Social media mobbing diminishes the quality of public discourse

Social media mobbing diminishes the quality of public discourse

By Jeff Blevins

In July, I wrote about social disparity and social media, using an example of hLeslie Jones compared to Harambeow groups of people flocked online to attack The Cincinnati Zoo when it killed Harambe, a silverback gorilla, to save the life of a young boy who fell into its exhibit.   Commenters were especially vitriolic towards the African American mother of the boy, who was blamed for not properly looking after her children. Later that month, Saturday Night Live comedian and Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones was asking Twitter to intervene and act against the many people who were sending her insulting and racial tweets, including the one shown on the right comparing her to Harambe.

Not too long after this, both Leslie Jones and The Cincinnati Zoo shut down their Twitter accounts, at least temporarily defeated by the social media mobs.

Social media mobbing

The phenomenon known as social media mobbing occurs when a group of people converges on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms around an issue that they are angry about, or a person that offends them. The mob relentlessly trolls that person, or dominates discussion of the issue with a barrage of insults, arguments and memes. Meanwhile, the voices in favor of more respectful public dialogue on social media may tend to spiral into silence for fear of being mobbed.

Social media outlets should consider community standards

Jeff Blevins speaking about social media mobbing on Fox 19

In an interview with Kara Sewell on Fox 19 Cincinnati’s morning news program, I join many others to call into the question the quality of public discourse taking place in certain venues on social media. Since there are no universally accepted community standards online, social media outlets should consider more carefully how they want to define and enforce standards for their own platform. If they do not prioritize this issue at least for moral and ethical reasons, then they should do so for their own profitability and long-term reputation.

“Most mobbing targets are successful women of color”

In the Leslie Jones case, Twitter eventually banned the mob leader from using its service. But, that is just one high profile incident; what happens to those with less public influence when they report mobbing? In an interview for NBCNews on August 26, Debjani Roy, the deputy director of Hollaback, a nonprofit committed to ending harassment in public places and the organization behind Heartmob, said, More often than not the targets are successful women of color because these harassers and abusers don’t believe in our full and equal humanity. This is a deeper problem, and the various expressions of it online are repugnant. These people who are doing this are not trolls, they’re harassers, abusers and in the case of rape and death threats, criminals.”

Gabby Douglas at the Rio Olympics

Gabby Douglas, in an interview with Rachel McRady and ET about the social media mobbing she experience on Twitter during the Rio Olympics, “I tried to stay off the Internet because there’s just so much negativity,” she said. “Either it was about my hair or my hand not over my heart [on the medal podium] or I look depressed. … It was hurtful. It was hurtful. It was. It’s been kind of a lot to deal with.” 

We have the power to maintain positivity in public dialogue

As one of The Cincinnati Project Scholars this year, I will continue to study the role that social media plays in public dialogue about social justice related issues. Social media can play a meaningful role in empowering everyone in our community. Like those who supported Leslie Jones by the creation and use of #LoveForLeslieJ, we have the power to push back against the crude and harassing posts with words (and images) of encouragement and support.

cinciprojectSocial media mobbing diminishes the quality of public discourse
read more
I want to be an active part of social change in my city

I want to be an active part of social change in my city

By Kelsie Gerard
Junior, Sociology
Hometown: Cincinnati

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by those involved with The Cincinnati Project to participate as a researcher at the annual NAACP Conference. This was a valuable experience for me as an undergraduate student because it was my first time attending a conference.

Kelsie Gerard

Kelsie Gerard was one of the students who attended the NAACP Convention in Cincinnati.

While at the conference, it was hard for me not to notice that I was one of the youngest people there, but attending with five of my peers from the University of Cincinnati allowed me to ease into the work more comfortably.

The varying levels of experience my peers have in researching and attending conferences helped make me feel less intimidated by the professional setting.

This was a great opportunity for me to practice my note-taking and listening skills, and learn how to actively apply them to research.

I wanted to be a part of this research process because I want to be an active part of social change in my city. I learned about the history of community-police relations in Cincinnati from the original negotiators of the Collaborative Agreement, and listened and shared countless stories of personal experiences with people from communities all over the country.

I found a sense of unity and connectedness in sharing similar experiences and feelings with everyone in the room, and it makes me realize that I am not in this fight alone.

cinciprojectI want to be an active part of social change in my city
read more
Social media and social justice movements

Social media and social justice movements

By Jeff Blevins

Today, everyone can be a storyteller. Social media and mobile streaming applications have the potential to change the relationship between news media and the public in significant ways, as virtually everyone now has the ability to document and live stream events to a global audience. To say the least, social media has become a primary venue for public commentary about current events, disrupting the gatekeeping power once held by national news outlets.

Social disparity in social media

harambe

Harambe, a western lowland gorilla, who was fatally shot to protect a 4-year-old boy who had entered its exhibit at The Cincinnati Zoo. (Jeff McCurry / AP)

In an article I wrote for The Cincinnati Herald, I point out the social disparity expressed in the incident that happened at The Cincinnati Zoo with a child and Harambe, and the incident that happened at Walt Disney World with a child and an alligator. Why was there an uneven expression of empathy towards the parents in both of these cases? What effect does this expression have on our communities and our political infrastructure?

