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robin_anne_reid ([personal profile] robin_anne_reid) wrote2011-03-10 03:14 pm

Working Draft: Pilot Study (Public/Private/Local/Global)

While I do not usually post drafts of my scholarly papers unlocked online because of "previous publication" issues that journals have as policies (if draft is substantially the same, they don't publish if it's been on the internet in most cases I know about), this draft is such an early version of a pilot project that will be massively revised as I develop the work as part of the Racefail Corpus Project that I decided to go ahead and post it as is, with the handout (linked from this post) in my academic journal.

This pilot project is part of a larger project, now tentatively titled: Mapping Racial Constructions and Identities on the Internet: Creating a Corpus and Computer Tools for Storing and Analyzing Texts for Humanities Research.

Note: Commenting open to all, anonymous will be screened and IP tracking is still on.

This project will explore how computer-based techniques of data mining on the internet can work in conjunction with linguistic and rhetorical methodologies to meet the challenge of analyzing the huge breadth of data accessible on the internet with traditional concerns of humanities such as race and identity. A corpus (searchable database) of texts generated by internet users engaged in discussions of race and identity will be created. Corpus data will be analyzed using a combination of linguistic, stylistic, and rhetorical methods. To our knowledge, no such corpus currently exists and no equivalent methodology has been proposed in any other forum.

This project extends the unique contributions that can be made to the concerns of the humanities by a confluence of new methodologies generated from linguistics, stylistics and computer science. The corpus can then be mined for a range of research agendas in the humanities and will be available to anyone with access to the internet to work with. As such, it will contribute to growing and interdisciplinary work in the humanities on critical race and intersectional theories.

Subject Confidentiality
Users might choose to post on their blogs or in social networks using their legal name or a pseudonym or as "anonymous." While the corpus database will contain those names, data will be analyzed in an aggregate form: that is, no individual will be quoted, but the numbers of times certain rhetorical patterns appear in the database will be analyzed.

This paper fits into the larger project as a pilot project--testing ways of identifying and counting rhetorical patterns. By doing it manually, I can learn better how to work with the science faculty member to program a bot that will be able to gather and save and parse relevant internet texts.

February 16, 2011

Dear Dr. Robin Reid:

Based on the information you have provided concerning your project entitled Mapping Racial Constructions and Identities on the Internet: Creating a Corpus and Computer Tools for Storing and Analyzing Texts for Humanities Research [2011-239], this project does not need IRB review since you are working solely with public texts that have been produced in internet communities.

We appreciate you submitting this proposal so that IRB could make that determination. If you encounter any sort of ethical concern in your work, the IRB would be glad to be of assistance. Beyond that, we wish you success in your endeavor.

Carmen F. Salazar, Ph.D., NCC
Chair, Institutional Review Board (IRB)
Associate Professor
Department of Counseling
Texas A&M University-Commerce
Commerce, TX 75429-3011
(903) 886-5634

Rhetorics of Social Justice Debates in Anonymous Fan Memes Online

This presentation is part of a larger project that focuses on sociolinguistic and rhetorical analyses of internet texts generated by participants in online media fandom spaces, in particular, two social networking sites (LiveJournal and Dreamwidth). The primary theme of the selected texts at this stage of the project is how social justice and activism are enacted in fandom, specifically around conflicts over race/ethnicity, gender and sexuality, disability, and class. The final product of this project, a large scale quantitative analysis of texts generated in real time communication situations, fits into a number of sociolinguistic studies analyzing how social identities are constructed through language. The analysis of conflicts between minority and majority fans online can be considered in several larger contexts: first, the extent to which the pre-internet social definitions of private and public, global and local, have changed in practice on the internet. In this context, some argue that the internet is or can be a utopian space enabling unprecedented forms of participatory democracy (Henry Jenkins). However, perceptions of the internet with regard to identities and communal spaces and communication in virtual environments has shifted from the utopian promises of the 1990s to awareness that communication on the internet can enable oppressive behaviors, especially with regard to treatment of users who are members of marginalized and/or minority groups.

