Digital Methods Workshop, 25/10/2013 (Dullest Title Ever….)

Today I attended a workshop on Digital Methods Development: Researching Social Movements in Online Environments at CRASSH.

I’m going to reproduce my very limited notes here and try and expand on them before it all goes out of my head (in about ten minutes):

  • IC as a movement? Is in discourse.
    • The session was on social movements, with the first speaker discussing her research on uprisings and activist networks – in particular how they use social media to diseminate information about events (Dr Marianne Maeckelbergh)
    • This led me to thinking about whether the Indigo Children can be called a movement.  I do tend to introduce myself as someone doing the social anthroplogy of new religious movements, but I dont often go into how the Indigo Children might be considered an NRM, certainly something I will be picked up on.  But when it comes to the movement part of the descripter the I.C. are certainly describing themselves as a movement but they are no where as organised as the uprisigns Dr Maeckelbergh was describing, although they do align themselves with them ideologically.
  • Mobile tech changes activism. Emphasis on change from activists
    • One thing I have been keen on is not falling into technological determinism when it comes to the Internet and Social Media: I see the online space as yet another space where people can be human, doing human things.  It was interesting therefore to hear Dr M recount the importance her informants placed on social media for changing how they interact and that there is a definite difference.  I still hesitate to get into transhumanism and cyborgism, but this is something to bear in mind.
  • Being there twice, physically and then online to catch up with twitter etc
    • Dr M talked about the practicalities of working with social media and doing ethnography and how she needs to spend time with the groups she is researching but also spend time on Twitter etc finding out what they said about those events. This leads to a note I made further down about worrying about not capturing EVERYTHING.
  • Contextualization
    • Social Media needs contextualising with other textual forms and offline in order to understand what is really going on, not just relying on one textual source.
  • The environment of tweeter, reader, and the limitations and structure of form used are all at work
    • To bear in mind with contextualization
  • What kinds of connections people make or dont make (I.C. only tweets)
    • I have been looking at Tweets that only say “Indigo Children” as I curious about the motivation behind them, and I’ve been messaging the author’s to see if they can explain what they intended (a shout out, a signifier of belonging…?). In a sense, these are one way connections, pure information pushing, which might incite a reciprocal connection, or it might not…
  • Love tech as horizontal and diffuse as they are. Values overlap
    • Dr M was saying that the activists she researches love social media as their core principles overlaps with the design of the media: connecting horizontally (or democratically), open and diffuse networks. Though of course this ignores the fact that the platform is often proprietary technology…
  • Diminishing returns on twitter – too much tweeting
    • She notes how impact can be watered down, so they sometimes run a shared twitter account and votes in the morning about what will be tweeted in order to reduce ‘noise’.  Compare withe vast, unorganised melee of voices in I.C.
  • Questions force them to consciously describe what they are doing.
    • Important to note how ideas and behaviour might not be analysed prior to researcher’s questions… and answer might not be fully formed.
  • The terror of missing something important
    • I have this, all the time!
  • Slippage between contextualization and narrativation (buying into the story we are being told)
    • Hard to divine true story, but best not to assume everything we are reading is the ‘truth’
    • Contextualize one tweet to another to deal with narrativation
  • Heraclites same river twice
    • Using the following Heraclites quote, Dr Ann Alexander explained that the viewer changes and the viewed changes.  Social media formats will change and develop and even static websites change over time.

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  • “Everything on the Internet is traceable,  except when you want to find it” Dr Ann Alexander
    • A version of Sod’s Law!
  • Q of ownership and control
    • Something to bear in mind (see proprietary technology) when copying material.
  • Principal of “do no harm”
    • Should underpin research. Even when not seeking consent, or dealing with implied consent, we should seek first to do no harm. Or as my supervisor says, we should try to be good humans in our dealings with research subjects.
  • Issue of magnification in social media – IC not so prevalent offline nb free listing work
    • A small piece of information, gossip or data can go viral on Social Media and be more impactful than a small piece would be in the ‘real world’.   In the case of the I.C. my free listing work at MBS fairs has so far shown a lack of knowledge about the subject.  Its easy to conflate the large number of hits from a google search with a large offline knowledge.  I’m going to do some work with Google Trends to track the relative interest in the I.C. against more established terms like New Age.

I think I’ll leave my notes there and pick up on some of the other themes we discussed in my next post.

#Ilovehashtags

In a moment of serendipitous coincidence I had just decided to write something about hashtags and Twitter when my cousin posted this video on Facebook of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake showing us how dumb we sound when we use hashtags.

To some extent I agree with my good friends J and J, using too many hashtags is perhaps a sign of including one’s self in a peer led trend of hashtagging rather than actually using a hashtag to join in with a conversation.  By which I mean a hashtag that is so unique that you are the only one using it means that you are in a community of one. But the reverse does apply, using a hashtag can be a  means of community affiliation.

Take this example from my own social media use.  And I use social media… a lot.  My favourite hashtag is #PhDchat where other PhDs in numerous fields post their queries, thoughts, links to blogs and statements about how their day has been.  When I talk to non-Twitter users about Twitter the most common reason they give for not using it is that they dont care what Joe Public had for his lunch.  Fine, I say, dont follow Joe Public, follow Joe *insert your interest here* and find out what he’s being doing lately that is relevant to YOUR interests. So when a PhD posts on #PhDchat about having a crappy writing day I know that there are others in the same boat. Or even better when  a PhD posts about how they managed to work their way out of a crappy writing day I have some tips and tricks to try for myself.

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And of course, I use social media for research on New Religious Movements online. And its important to note that hashtagging a post with a religion’s name can be a way of affiliating to that community and the conversation around it.

I obviously keep track of anything #indigochildren.  But I also follow #jediism, #scientology, and search for others as and when.  By doing this I have come across several interesting trends I would not have noticed otherwise, one of which is informing a paper and the other will most likely have to take up most of a chapter in my thesis.  By following the worldwide conversation I am getting to hear what people think about these topics.  I am also noticing HOW they use the social media form.  For example, Twitter allows space for 140 characters, but I have noticed a large number of people JUST posting “Indigo Children” (only 14 characters).  Why is this?  Is it a form of shout out, a way of getting attention for the idea that they are exploring?  Is it a way of identifying themselves publically as Indigos? Is it a way of starting a conversation? I am contacting people who have done this to see what they say, and this will be an interesting area of social media use to explore further.

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So J and J, yes I enjoyed your video, but there is more to hastagging than just following a trend.  But it was #lol. #sofunny. #andIlikedhowyoumadethehashtagswithyourhands.