FOE6: From Participatory Culture to Political Participation

Liveblogged, There will be mistakes

Around the world, activists, educators, and nonprofit organizations are discovering new power through their capacity to appropriate, remix, and recirculate elements of popular culture. In some cases, these groups are forging formal partnerships with media producers. In other cases, they are deploying what some have called “cultural acupuncture,” making unauthorized extensions which tap into the public’s interest in entertainment properties to direct their attention to other social problems. Some of these transmedia campaigns — Occupy, for example — are criticized for not having a unified message, yet it is their capacity to take many forms and to connect together diverse communities which have made these efforts so effective at provoking conversation and inspiring participation. And, as content spreads across cultural borders, these activists and producers are confronting new kinds of critiques —such as the heated debates surrounding the rapid spread of the KONY 2012 video. Are new means of creating and circulating content empowering citizens, creating new forms of engagement, or do they trivialize the political process, resulting in so-called “slactivism”? What are these producers and circulators learning from media companies and marketers, and vice versa? What new kinds of organizations and networks are deploying this tactics to gain the attention of young consumer-citizens? And, for all of us, what do we need to consider as we receive, engage with, and consider sharing content created by these individuals and groups?

Sasha Costanza-Chock, Assistant Professor of Civic Media, MIT
Dorian Electra, performing artist (“I’m in Love with Friedrich Hayek”; “Roll with the Flow”)
Lauren Bird, Creative Media Coordinator, Harry Potter Alliance
Bassam Tariq, co-creator, 30 Mosques in 30 Days
Moderator: Sangita Shresthova, Research Director of CivicPaths, University of Southern California

SCC: Looks at how social movement use media, how the media reports on them. How they can influence political and policy change. Shows a slide, that looked at front page newspaper analysis compared to social media mentions. Get interesting how ideas spread across platforms. Eg twitter blows up, you get the newspapers the next day. This is part of a larger project, about social media movement practices, how various movements use the media and interact with them. Social movements are increasingly engaging in transmedia activitism, produce content across different platforms, using media from one part and inserting across different channels. The broad argument is that every social movement does this and always have; it’s just a lot more visible now and there is an increase in the amount and channels.

DE: A performing artist. (showed a YT clip of her work). In 2010 saw a economy video, and decided to make my own, music about economics. Got all these econ fan boys etc…now thinks about what she can do with the platform . Economics can be dry, but can be really fun. Tries to take the stuff and make them more interesting. (example below)

LB: (intro video, about what the HPA did with the election, the phone banks etc). Video blogs not shown in front of audiences, normally. So nice to hear laughter!. We do videoblogs every week. The HPA is a 501C3 non-profit., We educate and mobilise young people on civic engagement. We use fandom to connect with them. Take the enthusiasm and apply them to real world social justice acts. We sent stuff to Haiti, built a library in brooklyn, work on marriage equality, etc. We use metaphors from the HP books, when we apply the metaphors it is a way for them to understand on a personal level. They gamified the phonebank, ran a a house cup to get people involved. Get people enthusiastic by helping out

BT: Showed a promotion video, 30 Mosques in 30 Days. Did something slightly different this year, did not travel, got people to crowdsource stories.

SS: first time the panelists had seen each others videos….now to ask questions. How does your work relate to politics and policies.

BT: Generally speaking, when Muslims come into the conversation, things get political, which is not necessary what I want. We talk about the issues, but on an universal scale about how people relate to them. We try and keep it open ended and not political of how people should look at things. We don’t want to be involved to much in the politics. We don’t want to undersell, not be like a slogan, or have an agenda.

DE: does not see herself as political, wants to get away form this. Wants to be about education, about understanding the ideas in a critical way.

LB: does not consider an activist, not political.Legally non-partisan, do not endorse candidates. Have plenty of difference of opinion, Take that into account. We think it’s more about human rights than ideological argument

SCC: illustrates the issue in the US about what politics means. We limit it to elected officials and legislations. We need to step out and think about transforming the world, how do things change. There are 3 main areas of social movement. SO media activation; policy outcome is a different outcome. The 3rd and one of the largest of social transformation is a cultural outcome, where we change the way people think, change ideas about what is possible. If you focus on the first 2, then each have been involved, or distance. But in terms of the cultural shifts all of you are definitely involved,

LB: we have so many young members. Our other videoblogger came out as an undocumented American, so could out a face on the ‘Dream Act’ and there was a personal connection for the phone banking call on this.

SS: THere is a question about the background and what inspired them.

BT:background in advertising and film making. And partner is a journalist. So first project was just in NYC and then they blew it out

LB: paid job is an editor for documentary; just graduated from NYU. Grew up making films, documenting own alliance. Had been watching videos with the YT community. Watching a lot of separate bloggers and found out they new each other, and the HPA. Then I decided to get involved in it and then HPA launched a videoblog.

DE: started in 2007 when friend got a mac with video cam. Just started playing around. Did not study film or economics at school. Now at college, getting broad education (a book college?).

SS: there is a question about what you have learnt, what you would share. What are the skills needed.

DE: I don;’t just want to communicate to one audience. My videos have been possible in Austrian economics. I would like it to be in a broader community. It is about context, having a true understanding of audience, being able to out themselves in that position. I have a following of Libertarians…don’t see myself as Libertarian, more a Liberaltarian..but to bridge different worlds, need understanding of both, will be along process. That is a skill that is required.

SS: speaking of audiences, what about un-intended audiences. Have you encountered that, people see that you didn’t intend

DE: over the summer, published a smear piece on her (totally flattering)..the videoblogger Libertarian Lolita! Saying was part of a rightwing conspiracy indoctrination, to make the Tea Party hip. Had all this support from places, saying not to pay intention. Really grateful that got feedback. It was the worst possible way to interpret the work. Gave her a chance to reflect and amend her image. (it was in no way true)

SCC: people were asking why activism was a dirty world

BT: would like to be seen as a story teller. When you say you are an activist…don’t want to get pigeonholed. It can have a problem of confining films, ideas, allows things to be sloganised. I hope to raise conciousness, give more information. I would be careful of calling that activism

SCC: there are a lot of different platforms into something that looks like transformations. From participatory cultures, internet natives. sometimes that connect with to other sphere of participation. There is another pathway, through social movement participants, who are producing media about the movements, eg Dream Activists, Occupy movement. Any Movement history, a defining moment, one of the thing that happens is people participate in media making. You have people moving both ways now.

LB: to add a point. Don’t think have earned that term. The HPA thinks as itself as fan activists, this is not as scary, activism seems to be a big thing that have to work at and earn.

BT: being a person of colour, get worried about being tokenised…it gets little sensitive for me

SS: when do you merge the different identities?

LB: none of us post political things on Facebook. I have 2 extremes, those who do identify as activists, post anything and don’t care of reaction. Another group just want ot rant about political stuff. Tends to be in the middle. I post different things at different points, will post different personas. It is about not wanting to start fires

BT: DOn’t get oo political on Facebook, but do try and raise consciousness about things, eg drone attacks in Pakistan. Try and find something that has credibility, that has things that people are happy with it. Less is more as well

SCC: there are loads of questions still about this, why people shy away the terms. So circulating info about drone attacks is politics, but you don’t have to call it that!

DE: Politics is inherently devisive, which team are you part of. Personally, politics i prefer to talk in person, without radical online debates. When I post things in general, people do interpret as political.

LB: (to address the question about the video views). Yes, we don’t get too many views. Especially about updates to campaigns. The views are not what matters. We have regular viewers from an established fan community, There is intense discussion, in comments and on other channels. I’d love there to be more views…we started to add something to the community.,, We have achieved the goals, consistent messaging, to have other faces of the organisation, showing them other staffers etc. Would be nice to have higher views, would not really do more for us.

SS: there is a question about lessons about Kony2012.

BT: when Kony happened, all these people sent these videos that I never thought would have. The video was long (and bad), there was a lot of interest..but it does not work out. YOu can’t simplify an issue, you have to tell the full story.

LB: a good example of how people are becoming critical. You have to be more accountable. This time they reached so many people, they could not get away with it again.

SCC: Some great work has been done..the things that are amazing, what they did right, is that it is not about a single issue, doing face to face events, doing lots of these over the years. With former child soldiers, spent years doing that to build up awareness, Should not take away the agency of this. The video is compelling, they do a lot of key things in the video, calls to action. The strategy and tactics were good, the criticism compelling, about the narrative, white saviours saving the Africans from a threat that no longer exists; that the resources are not allocated the way Ugandans want; military intervention is not the right idea on the ground. There are bad things about the narrative and the proposed solution.

SS: it has been interesting to see Invisible Children come back from this. They are planning a big face to face appearance in DC. It is an interesting reaction to slacktivism. It is not OK just to forward/Tweet etc, they want people to turn up. Are they still be able to capitalise on this? So moving on, asking about slactivism.

LB: Up until recently, thought it was a derogative term. But fan activism, as it is now, is housed on online, A lot of what we do would be defined as slactivism. I have recently come around it. While bigger change happens from marches, you can’t do that a lot. But with things about status, petitions, it is something you can do every day, something you can take action right there. You may not have done it otherwise, may spark awareness. When traditional activism has such a big ask, you have to plan ahead, this is a problem for Millennials.

AUDQ: Ask about perspective SOPA and PIPA legislation…the reaction to this from the public to Congress?

LB: good examples of things that took off, something of how one idea one bill will get more publicity, if public figure does something about it.

BT: interesting how reddit has evolved into a community that everyone checks, how it can be something that people check

SCC: Lots of work about how people get involved. How companies get involved, and what they do.

SS: question from board, about theories of change

DE: being here has been amazing about seeing alternate methods of change. About new media in West Africa – $30 dollar phones etc. How companies can be creators of culture. How real culture and lasting change comes from the bottom up.

LB: Most of what I say about being political is me personally, not the HPA. THe HPA does try and make change, spread the discourse, educate people., Often smaller things, but working to change the discourse of younger people

BT: with 30 mosques, was about interesting stories in innovated ways

SS: how do you engage with popular culture? What do you think about this, the benefits, pitfalls

DE: use dot be a typical hipster, not listening to pop music etc. Then realising that some of the stuff on radio was infectious etc, then got hooked, the stuff that makes people feel good, want to make that kind of music. It is a question of the content, rather than the type of music. What if Katy Perry also sang about the social sciences, not just boys and parties.

LB: the whole basis of fan activism is using pop culture, in terms of fandoms, HP, Avengers etc, These are our modern myths. We’re using that as they are th pop culture stories that drive our generation, Society is fueled my narrative in some form – whether religion or revolution.

BT: is about how Muslims interact with pop culture. We put out videos this year, eg 1st day of Ramadan the day the Dark Knight was released. Many Muslims also don’t go to cinema in Ramadan, so made a video about this.

SCC: heard this question a lot. How does political motivation, cultural shifts link to pop culture., There is often the perception that there is one form of pop culture, but there are many internet cultures, pop cultures, Sometimes there are bridges between them. Not saying there isn’t a hegemonic pop culture, but you need to think about the subcultures etc. Some modalities are more explicitly linked with political activation. Not a conclusion, but a challenge to think about complicating things,

SS: Do you know of companies that do something similar?

BT: There are ways. Eg Unheard in NYC (BBH). Gave smartphones to homeless, to tell their stories. THen gave people at SXSW wifi – there was a lot of controversy, but it allowed a conversation to happen.

SCC: would like to give a shout out to the public media makers. Lots trying to think about how to amplify these projects, make a social change process more visible. AT USC, we have been thinking about this. So visitors about the High-Rise project, about highrise living, gentrification etc. They link to community groups etc, Also people from Back Audio film, had lots of money from Arts Council in UK, did lots of media project about immigration etc.

AudQ: How about the Dove campaign?

LB: Dove was successful; there are lot of companies trying to get transmedia projects that do this.

SS: a question, that there seems to be a consensus around single issues. How to you sdeal with people who reject your view?

DE: you communicate to a specific audience, you do have to select. How do you communicate with multiple audiences, You always select something over others.

BT: a lot of audience is US Muslim, plus other Muslims., We visited a gay iman, and got a lot of backlash, a lot of people stopped watching.

LB: when HPA first supported marriage equality, they got a lot of negative responses. This year, none, But got a lot of issue raised about immigration and Dream act. Seem to get the issues, human rights issues, before the mainstream. Think it was more about the national consciousness. The election stuff was all passed, about equality.

SCCL: it is an interesting moment, describing this process of cultural shift. Back how to how do we change the world. You can’t just immediately legislate away these issues, that will transform them. You need to have a conversation and that is how media makers contribute to them

AudQ: I loved the HP books, but they were books..I did not think about all these things them. So how does HPA get started, where do the other thoughts and themes comes in

LB: you can find reasons and metaphors in any narrative and it does not mean the author meant them. Fandoms are a ‘big thing’ about how people can talk online. Like to think about HP as the foundation of modern fanworlds. It involved with the web, as the HP books published, they grew up with HP. MySpace came along with wizard rock came along, etc. Fan sites started, the HP fandom in general evolved with the web. In 2005, when HPA started, there was a strong community, online and IRL…making fan fiction, music, theorising what was going to happen in the later books. They were analysing the heck out of all of these books. It was a natural progression for the HPA to grow out of that and to go back to the books. There are lots of discussion about how to use words, what we have used them with.

AudQ: there was questions about curation..what does it mean when someone curates you?

