As promised, here is the update for my anthropology studies of social media!
Week two looked at the affect visual representations were having on social media, specifically looking at the prevalence of selfies and memes. Although a lot of what we think about the use of selfies and memes seems fairly accurate, in terms of their emphasis on the self and the irreverence of things (Facebook is meme city these days), there were a few other things that proved very interesting.
By looking at the usage of social media from this anthropological perspective, it is fascinating to see how different cultures respond to it. The two field sites used in this week were a town in south Italy and a town in Trinidad. What is so interesting is that it is not simply a matter of selfies being a presentation of the self, but the reasons behind these presentations. This has carried through into week three, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
One other concept that I hadn’t considered with memes, is the distance it provides for people’s opinions, rather than each of us just coming out and directly saying something. ‘Liking’ a meme that someone has posted is an action, but it is a passive one, rather than a declaration that we ourselves put out there from our own voices.
What wasn’t covered in this analysis, but perhaps should be mentioned, is that many social media posts on platforms such as Twitter receive higher interactions if an image is attached to them. This is mainly representative of US and UK usage, but perhaps a slight addressing of the potential reasons behind this would have been useful.
I’ve just finished with Week three, and this focused on the representation of politics and gender in social media. Given the LGTBQ focus of my app project, the gender studies discussion is one that really interested me this week, although for the purposes of this study the focus of the discussion remained within the boundaries of gender norms, rather than sexuality or non-binary or transgender issues.
Again, the concept of social media as a distancing tool, as well as a more open platform, seems to be emerging as a theme. On the one hand, politics at a national level is often discussed loudly and openly on social media, and yet local-level discussions remain private and rarely expressed. Given the current political climate here in the UK, I found this particularly striking, and am very aware of how social media is playing a role. Again, from my own view and not discussed within the course, it seems that despite so much of the ‘chatter’ on social media about politics, there’s little evidence from what I can see of opinions being changed because of it. I wonder what the influence of social media on political opinion is, rather than just the outward presentation of singular opinions.
As I said, the topic of gender was most interesting for me, and key here was something that I hadn’t before considered. Whereas, perhaps, we are coming to the assumption that gender norms are being eroded through the development of the feminist movement and the increase in awareness of non-binary, intersex and transgendered individuals, what is clear not only from the evidence of this course, but also from my own observations and understanding of social media usage, is that the conventionalism of gender norms is actually further established by social media.
The vivid example of this within the course was the representation of women in Turkey on social media, with the private versus the public platforms. What was found, was that women used the private platforms such as Whatsapp to break down the gender norms that had been established within their community, and spoke freely with men on a range of topics that would otherwise be avoided in an offline setting. However, when turning to more public platforms such as Facebook, women were very careful of what they were posting, emphasizing the areas they were ‘supposed’ to have interest in i.e. family life, cooking and crafts.
Whilst this may be less pronounced within a Western culture, I think it is interesting to note the rise in popularity of platforms such as Pinterest and Instagram, who hold a predominantly female user base and that the highest post interactions come from gender-typical posts: food, craft and fashion.
Well, these are just some of the things that are covered, and some of my thoughts on them from this course. I’d be really interested to know what you think of what I’ve discussed here, whether you agree or disagree. And if you’d like to sign up, you still can, and you can find out more about what I’m looking into at FutureLearn.