Tag Archives: PUB 101 Coursework

The Giuliani-Borat scandal: Fabricated video or faulty excuses?

Process Post #7

The main photograph in question: Is Rudy Giuliani simply tucking in his shirt or did he have other ideas?

This week’s discussion of social media and digital literacy really couldn’t have come at a better time. One week from today will be the 59th United States Presidential Election, where the incumbent president Donald Trump will look to earn a second term against Joe Biden. As this chaotic presidential race reaches its conclusion, the memes, tweets, and news stories are practically writing themselves. With that in mind, it’s important to stop and ask ourselves about the content we see what’s truthful and what’s fake.

We all know by now that Donald Trump loves to denounce the “fake news.” In his recent 60 Minutes interview, Trump accused reporter and interviewer Lesley Stahl of subscribing to the fake news agenda before storming out of the interview early. To many viewers, it was an embarrassing display of character by the president, who complained of being unfairly asked tough questions… as the President of the United States.

But this isn’t about my political views. What’s important is that Trump and his supporters genuinely do believe in such a thing as the “fake news,” and it becomes an excuse upon which any negative story of claim can be chalked up to. Since the interview on 60 Minutes aired, interviewer Lesley Stahl has even received death threats from hardcore Republicans. So really, there’s no perceivable limit as to how far they’ll go.

That brings me to this week’s reading by Franklin Foer, titled “The Era of Fake Video Begins.” As Foer discusses throughout the article, there are genuine concerns to be had with fake videos and manipulation of media online. On a more NSFW level, he talks about the issue of “deepfakes” where the faces of celebrities are realistically plastered onto other people’s bodies in pornographic videos.

Foer mentions that “unedited video has acquired an outsize authority in our culture,” based on the public’s hunger for reality. Specifically, he points to scandalous behaviours “caught on tape,” much like we saw this week with Donald Trump’s lawyer and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani in the new Borat film. In case you’ve been absent from the Internet this week or don’t watch the news, the gist of the scandal is that Giuliani was caught inappropriately stretching out on a hotel bed and sticking his hand down his pants in front of actress Maria Bakalova. For more information on the scandal and a frame-by-frame breakdown of the incident, you can check out Slate‘s article here.

Now, Giuliani claims that the entire video is a “complete fabrication” and that he was simply tucking his shirt in after removing his microphone. In one tweet, he cites the New York Post, which argued that the incident seemed to be exaggerated through editing.

This relates to an important part of the Foer reading, where he argues that the problem in today’s digital era “isn’t just the proliferation of falsehoods.” Rather, the problem is that fabricated videos lead us to question the accuracy of everything we watch, and provides a ‘get out of jail free’ card of sorts to those caught up in a video scandal.

Can we be certain that the video of Giuliani in the Borat film wasn’t doctored? The truth is, it’s entirely possible. As Matthew Dessem argues in Slate, “There’s nothing in the film that proves Giuliani’s intentions, and there are enough places where the audio and editing could have been manipulated to make the encounter seem creepier than it actually was.”

It’s likely that this eventually dies down as a mystery, and probably sooner than later with bigger issues on the docket with next week’s election. But it raises the question of when we can let people off the hook for their actions simply because the video might have been edited. Or on the other hand, at what point do we decide that a video is truthful enough to warrant disciplinary action?

I certainly don’t have those answers and I’m not sure any one person does, but it’s certainly food for thought as we continue to think about digital literacy going forward.

Peer review #2: Perspective in a Lens

This week’s peer review is for ‘Perspective in a Lens’. It seems that my peer is going for a minimalist sort of look for their website overall, which seems appropriate for a photography page that likely wants to draw attention directly to its content.

For example, upon first entering the website, the viewer is presented with an interesting photograph that gives them an immediate idea of the type of content and work they can expect. The addition of the small ‘scroll’ button at the bottom is a nice touch to drive the customer towards the rest of the website, but to nitpick, it could either be a little bigger or a darker, more contrasting colour that invites the viewer to click on it.

