Partners – Quello Center, WIDE Research Center
Theme – Social Media and Social Media Analysis

Date – December 7th, 2017
Time – 3:00-5:00pm
Location – Green Room, Main Library (4th Floor West)

Social media comprise an important set of platforms for understanding the spread of information (along with mis/disinformation) on some of the most urgent social and political issues of the moment. Whether it is information sharing, the homogeneity or heterogeneity of social networks, issues of personal privacy, or concerns about election hacking, social media analysis provides a means of reckoning with public opinion on a global scale. Social media platforms provide data for social research, and also, crucially, provide venues for organizing and activism. They allow various grassroots organizations to support one another and arrange meetings and protests, even amid critiques about the role social media has played in fostering harassment and hate speech.

We are seeking proposals of up to 250 words for 7 minute presentations to facilitate an interdisciplinary conversation on these topics. We are particularly interested in presentations that engage with one or more of the following issues:

  • What forms of social media analyses are particularly interesting or successful?
  • What does a “successful” analysis look like? How do we know?
  • What are we missing when we analyze social media? Whose voices are missing?
  • What are some of the critical gaps in social media analysis, and how might we ameliorate them?
  • What might ethics of social media analysis look like? What lessons have we learned from previous and current failures?
  • What about non-English language platforms and analysis? What are the areas of opportunity? What analyses or methodologies have been particularly useful, and what might others emulate?

We are especially interested in works in progress relating to research, teaching, or any other type of work that wrestles with the challenges of access in the digital environment. Proposals from students (undergraduate and graduate), faculty, and staff are all encouraged equally.

Submit a proposal by Monday, November 27 Tuesday, November 28 at 11:59pm


Analyzing Political Memes on Instagram: Insights, Challenges, and Possibilities

Julia DeCook, Information and Media

As a social media platform, Instagram is monumental in its influence of youth culture, identity, and perceptions of the world, with the application serving not only for youth to follow accounts that are aspirational (celebrities, etc.) but also for entertainment and identity building through meme accounts and other types of Instagram accounts. Instagram’s primary user base consists of people who are teenagers and young adults, and meme accounts that espouse white supremacist, hateful ideology and subsequently, identity, are incredibly prevalent. Searching hashtags reveals that these meme accounts are not just a vehicle for entertainment, but rather are serving as spaces for identity building and identity reinforcement to occur. Of primary interest is the hashtag and alt-right affiliate movement the “Proud Boys,” which is being sold to young men as a fraternity-like organization to celebrate “Western ideals,” and operate on an ideology that consists of both symbolic violence and physical violence. Exploration to their recruitment and world-building practices on Instagram will be necessary to understand the movement, and gain further insight into how memes are being used as vessels of indoctrination. However, ethical issues emerge in scraping Instagram data and studying social media data in general, particularly for analysis of political and social movements. This presentation will share preliminary findings, analysis, and ethical issues that emerged during the research process.

Pure Michigan on Instagram as Marketing Strategy

Suzanna Smentowksi, WRAC

The state of Michigan is known for many things. It’s Great Lakes. It’s natural beauty. It’s cherries. It’s Pure Michigan ad campaigns with Tim Allen’s voice over.

The idea for the Pure Michigan campaign was launched back in 2008 with the help of professionals at Michigan State University to rebrand the state’s tourism industry following the recession. Since then, the state has found success in boosting the economy with the help of ads channeling nostalgia and a well-developed marketing strategy – earning them recognitions by Nikon, CNBC, Forbes and the Shorty Awards. Today, the campaign is still ranked one of the best in the country and affectively draws people from around the world to the state.

The goal of my research is to study the trends of the Pure Michigan Instagram account to see how it matches up with the general marketing strategy of the campaign. Is their Instagram used in tandem to reach a unified marketing goal, or is the account more about posting pretty pictures from around the state?

Snapchat Stories through the Anthropological Lens

Adam Weickersheimmer-Austad, Anthropology

Snapchat is used as a way to document ones life and the lives of those around them. It’s also a portal to observe the habits of friends and strangers. People have the propensity to share their daily activities for their digital tribe. Snapchat gives individuals the ability to be the narrator of their own life. In a two week study of the behaviors of Snapchatters, I started a study that I will continue for the duration of my undergraduate career. By using participant observation, I believe we can better understand the motives behind why people snap what they snap.

When Cows Tweet

Scout Calvert, MSU Libraries

The labor of new data production comes in the form of a promise of information technologies that facilitate bovine-human communication. In one project, cattle tweeting is made possible as an affordance of a milking robot, activated by RFID collars that identify the cow to the robot so that it can guide its laser-sighted milkers to the specific teats on the particular udders of the cow who wears the collar. Data about the milking session are stored and tweeted under the Twitter handles of the cows. Automatic Milking Systems (AMS) are devices that enable a cow to concentrate on making milk and farmers to attend to cattle in more direct, yet highly mediated ways. In another project, Dell Technologies offers to let cows tell farmers how they feel by text message. Dell promises to aid rural Indian farmers through technologies for dairies to report milk data back to smallholders by text message, bringing cows and farmers both into global high tech production. Tracing the assemblage of technologies, relationships, and meanings that make texting and tweeting cows possible, this presentation on work in progress considers cattle as Harawayan cyborgs. Cows laboring as data, milk, and gamete producers do so globally. This paper explores the lives of cows in high tech assemblages globally and asks what we can learn about bovine lives from their tweets.

Dark Patterns of Social Media Participation

Liza Potts, WIDE

In this talk, I discuss how social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, reddit, wikis, and others can be used by network actors in positive and negative ways for community building and knowledge production. First, I will point to research that showcases positive uses of social media by participants near and far during times of disaster. Then I will discuss negative uses of social media, illustrating methods that can trap unwilling targets and willing participants in an unending cycle of rhetorical invention through a mechanism of aggressive, hostile, mob-like activism. In both cases, everyday people and network actors worked to share information and spread knowledge. However, through the deployment of dark patterns, the ways in which participants are enrolled and knowledge is produced diverges dramatically across these two examples. These dark patterns–user experiences that can convince people to participate in ways they may not want, need, or intend–can create realities that become unstoppable if platform owners are unwilling to act. This higher level of abstraction makes this an important topic for researchers grappling with issues of methods, ethics, and scholarship in social media.