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Category Archives: new media

For its 2013 conference (#IR14 if you’d like to follow along at home October 23-27), the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) implemented a new format for submissions. The template went beyond asking for the standard abstract fare of a “description/summary of the work’s intellectual merit with respect to its findings”; it also required a discussion of “its relation to extant research and its broader impacts,” “a description of the methodological approach or the theoretical underpinnings informing the research inquiry” and “conclusions or discussion of findings,” and it wanted all of this in a space of 1000-1200 words (CFP).

This was a departure from the previous template that allowed submission of either a 500 word abstract or a full paper. It’s also a pretty unusual conference submission format that I hadn’t ever seen in the 7 years I’ve been doing this job, and based on comments about it on AoIR’s mailing list (AIR-L) neither had anyone else. It was challenging for me and my panelists to produce something that kind of explained our work (but didn’t have space to, really), but we did it and we were accepted and yay for us.

But as acceptances and rejections came back, AIR-L exploded starting May 30 in something that seems to me to be a paradigm skirmish (like a war, but smaller!), centering on whether the submission process had been tilted toward empiricist work at the expense of the theoretical.

Conflict between paradigms is an area of interest to me in general, but what I found particularly interesting was the incidence of people making incommensurable arguments—using different criteria but not realizing they were on different planes. This is something that I discussed (and attempted to resolve) in the field of Communication in a piece I published last year in Communication Theory, which articulated a model akin to intersectionality for disciplines, allowing similarity and difference on multiple research axes (ontology/epistemology, methodology, axiology) rather than grouping people by a single characteristic a la identity politics.

So what I’d like to do here is explore that disconnect, but also the ways in which the conversation reinforced empiricist projects as “real” research and perpetuated a quite normative definition of rigor. I’m going to do so in a way that names no names and uses no direct quotes. You can go look up the archives if you want—they’re open—but there are way too many people for me to ask permission of all of them and it’s not strictly public, so I’m going to err on the side of caution.

AoIR describes itself as “an academic association dedicated to the advancement of the cross-disciplinary field of Internet studies. It is a member-based support network promoting critical and scholarly Internet research independent from traditional disciplines and existing across academic borders,” but this inclusiveness, cross-discplinarity, and border-crossing were troubled by the introduction of the new submission format.

First, it was quite clear in the debate that non-social scientists felt alienated by the template. Some said they had trouble cramming what they did into it, and others said they hadn’t submitted at all because they couldn’t figure out how to explain their work on its terms.

And emails to the list suggested that some researchers were in fact not accepted to the conference because the format didn’t accommodate them very well. Several noted that theoretical work was rejected on account of lack (or lack of specificity) of methods where that was not an appropriate evaluation. Others specifically noted the humanities as what was disadvantaged, with one scholar pointing to the normalizing force of subheadings, charts, and diagrams built into the conference template.

There were some gestures in the debate toward a hypothetical “qualified” reviewer who could understand disciplinary difference and preserve AoIR’s diversity and not judge one paradigm by another, but mostly that seems not to have materialized. Many participants complained about being assessed based on inappropriate criteria (like methods/findings in a non-social-scientific paper) or reviewers just being pedantic about the template rather than making substantive critiques.  Some called for better guidelines for reviewers to avoid this.

One thing that was not explicitly recognized is that ultimately a great deal of this is a question of reviewing labor. It is my understanding that endemic to conferences reviewed by submitters is an overrepresentation of junior scholars (especially grad students) in the reviewing. Senior scholars are busy or can’t be bothered, or whatever (in addition to being outnumbered)—but regardless of the reason, this has consequences for review quality.

Many of the people making these judgment calls were likely inexperienced and reviewing based on their (seemingly faulty) sense of the rules or based on the paradigm in which they are trained rather than having a developed gut instinct for good work across types of research (which I feel like I can say now because I have at least partially developed that instinct). This is the risk of inexperienced reviewers, a relationship a couple of participants in the discussion also noted, and it’s particularly dangerous to an internally diverse organization such as AoIR.

The response to the theory/humanities complaint was pushback from other scholars who argued that the conference has not been rigorous enough in the past and that this year’s submission process was an improvement. There was little recognition among these proponents that this conflated rigor with scientistic modes of inquiry and presentation.

The new format was held up as a way to lessen the chances of bad presentations at the conference itself by catching those who can write good abstracts or latch on to a trendy topic but then not deliver, a goal certainly worth attempting. But there was a clear divide around the relationship between incomplete research and bad research.

It was social scientists who raised the specter of the cocktail-napkin presentation or simply argued that it’s hard to assess quality on to-be-completed research. The other camp contended that saying the work had to be complete in February or March to present it in October seemed to exclude a lot of people and types of work. Members of this group pointed out that some presentations are just bad, irrespective of done-ness.

Part of the argument about rigor was because of the different “home” disciplines to which AoIR members belong. Social-scientists have had the experience that AoIR isn’t taken seriously. They mentioned being unable to be funded to attend or that attending AoIR wouldn’t “count” for tenure or other evaluations.

In large part, it seems, this has been because AoIR doesn’t require full papers. In previous years, one had the option to submit a paper and then go through a review process to be published in Selected Papers of Internet Research, but one could get accepted without doing so. And indeed, one rationale for the new format was that almost no one was using the full paper option, such that it’s clear that AoIR was primarily an abstract-based conference—which, discussion participants noted, some disciplines see as lazy.

That interdisciplinarity can be constrained by one’s “home” discipline was also clear from the disciplinary divide around the subject of conference proceedings. The folks hooked in to science-type conferences like the Association for Computing Machinery noted the lack of proceedings as another source of disrespect and of the conference seeming less rigorous.

(This is interesting to me because I always thought of conference proceedings as what people did when they weren’t good enough for a real, journal publication. But my field doesn’t use them, so I just had to figure out what they were for as I encountered them—and by comparison to the average journal article they’re kind of shoddy.)

Ultimately, though AoIR is founded on inclusiveness of different research modes, it is clear that speaking the language of methods and findings (and charts and subheads and figures) conflated the conference’s push for rigor with a more scientistic mode. That is, while people could recast that into terms that made sense for their work, and some did, that wasn’t always accepted in the review process.

It made me wonder what the equivalent humanities/cultural studies-centric template would look like. Can we even imagine it? “Be sure to include your theoretical framing and account for race, class, gender, and sexuality”? Related to this, one participant in the discussion noted that if she had applied her humanities criteria to a social science paper and rejected it for being boring and dated, there would be a huge outcry, but making the same assessment the other direction was totally acceptable.

Thus, it is unsurprising that, while there were certainly statements of valuing other types of research than the one any given participant did, this was an unequal sort of mutual respect. Empiricist research got to stand as “straight” or default or unmarked research (even in some statements by the humanities folks, hello internalized inequality!).

It is, after all, often the case that dominant/more socially valued groups get to stand as normative/universal. When social scientists advocated for including other types of work, they tended to ghettoize it out of normative presentation venues like paper sessions into roundtables, workshops, etc.

Of course, there was also some devaluation going the other way, with the humanities proponents concerned about the danger of producing dated research by talking about something that happened a year ago on a rapidly-changing Internet. One wondered what the point was of watching a paper that is going to be published in the next month or two.

As a whole, the AoIR debate points to two sides of a single concern: if the research is closed (completed), and the structure for participation is closed (restricted), what gets shut out?  While some participants were worried about research being boring or stale, others suggested bigger stakes: that this was an anti-interdisciplinary move—perhaps even a betrayal of what AoIR stands for.

This is an important question. Some modes of research are more respected than others—this is something that is currently true about the world, however much we might dislike it and seek to change it in the long term. Doing interdisciplinarity without recognizing the existence of this hierarchy produces circumstances like the scuffle that took place on AIR-L over the IR14 conference template.

On Friday, April 5, a couple of my tweeps passed along links to the TorrentFreak story Movie Studios Want Google to Take Down Their Own Takedown Request








Now, there’s a fair chance that these requests “are just another byproduct of the automated tools that are used to find infringing URLs” (TorrentFreak)—i.e., that the crawler found the URL to a copyrighted thing in the letter (which it has to be to tell Google what to take down), so it gets added to the list of takedown requests.

There’s also a possibility that the motivation has something to do with the fact that “with more than 100 million links to pirated files Google is steadily building the largest database of copyrighted material. This is rather ironic as it would only take one skilled coder to index the URLs from the DMCA notices in order to create one of the largest pirate search engines available” (TorrentFreak).

But having just read the report “Will Fair Use Survive?: Free Expression in the Age of Copyright Control” (pdf) from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, I see another implication, whether or not it was the intent—the system of intellectual property strongarming currently in place works best when the people being strongarmed are isolated and invisible rather than there being traces like archived takedown letters.

In the Brennan Center report, their analysis of all the letters archived by the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse for 2004 found that “more than 20% either stated weak copyright or trademark claims, or involved speech with a fair or at least reasonable free expression or fair use defense. Another 27% attacked material with possible free expression or fair use defenses” (p. ii).

Despite these weak claims or reasonable cases for legitimate use, the report found that many of the things targeted were taken down, even among a population they described as “likely to be a more knowledgeable group than the average” about their free speech and fair use rights given that they knew about Chilling Effects in the first place (p. 36).

The Brennan Center found that part of the capitulation was that the costs of fighting such takedown requests were often prohibitive—both monetary costs for lawyers and potential damages if the person who pushed back lost, and “fear, intimidation, and the emotional cost of defying an IP owner” (p. 37). And I think this speaks to the feeling of being a single individual against amassed industry legal and financial might, and I think that’s a pretty powerful force that should be taken seriously.

It was a victory for transparency (if not quite resistance to copyright maximalism) when “Google decided to forward the take-down notices to Chilling Effects while removing the listings from its index in accordance with the DMCA, and, in their place, inserting a link to the notice on the Chilling Effects site” (Brennan Center p. 29). That is, they did what they had to in accordance with the law, but they didn’t do it silently as if the alleged infringing object had never been.

TorrentFreak opines that “apparently Google has white-listed the Chillingeffects domain because it doesn’t see these indirect links as infringing,” but also notes that “Google is no stranger to removing non-direct links to links.”

This suggests that this is not a simple automated process declaring these links “indirect and noninfringing” to keep up with the 20 million takedown notices Google gets in a month (according to TorrentFreak). Instead, I think that the inclination toward transparency that led them to send things to Chilling Effects in the first place has something to do with holding the line on keeping those letters available.

These processes of shutting down speech—which the Brennan Center report found were sometimes aimed at suppressing criticism—need to happen out in the open. We should know what capital is using copyright as a blunt instrument to stifle. And they should probably have to explain in more detail why, given that such requests are spurious a nontrivial part of the time.

Right now, in Henry Jenkins’s phrase, “someone who stands to lose their home or their kid’s college fund by going head-to-head with studio attorneys is apt to fold” (Convergence Culture, p. 138) regardless of who’s in the right, and the Brennan Center report proposes that “providing for damages and attorneys’ fees where owners have made material misrepresentations in their take-down letters can help redress the imbalance” (p. 55). The Brennan Center also suggests that the legal profession “investigate the possibility of sanctions against lawyers who send frivolous cease and desist letters” (p. 57).

I think these would be excellent steps toward moving away from the use of intellectual property law as a weapon of the strong against the weak. But while we’re waiting, the traces of takedowns in the form of archived letters at Chilling Effects is the very least we can do.

There has been a ton of writing about all the wildly awful things about the Steubenville sexual assault case: the slut-shaming and victim-blaming; marksdubbsthe focus on the boys’ “ruined lives” at the expense of any mention of the impact on the person who experienced the assault; CNNCNN’s bizarre coverage (which prompted petitions to land in my inbox from three separate progressive organizations); and all the awful things that got said on social media (brought to my attention by @AmandaAnnKlein). Also, there was a truly odd use of the word “alleged”–its purpose is for the perpetrator, to preserve “innocent until proven guilty,” not for the victim, to imply nothing ever happened, mmkay?

All of those things have been critiqued, I think, extraordinarily well, and I don’t think I can improve on that.

What I want to talk about is the ways this may be a turning point for electronically networked youth culture.

This is not to suggest, as some journalists have, that somehow the events are a product of electronic networks, as with Susanna Schrobsdorff’s statement in Time: “Joking about rape, referencing sexual acts and girls making fun of girls perceived as ‘sluts’ is just part of teen online culture now.”

