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Saturday, October 13 • 9:00am - 10:30am
Materializing Activism, Publics and Counterpublics

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David Myles
This presentation examines the social media campaign #SupportIslandWomen that was undertaken by reproductive rights activists in Prince Edward Island (PEI). The initiative gained popularity in 2016 due to both the off- and online circulation of posters throughout PEI landmarks depicting the Green Gables-like image of a young girl (“rogue Anne”) wearing red braids and a bandana. These posters showcased specific hashtags that encouraged debates on various online platforms. For this study, we underline how human actors invoked the symbolic ‘figure’ of rogue Anne to give weight to their own arguments by speaking or acting in her name. By ‘figure’, we mean any symbolic entity that is materialized through interaction and that possesses agency, or the ability to make a significant difference in interaction. Hence, our study examines the processes through which rogue Anne was made present in interaction, the role of digital (online) and physical (offline) affordances in the materialization of this figure, and the differentiated effects that these invocations generated. To do so, we build our dataset by performing non-participant observation on social media platforms and by exploring Canadian blogs and newspapers. Drawing from organizational discourse theory, our results show that invoking the figure of rogue Anne allowed for pro-choice collectives to assert their authority in abortion debates by labelling the fictional character as a modern feminist icon. They also underline the importance of studying the intervention of symbolic figures, their effects, and their materialization within political initiatives that incorporate and go beyond the practice of ‘hashtagging’.

Simindokht Kargar, Adrian Rauchfleisch
Cyber abuse and online harassment are increasingly applied as a form of information control to curb free speech and exert power in cyberspace. In recent years, states have appeared to be particularly invested in weaponizing information against dissidents and activists in an attempt at dominating social and political discourses. These practices are often exercised in tandem with other forms of intrusion campaigns, e.g., state-sponsored hacking of emails, surveillance of communication and devices, and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks on opposition websites. Coordinated harassment of dissidents on social media appears as the most recent form of strategic communication, where particular messages are crafted by state-affiliated actors to manipulate public opinion. The scope of such targeted abuse varies by case while evidence is typically scarce and has not been comprehensively substantiated with data. These extrajurisdictional practices turn harassment into a relatively low-cost weapon for targeting the opposition and limiting freedom of speech through intimidation, and pursuing a “silencing” strategy. This goes without saying that such practices are pursued via the same mediums that are designed to give voice to the voiceless. The proposed study addresses the circumstances under which these coordinated efforts are likely to emerge and the ultimate goals that they pursue. In addition, the study seeks to shed light on the latest practices of the Iranian regime to extend its ideological arms in cyberspace by crafting and disseminating propaganda against its opposition through international platforms.

William Joseph Moner
Participatory media has become a growing area of research in recent years, particularly as people have gained access to powerful cameras and robust network connections. Web-based productions such as Life in a Day (Macdonald, 2011) and One Day on Earth (Ruddick & Litman, 2012) asked people around the world to capture footage of their quotidian lives on the same calendar day, upload that footage to a social media platform — YouTube and Vimeo, respectively — and allow directors and producers to craft a film from the contributions.

This paper takes up two questions germane to the process of participatory media. First, how might we understand the role of the company or organization at the center of the project in handling the volume and types of media submitted? Second, how might we scrutinize the technological platform as a contested site of control in the construction of participatory documentaries?

This paper reports findings that both elucidate and critique the influence of major multinational organizations acting in funding and supervisory roles for the two global media projects mentioned above, and notes the lack of powerful arrangements that compromised the success of the third.

The paper also proposes a new framework for analysis called $2 , drawing from Mosco’s (2009) political economy of communication and his concepts of commodification, spatialization, and structuration to understand the control mechanisms at work through the entirety of a participatory media production.

Rena Bivens
Pressured into social media spaces, anti-violence non-profits find themselves with little time, energy, and understanding of how the software that creates these spaces is curating their networks and feeds. What's more, the spaces that have emerged accommodate and reinforce oppressive dynamics, some of which reflect the very problems these non-profits have been trying to alleviate (e.g. sexism, racism, transphobia, harassment, stalking, doxxing, etc.). Indeed, social media, like Facebook and Twitter, were never designed for non-profits.

Scholars of non-profit communication have questioned whether non-profits who use social media are repurposing the traditional, one-way broadcast model of information dissemination or moving towards dialogic communication – the ideal, two-way symmetrical model of public relations (Grunig and Hunt 1984). However, the possibilities for dialogic communication and reaching the ‘unconverted’ are limited by programming practices.

This paper offers an empirically grounded theoretical analysis of the complex and dynamic ways in which social media design and use interrelate in order to contextualize the role of social media in ending gender-based violence. Ultimately, my preliminary findings indicate that social media companies have played a role in shifting the social change work conducted by anti-violence non-profits towards a ‘broadcast impulse’ (Gregg 2008).

Creating lasting change through efforts to end gender-based violence remains challenging. With this study, I am to better understand some of these obstacles and offer insights for non-profits about the implications that using social media may have on their broader efforts to achieve social change, both on and offline.

Saturday October 13, 2018 9:00am - 10:30am EDT
Sheraton - Drummond Centre