Friday, July 1, 2011

Social networking media, cultural imperialism, and gender

Sociology grad student Sarah has an interesting post up at Facile Gestures that makes some important points about social networking media. One key point is about the coverage of the role that Facebook, Twitter, and other U.S.-generated media played in the Arab Spring and other social movements:
[T]there is a imperialist undertone to the notion that the uprisings could not have occurred without these social media platforms. By placing US-centric, English language platforms at the center of reportage on Middle Eastern unrest, we colonize the revolutions and claim them as victories of our own. Look at these tools of freedom we have created, we say, pointing towards our own techno-social accomplishments and feeling heroic that we provided such a space. This not only elides the fact that a significant proportion of political organizing outside the Western world happens outside of the services that we are most familiar with, but also diminishes our understanding of the relationship between online communication, political action, and information sharing outside the confines of those platforms we’ve deemed to be "important."
Exactly. While this is often done without malice, just offering us a way to understand foreign social movements in familiar terms, the result is to give us credit for something in which we played a very, very small role. (Given the larger role our country has played in supporting the targets of these revolutions, one can certainly understand our interest in feeling like we're on the side of the good guys.)

Sarah makes another interesting point with regards to gender:
We know that the feminist blogosphere runs a secondary parallel to the mainstream progressive blogosphere. Twitter — when not being used for celebrity gossip (an eminently female pursuit) — is the outlet for male dominated news outlets, mainstream or otherwise, to make their voices relevant. Facebook, though more personal and thus less likely to carry with it the gendering that comes with journalistic engagement, appears in the news as a gathering place for social movements gendered masculine by their leaders and tactics.
She contrasts these sites with LiveJournal, which is dominated by women. While LiveJournal is generally not listed among the sites facilitating political activity, it plays an important role in doing precisely that outside the United States.

I was thinking a lot about this topic during an impromptu "summit" of political scientist bloggers and their journalist counterparts at APSA last summer. It was hard not to notice that our group was overwhelmingly white, male, and young (defined as "≤ my current age"), and at least 50% Jewish. To be sure, this was hardly an unbiased sample of such bloggers, and we're drawn from a somewhat skewed population to begin with.

Nonetheless, women make up a substantial percentage of younger political scientists. Either a lot of these women are doing some political blogging in one form or another and we male bloggers just aren't aware of it, or they're declining to blog. I'm not sure if there's something particularly gendered about blogging in general. (I think a lot of us were computer nerds in high school, and that tends to draw a largely male population, as well, but that doesn't really answer the question.) I'm open to ideas on this.

(h/t John McMahon)


marc said...

Thanks for bringing her paper to our attention. I am writing you from Nalut, Libya, where they describe facebook, etc, as a communications tool similar to the telephone, or the opposition tv and radio station. In Tunis a few weeks back, I saw a cafe called the Facebook Cafe, decorated like a facebook page, and this is hard not to photograph and, if you are a journo, note. But at least here it rings true that the focus on digital media comes more from anglofone reporters being comfortable talking about that, and have access to it, where other equally or more important themes require deeper understanding.

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