2017… 2017… to be honest, so much has happened in 2018, as I finally put this list together, that 2017 seems a distant memory: I’ve moved to the other side of the world to start a new job, and so much has been going on I barely remember last month let alone last year.
In addition to the publications, which I have already mentioned on here and are listed below (although only one is called ‘Never gonna GIF you up‘), a few major things stand out; first, our ARC Discovery proposal ‘Digital media, location awareness, and the politics of geodata’ was successful and funded for three years (2018-2020, AUD $324,720); the project features as CIs Peta Mitchell and myself from QUT and Larissa Hjorth from RMIT, and as PIs Agnieszka Leszczynski (Auckland) and Paul Dourish (UC-Irvine).
Second, I spent a month in Bremen, Germany, as a visiting research fellow at the ZeMKI, where I got to work on my ‘digital time’ project and participate in the Mediatization of Time conference — and in general just enjoy the research culture of the ZeMKI and being in northern Germany in winter!
Third, I coordinated the 2017 DMRC Summer School, with 37 PhD and early-career researchers coming to Brisbane for digital methods, research training, and plenty more (the 2018 event has already happened, so this feels especially weird to talk about now).
Fourth, I made my Sydney Opera House debut as a panelist at the Antidote Festival (the successor to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas); I was part of the ‘Creating online chaos‘ session with an amazing line-up of Celeste Liddle, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Van Badham, with Steph Harmon chairing.
And finally, I was invited to keynote for the first time, speaking about visual social media for the University of Amsterdam’s Digital Methods Initiative (DMI) Summer School and also running a masterclass and workshops… and, half a year later, I’m back in Amsterdam in my new role as Assistant Professor in New Media at UvA… but that’s another topic…
‘Socially mediated moments and memories: Now, then, and the tangled temporality of digital media’, Mediatization of Time conference, Bremen, Germany, 7-8 December 2017.
‘ICYMI, while you were away: Temporal platformed interventions in the digital everyday’. ZeMKI, University of Bremen, 6 December 2017.
‘ICYMI, while you were away: The digital intimacy of temporal platformed interventions’, Digital Intimacies symposium, Melbourne 13-15 November 2017.
Ariadna Matamoros-Fernández, Felix Münch, and Tim Highfield. ‘More than meets the eye: Understanding networks of images in controversies around racism on social media’. AoIR 2017, Tartu, 18-21 October 2017.
‘#BlackLivesMatter to #dogsatpollingstations (but not #CrookedHillary): Platform privilege and the affective politics of hashflags’, Affective Politics symposium, Turku, Finland, 12-13 October 2017.
Kate M. Miltner and Tim Highfield. ‘Never Gonna GIF You Up: Analyzing the cultural significance of the animated GIF’. Columbia University. 14 September 2017.
‘Visual cultures and politics of social media’, Oxford University: Oxford Internet Institute Summer Doctoral Programme. July 2017.
Stephen Harrington, Axel Bruns, and Tim Highfield. ‘#infotainment and the impact of “connective action”: The case of #milkeddry’. ANZCA 2017, Sydney, July 2017.
‘Instagrammatics, visual social media, and digital methods’, keynote for University of Amsterdam Digital Methods Initiative Summer School. 26 June 2017.
‘Social media and everyday politics, re-examined: The impact of fake news, the alt-right, and the clickbait president’. ICA ‘Populism, Post-Truth Politics and Participatory Culture’ pre-conference, San Diego, 25-26 May 2017.
Tim Highfield and Peta Mitchell. ‘Algorithmic Surveillance and Urban Ambient Geodata’. AAG, Boston, 5-9 April 2017.
‘The GIF and News Coverage: Remediated, Remixed, and Reimagined’. SCMS, Chicago, 22-26 March 2017.