I do like the photo header on this website, but I think it might be useful to include the title of the website ‘Perspective in a Lens’ and possibly a tagline in the upper right-hand corner of the photograph to give the viewer just a bit of information as to what they’re looking at. A short scroll will introduce that sort of information as pictured below, but because the photo is so big and takes up the entire screen, it might be helpful to include some information on it so the viewer doesn’t have to navigate to find it. Instead, they’ll immediately associate that photo with the website name upon entering.

While I do appreciate the minimalist look of the website and what it’s trying to accomplish, I think it’s lacking some sense of identity. In his article titled ‘Design Machines,’ Travis Gertz discusses the simplistic approach that many websites take today which closely resembles my peer’s website, as pictured above. Gertz provides examples of numerous websites that use this similar wide-open layout copied from successful companies like Airbnb but notes that the problem is they end up looking the same.

What I like about my peer’s website is the little splashes of purple colour on the portfolio button and back-to-top button in the bottom right corner. I think if this website is to keep the minimalist look going forward, it would be nice to add some more colour to the menu, header, or perhaps additional buttons.

For a photography website, I also think it would be nice to have some feature photographs on the homepage so that the viewer can see some of their work without having to click through to their portfolio. I think the website is laid out quite nicely but just needs some more content to really get it going and to liven it up. On the topic of content, it looks as though my peer has fallen behind a little bit in content creation with only one portfolio post, two process posts, and the first mini assignment.

If they’re able to get some more content flowing it would give them a lot more options to fill out the homepage and drive viewers to pages and posts of interest. More content can also lead naturally to more design choices and give the designer a chance to play around with things a little more. As Gertz notes, “when we design with content the way we should, design augments the message of the content.”

I like the use of the recent post sidebar on the right side, as well as the archives and categories sidebars on the left side, and the dropdown menu within the PUB 101 category is useful for easy navigation. The search menu is also a good feature that is easy to locate for the person who knows exactly what they’re looking for. I don’t know if my peer has any social media pages that they might be able to link to on their website, but if so that would be another great way to get people interested in their work while also associating an actual person with the website. It also just adds another small element that can be placed in the header or menu bar to spice things up a bit.

Overall, the structure of the website looks good and they have all the necessary pages for a successful website. It could just use a bit more attention to detail in adding some colour or other visually interesting elements, as well as more content.

Tribes and counterpublics on Canucks Twitter

Process Post #6

In this week’s lecture, we were introduced to Seth Godin’s concept of a ‘tribe,’ which he defines as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” This prompted me to look into the idea a little more closely, as I believe it applies quite well to the digital sports communities that this site is intended for.

In his discussion on tribes, Godin notes that “a group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” With this in mind, I’m reminded of a tribe (or public) that I consider myself to be a member of, which is Canucks Twitter. I’ve been on Twitter for more than eleven years now, with the last ten of them dedicated almost entirely to reading and talking about the Vancouver Canucks.

As you can see in some of the tweets below, we regularly refer to ourselves as being part of or synonymous with Canucks Twitter. In some ways, we consider ourselves to be one unit.

In this regard, our leader would be considered the Vancouver Canucks, particularly the media and social media departments that present us with team news. Twitter is the means by which we communicate with one another over our shared passion for the Canucks and cheer together for their success.

However, as Godin elaborates on his blog, “over time, the tribe and the leader inevitably drift apart.” In my experience on Canucks Twitter over the past decade, especially in the last five years, this has been the case. Sure, we all have the same ultimate dream to see the team lift the Stanley Cup one day, but there are multiple counterpublics or within the Canucks public/tribe that have varying opinions on how the team is going about reaching that ultimate goal.

Most notably, there are two primary counterpublics within Canucks Twitter that deserve specific attention: #BenningBros and #FireBenning.

