A tangled and rather bizarre controversy is unfolding in the entertainment world this week as musical veteran Sinead O’Connor spars with teen it girl Miley Cyrus. They come from different continents, different worlds, and different sensibilities, but the women are currently having a very public and very ugly fight that highlights some troubling issues embedded in media, pop culture, and the way people interact.
How unappealing it is to imagine British Member of Parliament Dianne Abbott being given a “severe dressing down” and “ordered” to apologize “unreservedly” by Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. All for the crime of a tweet in which she opined that “White people love playing ‘divide & rule’,” in a discussion that arose from, and has shamefully overshadowed, the conviction of two white men for the 1993 murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
Tweeting uncomfortable historical truths about white people, unlike murder, is not a crime even in the United Kingdom, of course. So the fact that police action has even been discussed as a possibility by malicious, partisan members of the media and clueless members of the public is an alarming reflection of the current state of British political culture where race is concerned – not to mention a wider malaise also infecting the United States when it comes to freedom of expression via social media.
Last week, an article in Slate entitled “How Black People Use Twitter: The latest research on race and microblogging” caused a bit of a stir and some moments of sheer hilarity on Twitter and in the Black blogosphere. The piece’s incomplete research and (unintentionally) racist and insulting tone was noted and brought to the attention of the author himself both on Twitter and on personal blogs. Author Farhad Manjoo’s 6-month surveillance of the Twitter habits of young Black people smacked of virtual cultural tourism. (By the way, Manjoo defended his article, stood by his theory and flawed research, and as of this write-up, hasn’t changed his tune one whit. )
Adding insult to injury, Manjoo’s piece featured a brown redux of the classic blue (but possibly racially White, apparently) Twitter bird as a brown, oversized-cap wearing bird holding a mobile device. Continue reading
Social media isn’t going away anytime soon. Facebook and Twitter, blogging and the latest Google app are here to stay, it seems. But aside from giving us new ways to socialize, can these new communication methods give us new tools to create positive social change? Deanna Zandt thinks so.
A longtime technologist and activist, Zandt has written a book, Share This! How You Will Change the World with Social Networking, available now from Berrett-Koehler, to explain how sharing bits of ourselves online is going to change the world. She spoke with GlobalComment about her book, our shifting relationship to property, the news, friendships, and more.
Sarah Jaffe: Do you think “sharing” online is changing our relationship, not just to media, but to property? We share music, stories, files, but are we changing how we think about ownership?
Deanna Zandt: One can only hope, haha. Certainly digitizing a good chunk of our knowledge has caused us to noodle around with ownership. It reminds me a little bit about comparisons between cultures that are oral (meaning, for example, their histories and news are all carried via word of mouth) and cultures that are literate (meaning, they write them down and that’s considered the gold standard). What we’re seeing with our changing notions of sharing and ownership might be a new hybrid of orality and literacy. (Incidentally, the name of a very cool nerdy book by William Ong.) Continue reading
When is sexual harassment not sexual harassment? When it pertains to the rights of an academic to discuss the sex life of fruit bats with a colleague. Add a cry for understanding, a wail of academic censorship and a quick online petition and the academic community is up in metaphorical arms.
This is the tale of Dylan Evans and his online fight to prove himself innocent of sexual harassment and to place himself as the victim of a politically correct university regime determined to undermine his academic freedom. In a presumably desperate act, he transmitted his story to the HuffingtonPost who obligingly printed his point of view, started a petition about his academic persecution and began to stir up what was to become #fruitbatgate. Continue reading
The grass-roots in the UK is shattered. Party membership and volunteerism is tremendously low, and long-term disengagement with national politics had only the briefest of respites as a result of the televised debates, and still resulted in a lower voter turnout than in 1997. The netroots, a coalition of literate, web-savvy and young activist voters, were supposed to change all that, but they never blossomed. So how do we get them back, and could we ever have a ‘Shepard Fairey moment’?
Firstly, we have to address what stopped it swelling this time. For Nick Clegg, the frequent deployment of the Obama Comparison in the runup to May 6th managed to be entirely disingenuous, especially with its allusion to a netroots community poised to thrive. It was widely believed that this election would be fought online, with viral campaigning reaching a sophisticated peak in the fortnight before the ballot. What actually happened was that broadside assaults on the Conservative campaign platform took place long before the election was announced, and effectively vanished in the final push. Continue reading
As a Black gender equality advocate, I had mixed reactions to Erykah Badu’s video “Window Seat.” I worried about people cheapening the significance of the song. In the video, the artist removes all of her clothes while walking down a public street in broad daylight. As Badu walks, you can see a person behind her picking up her clothes as she discards them. A small group of people, including a mother and her two children, stand near her as she’s wearing nothing but her underwear. A few moments later, she’s shot, and the purple words GROUP THINK puddle around her head as she lies naked in the street. Badu’s cameraman captured the stunt in one take on March 13 in Dealey Park, the site in Dallas, Texas where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Continue reading
On February 13th, Kevin Smith was asked to vacate his seat on a Southwest airlines flight, on account of being “too fat” to fly. Smith is a very successful director, and when he decided to use Twitter to register his complaint at Southwest’s atrocious behaviour, he reached millions. In a series of tweets, he expressed his anger at having been subjected to Southwest’s Guidelines for Customers of Size, and people listened.
This is what Smith had to say: Continue reading
I skipped the State of the Union. I’ve been fed up with Obama speeches for a bit—strange, considering he’s the best political speaker of my lifetime, certainly. But I just couldn’t take another scolding like the one he delivered in his health care speech.
I read the speech the next day. It was better—but still a stump speech. Talk of a spending freeze that doesn’t include defense spending leaves me more angry than impressed. But I had to turn on the TV (well, the YouTube) two days later and watch a rather different kind of Obama event, one that’s since been dubbed “Question Time” after the British tradition of letting the opposition party at the Prime Minister for some unbridled fun—er, questioning. Continue reading
China’s snooping on dissidents is unfortunate but unsurprising, but Western governments – and businesses – need to get out of our private communications, too.
Last week a British man, Paul Chambers, was arrested under terrorism provisions after making an ill-advised joke on the social networking web site Twitter. But really, should jokes be something that we consider ill-advised? Continue reading