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How the World Changed Social Media

How the World Changed Social Media OPEN ACCESS

Daniel Miller
Elisabetta Costa
Nell Haynes
Tom McDonald
Razvan Nicolescu
Jolynna Sinanan
Juliano Spyer
Shriram Venkatraman
Xinyuan Wang
Volume: 1
Copyright Date: 2016
Edition: 1
Published by: UCL Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    How the World Changed Social Media
    Book Description:

    How the World Changed Social Mediais the first book in Why We Post, a book series that investigates the findings of anthropologists who each spent 15 months living in communities across the world. This book offers a comparative analysis summarising the results of the research and explores the impact of social media on politics and gender, education and commerce. What is the result of the increased emphasis on visual communication? Are we becoming more individual or more social? Why is public social media so conservative? Why does equality online fail to shift inequality offline? How did memes become the moral police of the internet? Supported by an introduction to the project's academic framework and theoretical terms that help to account for the findings, the book argues that the only way to appreciate and understand something as intimate and ubiquitous as social media is to be immersed in the lives of the people who post. Only then can we discover how people all around the world have already transformed social media in such unexpected ways and assess the consequences.

    eISBN: 978-1-910634-49-3
    Subjects: Anthropology, Business, Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. This book is one of a series of 11 titles. Nine are monographs devoted to specific field sites in Brazil, Chile, China, England, India, Italy, Trinidad and Turkey. These will be published during the course of 2016–17. The series also includes this volume, our comparative book about all of our findings, and a final book which contrasts the visuals that people post on Facebook in the English field site with those on our Trinidadian field site.

    When we tell people that we have written nine monographs about social media around the world, all using the same chapter headings (apart...

  2. Introductory chapters
    • Many previous studies of social media emphasise specific platforms, including books and papers devoted to just one particular platform such as Facebook or Twitter.² It is clearly important to understand Twitter, for example, as a platform: the company that owns it, the way it works and the very idea of social media based on messages that must remain below 140 characters. From an anthropological perspective, however, if we ask what Twitter actually is it makes more sense to think of the millions of tweets, the core genres, the regional differences and its social and emotional consequences for users. It is...

    • In the introduction to this volume we have defined social media as the colonisation of the space between traditional broadcast and private dyadic communication, providing people with a scale of group size and degrees of privacy that we have termed scalable sociality. However, we would not wish our definition to be seen as too tight or absolute. There were many prior examples of group communication online, such as bulletin boards and chat rooms. It would also be pedantic to insist that WhatsApp is a form of social media when used for a group, but not when used between just two...

    • If this project is ultimately regarded as at all successful, the main reason will paradoxically be because again and again our individual projects failed. Failure was a major component of many of our studies. Those failures represent the single best body of evidence to support the claim that there is an integrity and scholarship to what we do. In claiming that our projects failed, we simply mean that they were unable to realise certain intentions of the academics involved. We can start with four cases.

      Costa had written a PhD about online journalism, digital media and foreign correspondents in Lebanon,...

    • The survey questionnaire presented here contained 43 questions in total, of which over 80 per cent were in the format of multiple choices; the remaining were simple numeric answers, enabling a respondent to complete it within ten minutes with ease. It was tested multiple times to try and make sure that it adhered to local meanings within each field site. The intention was to administer the survey to at least 100 respondents per site, though in practice this varied from 99 (north Chile) to 229 (Brazil), producing a total of 1199 responses¹ across all of our nine field sites. We...

  3. The ten key topics
    • If there are two topics in the general study of social media that stand out as having already received considerable attention, they are politics (see Chapter 10) and education. The latter tends to pique interest because social media itself is so closely associated with young people, and is seen by many as being where youth now spend much of their time. There is also considerable uncertainty and anxiety over the broader impact of social media on young people’s education and welfare. There are those who believe that social media is destroying the educational system and will lead to a dramatic...

    • Since so many individuals and companies have a vested interest in speculating on the future share values of social media companies, it is no surprise that journalism focusing on the use and potential of social media within commerce is often enthusiastically read, shared and commented upon. However, there is also a clear popular interest in questions such as whether social media is helping communication at work or just distracting workers, and whether it is worthwhile for companies to invest much time and money in social media marketing – as well as how far social media extends the ability of commerce to...