BT: for us, we got infected. BoingBOing picked it up. That changed everything about how we seen online and also what it meant for us. We have also seen, that when the larger entities pick you up, more people then spread your stuff as well

SCC: A few weeks, some of us started Hurricane Hackers..figuring out how people can take action to help. It grew, then we started to get bumps from media companies, when the tools had not reached maturity. They were proposals, mockups. Partly because of shoddy journalism, others were people just wanting to talk, people started to use them before they were ready. There is something similar, when you take projects and narratives that are being developed in backchannel and gets blown up, it can be difficult.

SS: Question about metrics…what is success

BT: just use google analytics., We love to know time on the site, the visitor numbers. We care more about time than uniques. YOu should not focus too much on metrics, think about quality of content and also being consistent with posting

LB: We track lots, of seeing how people get involved. Varies strongly from platform to platform, so Twitter/FB 20k+, video 3k, but mailing lists is much larger. Tracking engagement is better indicator than visitors. Also just what the chapters are doing.

DE: so so far, just YT demographics. Surprising about the number of international viewers. PLus people who do the subtitles and translations. Made me think about how to reach the international audiences.

SS: a questions about the numbers of views and does it impact the content.

LB: not so much for HPA, it does for independent makers. Get enough views, then you could give up day job, then have more time, get better equipment

BT: not too much, we got grants to help us. Wanted to be independent, di not want to write to attract people, just to get views

DE: Not sure I understand what makes views, having the views is a good indicator of the type of content

SCC: working with Occupy movement people, about what is success. There is metrics about views, participation, about getting policy outcomes. But plenty of stuff that happens that can’t be measured. Eg Occupy got involved in Sandy relief, and lots of articles about how successful it was, in getting new volunteers involved. ie with Red Cross, not easy to get involved. occupy had a year building intake processes for people who just turned dup, so they could use that skills. They lined 1000s of volunteers to concrete actions. Effective social movement and participatory media find ways of plugging people into the stuff instead of just how to watch the stuff

SS: question about gov role in this? (also education etc)

BT: We have funding from foundations etc which distribute gov funds. Kickstarter is also great but the stake they have is quite scary. Public institution money gives you more freedom for creativity.

DE: in general, it is cool how cheap it is to create the things

LB: it may be good to follow similar models to what the gov want to do, but don’t want to take the creators to do things for gov

SCC: The question could be about fostering more digital understanding and literacy, so more people can make stuff

SS: What about platforms, how did BT change the platforms

BT: started on Tumblr, then moved, People asking about writing on the site. THen started to see all the local projects. So we looked to build a platform that brought things together, and got some curation going for the page. It was cools to see how platform has evolved from blog about travelling, to a larger thing, that has a life of its own. It is transcended from just being part of Ramadan, to more a celebration of faith.

SS: platform or audience first?

LB: our audience was built in, there was a community around us, they exist on social media. We never had that barrier of entry, to build audience, it was there for us already. We have out mission statement, but it can be confusing at times. We usually partner with people, with orgs, we just mobilise people to get involved, that can be disadvantage

DE: it is an interesting phrased. The audience should come first, but for me, it was the platform

BT: same, we just stumbled upon this, we want to keep stumbling and working things out. When we stumble and we are earnest, then it is a little bit more real

SCC: Not necessary a maker, my pathway was different. There was no YouTube, we were thinking about making platforms to share the video they were making. There were lots of people building video distribution systems. Then YT came along, there was a lot of movement to there, but there was questions about moving to YT as that is what they were ‘fighting’ against. The only answer is yes, you need to take advantage of popular platforms, but don’t abandon idea that we can build out our infrastructure. We need all of these things,

SS: what do you think of ‘Civic Media’. (that is what it was called)

LB: do any of us know what it means?

SS: so participatory culture, what does that mean?

BT: it is from clicking on a video right through to donating, then starting their own story telling, or coming to events etc.

LB: agree. It can mean slackticism, but is more rewarding when you go beyond, when you go and do things.

SS: what are your future objectives for the projects?

DE: Want to start doing more live performances. There is discussion to go on a college tour, with similar performers. There has been more economic videos etc. College tours, world tours etc. Also, would like to do other issues, general music videos as well, that is what i do too. More about bridging different cultures and communities.

LB: for HPA, continue to work in Imagine Better project, to expand outside of HP, moving towards education reform issues. Implement digital learning, using fan activism, stories etc in educational curriculum. Next year, about equality in many areas.

BT: the problem is that your content is fleeting, we are looking at creating an artifact, a book etc, cool ways of archiving etc, trying to find that. How to keep things online.

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