I wanted to see how the strike actions are doing in terms of online Twitter activity. The data comes from all #fairpayinhe tweets from 6th – 10th February (which covers a one day and two hour strike). 2436 tweets make up the graph below:

fairpayinhe graphAnd here is some basic statistics on what is in the tweets:

Top URLs in Tweet in Entire Graph Entire Graph Count
http://www.unison.org.uk/news/higher-education-members-strike-for-fair-pay 68
http://fairpay.web.ucu.org.uk/2014/02/07/he-two-hour-strike-10-february-2014/ 37
http://union-news.co.uk/2014/02/dock-us-days-pay-two-hour-strike-well-strike-day/ 26
http://fairpay.web.ucu.org.uk/2014/02/04/a-new-briefing-on-the-he-dispute-for-students/#.Uvih0KYFG7A.twitter 22
http://fairpay.web.ucu.org.uk/2014/02/04/a-new-briefing-on-the-he-dispute-for-students/#.UviW3Yg9oCp.twitter 22
http://storify.com/ucu/what-is-a-university 19
http://fairpay.web.ucu.org.uk/2014/02/04/a-new-briefing-on-the-he-dispute-for-students/#.UviUC2ic1Mk.twitter 18
http://storify.com/counterfireorg/he-strike-6-feb-fairpayinhe?utm_content=storify-pingback&utm_source=direct-sfy.co&utm_medium=sfy.co-twitter&utm_campaign=&awesm=sfy.co_gbVm 18
http://fairpay.web.ucu.org.uk/2014/02/05/live-6-february-he-strike-action/ 17
http://www.fairpayinhe.org.uk/whos-signed/ 17

 

Top Hashtags in Tweet in Entire Graph Entire Graph Count
fairpayinHE 1811
fairpayinhe 208
tubestrike 146
ucu 101
UCU 97
FairPayinHE 70
FairPayInHE 61
solidarity 52
Unite 51
EIS 43

 

Top Words in Tweet in Entire Graph Entire Graph Count
rt 1860
fairpayinhe 1717
ucu 1042
strike 865
pay 439
today 322
picket 265
students 261
solidarity 246
more 244

 

Top @ Mentioned in Entire Graph Entire Graph Count
ucu 727
unisoninhe 154
unisontweets 147
[Anonymized for privacy] A writer 138
unitetheunion 85
ucuscotland 69
[Anonymized for privacy] A lecturer 43
[Anonymized for privacy] A socialist feminist 38
ucummoss 38
leedsucu 37

 

Top Hashtags in Tweet in Entire Graph Entire Graph Count
fairpayinHE 1811
fairpayinhe 208
tubestrike 146
ucu 101
UCU 97
FairPayinHE 70
FairPayInHE 61
solidarity 52
Unite 51
EIS 43

Though we increasingly understand what happens online is not any less ‘real’ than what happens offline, it can be easy for some to perceive that they are talking to a computer when they post on social media, rather than publishing within a space of public social communication. For example, there have been many cases on Twitter and Facebook where disgruntled employees post inappropriate messages about their bosses, which they would not have uttered offline. The logic here is that the act of typing on a keyboard can sometimes lead to a perception that what you type is somehow less ‘real’ or perhaps kind of trivial.

 

But, of course, it is no less real or trivial. Social media sites such as Twitter have been host to racialized talk about immigration or can respond to events in racialized ways (for example Charlene White’s refusal to wear a poppy). In terms of anti-racism, Twitter users often police the medium for ‘casual’ forms of racism. It is the latter that I have taken a particular interest in within my research of social media and Twitter specifically. So when Madonna used the N-word on January 17, 2014 via Instagram, my casual racist sensor went off. For those not familiar with this incident, Madonna Instagrammed a picture of her son Rocco Ritchie while boxing, adding the caption: “No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out! #disni**a”. Madonna’s million plus Instagram followers received the image, which nearly instantaneously circulated to Twitter and  its diverse audiences. Not only is the use of the N-word clearly inappropriate, but embedding it within a racial hashtag contributes to larger hashtag-based casual racist discourses on Twitter and other social media. Madonna’s Instagram photo caption reveals that she sees a certain normalcy of the N-word. More dangerously, her worldwide celebrity status, legitimizes racial hashtags through her casual use of the N-word on Instagram.

