Author Archives: Let's Talk What I Watch

Democracy on the Internet: Can Twitter be Considered a Modern Public Sphere?

Introduction 

Determining if a social media site is considered democratic requires analysis of many factors. Twitter can be seen as a democratic platform in terms of access, but a non-democratic platform in relation to the notion of a public sphere due to it’s unequal balance of user visibility, echo chambers, and corporate ownership. The concept of the public sphere within Communication studies has been set as a general guideline as to what is considered ‘democratic’. Therefore, this essay will define the public sphere and apply it as a measure of democracy within Twitter. Several cases of Twitter’s actions of censorship will be considered as case studies and then discussed as democratic or non-democratic actions in relation to the definition of a democratic platform. 

The Public Sphere as a Democratic Marker

Jurgen Habermas first defined the public sphere in 1962 as an “arena” that is “distinct from the state” and “the official economy” that can promote conversations that are “critical of the state” (as cited in Fraser, 1990, p. 57). Fraser states that these distinctions are “essential to democratic theory” (1990, p. 57). In sum, the public sphere functions as a decent outline of the parameters of a democracy as it highlights the importance of the ability for citizens to critique the state fairly. Daniels (2014) describes Habermas’ public sphere as “rational consensus” (p. 301), and Dahlgreen (2005, p. 148) adds that it is a “space in society that… permits the formation of political will” (as cited in Colleoni et al., 2014, p. 318). Therefore an ideal public sphere would be separate from the economy and state that allows for effective, equal communication amongst citizens in which they are able to critique the state fairly and together form a consensus. In understanding these definitions, Twitter will be compared and contrasted as a modern public sphere.

Is Twitter a Public Sphere? 

Several key factors of a public sphere must be analysed in relation to Twitter. One of which includes open access to the public. One could define a good democracy as open connectivity amongst citizens. Castells (2015) and Tufekci (2017) state that Twitter may promote communication “beyond the boundaries of [citizens] immediate communities” (as cited in Bouvier et al., 2020, p. 2-3). Essentially, any user with a public profile can interact with any tweet at any time. However, Twitter has a nature of hierarchy (ex. Bruns et al., 2013) that doesn’t permit equality when it comes to content dissemination (as cited in Bouvier et al., 2020, p. 4). Although many citizens have access to Twitter due to it’s accessibility in North American societies, it cannot be considered an ideal democratic platform given nature in terms of favouring popularity, shown in likes and followers. The fact that not every tweet will be seen by a varying amount of users makes Twitter an inadequate public sphere. 

Another issue is the concept of echo chambers and the algorithms that support them. Echo chambers do not permit equal access to content or allow for effective communication by the public. Sunstein (2001) claims that social networking sites can act to “reaffirm” your political views (as cited in Colleoni et al., 2014, p. 318). This is a result of algorithms which are based on who a user chooses to follow, what kind of content they like or share, and what topics they engage with. Echo chambers exist on all social media platforms and anything that involves personalized content based on big data surveillance. Although, depending on the situation, Twitter is not purely an echo chamber. As concluded by Colleoni et al. Twitter in terms of news dissemination appears more like a public sphere than when it is analysed Twitter from a social standpoint (2014, p. 328). What they mean by this is when Twitter is being used as a news source it is less likely for users to be restricted to their own social bubbles. For example, trending news stories can be promoted to all users, opening echo chambers to comments and interactions from all users regardless of who they follow. 

Twitter may be able to permit conversation amongst individuals from all backgrounds and political orientations in some senses; however, that does not mean that Twitter allows for meaningful discourse resulting in “rational consensus” (Daniels, 2014, p. 301). In fact, given the nature of social media sites, the ability to block or mute conversations means Twitter is often not the place for consensus. 

Case Study: Twitter Censorship 

There are two popular occasions in which Twitter censorship has become a trending topic. One is described by Siciu (2020) in this Forbes article. The New York Post released a story containing false information about Joe Biden and Siciu highlights how Twitter not only removed the story from algorithms but blocked users from being able to share the article and some of it’s contents (para. 3). Due to Twitter taking these measures to stop the spread of the story, the hashtag #twittercensorship began circulate thus provoking discourse on whether or not the actions taken by Twitter are considered censorship of freedom of speech or within their rights (Siciu, 2020, para. 4). As Foehl points out, “freedom of speech rights do not generally apply to non-governmental entities” like Twitter (as cited by Siciu, 2020, para. 10). Therefore, it isn’t directly, legally harming freedom of speech; however, it is understandable as to why this may be considered as censorship.  