The utopian promises are based on the theory that nobody can tell who you are on the internet. That theory is is an essentialist one that assumes difference is carried only by and on the body instead of the sociolinguistic theory that argues that culture, including the constructions of race, is created and "embodied" in part through language. Wendy Chun, author of Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics argues that the belief that a certain type of anonymity exists on the internet is based on essentialism: the internet was marketed as promising people "escape" from the problems (of race, of flesh, of gender, of age, of handicap). As Chun argues, what was being sold was not truly freedom from discrimination, but the chance, if one wished, to pass as an unmarked white male, the privileged group who did not need to escape from race, flesh, gender, etc. My project reflects the extent to which minority fans refuse to "pass," and refuse to allow discriminatory assumptions, attitudes, language, and behaviors to pass.

Many science fiction/fantasy fans who are active in online media fandom in a variety of social networks/platforms participate in fan activities (posting about their favorite books or films or television shows; writing fan fiction; creative fan videos; attending offline conventions, etc.) under pseudonyms rather than the their legal names. Fans from the generations of offline fandom published their fan magazines under their legal names, and there are demands in some social networking sites that people use their full names despite documented danger to women. Many fans have good reasons to separate their public online fannish activities from their public or professional activities conducted under their legal names, often online! Since some areas of online fandom are predominantly female (including those producing stories and videos, some of which are controversial in content and considered by many to be illegal or at best immoral), and since research shows women are more likely to be harassed on (and off)-line, the choice to use fannish pseudonyms in internet fandom is understood by insiders to be a matter of commonsense. A fan pseudonym ("fan pseud") is not seen as the same thing as being anonymous because a fan can have years of interactions with other fans and fannish productions under her pseudonym. Using a pseud to communiate is seen as qualitatively different to participating anonymously (meaning with no name, actual or self-chosen attached). Fans can choose to go anon at times even though they have a well-established pseudonym.

One type of event that has caused controversy over the years in fandom is what is called an "anonomeme" or, at times, a hate meme. There are two basic types of anonomeme: a fan can start an "anonymous" thread in her journal, setting the program to to allow anonymous posting (not requiring an LJ account or an Open ID account) and with IP tracking turned off. These are often either "hate" or "love" threads that invite fans to express their emotions about other fans anonymously. Hate threads tend t outnumber love threads. Another type is a whole community dedicated to anonymous commentary: fans operating under pseudonyms that are not their primary ones will start a community on a specific topic (often fandom specific, but sometimes based on topics that are common in all fandoms). Anonomemes are controversial because some of the posts are simple attacks on other, named (pseudonymous) fans; however, there are also spaces in the communities where many fans have the opportunity to post anonymously what they do not dare to post under their fan pseuds, exploring ideas and positions they feel are dangerous to express in fandom or that have led to so much controversy in the past that discussion is seen as impossible outside the safety of an anonymous space. One controversial set of topics can be categorized as social justice issues: fans posting about sexism, misogyny, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, and other human rights issues, often in the context of the media shows which are the source of the fandom, or with regard to behaviors in fandom spaces online and offline.

Fans who participate in social justice discussions often state the intent of trying to change the dynamics of "fandom" (offline and online), framing sff fandom as a community. My rhetorical analysis of some critiques of social justice debates in this pilot project starts with a single post in a single community, Fail_Fandomanon, in order to establish a baseline; later work will examine how the discussion topics change over time. Fail_fandomanon originated in the Summer of 2010 with fans who perceived their ability to speak freely about social justice issues or about fandom in general as being limited by the ways some Big Name Fans (BNF) are perceived as being able to send groups of people to harass anyone who disagrees with them (i.e. dogpiling). The originating event concerned a controversy in fandom concerning disabilities and access issues in a small vidding con (VividCon). Vids made by fans draw on graphic source footage remixed and blended, often with accompanying music; fans have been vidding since the the 1970s, but the spread of cheaper digital technologies has made vidding widespread in online fandoms, and VividCon started in 2002 to allow a fannish space dedicated to vids.