Digital Methods (University of Melbourne, February 2017) Instagrammatics (developed with Tama Leaver) (University of Amsterdam DMI Summer School, June 2017) ‘Instagrammatics and beyond’ masterclass (University of Amsterdam DMI Summer School, June 2017). Digital Methods pre-conference (with Axel Bruns, Stefanie Duguay, Ariadna Matamoros-Fernández, Brenda Moon, and Felix Münch) (AoIR2017, Tartu, October 2017). Digital Methods (University of Bremen, December 2017)
In April last year, my first book, Social Media and Everyday Politics, was published. It was based on the various research projects I’d carried out for my PhD and beyond, between 2008 and 2015. I’m very proud of it, particularly in attempting to challenge my own work and perspective by featuring a wider range of topics — while still distilling them into a 65,000-word book.
The book has only been out for a year, but something it inadvertantly demonstrates is the rate of change when it comes to discussing social media and politics, both in concert and individually. For instance: there is not a single mention of Trump in the book. I finished writing in May 2015, and even after revisions and proofing Trump had not become the presumptive Republican nominee, while the topics du jour of fake news, filter bubbles, and the alt right were still not the major talking points they are today. Indeed, Tony Abbott was still Prime Minister of Australia at that point…
And yet, despite all the changes and political upheaval seen with Trump, Brexit, and the like, the argument that I set forth in Social Media and Everyday Politics remains highly relevant. The importance of the everyday, the social and the digital, to the political — and vice versa — has come into increased focus given recent developments. Everyday social media and the political remain heavily intertwined, and understanding them in concert is extremely important, especially when the context has changed so dramatically while accompanied by prominent uses of digital media. Political shifts towards the right, the populist, and the outright fascist are not social media-only concerns, of course, but at the same time the likes of Twitter and Facebook are being used to spread and contest messages (among many other functions).
So, to mark one year on from publication, this is a brief overview of some key themes around social media and everyday politics, with reference to ongoing coverage and research as well as connections to what I cover in the book itself (these are all new citations, not featured in the book).
Social Media and Everyday Politics might or might not get a second edition, although the ideas might get updated in a new form anyway. In the meantime, though, this is background for Social Media and Everyday Politics, re-examined, an upcoming talk at the International Communication Association conference:
Everyday social media are also offering more opportunity for content and news to be shared as it happens. This idea has a long history with digital media (see Chapters Three and Four), but increased infrastructure access and the development of live-streaming capabilities within popular platforms like Twitter and Facebook have meant that live coverage of the everyday and the extraordinary takes on new dimensions. In addition to established practices like live-tweeting, recordings and live video shared on social media can give immediate and extensive visibility to events — for instance, the videos and photos from United flight 232 as a passenger was dragged from the overbooked flight after not volunteering to give up his seat (and the subsequent response in the media, on social media, and by United).
The use of social media by politicians and institutions
One change that has been highlighted by Trump’s election is the way that social media are used by politicians. Arguably Trump is not a ‘politician’ in the same way as those studied in prior research, who generally follow three main tweeting styles: broadcasting, interaction, and Ed Balls. Trump was on Twitter as a businessman and television personality long before he ran for political office, and has his own unique, attention-seeking tweeting style (parodied with more grown-up rewrites here). However, his outspoken and oft-inflammatory rhetoric can be seen, even without exclamations like “Sad!”, in the tweets and posts of other politicians; see, for example, the claims of #fakenews directed at any climate change/renewable energy reports by Australian One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts.
The advent of the Trump administration has inspired a wave of digital media accounts and projects responding to, documenting, and correcting what Trump does. This is similar in a sense to what happened to the French political blogosphere after Nicolas Sarkozy became President in 2007, with numerous anti-Sarkozy watchdog blogs established in opposition. Ongoing work is noting all the incorrect claimsthe Trump administration has made, documenting all that has happened in the first weeks of the presidency, and indeed asking “what the fuck just happened today?”.