 

Though it is important to make larger arguments about how the Madonna incident is a case of casual racism which has major implications, I think it is also important to understand the micro-level interactions on social media which Madonna prompted. To do this, I first collected all tweets with the #disni**a hashtag and then did the same for all tweets containing ‘Madonna’. The latter had very little to add in terms of data that was not already encompassed by the former. As #disni**a was a more inclusive search term, I created a graph of this network.

#disni__a network graph

[squares represent users with more than 1,000 followers and the size of the user icons is scaled by the number of RTs or @mentions].

 

The noticeable black square (between the blue and purple squares) represents Madonna (rather than her tweeting out, people are tweeting at her). The blue square represents an East Asian-American actor/comedian on MTV (@Traphik ; 420,000 followers) who tweeted “Lol Madonna hashtagged a pic with #disnigga!? Do u kids see what uve done! It’s like grandpa saying “yo homie G” cuz it’s all he hears!”. The purple square represents a black female blogger (@luvvie) with over 27,000 followers who had two tweets heavily retweeted, “Madonna talmbout she called her son #DisNigga as term of endearment. I wanna lock her in a stadium of seats so she can pick plenty to have” and “If Madonna is calling her white son #DisNigga, what is she calling her little Malawian son? I’m unable to deal.” It is interesting that the two centers of the tweet network for #disni**a are not white and both use humor to interrogate Madonna’s Instagram incident. From a social graph perspective, they steered the conversation on Twitter.

 

Madonna’s racist outburst was clearly racist and was covered in the popular press as such. The ‘thought leaders’ on Twitter around the #disni**a hashtag, however, saw this as an opportunity to both ridicule Madonna (e.g. PTraphik labeling Madonna as an out of touch Grandma), but also reflect on her use of the racial slur. Madonna made clear that she did not intend the comment as ‘a racial slur’ and that she is ‘not a racist’. However, this incident highlights the extreme prevalence of racialized language on social media, when even a self-purported liberal celebrity who pushed gender boundaries in the 80s/90s uses a racialized hashtag. I think this incident makes clear that we should not be lulled into a false sense of security of de-racialized virtual spaces, but that the virtual can also give us glimpses into peoples’ backstage lives, which we would not usually have access to offline. Ultimately, the Material Girl has been shamed on Twitter. It would have been nice to see more of a critical engaged discourse on Twitter about the incident, but that is not how social media usually operates.

A version of this blog has been published by The Runnymede Trust on their Race Card blog.

When we think of 10th birthdays, we think of youth and the cusp of tweenhood. But Facebook at 10, like many technology companies, is seen by some as an octogenarian. Social media technologies like the ephemeral snapchat are seen as nubile and exciting while Facebook is seen as part of an old guard status quo. Whether one loves or hates Facebook, the medium has become part of everyday life for many across the world. It has developed a gargantuan user base of 1.23 billion (passing 1 billion in 2012‎ and nearly a billion active mobile users). And one third of US adults get their news from Facebook. To say you are ‘Facebook friends’ with someone is an understood relationship. In other words, Facebook is part of many everyday lives.

 

Ultimately, Facebook has tremendous influence on what content is being consumed on the Internet. For example, the virality of the controversial Kony 2012 video, which sought to bring to justice the internationally wanted Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony, was influenced strongly by sharing of the video amongst Facebook friends. Friends kept seeing the Kony video on their feed and decided to view it. Many then posted the video as a status update and changed their photo to a Kony 2012 banner.

 

Though Facebook has grown rapidly, there are also segments of backlash, ‘Facebook fatigue’, against the pervasiveness of Facebook as illustrated by movements such as the 2010 ‘Quit Facebook Day’. Survey research found that 23% of American teens pulled in 2013 found Facebook to be the most important social site to them, a figure down from 42% in 2012. Some fear that ‘Facebooking’ may be affecting the interaction of co-present individuals in that they may place priority on Facebooking the moment rather than ‘living’ in it. Facebook has also been criticized for the ease of its use in cyber-bullying and its circulation of controversial videos (including beheading videos).