    • With the growing popularity and ubiquity of social media worldwide comes the notion that there is a new generation of so-called ‘digital natives’,¹ who were born and grew up in the digital era. Social media seems set to become an ever-growing foundation to many of their everyday relationships. As a result much of the world is struggling to make sense of this new phenomenon and its impact. Precisely because social media is now so embedded in young people’s lives, anxiety is rising that these are replacing offline interactions and offline relationships.

      However, a comparison between two kinds of relationships designated...

    • 8 Gender (pp. 114-127)

      In this chapter we will examine the influences that social media has had upon gender relations, gendered norms and identities across our field sites. By gender we refer to the socially and culturally constructed differences between femininity and masculinity, shaped by countless factors including the use of technology and digital media. Early internet research¹ often marvelled at the uniqueness of online social spaces in which personal characteristics such as gender, race, age and also apparent physical aspects of the body could seemingly be erased, as you could adopt an entirely distinct online persona. Feminist internet scholars² emphasised the role of...

    • 9 Inequality (pp. 128-141)

      As one might expect, there is a considerable interest in the capacity of the internet and social media to produce large-scale social change. Yet the question as to whether internet access and social media have improved the plight of the world’s most disadvantaged populations or have rather exacerbated inequalities continues and is far from resolved. As previous chapters have pointed out, social media has had an important impact on education, work and gender relations, all of which are major components of this wider question. Several of our field sites represent low income and disadvantaged populations. Here we examine the ways...

    • 10 Politics (pp. 142-154)

      In academic discussion there is an entirely reasonable concern with the degree to which social media is transforming politics – understood as institutions of governance and debates and conflicts over those institutions. In an ethnographic study, however, we do not privilege this as a focus of research. Instead we try and demote politics merely to that which actually emerges from observations of the social media used by our informants. If you look for political debate you will find it, but that does not allow you to assess it fairly as an element of ordinary people’s lives in particular locations. Indeed our...

    • 11 Visual images (pp. 155-180)

      Angela is 23 years old and lives in the Trinidadian field site. Her father owns an office supplies shop where she works most days. During quiet times she scrolls through her Facebook timeline on her BlackBerry. She also posts two to three times a day, starting with a greeting such as ‘Good morning peeps!’ Sometimes she gives an insight into what is happening in her life: ‘Even thou still smile, ppl do not no how much they hurt u.’ The posts that attract the most ‘likes’ and comments, however – around 20 ‘likes’ – are when she posts a genre of memes...

    • 12 Individualism (pp. 181-192)

      A concern with the nature of individualism, balanced between a fear that it might be growing at the expense of our social engagement and the desire for its cultivation as a project in life, has been central to Western thought at least since the age of romanticism.² Almost all the founding figures of social science ascribed to a grand narrative which took for granted a general movement towards individualism in the Western world.³ In different ways this would include Mauss, Marx, Simmel, Tonnies and Weber. This grand narrative is a story about how, once upon a time, people lived in...

    • For anthropologists, considering whether something makes people happy is a complicated if not impossible task. Individuals conceive of happiness in widely varying ways, often aligned with broader cultural ideals and value systems associated with class, religion, gender, age, philosophical perspective, educational level and any number of collective characteristics. Beyond these cultural orientations to ‘happiness’, individuals have varying senses of what makes them happy, and even these almost certainly change over time. It is also not at all clear how far we should regard people’s claims to happiness as evidence of how happy they actually are. To frame a question about...

    • 14 The future (pp. 205-216)

      Perhaps the main reason anthropologists are wary of being involved in making predictions is that in studying the present we also see the fate of past predictions. More than that: we understand why they are so rarely of value. Daily life as observed in ethnography with its holistic contextualisation is so much more complex than a laboratory, in which one is able to control the variables. We also appreciate that prediction is often highly motivated. Given the nature of modern share markets, there are many people who make money out of getting the future right.

      Yet fear of adding to...