enslaved, the Chinese were given opioids, and the Irish were starved. This history of exploiting and exploitation has driven people to seek pride in the labels they have that removes their identity from that past.