In addition to this, as of June 2020 according to this Washington Post article, Twitter has hidden over five of Donald Trump’s tweets with public interest notices, often stating that the particular tweet “violates its policy prohibiting abusive behaviour” (Lerman, 2020, para. 1-2). Other tweets that have been flagged include notices of verifiably false information or copyright strikes. Trump has gone as far as to initiate an executive order that strives to change a federal law in relation to this (Lerman, 2020, para. 6).  

Regardless of political affiliation, the existence of fake news or misinformation is non-democratic as it can skew effective communication amongst citizens, a key characteristic of the public sphere. Therefore, the conversation about Twitter’s actions must take into account the fact that preventing misinformation within their legal means and upholding their own user agreement policies is well within their rights. A main issue with preventing the spread of misinformation is the concept of fact-checking. Remaining unbiased when fact-checking is necessary, but difficult. Since Twitter is owned and governed by a corporation, its bias can be questioned and become another complication of its democratic possibilities. 

Conclusion 

Regardless of the definition of the public sphere, Twitter cannot be truly defined as a democratic platform due to it’s nature of inequality and ownership with ability to censor.

Although Twitter has been working to prevent the spread of misinformation in order to promote it’s platform as a space for meaningful and democratic political discourse based on the truth, while the hierarchy, inequality and algorithms exist it cannot be defined as a true public sphere.  

Word Count: 1159

References 

Bouvier G., Rosenbaum J.E. (2020). Communication in the Age of Twitter: The Nature of Online Deliberation. In: Bouvier G., Rosenbaum J. (Eds.), Twitter, the Public Sphere, and the Chaos of Online Deliberation. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1007/978-3-030-41421-4_1

Colleoni E., Rozza, A., & Arvidsson, A. (2014). Echo Chamber or Public Sphere? Predicting Political Orientation and Measuring Political Homophily in Twitter Using Big Data. Journal of Communication, 64(2), 317–332. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12084

Daniels, G. (2014). How far does Twitter deepen democracy through public engagement?: An analysis of journalists’ use of Twitter in the Johannesburg newsroom. Journal of African Media Studies, 6(3), 299–311. https://doi.org/10.1386/jams.6.3.299_1

Lerman, R. (2020, June 23). Twitter slaps another warning label on Trump tweet about force. https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/06/23/twitter-slaps-another-warning-label-trump-tweet-about-force/

Fraser, N. (1990). Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy. Social Text, 25-26(25/26), 56–80. https://doi.org/10.2307/466240

Siciu, P. (2020, Oct 15). Twitter limited the sharing of New York Post story – is it social media censorship? https://www.forbes.com/sites/petersuciu/2020/10/15/twitter-limited-the-sharing-of-new-york-post-story–is-it-social-media-censorship/#590ce61a18ec

Let’s Talk About: A Quiet Place

I want to preface this post with a quick note: I am the worst with horror movies. In fact I think I had legitimately watched only one before this one, and it was one of those comedy-horror teen movies with a few jump scares (Happy Death Day). I think more horror movie fans wouldn’t even call either of these films true horror movies so there’s that. 

About one and a half years ago I went through a phase where I tried to see everything that Emily Blunt had ever acted in. I’m not sure when or why this happened and I can’t remember if I saw A Quiet Place or Mary Poppins Returns first but at some point before I saw either of those films, it happened and then I was on a mission to see everything from Sicario to The Devil Wears Prada. 

Then when I found out her and John Krasinski (Jim from the American version of The Office in case you didn’t know) were married, it made watching A Quiet Place and the press junk for it so much more fun. Mostly because they’re super hilarious together in interviews.

Anyway, let’s talk about how me, a non-horror movie fan, came to really enjoy A Quiet Place, and enjoy it so thoroughly that I bought advanced tickets to see the sequel in theatres and get really upset the day it got cancelled because it was supposed to happen at the end of March, and we all know how the end of March 2020 went.

John’s First Film 

Watching A Quiet Place and knowing that this was John Krasinski directorial debut is honestly kind of crazy to me, because it’s really good. Then finding out he also wrote it? 

Most people know him as the funny guy Jim from Dunder Mifflin, which makes the fact that he also took part in the writing process so much more ironic and fascinating. 

In many interviews he talks about how he finds the storyline to be a lot less about horror and more about familial and parental love, stating in several talk-show appearances that the movie is really a “love letter to his kids”. Which is definitely adorable and shows well in the second half of the movie, which I won’t spoil because I will be telling everyone I know who hasn’t seen this movie to go watch is ASAP. 

Fun fact, John also at one point played one of the creatures, so keep that in mind while you’re watching. 