 

But as Facebook’s techno-dog years pile on, there is a serious question here about the future of Facebook. Some think it is too big for its own good and is destined the way of defunct social networks like Myspace. For example, a recent article in Time by Sam Frizell (@Sam_Frizell) drew attention to a paper by Cannarella and Spechler which uses disease models to infer, “the future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.”

 

Though Facebook’s user base could decline rapidly in the coming years, I find predicting social technology use by epidemiological models problematic. Though some may see Facebook use as akin to a disease, it is after all a communications technology. Mobile telephone and e-mail use continues to grow. And as we become more networked, our desire to interact on online social networks is more akin to e-mail adoption than disease models. I think the real question here is more an economic one. Myspace died out as Facebook aggressively took over its market share. Whether Facebook’s market share will erode after it turns 10 is better served by economic models which take into account complex market dynamics.

 

Though its future is uncertain, its last ten years have seen Facebook become part of the fabric of our daily social communication. Facebook has also been in the international spotlight and been important to various sociopolitical movements. For example, the ‘We Are All Khaled Said’ group was prominently used in the Arab spring in Egypt in 2011. Communications technologies evolve and adopt to our social needs. As society has become more mobile, we have moved from landlines to mobile telephones and e-mail. Also, technology can and does become replaced. My view is that if Facebook goes the way of Myspace, another online social network technology would fill the void as we live in a global networked society where we now expect to connect with friends, colleagues, world news, and family in integrated multimedia social networks like Facebook (and Myspace and Friendster before it). So if Facebook does die off in the next five years, its effects on social communication will be felt for many years to come.

A newer version of this article was published in The Conversation.

I have published about Twitter and cancer in my book as well as in articles. However, it is not every day that the topic itself reaches global media coverage. Cancer is a disease which continues to be surrounded by taboos and its coverage is often about novel research or innovative treatment modalities. While we understand more and more about cancer, media coverage generally does not focus on the disease and Twitter. Enter Lisa Bonchek Adams (@adamslisa), a breast cancer patient whose cancer has spread to her bones and mother of three from Connecticut.

 

She has tweeted over 165,000 times (with many of those about her own cancer experience). She tweets about her current state (e.g. on January 4: ‘Very rough day here. Dizziness, weakness, pain. Need the tumors to shrink for relief. That will take time: chemo and radiation.’) and about media coverage of cancer (e.g. on December 30: ‘Articles about “defiant patients” who “refuse” to accept prognoses continue to reinforce the BS that attitude determines long term survival.’) for example. As I discuss in my book, there are many cancer patients, survivors and their family members who use Twitter to find out about treatments, side effects, or as a place of support. In other words, what Lisa Bonchek Adams is part of a much larger trend of cancer patients using Twitter.

 

However, Emma Gilbey Keller a US-based columnist for The Guardian took offense to Adams’ tweets and wrote a column (since removed by The Guardian) which argues that @adamslisa is sharing too much on Twitter and even goes so far as to say she is ‘dying out loud’. Emma Gilbey Keller wrote in the column, “Should there be boundaries in this kind of experience? Is there such a thing as TMI [too much information]?”. My work on social media clearly indicates that social media has shifted the boundaries of public and private and what is considered TMI now versus pre-Facebook and Twitter has changed quite a bit. Therefore, Keller’s argument seems out of context and disconnected with the Twitter Age we live in. Indeed Emma Gilbey Keller’s unsympathetic comment of “dying out loud” ["She's in terrible pain. She knows there is no cure, and she wants you to know all about what she is going through. Adams is dying out loud."] misses the larger social context here, which is that we do quite a lot of things “out loud” on social media from announcing what we had for breakfast to how we are having a fight with a best friend.  Ditto for births, deaths, and cancer diagnoses.