Again, though, this isn’t just the US. The 2017 French Presidential election has had prominent coverage of the extreme right Front National and its candidate Marine Le Pen, digitally aided and abetted by alt-right Trump supporters and by bot armies tweeting en masse, promoting FN hashtags and attacking other candidates. France’s ideological landscape is more fractured than, say, the US or Australia, with representation from the far-left, far-right, centre and various points in-between leading to particularly partisan (and polarised) online presences. This polarization was partially evident, in a different form, in my PhD study of French political blogs, when extreme-right bloggers were found in a network mostly distinct from the wider French political blogosphere (also featured in Chapter Six of the book) but connected to nationalistic groups in other countries. The far-right ‘fachosphère’ on social media and across various right-wing websites has been part of the pro-Le Pen push during the election campaign.
Indeed, there remains a prevailing view that platforms are not doing enough, or are concentrating efforts in the wrong way. This is particularly the case for Twitter, where the platform’s lack of action on dealing with racism, abuse, and more has contributed to the rise of Mastodon as a competitor to Twitter “without Nazis”. Even Twitter’s actual actions have been questioned; having realised that the default ‘egg’ profile icon for new users was being associated with abusive and fake accounts, Twitter decided the best course of action was to change the icon to make it more welcoming for new users, rather than responding to the actual problems existing on its platform.
Visual social media, visible social media
For those who do change the profile picture from the default egg or silhouette (or other new profile options on different platforms), the icon becomes a further way of engaging with the political. In the book I noted the rainbow overlays on Facebook profile pictures in June 2015, to support Pride Week and, coincidentally, the US Supreme Court decision in favour of marriage equality. Such overlays have also appeared in response to tragedy, such as a French tricoloreas a temporary addition to Facebook profile pictures after terrorist acts in Paris in late 2015. Support for causes, parties, and issues is also displayed through iconography within profile pictures, such as showing support for Planned Parenthood, as examples of ‘symbolic action’.
These practices also include the rituals and irreverence that I outlined in Chapter Two of the book, on hashtaggery and portmanteaugraphy especially. For example, the #PutOutYour[x]/ #PutYour[x]Out format as a means of solidarity and empathy (whether sincere or ironic) has become an established template in Australia. Related examples range from the initial #PutOutYourBats in tribute to the late cricketer Phillip Hughes, to the display of schadenfreude that was #PutOutYourOnions when Tony Abbott was deposed as Prime Minister (never forget), to the recent #PutYourBloopersOut, as gaffes were shared in solidarity with ABC newsreader Natasha Exelby after a video of her realising a few seconds late that she was live on air went viral (and after initial reports suggested the ABC had removed her from her position). This evolution of the format also shows how such activity may be non-political but gets linked to current news and issues (see also: the lasting influence of BoatyMcBoatFace). These may later become non-political again, as established and everyday social media practices get adopted for engaging with politics.
Resistance, protest, sharing
The politicisation of the everyday has become pronounced with the advent of the Trump administration, and in particular the pushback against the new President. #Resistance is taking place on the streets and on social media, with demonstrations like the Women’s March the day after the inauguration and the March for Science streamed and recorded across platforms. The live-streaming of protests and marches that Sky Croeser and I noted in our Occupy Oakland research (see also Chapter Five), has become further facilitated by the likes of Snapchat, Facebook Live, and Periscope as live-streaming tools, whether recording demonstrations or the mundane, have become more commonplace (and heavily promoted by platforms).
Of course, there are many different groups using digital technologies to voice their opposition, resistance, or solidarity, as I have noted throughout this piece. It is not just footage of Nazis being punched that is spread (and remixed) across social media; the recipients of the punches are similarly using these spaces to promote their views and causes, to manipulate trending algorithms, to give visibility to misinformation. Hashtag activism and trends, media appropriation, and meme creation, to name a few, are among the digital tools being used for propaganda and inciting or nomalising violence, while social media are also used for recruitment and promotion of terrorist causes. These are not social media-only issues or problems; the rise in popularity of nationalism and extremist views has not come from Twitter alone nor is it only taking place in Facebook groups or subreddits. How digital media are implicated, though — from user practices to platform policies — is a critical question that will be the subject of much ongoing and necessary research.