This is not part of teen online culture. It’s part of teen culture, full stop. And it’s not “now”; as someone who presumably went to high school more recently than Schrobsdorff, I can vouch that saying these kinds of awful things is not new. What’s new is the visibility, the leaving of traces.

I’m a scholar of gender and sexuality and media; lots of people in my circle account themselves feminists. And as a result, an interesting juxtaposition occurred on my Twitter feed during the week of March 18: Veronica Mars and Steubenville. (I was late on Veronica Mars because of SCMS, and now I’m late on Steubenville because Veronica Mars broke first. A day may come when a news event will coincide with my blog production cycle, but it is not this day.)

But watching the last couple episodes of Season 1 of Veronica Mars the other weekend (in which, spoiler alert, Veronica finally pieces together what happened the night she was drugged and raped) in conjunction with the verdict in the Steubenville case coming down, there were both such similarities between the fictional case and the real one and such crucial differences that it got me thinking.

In VM, as in Steubenville, lots of people witnessed sexual things happening to a drugged girl who everyone assumed was drunk and slutty.  All of those witnesses (with the exception of the ex-boyfriend in the VM case), did not act to stop the events from occurring, which makes them morally responsible even if legal codes often don’t have a way to make such bystanders criminally responsible. (Though, you know, bystander effect is a real thing that happens.)

When Veronica could not remember what happened, and knew only that something had, it took her a year of piecing together disparate sources to figure it out. In Steubenville, electronically networked youth culture recorded everything, and though the local authorities were not inclined to intervene until prodded by national outrage and Anonymous, those (prosecutable) traces made the difference. As Richard Oppel wrote in the New York Times, “because the victim did not remember what had happened, scores of text messages and cellphone pictures provided much of the evidence” in the trial.

The fictional bystanding and the subsequent harassment of Veronica as slutty took place in meatspace, was ephemeral, left no traces. The parallel with the real-life crime is that “the trial also exposed the behavior of other teenagers, who wasted no time spreading photos and text messages with what many in the community felt was callousness or cruelty” (Oppel).

At SCMS a few weeks ago, I attended a paper on bullying in Nickelodeon TV show iCarly, given by my colleague Martina Baldwin. One thing that came up in the Q&A after the session was that, while there’s a long tradition of young people being awful to each other, the difference is in the traces. Things that used to be said in hallways and heard by only a few people now last longer because they are written down; by comparison to the nasty note written on paper, the text message or Facebook posting is exponentially more transmissible and harder to destroy. (Of course, this is the paradox of the Internet: things you want to get rid of last forever; things you want to preserve disappear.)

Indeed, the moral panic around “cyberbullying,” while technologically deterministic in suggesting that such things never occurred before the Internet, may not be totally off base. First, there’s the increased nastiness that comes with not bullying someone in person (this is not just true of youth; see the comments on any news story with a controversial topic, many if not most of which are written by adults). Second, there’s the intensification that comes with the seeming permanence and “everybody knows” aspect of these modes of harassment.

But now, the people who did not assault the girl physically but did do so emotionally and socially may also face consequences. The Ohio attorney general has announced that he “might consider offenses thatsteubenville1 include obstruction of justice, failure to report a felony and failure to report child abuse” (Oppel). This is an interesting turn of events, and not for the reason suggested by what the judge apparently said:

(Which sounds a bit like “you would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.”) While it may indeed serve as a lesson to kids to keep their torture of each other more private, it also has another potential:steubenville2

Youth culture is, more or less, what it has been—if not always, at least as long as I’ve been aware of it. It was already highly networked and skilled at the transmission of information, particularly in ways that harass and harm others.

But the fact that the youth network is now electronic made all the difference in securing justice for that girl in Steubenville. Even more broadly, the use of electronic media traces as evidence in prosecution raises the possibility that the unique ways that these technologies intensify the awfulness of teen culture may begin to recede. In this way, despite all the ridiculousness that has surrounded it (see again the first section of this blog), the verdict is an incredible step forward.

The media studies blogosphere blew up March 13-15 over the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign to produce a movie based on 2004-7 TV show Veronica Mars. I’m a little late to the party because I had a March 18 blog post in the works already, but here I am now, with a hat tip once again to Suzanne Scott, who has a way with naming even in three-sentence blog prefaces and gave me “fan-ancing.”