 

Bill Keller (Emma Gilbey Keller’s husband and former executive editor of the New York Times) weighed in via a column in the New York Times where he argues along the same vein as his wife, but went a step further, adding that she should die quietly rather than loudly on Twitter. Social media has been ablaze with angry responses from cancer patients, survivors, their family, and the general public. Besides his harsh condemnation of Adams, Bill Keller also makes an unnatural distinction between the online and offline worlds, emphasizing her writing as ‘tweeting’ rather than as an important form of publishing. And, there are many patients of terminal or other serious illnesses who publish and journalists don’t write about them ‘dying loudly’. This is a critical distinction as online writing is no less ‘real’ than the printed word, indeed broadsheet ink has become the minority today anyways! Moreover, publishing on Twitter is not intended by most Twitter users as broadcast to a wide audience. Rather, many use it as a form of diary writing or a means to broadcast to their specific, usually small audience of followers. Doctors often ask cancer patients to reflect on their experience to better their psychological health and some patients find Twitter to be an ideal outlet for this.

 

One of the values of Twitter and other social media is that they have been found to help patients of terminal and other major illnesses stay socially connected, whereas many often become socially isolated. Or as one study puts it:, social media “may help promote patient happiness and safety and serve as an educational platform.”. This has real benefits for health. Because cancer patients on Twitter do not usually have the goal of reaching large audiences on Twitter, but rather often use the medium as a diary or to form small support networks, they are often not trying to deliver a specific normative message. Or as @adamslisa tweets: “Why is she tweeting if it hurts so much?” I am sure people ask. It helps to distract me especially when I am alone (it’s 6 AM here).” This distraction through publishing on Twitter is something many cancer patients who tweet feel and there is research to support a net health benefit.

 

Though social media can have medical disinformation and is not always a good thing for all cancer patients, this is not a decision for the Kellers’ to make. Rather, it is a case for individual cancer patients and survivors.

 

To hear more of my take on Twitter and Cancer, you can listen to me on the BBC World Service.

The role of social media in activist movements is a regular staple of news media. Just recently, political activism in Ukraine over the issue of whether Ukraine should join the European Union has been discussed across several hashtags on Twitter. As the Ukranian state cracked down on protests in Independence square in Kiev, I have been reflecting on the role of Twitter in recent social and political movements. I recently spoke on the BBC Radio 4′s Thinking Allowed about the role of Twitter in social movements and the BBC World Service’s Have Your Say regarding the cases of Ukraine and Thailand more specifically.

More close to home, the UCU, UNISON, and UNITE are striking over fair pay in higher education. And, though much more localized in comparison to Ukraine and Thailand, Twitter is being used (via #fairpayinhe) to coordinate real-time discussion during the strike action. Des Freedman asked me to blog about Twitter and activism as he is staging a ‘teach-out’ (#goldteachout) today during the strike action and wanted to include some material on social media and movements. This blog post attempts to highlight the complex and nuanced role social media plays in contemporary activism using the case of recent events in Ukraine to provide a context.

In Ukraine over the weekend, the #Euromaidan hashtag (and, to a lesser extent, #Ukraine) has been used as venue for both citizen journalism and to circulate news regarding the Ukranian protests against President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to scrap an EU accession deal. Tweets were not restricted to citizen journalists, but included lawmakers as well. For example, Andriy Shevchenko, opposition Ukranian lawmaker, tweeted: “The Maidan has been brutally mopped up,” referring to the government’s violent dispersal of Independence Square in Kiev. On a more micro-level, various social media has been used to circulate firsthand accounts of Independence Square (via YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter).

@ivanbandura TwitPic in Kiev

@ivanbandura TwitPic in Kiev

For example, the Twitter user Ivan Bandura (@ivanbandura), acting as a citizen journalist, tweeted from Kiev: ‘Despite the cold and rain tonight, people still came to protest Ukraine government’s snub to EU #euromaidan pic.twitter.com/G50TX5n0G1′

The violent disbursal by the Berkut (Ukrainian special forces) incensed young Ukranians in Independence Square who turned to Twitter and other ubiquitous social media to report their version of what took place on the ground. As news reports indicate, many of the protesters in Kiev were armed with smart phones. In the case of the Arab Spring, many of the #egypt tweets, for example, were being produced outside of the Middle East. The case of the Ukraine may be the same (with empirical study needed to confirm or discern differences). However, there is a prima facie indication of greater citizen perspectives rather than a glut of celebrity retweets as the tweet below highlights:

“I will get cold or sick, or even die in Kyiv, but I will go [there]! Because otherwise my consciousness would not allow me to live here if everything works out #євромайдан” (from @neksichka via globalvoicesonline)

The Kyiv Post headlined: ‘Role of social media in EuroMaidan movement essential‘, arguing that ‘unlike the Orange revoultion’, Twitter and Facebook were central to EuroMaidan. They report that the frequency of tweets from November 21-28th ranged from 1,500-3,000 (which is not insignificant). Though prima facie, this seems important, it is not the raw frequency that is important as many of these tweets could be retweets of news stories (again, empirical work would be needed to discern this). What did definitively happen is that social media use went up during EuroMaidan. My argument here is not of a Twitter revolution, but that we tweet during activist movements (I found the same during natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and the Tōhoku earthquake in Japan).

Any technology that is around/cost-effective/efficient will be used during activist movements. This was true of cassette tapes and photocopies in the 1970′s in Iran and social media today. In other words, the difference is that we now have social technologies that are exponentially more advanced and have far greater reach than older technologies such as faxes or cassette tapes. However, the inherent utility of technology to social activism has not changed in principle. Rather, social media are technologies and just that. Reifying them is dangerous. Rather, social media are used to facilitate activism around issues that have bred sufficient sociopolitical discontent ex-ante (i.e. the discontent is not fomented by the technology per se but rather social technologies are used to inform and rally). In other words, people have been feeling the social issues around them in their everyday lived experience. Social media technologies provide ubiquitous modes of broadcast that can help individuals join global discursive collectives to express those feelings during and after a movement to a wider audience that would not be possible in a localized space. A big difference is also that actors on the ground who are not professional journalists can broadcast their views and experience. Most likely their voice will be blurred into a hashtag – which is not ineffective – and exceptional tweets can be picked up by major news media and circulated to a wide, global audience. Though, it is the exception rather than the rule for tweets to garner a global audience. This highlights a very important point: the efficacy of social media is often dependent on the fact journalists are active on social media and see social media as an integral part of their source mix. Because of this link, social media is important to a movement’s strength on the ‘media battleground’ of winning hearts and minds, an argument made by the Wall Street Journal reporting in Thailand.

As I sit in a cafe writing this, there are three students at a table across from me (one American and one British and one French). I can’t help but overhear as they are talking about the HE strikes. The American says ‘it’s such a British thing to strike’. The British student retorts saying strikes are a very European thing and the French student concurs. It strikes me [pun intended] that it is just this type of discourse which takes place on Twitter during many protests. In other words, perhaps we should be thinking of Twitter as providing a massive public sphere during an activist movement. And like any public space, certain interlocutors have power and  influence over others and certain conversations stay micro (like the cafe chat I am eavesdropping on). But unlike the cafe chat, any Twitter conversation can be lifted from obscurity as it is a public medium (and the interlocutors may not even want their tweets to leave the realm of obscurity).

Ultimately, we need to ask whether tweets lead individuals or collectives of protesters, in the case of Thailand for example, to seize government buildings and offices, actions which placed them in direct danger. What I mean is that there must be a compelling motive to bring people to the streets and it is usually not a tweet. In the case of the HE strikes, it is years of unhappiness over low pay that rallied the unions and HE staff to strike (twice). Twitter and other social media can help circulate news and information real time from citizen journalists and journalists alike, but social media are not usually instrumental in breeding the discontent.

Yesterday, JL Johnson @jaeljohnson was teaching my Twitter book to his Sociology 101 class at George Mason University. He asked his class to summarize my Twitter book in less than 140 characters.