Related research may go in further directions, too; everyday social media and the political intersect in other ways beyond the public social. Studies may look at the private and the encrypted, for example, or questions of digital rights and the connections to the everyday apps and platforms we use. What is also evident is how political (and politicised) practices develop among social media users and communities, beyond the aims or intended functions of the platform developers. Kath Albury and Paul Byronnote the ‘off-label’ uses of hook-up apps, where Grindr and Tinder are used to non-sexual ends; the political, too, represents a long-term, initially ‘off-label’ aspect of everyday social media. The likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat now have ongoing partnerships and strategies with political bodies and media organisations, reflecting the established intersection of news and politics with digital media. However, these follow emergent practices and unexpected applications of platforms and their affordances. ‘Off-label’ social media activity will continue to lead to new ways of discussing, supporting, and resisting the political. The politics of an individual platform may be tangential, brought about or implied by particular affordances, or by rival apps being more morally questionable. At a time when the everyday is increasingly politicised, though, the everyday politics of social media are heavily entwined in reflecting, representing, and reacting to what’s happening.
2016 was a weird old year, to put it mildly – and that’s without considering Brexit, Trump, the ongoing rise of extremism, unrest and turmoil and crises, political inactivity on major issues, and all the celebrity deaths (not just Bowie)… Personally, 2016 didn’t feel like the most productive year, and there was a lot going on behind the scenes that contributed to that — but, looking at the round-up for the year, it doesn’t seem that bad overall. Obviously the book finally coming out was a major achievement for 2016, but there was also a lot of progress with the visual social media research I’ve been doing, especially on GIFs:
Tim Highfield and Axel Bruns: ‘Compulsory Voting, Encouraged Tweeting? Australian Elections and Social Media’; Axel Bruns and Tim Highfield: ‘Is Habermas on Twitter? Social Media and the Public Sphere’ – both in The Routledge Companion to Social Media and Politics
‘On (the) loop: The animated GIF and cultural logics of repetition’ (Theorizing the Web, New York City, April 2016) [view this talk on YouTube]
‘Social Media and Everyday Politics’ (Oxford Internet Institute Summer Doctoral Programme, Oxford, July 2016)
Tim Highfield and Kate M. Miltner, ‘Interrogating the reaction GIF: Making meaning by repurposing repetition’ (Social Media and Society, London, July 2016)
‘The politics of info-GIF-ics: Animated maps and graphs on everyday social media’ (Culture and Politics of Data Visualisation, Sheffield, October 2016)
Tim Highfield and Peta Mitchell, ‘Ambient geodata and algorithmic surveillance’ (Automating the Everyday symposium, Brisbane, December 2016)
Tim Highfield and Kate M. Miltner, ‘The Trumping of the political GIF: Visual social media for political commentary in the 2016 US election’ (Crossroads, Sydney, December 2016)
‘Smashed mouths: Internet cultures and the embrace and subversion of nostalgia’ (Crossroads, Sydney, December 2016)
Gudetama is the lazy egg from Sanrio (creators of many many characters, including Hello Kitty). Their lack of enthusiasm for getting up or doing anything, their desire to just keep resting, speaks to anyone who just does not do mornings — see, among their various videos, this one as a starting point — but Gudetama’s thoughts and feelings can also be applied to various academic concerns, in GIF form:
Needing to write All The Things but not feeling it
I presented a paper about David Bowie GIFs, fandom, and related themes; unlike many of my previous presentations, my slides were mostly images, projected onto a ridiculously huge cinema screen – so putting up the slides without comment seems a little confusing; however, also unusually, I wrote out a script for my presentation so that I had something to work from without the slides to give written prompts. So, if you are interested, you can find the full selection of GIFs and accompanying ‘script’ (which I talked around and occasionally went on short tangents from, but as a guide to what I was probably planning to say) after the cut: