Reflections and Ruminations

The readings this week really hit home with me. As someone invested in the exploring the relationship between media sources and knowledge production regarding war, I found both of these pieces incredibly helpful to re-framing thinking about information politics in the digital era.

Robertson and Travaglia provide us with the thematic gesture of this quarter of trying to find the connections between old and new. In this process, we’re drawn back to thinking about how the “new” builds on the old, the negative side of which is that we obscure the political nature of the structures on which the new has been fashioned. van Dijck and Poell’s piece then gives some depth to this narrative, weaving together dimensions of mass media theory and social media theory to show this exact relationship. Both of these texts point to the flowing, as opposed to ruptured, nature of shifts in information media.

While at times the van Dijck and Poell article seemed like a safari through the various scholarly approaches to mass media theory and social media theory (I found reading it in my head through the voice of Steve Irwin a somewhat rewarding project), I truly did appreciate the insights it gave to studying information media and social media in a more nuanced way. The authors approached the subject from both directions of the discourse surrounding social media (control and freedom) to really try to explore why these apparently oppositional approaches are relevant discussions, wrestling them into conversing with each other. I found this extremely helpful to propelling my own research interests in probing the informational atmosphere regarding war and militarism in the US. The point I got stuck on in moving forward my previous research revolved around this type of translation from “mass media” to new media – what is the relevance of television news today? This article pushed me to think beyond the media platform itself in order to shift the framework around how major news networks interact with social media to navigate discussion. This points towards a more nuanced understanding of how news networks view social media epistemologically, as well as to be able to start building a cross-media understanding of how public debate is framed through information networks. This opens up a number of doors for more nuanced study of the interplay between institutions, media platforms, and audiences/users in shaping the nature of debate regarding issues of war and protest.

This article gives agency to both sides of social media, placing it as an intermediary (which obviously can be more or less even of a playing field given the topic of discussion). This then places the burden of research involving information media on not just understanding one side or the other, but in examining the interplay between institutions and users, between social media and mass media. However, they also caution us about the dangers of framing research this way, citing the dangers in assuming that social media represent an organic and holistic “voice of the people.” This comes in their adherence against falling into the trap of the datafication of “the masses” through social media, stating that (in Louise Amoore’s words) “real-time data flows may say less about us, but more about ‘what can be inferred about who we might be’” (11). Not only does this provide a warning against the current epistemological weight of social media data, but it also connects back to our discussions of algorithmic culture and Robertson and Traviglia’s point that by studying data collection practices it becomes clear that “it is science and not society that we are seeing through such instruments.” Overall, these two articles seemed to pull together many strands of this course, as well as ones happening concurrently in Media Historiographies, surrounding social media, data, and the topic of old and new.

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Reflections and Ruminations

2 thoughts on “Reflections and Ruminations

  1. My main critique of “Understanding Social Media Logic” is that I felt a lot of ideas were introduced that felt either already evident or else weren’t invoked in a particularly useful way, and so I really appreciate that you’ve taken the nuggets and began to position them towards your own research. I think the larger themes you pull out (control vs. freedom, the masses vs. the platforms, etc) are really useful in the way you’ve been thinking about them, and I’m impressed by how you’ve done perhaps more work to engage with them than the article does to engage with you.

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  2. I think I tow a line somewhere between the opinion you’ve presented here, @nstrobel77, and the critique you make in your piece, @jeremysmoore. Like you, Nicole, I really did appreciate the effort that Van Dijck and Poell make to differentiate social medially from mass mediality, because although the former is certainly incipient in the latter, I think it’s quite clear that the *experience* of encountering, navigating, and sharing information through social media platforms is qualitatively different than that on offer from conventional mass media. I simply don’t encounter Twitter the way I used to encounter CNN, and even less so CBC – the Canadian public broadcaster, once notorious for its heavy-handed and sometimes dusty cultural didacticism. Describing these two modalities as distinct logics certainly has risks – I think it has a tendency of ontologizing differences that are in fact epistemological, historical, and institutional; as if social media technologies autopoietically generated their own governing protocols – but I think the way Van Dijck and Poell use the term is actually quite useful! They make it pretty clear that logic isn’t an ontological category. It’s something that emerges out of the contingent and vexed dynamics that take shape when various institutions, users, ideologies, and media conventions come into contact with one another. It’s a heuristic, sure, and so perhaps overdraws differences that are in practice quite porous and even indistinct. But I think it does a much better job than, say, Castells’ notion of power and counter-power – hinged to a blunt periodization between mass and digital media – in describing both the differences and continuities between emergent social media platforms and established mass media institutions.

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