Archive for May, 2012

We are surrounded by news 24 hours a day and it is impossible to pay attention to all of it. Most of us skim through the highlights and are informed of what goes on in the world, but seldom do we pay enough attention to each story to discover what happens to it in the media. I have, for the last three months, paid very much attention to the KONY2012 issue and how it has been presented in the media. Not only did I follow the issue but I reflected upon concepts related to the media; like manipulation, the public sphere and semiotics. This post is about what I discovered in relation to that.

The media is important to us, it is our public sphere, and it is where we share, receive and discuss information about the world and what concerns us. Unfortunately the media fails in many ways as a public sphere as information gets distorted in a swirl of bias, lies, facts and opinions. There are so many news broadcasters in the world today and they all filter the news to suit a specific audience. By tailoring the news according to their local audiences’ interests, many different views of one case are told to different people.

In the KONY2012 debate this was very clear. The western audiences have a certain interest in economy and power and so the western media reported on money, facts and the intentions of The Invisible Children. On the other hand, media broadcasters with a different target market, like Al Jazeera who wants to be “a voice of the voiceless”, talked about the Ugandan people, justice, empathy and real experiences. It took over a week before these important views were presented to us. My blogpost “Filtered News” goes more in depth on this.

Of course, social media is now also a big part of our public sphere, and here we have an opportunity for a more democratic sphere, but we also face the problem of a greater digital divide.

In addition to this, manipulation is a keyword within mainstream media. The Invisible Children, either if you think it was exploitive or genius, knew who they were targeting and that is why their video was so successful. Given that they planned to release the video online they knew their biggest audience would be teenagers, and this is why they made a video and not a streamed lecture. Other noticeable tactics were the simplifying of a complex issue, starring of young people and children as key-figures. Playing on emotions and empathy was a clear strategy of The Invisible Children.

While I am on the topic of manipulation I want to bring up George Gerbner and his cultivation theory. He argued that the media, in the long-term, lead people to believe the social reality portrayed by the media, also called “the mean world syndrome”. When Jason Russell had his public breakdown, mainstream media decorated their headlines with words like “public masturbation”, “running naked in streets” and “car wrecking” leading everyone to adopt this point of view, hashtages like #BONY2012 was all over Twitter short after. It goes to show how much influence the media can have on us.

Probably the most interesting part of the KONY issue for me was the relevance it had to semiotics. This is a complex concept, but basically it is about the reading of images and how we interpret them differently due to ideologies and experiences of the world. In KONY2012 there was an American organization which told the story of a long and complex issue in Africa to the whole world by the use of videos, pictures and text. Depending on where in the world we are from, we carry different histories and different experiences and therefore we view the world in different ways, our understanding of one story will be very diverse from others. While I saw The Invisible Children as a caring and thoughtful group who wanted to help, the Ugandan people reacted with disgust and felt the Americans were victimizing their race.

When we are dealing with global issues we should take notice of where other people come from and their history to gain a better understanding of their opinions. I think we often take for granted that everyone else should “see what we see”, we very often miss to see the reasons for other peoples actions because of this attitude.

Also other topics like moral panic and causes and effects are helpful when analysing new headlines. Our public sphere has become a complex space of ideas and information, and we must become active listeners to get the information right. News-reading changes with these concepts in mind, and can help us think before we act.

I have been blogging for a few months now on this topic of convergence and digital media (that would be the post under the bcm112 category). As blogging is relatively new to me I thought I would have a read through my old posts to see which ones I liked the most. This is what I decided and why:

“John Stuart Mill would have been outraged…”

This post was probably the first of my blog posts which I was truly happy with. It took a few trials to get the feel of what was “my kind of writing”. I wanted my blog to be professional and formal, but still carry my signature.

The issue of “open” and “closed” media platforms is something I find particularly interesting. That engagement made it easier to reflect upon the discussion and of course then, to express my own thoughts of it. We are moving into an era where privacy and participation will become crucial factors, and this topic gave me a chance to describe just how important it is, and how easy it can be to ignore it.

“The Power of Transmedia.”

In contrast with the post above, this blog post actually turned out good because it was totally new to me. For the first time I was presented to transmedia and it expanded my understanding of the media industry. As I was writing, earlier experiences of my own came to mind, and it was incredibly interesting to realize that what I had thought of as unprofessional mistakes from the producers, turned out to be deliberate and a part of a master plan!

The idea of transmedia is fascinating and a clear sign of industrial convergence. It will be exciting to see where it takes us.

“The rise of the Nerds!”

This is a topic with many opinions and many will disagree with mine. I am far from an expert on “nerdom”, but I love how this issue allowed me to explore my own thoughts and ideas. There is an interest of this new upcoming trend; what did it burst from? Why now? Who is a nerd and who is not? There are many theories but not yet clear answers. Currently there is no right or wrong.

I found it very exciting to sit down and figure out my own opinion on this one. I had to discuss it with friends, my boyfriend and even myself to come to the conclusion that I think this trend follows the continuous emergence of new technology and fashion. There is definitely more to it as well, but the transformation of “Average Joe” into the regular nerd is in my opinion a matter of trends.

When you think about the internet, and especially social media, it is really perfectly made for women. Relationships, cooperation and communication are qualities that are almost implemented in women’s nature so one would think that the web could be a woman’s playground. In some cases it really is, like Pinterest, where 97% of the users are female! Despite this point, there has been an ongoing discussion about women’s place in the virtual sphere. Where are the women in the online decision making roles?