Silence Does So Much 

My love for scores was dutifully appreciated in this movie. Although there are little to no verbally spoken lines in this film and the main antagonist in this film is sound itself, this movie is far from silent. 

Jumping off from that point, the use of sign language set this film apart from other performances in so many ways. It’s such an expressive language and took the film’s emotion to a whole different level.

Although a movie with little to no script could have driven viewers away, it sure didn’t. One of the most interesting quick facts that I can share about this film and its popularity, was that it was made on a budget of $17 million and ended up with a box office total of $340.9 million. So, safe to say it was a hit.

Awards Season Bummer 

Horror films aren’t known for winning big at any awards show as far as I know, and as I’ve already mentioned, I don’t really watch a lot of horror so the thought of why they don’t win never really crossed my mind until I saw this film. 

Although the film was nominated for many awards and ended up winning best sci-fi/horror at the 2018 Critics Choice Awards, I still think that there should have been a little bit more recognition for this film! 

However, I am super glad Emily won best supporting actress as the SAG Awards in 2019 because she definitely deserved some kind of recognition for several scenes in that film. This isn’t a spoil because it’s in the trailer, but the bathtub scene alone deserved that whole SAG trophy. 

The young performers in this film, Millicent Simmons and Noah Jupe, were also brilliant. This was not my first time seeing Noah, since he is an extremely talented child-actor circulating Hollywood right now (Ford v. Ferrari, Wonder, Honey Boy, Suburbicon). However, this was my first time seeing Millie in anything and she was so, so fantastic and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for more of her in the future. She also ended up being nominated for Best Young Performer at the 2018 Critic’s Choice Awards, which definitely speaks for her performance. 

A Great Horror Movie for the Not-Horror Movie Fans

In the end, I can confidently say, as someone who sucks with horror, you can seriously enjoy this film nonetheless. In the end, although it can definitely get creepy and there are a few jump-scare moments, I think the story-line, performances, and overall composure of the film make this such a good movie.

And I’ll still be just as excited, if not more, to see the sequel in 2021 as I was 7 months ago!

Process Post: Reacting to my Peer Review

Today I wanted to look back on my first peer review critiques and address some of the suggestions. 

The creator of The Rabbit Hole was my first peer to review my website and he had some really lovely things to say alongside some really meaningful and helpful suggestions!

I feel like my peer and I had the same ideas as to what I should be adding to my site last week. These are some things I addressed in my process post last week called “Website Map and Future Goals”. 

I’ve made one of these changes already, which is to add a “most recent post” section to my website footer. I think any opportunity to direct the reader to another post or another page is always a good and easy way to keep their attention on your site. 

Second of all, adding more links to my content on the different pages is something I wanted to include as well. An example of this would be linking to my pages directly on the home page instead of just through the menu, whether this be embedding links into the “about this site” write-up or adding buttons. This is something I want to address this week for sure. 

I really appreciate any feedback from peers just so I know I’m on the right track. As we discussed in class, it’s nearly impossible to look at your own work with an unbiased eye. Critiquing your own work, whether it be content wise or simply just correcting spelling, grammar or punctuation, is really hard. 

It’s very comforting to know that I’m on the right track with the overall tone of my site being reflected in my graphics, colour palette, and style of writing for my blog content. Everything that my peer said about my choices was exactly the result I wanted to provoke in my audience. So cheers to that!

Let’s Talk About: The Big Short

I’m not the first person to say I don’t get economics. I’m also not the first person to say I have no clue what happened in 2008 and it’s not because I was only eight years old. 

I never thought I would see this film. When it came out and was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars I was a thriving 15 year old fan of Spotlight and thought watching anything to do with economics would bore me to death.

Now, nearly 5 years later I was convinced by a close friend that it is actually a really interesting, borderline funny movie that I should see. And I’m glad I did!

In the end, this film took me by surprise. It was interesting, informative, anger-at-elites inducing, and… funny? 

First of all, the casting was phenomenal. No brainer. Straight A-list Oscars shoe-in. 

Second of all, it actually tried to explain economics. Economics for Dummies, like those books you can find on literally every topic. They probably have one about economics and nicknaming this movie that is probably a copyright strike.

The context of the financial crisis leading through to the aftermath was all explained at the barebones level of how the world functions economically. This doesn’t mean that I totally understood it, but they gave me all the tools that they could.

Making a film about a financial crisis that ended in millions suffering in some way. Better yet making a story like this intriguing and educational without making your audience want to cry. 

The breaking of the fourth wall by several main characters and the “guest” appearances of big name stars whose only roles were to explain basic aspects of economics, sometimes from bathtubs, ended up being the main comedic highlight for myself. 

