The Ongoing Discussion Around Online Content

There are a lot of high-visibility, high-impact cases happening right now regarding online content. From the battle over net neutrality, to copyright infringement cases (see Oracle vs. Google) to attempts at quelling fake news (see Facebook’s QAnon battle) to the ongoing battle to end cyberbullying, they all straddle the line between free speech and public responsibility. The outcomes will affect our experience online, and thus, as Mary Chayko discusses in Superconnected (2018), our online socialization experience.

Who we are online should not be considered different than who we are in our daily offline lives. “It makes sense to think of the self that is created, performed, and exhibited online as a manifestation of the self that exists offline as well” (118). This is especially true for those that are growing up in technologically rich environments. They “generally become rather comfortable with technology and are less likely to view the online and offline experience as separate contexts” (129). It is thus reasonable for us to expect the same litigious, participatory, diverse, and consequential culture online as we are afforded offline. It is also reasonable for communities to react strongly to the cases that affect their social development (how they see themselves and how they’re seen by others).

What is different is the amount of data mining and surveillance we’ve become accustomed to when we’re active online, and how this is used by others. “Online communities are characterized both by watching and by a high awareness of being watched” (89).   If this were to happen in our daily lives, there’s little doubt anti-harassment and anti-stalking laws would be leveraged. Instead, we participate in what Chayko calls an “attention economy” (76) where the attention we’re paid when we’re online is the real currency. This attention can empower us to reveal beliefs and habits that we may not otherwise find a niche for in offline society.  The more time and attention we invest in these niches, the more we’re likely to find groups of individuals with the same non-mainstream thoughts and habits.

Digital media provides individuals with platforms and tools that can be used to express all kinds of ideas and impulses.”

Mary Chayko, Superconnected (2018, p119)

The success and longevity of these groups, which sometimes develop into reaffirming echo chambers (82) and narrow agents of socialization (115), are affected by the outcomes of cases pertaining to our online experience.  In a litigious society like the US, this is unsurprising, but it nonetheless has an impact as to how we’re socialized and develop our sense of self both on and offline. We form opinions based on what’s legal, on what’s morally justified, on what feels like corrupt overreach.  Sometimes, a legal verdict is seen as biased censorship, forcing groups underground, sure of their oppression, an attempt to hide the truth (here’s an interesting conspiracy FB profile I sometimes scan).  Other times, it’s seen as a sensible means of protecting gullible consumers from being deceived or corporate developers from being deprived of what they’re justifiably (and financially) entitled to.   

I’m not sure how I feel about online censorship and copyrighted vs. public domain code overall. I think there is danger in misleading content around government and health, but I do not know who should act as the source of and enforcer of ‘the truth.’  I think net neutrality is crucial for innovation and healthy self-identities but can be harmful for kids if they stumble on the ‘wrong’ content.  I think the Oracle vs. Google case can create a messy minefield.  I think that conspiracy theories are endlessly entertaining, and I struggle with censorship.  I have also seen friends fall hook, line, and sinker into ridiculous echo chambers fraught with wild ideas that take away from genuine enrichment.  How do you feel about the pending cases, their impact on our online lives, and how this may or may not translate to our experiences offline?

About Kim Smith mccroryk0613 Grad School: Technical and Professional Communications Madison, WI

Posted on October 8, 2020, in Social Media, Society and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Hi Kim,
    Great post! The true matter of your post is incredibly important to current events in an ever progressing online environment. You even provided a question prompt at the end of your post to which I will say: my biggest fear is the internet will become even more hierarchically accessible. That not only will it become too costly for the average person, but it will also become an environment that’s solely pay-to-view or pay-to-play. Ultimately, I fear the loss of open-sharing communities in turn disadvantaging those who cannot buy a seat at the table.
    Unfortunately, my mind has gone down a different path. Instantly, I’m stuck on your statement, “Who we are online should not be considered different than who we are in our daily offline lives.” I’m struggling with this because so many use the online world to explore what’s unavailable in our offline lives. I like how you brought in Chayko’s discussion of the “attention economy” because we’re certainly living in it. I also think contributes to people projecting a false sense of identity to the online world. Yet, if I go on Instagram and view an individuals page with all their photos and cute little captions, is that exactly who they are offline? Am I able to get a robust enough snapshot of this person to understand them? This of course brings in another element challenging me within this thought process. If we’re not able to get a clear enough snapshot of the person from their online presence, does data collection truly threaten us? (It does, but this came from my mental contemplation and does deserve some consideration)
    Chayko states in chapter 6, “it may be most helpful, then, to think of the self as consisting of aspects, each of which can be explored and developed as we interact with others” (p.118). As we engage with online communities and not only absorb content from others but share our own, we can see the self as ever-evolving. Depending on the communities, the focus of the self can shift. Yet, the focus does not necessarily make up a major slice of the whole. If the human self was represented by a pie chart, for instance, the major areas making up the pie may include their job, partner, pet, and family. However, they may be into niche activities such as geocaching. They join an online community on geocaching to exchange experiences and information. They may even start an Instagram focused solely on their geocaching adventures. Despite all this, at the end of the day, geocaching makes up only a very minimal part of this individual. Thus on the pie chart, it would only be a tiny sliver. This representation reflects those aspects of the self Chayko refers to. What I’m focused on then is the idea that our online self is the same as our offline self. Is this true or does our online self only allow us to highlight one aspect of ourselves? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to this. Nevertheless, it’s something I’ve been stuck on as we read Chayko, and subsequently, your post.

    I also spent some time on the conspiracy theory FB you shared and now I’m all paranoid – but intrigued.

    • Kim Smith mccroryk0613

      I agree that we’re not the same on- and offline. I put way more effort in how I come across online than I do in my day to day life. The comfort and confidence I have offline definitely doesn’t come as easily when I’m online. I have coworkers that are very shy in real life, and absolutely hilarious and outspoken online. I’m not sure I’m a fan of Superconnected by Chayko. I think its window is closed and the messages it’s relaying have peaked and run their course.

  2. Your pay to view or play comment was somewhat alarming for me, but I’m not sure the current operating environment of the internet will permit someone to make exclusive revenue like that for long. I see other media services going that way, such as Netflix, Amazon and every other streaming service popping up every week. On the internet though, I had not thought about it. Given the veracity of information sharing and copying, someone might start a pay-to-play service, but then the next company will offer the same thing for free and make money off it another way. If not through viewer revenue, it would be through ads or data.

    Regarding censorship, due to the sheer size and breadth of the internet around the world, I bet fact-checking will occur most internally by individual site owners. For example, Facebook.
    Their work reviewing content will require an immense effort and a lot of staff. The real dilemma will be setting standards and applying them to thousands of posts. Whenever you insert a human being though there will be some level of inconsistency and mistakes. While I recognize Facebook can do better at reviewing content in their platform, they have a long journey ahead of them. This includes removing obviously offensive content, as well as threading the needle between content that may be offensive to some but not in violation of their community standards.

  3. Kim,

    Like Emily, one thing that stood out to me was the comment you made that “Who we are online should not be considered different than who we are in our daily offline lives”. To an extent, I agree, it *shouldn’t* be, but the internet gives us possibilities to explore what it might be like being different from our offline personas. The online persona can engage with others freely and without judgements that other “offline”situations might not permit. But I think you bring up another interesting point later on that Jackie briefly touched on a couple weeks ago about the attention that we are paid when we are online. The likes, the shares, the comments about the things that people are posting about in their online activity can for sure be influential to their online persona, and like you said, allow for exploration and engagement with other niches!

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