Today I was asked to mention as many influential online male persons that I could think of and several names came to mind; Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), Sergei Brin and Larry Page (Google), Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia) and Julian Assange (Wikileaks). Just after that I was asked the same question again, but this time I was to think of female influential persons, and honestly, I could not think of a single name. There is a clear online gender gap today, but personally I choose to look at it more positively. We have a long history of women fighting for equality, and there are still reasons to debate, but I will say that women have had great success as well. The situation for women in the corporate world is strengthen and is still getting stronger. Gradually there is a change in people’s perceptions and ideologies of “the woman at work”, this is just something that does not happen overnight. It takes time, but I believe that in the future we will see several influential women competing with the men online. I believe that in 2012, women and men stand equally in their choice of education, I think that, in addition to the above, it is a matter of interest that men choose computer science, technology and engineering more often than women do.

But in connection to gender online there is a greater concern to me. Several female media personalities like Miriam O’Reilly and Nina Power, Karalee Evans and Melissa McEwan have lately taken a stand and expressed their frustration regarding misogyny online. As unbelievable as it may sound in our era, there are actually a few men out there who do not think that women should have a say in the world, they have a hate and a dislike of women. They express this by commenting on women’s blogs and other online platforms in a disgusting manner. The comments serve an attitude that bias to undervalue women. Their goal is to threaten women to silence, and in many cases the threats are violent and sexually violent.

A problem with an online world is that people can appear anonymous, this also an invite to an open domain where everyone can freely express themselves, but how open should it really be? We would not approve for misogyny to occur in the real world, so we should not approve for it online. Several women have closed their accounts in fear, some have chosen to remove the option of public commenting on their posts and others are moderating and filtering the comments. This is not right! What happened to the space which we talk of as the closest we have been to democracy?

Being a firm believer of user generated content I will again pt my trust in self-regulation. We have to remember that it is only a few men in the world who share these attitudes, the majority of both men and women would go against that kind of behavior, voting their comments down and away. Maybe if we considered having an even more open domain, where users are able to vote comments up and down, and even like and dislike them, these comments would end up in the bottom of the comment-thread, giving them no attention and displaying them as the least interesting comments. Although the comments may still occur, the self-regulation system would in itself act as online gatekeeper and diminish the credibility of the threats.

It is funny with photos how they can forge so many different emotions in people. Sometimes I look back at my photos from earlier vacations, and those pictures can take me straight back to that place. That one picture can make me remember smells, sounds, feelings and bring back memories. But the strange thing is, that if I show the same photo to someone else that was there, the photo can make them think of totally different things! They remember music, people and conversations; they have different memories than I do.

Semiotics are the science of signs and the study of meaning. It might sound dull, but when you start looking into semiotics it is surprising what you might find out. I have been following the KONY 2012 issue these months, and semiotics is actually quite relevant in that matter.

Things that convey meaning, like a word, a picture or a symbol, is really just a sign.  By calling them signs, I mean that these things signify something to us. It is a signifier or a denotation. When I hear a word, a concept forms, or an image or an understanding takes form in my head. This is the signified or the connotation. What makes it interesting thought is that sometimes different people need different signs to achieve the same understanding. For example, look at this sign: “Appelsin”. For a Norwegian this sign conveys a meaning, but and English speaking person need the sign: “orange” to convey the same meaning and a Spanish speaking person would look for the “naranja” sign to picture it.

Words as signs are one thing, languages can complicate things, but at least we understand why. When an image is a sign, it can be harder to understand that it is interpreted differently by different persons. An image is a representation. The emotions/feelings/interpretations the image represents are based on individual judgement or preference. It all relies on “myths” and ideologies.

In the KONY2012 campaign we were introduces to images like these:

When I look at these photos I see a young black child with a weapon. White men with weapons with black soldiers in the background and I see several children in the background of one man.

Based on my knowledge of the situation in Africa, the connotations that I got were that they needed help, and that the Invisible Children wanted to help them. Citizens in Uganda interpreted it differently when they saw the KONY2012 video. They saw the same signs that I saw, but it meant different things to them. As I saw a caring group of people with the intentions to help in a terrible situation, they saw Americans victimizing their race. Other people saw egoism, that the Invisible Children played on emotions to commercialize themselves, and there were several more connotations to find.

I wrote earlier that connotations depend on “myths” and ideologies. The Oxford dictionary defines ideology as “the set of beliefs characteristic of a social group or individual”. We interpret images depending on our norms and experiences of the world. A message can be read in three different ways:

  • The dominant reading. This is the reaction preferred by the media, what they try to achieve. The first reaction that many people had to KONY2012 was this one, and it was what The Invisible Children were aiming for.
  • Negotiated reading. This is when people are not sure, they are sceptical. Persons who doubted the intentions of The Invisible Children belonged to this group.
  • Oppositional reading. They disagree with what is said. This was the reaction of many of the Ugandan citizens.

Mainstream media know this, and so did The Invisible Children. They knew that our understanding of what they produced “depended on shared knowledge, shared myths and shared ideologies” (Turnbull 2012), so they tried to tailor the message to satisfy our ideologies.

Reference:

Turnbull, S 2012, BCM110 “Media Mythbusting: ‘The Image Cannot Lie”, lecture notes, accessed 4/5/2012, eLearning@UOW.