I am, as many are, troubled by the Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign. I will also, as many have done, preface the analysis of my concern with a statement that I really like the show. I am late on that as well, having just finished the first season via Netflix, but I get why people are willing to throw money at there being more of it.

The reward on movies has always been privatized—that’s what some people are pointing out as why the Kicksterter campaign is not a problem, as with Jason Mittell’s comment in his post Veronica Mars and Exchanges of Value Revisited that “we’re basically just pre-buying merchandise, DVDs, or experiences. How is that unethical?” However, socializing the risk of producing a large-scale film is new. And it’s symptomatic. And it’s probably not going away.

I’m not the only one to speak the language of risk. Bethan Jones, in her Fan Exploitation, Kickstarter and Veronica Mars, noted that this is a situation where “the risk and reward seem reversed, with all the risk — i.e., the initial investment — falling on the fans, and all the reward going to Warner Bros.”

Luke Pebler’s post My Gigantic Issue With the Veronica Mars Kickstarter similarly objected to risk being shifted off of industry: “They’re large, for-profit companies with access to vast capital.  On a certain level the studio’s raison d’etre is to bear financial risk, to float millions of dollars of this year’s box office money to make next year’s movies.”

But I want to make a larger argument about what the VM Kickstarter gestures toward. The socialization of risk in conjunction with private reward has become increasingly visible after the burst of the housing bubble. While I am not an expert in economics to say when risk actually started to be broadly socialized, the recent economic downturn produced a conversation about it, at least in the circles I run in.

During the bubble, some people made money hand-over-fist doing risky things, and when it fell apart large institutions were dubbed “too big to fail” (and, as petitions from progressive organizations in my inbox have complained recently, “too big to jail”) and bailed out. Now, I understand that just letting the economy implode and not taking action would have been worse, but why not bail out regular people instead? I am not aware of any non-activist conversations about spending the same money at the bottom instead, and I know it would have been a political nonstarter.

So, big financial institutions got bailed out, and that was expensive, and lots of people lost jobs and homes and the tax base shrank, such that the federal government is short on cash (well, shorter than usual since the Bush tax cuts and unfunded wars), which has, predictably, led to calls for cutting spending, by which the financial conservatives mean the social safety net. Bailouts at the top, but austerity at the bottom.

And the VM Kickstarter, as an example where average people are asked to take responsibility to pay for large institutions’ tabs, absolutely participates in this austerity logic of socialized risk and private reward. It is symptomatic of the way we have come to think about financial relationships between regular people and the structures of capital.

Interestingly, it’s also indicative of the logic of financialization. As Pebler points out, “huge conglomerates ought to be able to take small risks with lower-budget stuff, because they’re so rich they don’t care.  What’s $2mil to Time-Warner’s bottom line?  But, of course, they don’t.  Instead we’re getting the opposite: the studio exploiting a loophole in order to shift (some part of) these risks onto their fans.” Why is that? Because no amount of profit is ever enough in a financialized system and any cost that can be cut must be to keep shareholders happy.

And because of the Kickstarter campaign’s participation in the hegemonic economic thinking of the contemporary moment, I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg. I agree with Pebler’s assessment that “this campaign has stepped boldly over a line that established content creators have been edging towards on Kickstarter for some time, and I predict it will end up being a tipping point.”

On the other hand, though I do tend to be pessimistic, there is some tiny chance that this will open up a conversation about how it is we want our media to be produced. Richard Lawson of The Atlantic Wire wrote, “I guess my ire is really directed at the famous and semi-famous people who, rather than hustle around town drumming up the money from proper backers and investors and then hoping money from their fans will roll in, just make some cutesy video instead and figure their work done,” and it got me thinking: Who says that large-scale capital is the only “proper” backing structure for media production? Why can’t regular people become proper backers? monello

As Mike Monello tweeted:

The potential to cut out the middleman and let fans and creative workers come together to make things they both love is very appealing for everyone (except studios). As Jones notes, “donating towards the funding of a film instead of buying a ticket after its release also raises interesting [questions] about the extent to which the film will be moulded by what fans want,” and I’d wager that hope of having shaping power is part of the motivation for donation.