Jim Benning is the current general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, and has been in the position since the spring of 2014. When he first entered the position, the team was entering a rebuilding phase after being Stanley Cup contenders for a long time. The legendary Sedin twins were declining, all-star centre Ryan Kesler wanted out of town, and franchise goaltender Roberto Luongo had been recently traded away for an unproven prospect in Jacob Markstrom. In other words, Benning had his work cut out for him, and people were by and large willing to give him some time to do that work.

After a brief playoff appearance in 2015, however, the Canucks went on to miss the playoffs four seasons in a row under Benning, prompting many fans to call for his firing. This movement manifested itself under the #FireBenning hashtag, which continues to be of use and growing to this day.

This offseason in particular has been a mess for the Canucks after the loss of so many prominent and popular players. To make matters worse, the reason behind many of those lost assets was being unable to afford them as a result of brutal contracts handed out to bottom-six forwards in the past four years.

However, Benning still has his supporters, which many on Canucks Twitter refer to as the #BenningBros.

As a result, the tribe that is Canucks Twitter is no longer as united as it once was when I first joined in 2010. Mind you, the Canucks were one of the best teams in the league at the time, so there was little to critique. More than anything, we were just along for the ride.

A run to the second round of the playoffs this summer united fans in a way that we haven’t seen in years. By the time October came around, however, things were back to normal on Canucks Twitter, with the #BenningBros and #FireBenning camps dueling it out over his offseason decisions. Until the team wins a Stanley Cup or Jim Benning is relieved of his duties, it’s unlikely we’ll see either of these counterpublics disappearing in the future.

Applying feedback received from peer review #1

Process Post #5

This week, I worked more on the aesthetics and navigation of my website after receiving some valuable feedback from the first peer review. My assigned peer pointed out multiple things that helped me declutter my home page and headers, as well as just tidying some other things up.

The first change I ended up making was to change the colour of the tagline “All Things Sport in the Great White North” because it had been a light grey colour that was near impossible to read against the white backdrop. I had tried to figure out how to change this in the past few weeks but didn’t see any option for changing its colour within any of the customization menus.

Thankfully, I was able to count on the always trusty Google to provide a solution. Thanks to a forum on WordPress’s support page, I found a little bit of coding that did the trick. As someone who has absolutely no idea how to code, it was really helpful that the post author provided a step-by-step direction of how to do so.

The next thing my assigned peer mentioned was the redundancy of my menu on the home page. It was centred on the top header and then once again to the right just below it which was unnecessary. I appreciated her pointing that out because I think I tried to do a little too much in setting up my website and didn’t take into account that less is more sometimes.

With the menu on my header looking much better, I also decided to remove the header image above it that held my tagline because as my peer mentioned it was already visible in another place on my website. This made me realize if I was going to have an image in the header, I would probably be better off having it be the actual name of my site and publication rather than just the tagline. Hopefully it’s a little more memorable and will help drive people back to the website in the future. I also changed the colour of the image to a white backdrop with black writing to break up the monotony up top and am pleased with the red-white-black striping that exists there now.

Another thing my peer touched on was the redundancy of my contact information throughout the site, as I had multiple links to my email and Twitter that were cluttering the space. I decided to just keep the one Twitter icon and leave everything else on the contact page instead, which I agree is much cleaner now.

I haven’t found any appropriate images that I might want to incorporate to the static About and Contact pages as my peer suggested, but it’s something I’ll continue to consider over the coming weeks to freshen them up and make them more visually appealing.

One thing I changed that I’m quite pleased with is my footers and sidebars on my site, including things such as monthly archives, recent posts, and categories. It wasn’t a direct suggestion from my peer but her recommendations of making things more succinct and easier on the eyes inspired me to look for ways to do that and I think I was able to accomplish that.

Lastly, my blog happened to be shown briefly in the lecture period on Zoom on Tuesday and one recommendation that stood out was to make the background colour (red) a little less bright. I took Jaiden’s advice and went with a little more of a dark red/burgundy colour and it’s helped to soften the look of the site.