These cameo’s alongside the splashy, quick, collage-like between scene cuts to popular culture references also worked great to transport the audience back to 2008 and set the scene. 

Although this film deals with such a tragic crisis that from an economic outsider’s point of view seems unbelievably impossible to understand, the film overall handles both of these struggles impressively well. Not only does it give the audience a refresher of how several powerful people can rip everything away from so many other people just in the name of greed, but it does so in an entertaining fashion that continues to draw the audience in while also managing to explain the basics of economics. 

Process Post: Website Map and Future Goals

I’m a huge nerd for organization. 

One of my favourite activities is to reorganize my closet, or my bookshelf, or tidy up my space in general. I wouldn’t say it’s a problematic habit, just more something that eases my mind. 

I think this is reflected in this website. I wanted to keep my blog “Let’s Talk What I Watch” and my academic assignments and writing pieces for PUB101 completely separate and easy to find. 

As seen in this hand-drawn map above, I have briefly walked through how I want the 2 kinds of paths to be in terms of getting around my site when a visitor first comes through the door at the Home page. 

The 2 Paths 

Ideally by next week I want to figure out how to connect all of my pages a little more through means other than the main menu. 

So, the first path is that of coming through the home page, reading the “a little bit about this site” section, and then clicking through embedded links within that write-up or a “suggested recent posts” section at the bottom of the Home page. 

The second path is accessing the different pages through the main menu. Here I have laid out my menu title ‘Blog’ as two sections 

  • Academic Pieces for PUB101 
  • Blog (leading to the Let’s Talk What I Watch posts)

I have further divided my academic posts into different categories:

  • Essays
  • Mini Assignemnts 
  • Peer Reviews
  • Process Blog 

Plans for the Future 

Site organization and move-ability was a key part of my website development, but I still am working on getting to know WordPress a littel bit better so that I can connect my pages together and promote my work on the Home page to draw visitors in!

Let’s Talk About: The Social Network

I recently learned that The Social Network is considered one of the best films of all time.

Famous film-makers like Quentin Tarantino have called it their favourite film of the 2010s, while TV and movie youtube channels like Pretty Much It rave about it and how frequently they re-watch it just for fun. 

Although the first time I saw it (years ago) I was unconvinced, having recently re-watched it I can now understand. This movie is just so awesome. 

I have a few theories about what makes this movie so thoroughly loved, so let’s talk about them. 

The Score 

First up, the score. If you’ve read my other blog post so far on Spotlight you’ll know how much scores excite me. The energy of this score is so fun and maintains this techno, innovative vibe to it that makes it feel like you’re also developing and coding high-tech algorithms. 

Also, if you’re the kind of person who works best when listening to instrumental music, this score is easily one of the best to study to. It just makes you feel smarter. 

Realism 

The fact that this is a true story just hits so much harder than if this were all made up. Seeing the real life (with few dramatic liberties) conception of such a famous technological and social phenomenon, Facebook, play out is just mind-boggling. Especially considering the major drama that happened behind all of it. 

Let’s just say, Facebook has been problematic since day one. 

The Editing 

I love love love when chronological stories are told the way this one is. Jumping back and forth from the future legal proceedings to how it all actually went down in the past just keeps you on your toes the whole time. 

This timeline does two things for the movie. It works great for dramatic effect when diving into the deep social conflict and narrative that this movie takes us through. In addition, it does great things for the character development. We manage to see several characters go through trial and error in real time and we also see them reflect on theirs and others actions as well. This works to make the audience more upset with Zuckerberg, feel pity for Saverin and frustrated with the entire character that is Sean Parker’s ego. 

The Performances

Last but not least, the performances in this film are so, so well-done. I really disliked Mark Zuckerberg. Which, notably, isn’t hard. I’m a communication student taught to criticize his every move when it comes to Facebook, whether or not it was in the past or happening today. But, Jesse Eisenberg really embodied the socially inept, narcissistic but at the same time socially helpless character that Zuckerberg was (and is today, frankly). 

Andrew Garfield was also really good, and Justin Timberlake definitely surpassed my expectations (yeah, I know, I forgot he acted too). 

And every time I review scenes from this movie I realize how stacked this cast was. Back in 2010 it probably wasn’t considered a “mind-blowing” cast but honestly the amount of people I recognize is telling. In fact, as I write this I literally just found out that Erica Albright (Zuckerberg’s original complicated love interest slash angry blog post inspiration) was played by Rooney Mara. Wild. 

All in all, I definitely will be re-watching this film sometime soon.