The problem, of course, is that shifting the definition of proper funding isn’t really what’s on offer here. It is, as Bertha Chin wrote in her The Veronica Mars Movie: crowdfunding – or fan-funding – at its best?, “a studio film that Warner Bros is essentially too cheap to finance.” Or, in Lawson’s lively prose:

What annoys me is that the campaign’s success might embolden other essentially corporate interests to do the same thing. It’s free money and they pocket all the profit! It’s a great arrangement for them, so why wouldn’t they try it? As charming as the Veronica Mars crew is, some darkness lies behind their big idea. Which is why it might ultimately be better if it fails. There, I said it. Corporate opportunism posing as empowerment of the masses is not something we should encourage.

Lawson picks up on several key points: it’s “essentially corporate interests” who are benefiting even though the face of it is the creator (Rob Thomas) and actor (Kristen Bell) we all so love; ultimately, Warner Brothers “pockets all the profits.” So we need to look hard at “corporate opportunism posing as empowerment of the masses.”

This is not, of course, to paint the contributing VM fans as victims. I am sensitive to Chin’s critique that:

Frustratingly, fan agency always gets left out in arguments which purport concern that fans are being duped by studios and networks. Perhaps, rather than assuming that fans are being duped into donating towards a studio film, thought should be given to implications the success of this campaign might bring to Hollywood’s system; or more importantly, the power fans can wield if they decide a Veronica Mars movie is deserving to be made.

Or Joss Whedon, interviewed in Buzzfeed: “people clearly understood what was happening and just wanted to see more of the thing they love. To give them that opportunity doesn’t feel wrong. If it was a truly wrong move, I don’t think it would have worked. I feel like people would have said, ‘Hey, that’s not fair! That doesn’t count!’”

As Mittell points out, “while I’m giving my money to Warner Bros., I do the same every time I pay my cable bill or buy a ticket to one of their films. But this time I’m getting something more palpable: I’m entering into a commercially-facilitated, serialized one-way relationship with a mass media text and its production crew – which is a pretty good definition of fandom in general.”

These folks have a point. We can’t assume fans are blindly throwing money. This does have structural similarities to other forms of fan activity. Fans aren’t duped.

Or, at least, they aren’t uniquely duped. I do think that the pervasiveness of the logic of socialized risk and privatized reward in the world at large has everything to do with why Kickstarting a large corporation’s product makes any sense at all. It’s why fans participate, but it’s also why the people involved with Veronica Mars are doing it. By and large, this is not something anyone is questioning, about any of the things to which it is applied. But we need to look at the Veronica Mars Kickstarter in exactly that context.

This post is inspired in large part by Suzanne Scott’s post Distanced Learning: SCMS as MOOC (massively open online conference)?, which (amidst a larger argument) described how the Twitter feed (and livestreaming, but really, there was much more Twitter happening) helped her experience #SCMS13 remotely, and Amanda Ann Klein’s post Turning Twitter into Work: Digital Reporting at SCMS 2013, about how tweeting from an “official” account led her to think differently about how she tweeted and view it more as work.

But it’s also inspired by having attended some professionalization workshops at SCMS and reminding myself of my reasons for having a digital media presence in the first place.

In reflecting on her experience as an official Twitter reporter for the @CJatSCMS account (affiliated with SCMS publication Cinema Journal), Klein asked for a reconsideration of academic labor: “what do we count as labor in the world of digital and social media, what is the ‘value’ of that labor, and how do we document it?”

Klein and Scott identified conference tweeting as particular kind of work, with Klein noting that “the pseudo anonymity of the @CJatSCMS account made me less concerned with my personal Twitter brand (i.e., snark) and more concerned with the transmission of information” and Scott expressing a similar sentiment from the other direction, wherein people’s attention to things other than transmission of information made her remote conferencing challenging: “I only experience [sessions’] limited digital residues, often filtered through disciplinary lenses or with an intertextual frame I don’t have direct access to.”

This was interesting to me, because I have always seen Twitter, and my blog/website, as work, but I see it as a quite different sort of work than Klein and Scott. I freely, and routinely, admit that I have trouble catching the substance of talks (in fact, I’m so bad at aural processing that I wonder how I ever made it through K-12 and undergrad). Instead, I usually tweet the quippy bits—I can do color commentary, but for the play-by-play you need someone else.

