I took part in the Social Media, Activism, and Organisation Symposium at Goldsmiths, University of London on the 6th of November. Here are some of my impressions:
I believe that there is an overtheoretization of the field. The main speakers of the conference seemed to push the boundaries and claim that Social Media is actually a field of inquiry.
The topics of the presentations were particularly US centric. American scholars were prevalent in setting the discussions, forgetting to mention if there is some sort of relevance for countries outside of North America and Europe. Even if they would have claimed such a thing, they didn’t have any evidence to back it up. I mean, I don’t need to say the obvious and why such overgeneralization are quite shameful.
There is an obvious corporatization of online activism. Scholars are seeking to find strategies to improve activism and help specialized companies to select the best campaigns. Something similar happens with, let’s say, an yoghurt company that would employ analytics to see what taste the consumers will prefer. Nobody found that this might be… problematic. The professionalization of activism made some speakers of the conference use some dubious terms like: ‘career’.
The overall attitude of the audience was one of accepting the information that was presented and taking it for granted. Everybody was happy, everybody tweeted, everybody held hands and used empty buzz words like “mind buzzing conference”.
Nobody questioned whether Twitter still has any relevance for research. Of course, we don’t have time to engage with deeper discussion about epistemology.
The conference was deemed to be interdisciplinary. This is another empty buzz word that I have been hearing quit often lately. People are keen in doing something interdisciplinary, cross-fertilization or other hot things. However, the interdisciplinarity today consisted of a communication between media studies and online activism ‘studies’.
There was a tendency to use the same case studies: Gezi park, Arab spring, Ukraine revolution, etc. There isn’t any problem in re-opening old cases, however, you must have a good reason to do so: add something new to the discussion. Presenting a graph of how tweets are dispersed across time is useful for “strategic” decisions. However, I always had the impression that academia is more than describing stuff.
Some statistics were extrapolated in a dubious manner. Not naming names. Yes, statistics makes our research look more rigorous. Dodgy statistics make our research look… well, dodgy. I really thought descriptive statistics would be a thing of the past. Especially in elaborating such complex claims. You cannot base your argument on a “quick sand” type of evidence.
‘Accessible web is what matters’. Particularly the first 10 pages retrived in Google. That’s about 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000001 % of the entire web content for a particular search. For sure that’s extremely significant. Obviously we don’t go deeper, because that is time-consuming and pertains more problems to our research. Let’s brush the surface and pretend we are actually doing scientific inquiry. And here we go again, we have a problem of overgeneralization.