Part of the rhetorical framing of the community is that a small (or large) group of fans who are actively posting about social justice issues (race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, but less so about disability and rarely class) have created an environment in which many fans are afraid to speak about any issues because of the chance of "dogpiling." Anon participants who identify as members of marginalized or minority groups work to distinguish their own interests in social justice from the exaggerated and hyperbolic behaviors of this group, characterized generally as American, white, middle-class women, college educated, and on occasion "acafans" -- fans who are also academics who publish about fandom. Full disclosure: I am one of this group, and have been named by my fan pseud and academic name in the community. This group is referred to as the "SJ" group, perceived to be operating more in Dreamwidth than LiveJournl, and are seen as using the excuse of writing about social justice as a way of bullying other fans in order to feel good. This group, called "Fail Fandom" is perceived as having negative influences on online media fandom through recurring and public and large "fails," the most notable example of which was a three-month debate about racism in 2009 called "Racefail 09. The fans in the anonymous community desire to "blow off steam" (community profile) without being exposed to public shaming. The ethos of the community is anonymous posting (they recently passed a resolution that posts made under a fannish pseudonym would be deleted unless there was legitimate purpose--i.e. advertising a community--and that repeated offenders would be banned).

However, anonymity is not a homogeneous state online: people posting often identify by nationality, by race/ethnicity, by gender and sexuality, class, disability status, or other group identifiers. One notable area where many of the anonymous commenters refuse provide specific information is the name of their specific fandom: members of small fandoms fear that they could too easily be identified when posting a complaint about their fandom or specific fans and so post more generally and refuse to give specifics or links. There are several surveys that ask for shout-outs identifying fandom, and also nationality: based purely on my own reading of the community, I would hazard a guess that the demographic may skew more toward an international membership than many others spaces in LJ/DW. My perception could based on the probability that fans outside the U.S. are more willing to identify as such while anonymous, and that the moderators of the community openly welcome posts in languages other than English and solicit them (LINK TO A FEW LATER ON). Although the community is not the largest anonymous online community, I am working with it because of its connection to the debates around social justice and activism in fandom: it directly speaks back to fans who have been doing anti-racist and other social justice work in fandom. Additionally, anonymity does not mean that anything is allowed: there are specific restrictions, a number of which developed in response to the early postings and that are repeated in every post; for example, for example, the community now forbids discussion of religion, or fat activism issues. Recently tracking IP addresses has been turned on because of problems with trolls and spammers from other communities, and on occasion the moderators delete posts and freeze threads.

Since July 2010, a total of 44 journal entries have been made; the entries have received over 195,000 comments (when the comments at a single entry reach 5000, a new entry is made) (as of March 9, 2011). The sheer amount of text in the community is the reason my larger project involves an interdisciplinary digital humanities approach--working with a computer science faculty member and a linguist to develop programs that can aid in large-scale data analysis. The anonymity of the community means that it is impossible to track how how many different people post, but my methodology does not require a study of people. My first step in this polit project is a rhetorical analysis of the community that requires a basic count of the top level threads; LJ has a threaded-discussion format. This count has been done although it is simplistic and needs refining (including a method to 'count' posts that deal with multiple topics fairly equally). Later work will involve developing closer readings of selected threads, probably both those being the most numerous (in terms of thread and comment count) and those which are least developed, as well as comparison with the posts on later entries which will compare the topics and rhetorical constructions that exist in this anonymous space to see how competing constructions of race, gender, and other socially constructed identities are created rhetorically and how the rhetoric of the community changes over

Tables: Only in Dreamwidth (due to restrictions in LJ)
Table One: Alphabetical List of Topics

Table Two: TOpics

Table Three: Comments

Works Cited:

Chun, Wendy Hui Kong. Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT P. 2006.


Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York U P. 2006.