In this sense, I am the problem for someone like Scott, though I did my best to swing into reporter mode for a panel in which she was interested when asked. I probably did not entirely succeed, but I tried.

I am also the problem for an older generation of scholars unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the idea that what they say in one room, in one physical place, might be transmitted globally, as I discovered last spring when my PhD program had a reunion and the keynote speaker found my tweeting distressing (even though I had been tasked by the department chair to livetweet). Klein notes that “in the weeks leading up to the conference, everyone involved with the @CJatSCMS account agreed on a loose set of Best Practices (including requesting permission before tweeting panel/workshop content),” and perhaps I should have followed something similar in that case.

So, if I don’t see my job tweeting at conferences as the work of reporting, what kind of work is it for me? It’s promotional labor for the Mel Stanfill brand, “Bringing Foucault to Fandom since 2006.” I tweet so that people following the conference hashtag might see it and think I have said something of merit—and maybe retweet, and maybe just remember my name if they come across it again. (This can backfire if I say something that upsets the person who sees it, of course.)

This, for me, is the point of social media. It may be a shocking confession since it’s so unusual these days, but I don’t have Facebook. (Though, as response to the formation of a Facebook group as the way to organize the Fan Studies SIG for SCMS showed, I’m part of a committed minority of nonusers. They later added a Google group.)

When people are startled to hear about this abstention, I point out to them that I study digital media and know way too much about Facebook to be on it. That’s partially true, because I’m enough of an anti-capitalist that I’m not in a big hurry to have my personal data and social ties generating any more revenue than I can possibly avoid (with full acknowledgement there’s lots I can’t avoid).

But more than that, my problem with Facebook is its norms of use—one is normatively expected to add everyone one has ever met, bringing high school into contact with family into contact with career in a way that, to me, sounds like a recipe for disaster.

I do, however, use Twitter. I’m not against social media itself, just how Facebook tends to work. I like the way that Twitter has the norm of nonreciprocal following; unlike “friending,” I am not responsible for who I am followed by, only who I follow, such that there can be identity management between spheres.

(Which should not be taken as a critique or a distancing from anyone who happens to follow me that I don’t follow. I haven’t actively done this and I’m also behind on post-SCMS following back. But it’s very comforting to know I could distance myself if I needed to.)

Because of its different relationship to, well, relationships, Twitter can serve as a platform for creating and maintaining my professional identity and visibility, integrated with my website, in a way that Facebook can’t. And I know that LinkedIn exists, but that’s really for a different kind of professionals—let’s be honest.

So that’s what I was doing when tweeting SCMS. I was entirely thrilled to have my Klout score hit the 81st percentile after the conference (it’s declining again now, of course, because I’m not interacting in the same way, but I know that’s how it goes). I was thrilled to get 5x more hits on my blog than my usual good day (and 25x my average day) for my posting of my SCMS presentation, even though that also is not being sustained. These, for me, are the metrics by which my digital media work has been successful.

I have had people express some skepticism that I find time to blog, like it’s a hobby or I’m somehow shirking my “real” work to do it; it is certainly a hobby for some people, but for me it is part of my real work. It’s time I commit to the big picture of my career, to making sure there are lots of (hopefully smart) ideas floating around out there with my name on them. It’s advertising for my intellectual capacity.

It’s also work that helps make sure all the Google results for my name are me. (With quotation marks, they all are. Without, two aren’t. At least when searching from my own computer.)

My Twitter is time I commit daily to keeping track of what scholars I know and respect are doing and maintaining myself as someone they are aware of. Of course, the professionalization workshop reminded me that I have moved away from professionalism on Twitter to some degree and should probably mosey on back, so I’ll be cutting back on observations about the weirdness of life.

All of this is work for me, even if it’s not for everyone. It’s unmeasurable and unpaid. As Klein noted, it’s not counted yet in official ways, like for promotion and tenure. And it’s deeply neoliberal as an act of self-management in the interest of getting ahead. But right now, at this point in my career, I don’t make the rules. I’m left playing this game the best way I know how.