Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Protest 1: Platforms of Protest
Friday, 04/Nov/2022:
3:30pm - 5:00pm

Session Chair: Tom Divon
Location: CQ-311

60 seat lecture hall

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Protesting (on) the Platform

Brendan Daniel Mahoney

University of Pennsylvania, United States of America

There is a growing debate within internet studies as to what impact the introduction of social media has had for progressive social movements. Many scholars have argued in favor of the technology's liberatory potential, asserting that it gives power to those most historically marginalized by dominant social forces. Others have taken the more pessimistic view that platforms are actually tools of domination, designed to enforce the interests of the already powerful. This work posits that, in large part, the debate revolves around open questions as to what kind of subject is produced through the use of internet technology. It seeks to contribute to this debate through empirical comparison of a platform's ideal-subject and the actual behavior of activists using the technology. Specifically, I conduct a critical discourse analysis of blog posts and press releases published by the social media company Reddit with attention paid to the qualities and desires of the ideal Reddit user that they construct in their public relations material. I then conduct a digital ethnography of several communities on Reddit that were actively organizing in June 2020 as part of the George Floyd protests in order to observe the qualities and desires of those actually existing on the platform. I conclude by comparing the two, noting where the ideal-subject and existing-subject of Reddit overlap/differ, as well as discussing the larger implications of these findings for the Left's digital social movement strategy.

Platformed Solidarity: Gestural social justice through Twitter hashflags

Tim Highfield1, Kate M Miltner2

1University of Sheffield, United Kingdom; 2University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom

This paper conceptualises platformed solidarity, describing platforms’ temporary changes to their affordances and features to support particular social justice causes or civic campaigns. These actions allow platforms to perform their support of different political and social interests. What such developments can also elucidate is how platforms – especially global ones – engage with causes and issues, and how this aligns with their own values, policy, and governance.

This paper develops the conceptualisation of platformed solidarity through an extended examination of one platform-specific example: Twitter hashflags. The analysis focuses on hashtag emoji from three issue areas (racial justice, gender equality, pro-democracy causes), contextualised within Twitter’s platform politics. Twitter’s choice of hashflags allows critical insight into how the platform portrays its own role and influence in public communication: the topics it pushes, the communities, causes, and users it supports, and how these align with their own actions and policies.

We suggest that platformed solidarity as a practice has some overlap with considerations of woke capitalism, representing key tensions between looking for commercially beneficial strategies and responding to the concerns and wishes of a platform’s users. Even when making visible gestures towards causes and issues, platforms’ communicative roles and responsibilities are underpinned by their missions to maintain high user numbers, grow engagement, and profit. We argue that platformed solidarity is then a critical lens for examining how social media platforms are implicated within civic society, what they consider their own role to be, and how this is ultimately realised.


Sabina Civila1, Daniela Jaramillo-Dent1,2

1University of Huelva, Spain; 2Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands

In the past years, the use of social media has allowed migrants and other minority groups to communicate, obtain information and build an identity through self-representation and content creation. The possibility to talk about their experiences, connect to other content creators and interact with the platform allows to decentralize the European narrative and offer visibility to other cultures. In this context, TikTok emerges as one of the platforms where traditionally marginalized populations narrate their experiences and enter public debates. In this case we study Spanish-Moroccan mixed couples who must face the cultural stereotypes derived from the geographical, historical, and colonial confluences between these two nations. To carry out the study, a qualitative analysis was carried out by identifying TikTok videos using the hashtags #mixedcouples and #SpainandMorocco in their Spanish and English versions. We then identified other hashtags of interest that appeared together with these and found other videos of interest. We viewed a total of 8,653 videos and identified six profiles of interest from creators that self-identified as being part of a Spanish-Moroccan mixed couple and had more than 10K followers. This analysis reflects the difficulties faced by people who chose more intimate forms of integration and the existing colonial paradigms in terms of mixed romantic partners. At the same time, these creators exemplify the existence of points of encounter between seemingly opposite cultures and nationalities through their (self)representations and discourses on this platform, as well as the increased visibility they are achieving through their content and profiles.

Protest Movements on LinkedIn as space for challenging Sociotechnical Imaginaries

Raquel Prá, Claudia Simone Antonello

UFRGS, Brazil

The aim of this paper is to reflect on how the transformation of LinkedIn into an online environment from which are carried out critiques and questionings about the labor market, management practices, and work relations in Brazil, allow us to challenge sociotechnical imaginaries about the platform. The emergence of protest movements about circulating content on the platform reveals that, although certain technological configurations impose themselves on users, LinkedIn is not unique, universal, or deterministic, but multiple. This article addresses the technical issue, not yet properly explored by the ontological turn movement, discussing the protest movements on LinkedIn as a starting point for challenging pre-existing sociotechnical imaginaries, in order to boost societal change and new technological futures. The methodological strategy adopted to conduct the study was digital ethnography. Data collection, part of ongoing research, took place between March 2021 and February 2022. It includes news reports on LinkedIn and observations of posts on LinkedIn and discussions among members of a blog and a Facebook group gathered to conduct critiques of the content circulating on LinkedIn. Preliminary findings suggest that the movement of questioning from the platform itself seeks to appropriate the technological affordances and constraints imposed by LinkedIn to make it a space for awareness, problematization, and promotion of societal change. By establishing new uses for the platform, unrelated to the commercial objectives for which it was created, this movement gives conditions for the constitution of new sociotechnical imaginaries in relation to the platform itself and also, to rethink work relations.

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