In this assignment, you will curate an archive of public postings from social media (Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr etc), using your own analysis and additional links to explain their history and context.
Start by deciding on your focus. You can choose any of the following:
• a hashtag (activist or otherwise)
• a meme (showing where it came from and how it has been used)
• the online life of a news story
• responses to an item of cultural production (movie, TV, art, book)
No matter what you choose, remember that you are CURATING data, as archivists and librarians do: you’re taking the chaos of online life and giving it a meaningful shape that is specific to you. Your project should demonstrate something you have noticed, an argument you want to make, a thread you want to follow: you can work on anything so long as you use it as a starting point to think about the following questions.
• The issue. What got people talking and why?
• The people. Who has been participating? Has that changed over time, and how?
• Conflict and change. What arguments and contradictions come up?
• The big picture. How is the conversation raced, gendered, classed? How do class readings help you to understand it?
• Ethical considerations. What do you need to bear in mind as a researcher exploring this issue?
Here are the basic expectations for your project:
• Include at least 30 tweets or other items (blog posts, videos, images and so on) organized in a meaningful order.
• Introduce, explain and analyze your choices in a total of 800-1000 words.
Due Monday March 19 by the end of the day.
Notes on process and ethics
After reading Tufecki, you should be aware of the complex issues that studying social media brings up. Bear these in mind as you work with Twitter and other sites.
• Social media is ephemeral. People delete their posts, or make them private; on some services, they can edit them. It’s often difficult to find social media postings on repeat web searches if you don’t save the links. If you retweet or favourite a tweet, it is saved in your own account and you will be able to refer back to it. Use this function and its equivalent (Tumblr reblog, for example, saves the original post) on other sites as you explore and build your archive.
• Context is complicated. As you explore, you will find yourself immersed in conversations you don’t understand. You’ll need all your research skills to figure out what is going on: click on usernames to see previous discussions, scroll through notes on Tumblr, click on tweets to see back-and-forth conversations, follow links to longer-form writing. Your goal is to develop the fullest possible understanding of what is going on. This includes asking yourself whether it would be appropriate for this context for you to ask permission to quote in a class project. If you ask and the answer is no, or if somebody sees what you’re doing and asks you not to include their post, honor their request and use your discussion to reflect on why they might have made it.
• People on the internet haven’t signed up to teach a class. If you find yourself disagreeing or getting angry with material you are reading, that’s to be expected. But resist the temptation to try and argue people over to your point of view, and even if you agree passionately with someone’s points, don’t ask them to do your work for you. Save links to discuss them in your assignment, and bring your questions and confusions to the classroom or to office hours. When you do engage in critical discussion in your project, make sure you’ve done everything you can to understand where the people you’re engaging are coming from.
• Your positionality as researcher/archivist matters. If you choose a focus that relates to a community you identify with, or a network in which you are a participant, you might already know some contextual details because you have been a part of conversations as they unfolded. In this case, you may decide to discuss the process of your assignment with fellow participants, and even to ask for their advice. Only you can decide what is most ethical and appropriate. Whatever decision you make, describe the process by which you came to it, and its results, within your assignment.
• Consider publics. Do you want to make this project public? Think about ethics and safety: is it important for the people you’re quoting to be able to see how you wrote about their work? Are you focusing on a topic that might stir up discussion in ways you would not welcome? If you’re using personal social media accounts to do this work, are you comfortable with exposing them to the class / the professor / the public?