Overall, the first peer review provided an excellent opportunity for me to look at my website from a different perspective and I’m happy with the progress made as a result.

Twitter as a pseudo-democratic space

In the four years since the 2016 US Presidential Election, Twitter has become one of the premier spaces on the Internet for political news, controversies, and debates. Conversely, Twitter has evolved dramatically from the personal micro-blogging site it once was at its inception. With Jürgen Habermas’ notion of the public sphere in mind, scholars have considered the platform’s classification as a digital public sphere in the last decade. Habermas’ public sphere was based on the premise that public opinion could be formed in a space where all citizens have access (Fuchs, 2014). Furthermore, social status would be deemed irrelevant and only the quality of argument would be considered (Liu and Weber, 2014). In Habermas’s mind, these principles would result in a democratic space.

Scholars like Christian Fuchs (2014) and Liu and Weber (2014) have argued that Twitter cannot fully qualify as a public sphere due primarily to limitations of social status and equal access. Liu and Weber (2014) argue that those at the bottom end of the social hierarchy are mostly ignored, while Fuchs (2014) classifies Twitter instead as a pseudo-public sphere where most content is information-based rather than being conversational. Since 2014, however, Twitter has changed drastically and has become a hub for political discussion for anyone who wishes to partake. With greater focus on replies and quote tweets, as well as an increased character-count from 140 to 280, two-way conversations are more suited to Twitter today than ever before. Still, there remain a variety of issues that contribute to Twitter’s questionable status as a public sphere and democratic space.

This essay will explore how Twitter provides a pseudo-democratic space for dialogue about social and political issues in society, citing examples of hashtag-based movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo. However, it will also present issues related to inequal enforcement of rules and violations, as well as underrepresentation and algorithm-driven filter bubbles that contribute to Twitter’s failing in providing a truly democratic space.

Recent statistics find that Twitter has approximately 330 million users worldwide, the majority of which (47 million) are in the United States (Lin, 2020). Both numbers are small in comparison with real-world populations, but they still provide large enough foundations to create massive conversations. As university professor Sarah Jackson (2019) argues, our world is better off as a result of sociopolitical conversations that have been born on Twitter. Specifically, she contends that people who have previously been left out of public discussions––such as young and marginalized populations––are finally able to have their voices heard through the platform. In an interview with Vox, she highlights this point specifically, claiming that new voices and perspectives being heard on Twitter have “made us better and more democratic” (Illing, 2019, para. 13). While she concedes that those with greater power and resources are still able to stifle dissenters on Twitter, she maintains that the “dissenting discourse” is still having an impact “worth celebrating” (Illing, 2019, para. 23).

In addition to holding those in power accountable for their words and actions, Twitter also provides a space for marginalized communities to create movements that extend beyond the Internet. For example, movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo “were pushed into mainstream consciousness by networks of ordinary people” sharing their own stories and making collective demands (Jackson, 2019, para. 5). This has given people a sense of empowerment that was once impossible to unleash during a time when traditional media gatekeepers in print and broadcast journalism decided the topics available for public discussion. Still, despite its tremendous affordances, Twitter is not without its flaws.

Although it might seem like a wide array of people are engaging in political discussions through the medium, those who are visible on the platform tend to be highly overrepresented. According to a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, approximately 10 percent of Twitter users in the United States accounted for 97 percent of tweets concerning American politics (Baca, 2019). Moreover, Baca states that “the most prolific political tweeters accounted for 6 percent of all U.S. adult Twitter users and 73 percent of all political tweets” (2019, para. 2). While Sarah Jackson talked about Twitter’s ability to give voices to those who had previously been stifled, the social platform is still not providing a space where all voices are being heard equally. With this in mind, it is likely that scholars would continue to dismiss the platform as a type of public sphere.