@jaeljohnson tweeted: “Limitless comm in digi era&brevity reigns @dhirajmurthy asks good/bad? Look @ history 4 connections w/past tech says +info -depth #sociology”

When he and some of his students tweeted at me regarding this assignment, it reminded me of the many occasions I have been asked to summarize my book into a tweet. A former colleague of mine, Brian Purnell, asked me to do this during a filmed discussion (on YouTube) we had about my book. The best I could come up with on the spot, at the time was ‘I tweet therefore I am’, a reference to a chapter in my book which plays on the famous Cartesian aphorism. But, I quickly backtracked (as I do in my book) saying that Twitter does not follow the strict, reductive Cartesian dualism (separating mind and body), but rather is a part of modern social communication for many of us. What I mean by this is that Twitter is highly socially embedded for many users and any strict dualism is highly problematic. I ended up in my response to Professor Purnell [around 1:13 on the YouTube video] with the answer: ‘I am social therefore, I tweet’. This ties in with the larger argument in my book that Twitter is part of complex social relations and we tweet for a multitude of  sociopolitical reasons, which span from updating our followers to what we just ate to a cancer diagnosis or, more criminally, to hitting a cyclist (with that tweet leading to the Tweeter getting arrested).

I’m glad to hear my book went down well in @jaeljohnson’s sociology 101 class! I thought that the class’ tweet was insightful in teasing out some of the key aspects of my book, including its commitment to historicizing Twitter.

This week, I have been invited to be a guest on Laurie Taylor’s BBC Radio 4 Program Thinking Allowed to talk about my book, Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age (Polity Press). The BBC has kindly linked to my blog and I thought I would blog some quotes from the book that can both serve as talking points, but also a way in which to stimulate critical discussion of Twitter (via my blog’s comment space at the bottom of the page).  Twitter is at a particularly formative time as the company is gearing up for a initial public offering on the NASDAQ of ~ $20 billion. I look forward to comments as well as tweets directed to @dhirajmurthy.

Selected quotes from Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age (Polity Press):

“…like a radio, a user’s Twitter timeline could be playing in the background and if the user becomes interested in a particular story, Twitter moves from the ambient periphery to the active center”

“The ability to tweet and post YouTube videos of your “disaster experience” has the potential for normally marginalized individuals and groups to update the world about their situation”

“Hashtag categories illustrate the ability of Twitter to be both an individual and communal news space simultaneously”

“Twitter is not displacing traditional media… [and] news organizations have found the medium useful in their coverage of breaking news”

“Phantom’ Twitter accounts…post banal information with a trending hashtag to dilute activist hashtags”

“Twitter and Facebook… lend themselves to being used by authorities to ‘spy’ on activists”

“‘Citizen-journalists,’ non-professional journalists, are taking pictures from their smartphones and embedding them in tweets, and this material has now become part of some journalists’ source mix.”

“much of the talk on Twitter is monological, or just never listened to or responded to”

“it is impossible to monitor the integrity of information on Twitter”

“Twitter’s citizen journalism is not exempt from the hierarchies endemic in traditional media industries. Rather, new forms of elitism are emerging”

“tweets regarding breaking news, disasters, and public health epidemics can be misleading, incorrect, or even fraudulent”

”Tweets are analagous to bees in that they exist both as individuals and as part of a collectively built whole”

“Twitter in some ways has redefined existing cultural practices such as diary keeping, news consumption, and job searching”

“Twitter works…because [you] stop thinking about what you’re revealing and who’s on the other end.”

“Twitter has not determined social sharing across great distances, but has facilitated already emergent shifts in social behaviors.”

“If a tweet is retweeted often enough or by the right person(s), it gathers momentum that can emulate a snowball effect”

“Twitter enables users to wear two hats of producer and consumer.”

“even if the audience is not “obvious or apparent,” that does not translate to an absence of an audience with tweets disappearing into the ether”

instagram your food

I just searched for #food on Instagram and received 27189059 photos back!

In my broader work, I have seen tagged instagrams of food people are about to eat at restaurants. The posting of one’s plate became popular on Flickr and Facebook, but has seen a dramatic increase on Instagram. Not only have filters been key to crafting a particular visual aesthetic, but Instagramming bizarre, shocking, and beautifully presented food has become increasingly popular. In my book, I discuss a notion of ‘update cultures’, where we have seen an increasing social trend of updating the world about our lives. This can be seen when people travel and post to Facebook during their trip about their experiences. Additionally, they may be more likely to Instagram their restaurant experiences while traveling.

I have been doing work on instagram use during Superstorm sandy and have found that instagrams of food and pets had a humanizing effect during the disaster.

In the world of restaurants, UrbanSpoon, TripAdvisor, and other sites have been seen as important social media to bringing customers to restaurants. Because Instagram uses hashtags, it is able to leverage patterns of ‘electronic word-of-mouth’ (eWOM) similar to Twitter. Scholarship on social media has shown that eWOM recommendations from one’s social media network carry much more weight than anonymous reviews. This extends to Likes and Check-Ins too. This has been something tested broadly in marketing scholarship under the notion of ‘earned’ rather than ‘bought’ advertising. One tweet or Instagram promoting a particular restaurant has a powerful effect on consumption, which sociologists should pay attention to!

Please cite this as: Murthy, D. (2013), “’Hate-watching’ and Twitter”, iSociology,  http://www.dhirajmurthy.com/hate-watching-and-twitter

In my Twitter research, I have been exploring ‘social television watching’. There are two key points which come to mind regarding how the rise of social media has impacted our approach to television-viewing generally. First, scholarship on television has seen TV viewing as ‘parasocial’, an unbalanced relationship where television viewers feel ‘intimacy at a distance’ with celebrity actors (MR Levy 1979). In other words, TV viewers perceive an intimate relationship, where they have the illusion that they ‘know’ the celebrity on screen; however, the celebrity knows nothing of the television watcher. The promise, or at least perception, of social media such as Twitter is that this parasociality may be broken down or challenged one @-mention at a time by the likes of Ashton Kutcher. So the impact here is a perceived decrease of parasociality (a decrease in the traditional gap between television viewer and celebrity on the screen).

Additionally, social media, by encouraging television audience members to be quite active, tweeting under #thefollowing or #dexter can form engaged public audiences, which include both fans who know each other and fans who do not. This social TV watching is powered by social media use via mobile smartphones and laptops. Interestingly, an argument can be made that this increases our sociability while engaging in an activity which many have viewed as becoming less and less social (in juxtaposition to historical TV watching as a family or other group).

Hate-watching has been a part of television since its inception. It’s not that Twitter and other social media encourage hate watching per se, but that social media make it easier to publicly hate-watch. In other words, shows like Single Ladies or Toddlers & Tiaras would have had hate-watchers with or without social media. It is not only the publicness of hate watching that has changed, but also that it is real time, global, and not limited to one’s living room or to a single telephone call. What social media does is enable a ‘networked public’ (see ‘Networked’ by Barry Wellman) to hate-watch together. Additionally, after Emily Nussbaum’s 2012 New Yorker piece, ‘Hate-Watching “Smash”‘, Twitter has seen many incidents of people tweeting under #hatewatching and similar hash tags shows that are the top of their hate-watch list. Twitter can ultimately egg people on to hate watch (especially during the network broadcast of a show or in the immediate days after the show is aired).

As mentioned above, social media creates new social communities and formations. Often, these are focused around particular events (something I discuss in my book). In the case of television, these events are particular TV shows. Events encourage social responses. My view is that hate-watching is not more popular today per se. Rather, it is the way in which we hate-watch that has changed. Melrose Place in the 90s comes to mind here! Though by no means the same as hate-watching, the best term to describe similar historical processes of this type of television watching is ‘guilty pleasure’. An Associated Press article in 2002 refers to Jerry Springer shows in this vein.

What is different, and why we may perceive hate-watching to be more popular today, is that Twitter makes it very easy to publicly broadcast your hate-watching. Not only that, but the social engagement of rapid @-mentions between hate-watchers leads us to think it is on the rise. Not only is it very public and in your face now, but it is highly networked, real-time, and global.

[This post should be cited when referenced and not reproduced without prior permission]