Similar to how Fuchs (2014) labelled Twitter as a pseudo-public sphere, it would be appropriate to call it a pseudo-democratic space. Technically anyone can speak up and voice their opinion, but there is no guarantee that it will be seen, reviewed, or challenged by any other users. If one chooses to do so, they can even mute certain words or block users from coming up in their Twitter feeds. If anyone has the power to stifle others’ voices and opinions, it is difficult to contend that Twitter is truly democratic. In addition to actions such as muting and blocking, Twitter also tends to follow the social media trend of “filter bubbles,” where users become locked into a certain social circle and only see information that reinforces their existing beliefs. As Baca (2019) notes, such filter bubbles can be intensified by invisible algorithms that are difficult to understand but incredibly influential.

Another area where Twitter struggles in providing a democratic space is through its rules and regulations, which some users believe favour certain individuals. For example, when Donald Trump announced via Twitter earlier this month that he and the First Lady Melania Trump tested positive for COVID-19, many users took to the site to wish for his death. Twitter decided that wishing death or harm against the president was not acceptable and all posts that expressed such content would be removed (Thorbecke, 2020). This might seem like a reasonable action for a social platform to take in the wake of an event like this, but the decision did not sit well with many users who accused the platform of a double standard. In all fairness to those users, they have a valid point.

One Twitter user who goes by the screen name @willw posted a tweet in response to Twitter Communications with screenshot evidence of a ruling 12 hours prior that seemed to contradict their statement. In one screenshot is a reported Tweet from another user who said “@willw Hope u die” (Wilkinson, 2020). The second screenshot then shows Twitter’s decision on the Tweet, which explains “we didn’t find a violation of our rules in the content you reported” (Wilkinson, 2020). There are numerous other examples of users who had their reports of threats or ill wishes dismissed by Twitter. In response, Twitter acknowledged the claims that they were “enforcing some policies inconsistently,” stating that they “must do better” (Thorbecke, 2020). Until better arrives, however, it cannot be said that Twitter is a completely democratic space.

The platform has many excellent affordances, such as its ability to host public discussions and connect like-minded people from around the world, leading to unprecedented social and political movements. However, some voices are still favoured more than others in very disproportionate ways, and the extreme levels of like-mindedness through filter bubbles only inhibit democracy. For all its positive qualities, it is fair to call Twitter a pseudo-democratic space. However, the issues presented in this paper have highlighted that there remains work to be done to transform Twitter into a true democratic space that is free from inequality and stifling control.

References

Baca, M.C. (2019, October 24). Most of the political tweets you see are from a minority of users, a Pew study says. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/10/24/most-political-tweets-you-see-are-small-minority-users/

Fuchs, C. (2014) Twitter and democracy: A new public sphere? In Social media: A critical introduction (pp. 52-68). London: Sage. Retrieved from https://canvas.sfu.ca/courses/47415

Illing, S. (2020, January 14). In defense of Twitter: A scholar makes the case for the platform’s democratic potential. Vox. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/1/14/21056597/twitter-social-media-democracy

Jackson, S.J. (2019, December 27). Twitter made us better. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/12/27/opinion/sunday/twitter-social-media.html

Lin, Y. (2020, May 30). 10 Twitter statistics every marketer should know in 2020. Oberlo. Retrieved from https://www.oberlo.ca/blog/twitter-statistics#:~:text=Summary%3A%20Twitter%20Statistics,-Here’s%20a%20summary&text=There%20are%20330%20million%20monthly,female%20and%2066%20percent%20male

Liu, Z., & Weber, I. (2014). Is Twitter a public sphere for online conflicts? A cross-ideological and cross-hierarchical look. In International Conference on Social Informatics (pp. 336-347). Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-13734-6_25

Thorbecke, C. (2020, October 6). Twitter accused of double standard with Trump death wish posts. ABC News. Retrieved from https://abcnews.go.com/Business/twitter-accused-double-standard-trump-death-posts/story?id=73450089

Wilkinson, W. [willw]. (2020, October 2). This was your ruling 12 hours ago lol [Image] [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/willw/status/1312182870551617538