Instant imagery and commentary in police shootings

Social media provided instantaneous imagery and commentary in the most recent police shootings. Diamond Reynolds live-streamed the shooting of her fiancé, Philando Castille, when they were pulled over by police for a broken taillight in Falcon Heights. Videos were posted online when police in Baton Rouge shot Alton Sterling, prompting an investigation from the justice department.

Civil unrest followed the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson in the summer of 2014. As the hashtag #Ferguson trended on Twitter, national and international news outlets followed social media activity in covering the protests, looting and militarized police response.

Sam DuBose

Sam Dubose (Photo courtesy of WCPO)

And in Cincinnati last summer, Sam DuBose, an unarmed black motorist, was shot and killed during a traffic stop by Ray Tensing, a white University of Cincinnati police officer. Local community groups led by @BlackLivesCincy and @theIRATE8 quickly mobilized on social media to decry the incident and confront competing narratives that it was justified.

Studying social media in social justice movements in Cincinnati

As one of The Cincinnati Project scholars, over the course of the upcoming academic year I will examine the role of social media in social justice movements in Cincinnati and share what I learn through a series of commentaries for local news media, conference presentations, and research papers.

A primary goal of this study is to understand how social justice groups and the public use social media to provide a more diverse array of commentary about the meaning and implications of civic activity, as well as assess the quality and clarity of their discourse on social media through qualitative textual analysis. I aim to show how historically marginalized groups have exercised their First Amendment rights in ways we haven’t seen before.

I also hope to discern more specific lessons about the power and utility that social media can play in civil discourse about social justice. I look forward to bringing the results of this study outside the university and sharing them with social justice groups and the public, who may rely on social media platforms as a primary means of expression. Understanding the impact of our social media channels and the power of our voices can improve the informational, communicational, and relational livelihood of everyone in our community.

 

cinciprojectSocial media and social justice movements
read more
The Cincinnati Project Scholars

The Cincinnati Project Scholars

By Jennifer Malat

With a grant from the Diversity and Inclusion Office and the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Cincinnati, we are able to fund the first class of The Cincinnati Project scholars. The program allows us to support the faculty doing research that aligns with the goals of TCP — research with direct community benefit. We plan to continue the program into the future, ideally funding students’ research or visiting scholars’ research as well.

Our first class of scholars conducts research in a variety of fields, all with the intention of supporting the work of people in Cincinnati:

  • Leila Rodriguez (Anthropology) has partnered with Su Casa to better understand unaccompanied minors in Cincinnati.
  • Carolotte Norwood (Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) is working with Caracole and studying the experiences of women in high HIV prevalence neighborhoods.
  • Jeff Blevins (Journalism) does research to understand how social media affects public discourse about issues related to inequality.

You can read more about their projects on the TCP Scholars page, and look forward to blog posts about their work.

cinciprojectThe Cincinnati Project Scholars
read more
At the 2016 NAACP Convention

At the 2016 NAACP Convention

By Jennifer Malat

The Cincinnati Project organized quickly when we received a last-minute invitation to help with a series of community-police relations forums at the NAACP Convention.

We were asked to help with qualitative data collection and analysis—in other words, taking detailed notes and writing summaries—in partnership with community members. UC Arts & Sciences undergraduate and graduate sociology and psychology students assisted with this project. 

UC students at 2016 NAACP Convention

UC students at the NAACP Convention

All of the students have a particular interest in the study of racial inequality and were eager to join the research team. The students benefited not only by being present at a national convention, they (me too!) also had the opportunity to learn from experts outside of UC.

Working with the 2002 Collaborative Agreement

 As part of this research project, we met community organizers and facilitators who worked on the 2002 Collaborative Agreement to improve community-police interactions. In our role of taking notes, we listened to their experiences and noted their advice for NAACP attendees who hope to reduce violence against black citizens. This experience is one example of a goal for The Cincinnati Project: UC researchers and students learning from community experts while providing research service. 

cinciprojectAt the 2016 NAACP Convention
read more

Cincinnati Voices

By: Earl Wright II

A year ago we formally organized The Cincinnati Project (TCP). TCP encourages and promotes the use of faculty, student and administrator talents to work for economic justice, health equity, racial equality, improved conditions for women, and for other equity issues. Our current project, “Cincinnati Voices, is a major step in that direction.

Community Partners will decide our focus

Instead of deciding what we (university members) believe the most pressing issues of concern are to Cincinnatians, TCP is currently engaged in a baseline study that allows our community partners to decide the topics that we should address first. In so doing, a questionnaire is being developed and will be disseminated throughout the Cincinnati regional community by university and community participants.

This project empowers our community stakeholders and enables them to have a “voice” and representation in activities that will directly impact them. Unlike traditional research models that privilege university knowledge over that of community stakeholders, the main objective of this endeavor is to demonstrate that TCP is committed to an egalitarian relationship with its community partners. It is our expectation that by Spring 2016 the results of this study will be released and a more focused and detailed plan on how to address the needs of residents in the greater Cincinnati region developed.

Thank you Friends of The Cincinnati Project

Our efforts would not be possible without the Friends of The Cincinnati Project. We thank you for the support you have provided thus far and we look forward to continuing our partnership with you to maintain Cincinnati’s status as the most desirable place to live in the United States.

cinciprojectCincinnati Voices
read more

We are living in a NEW Social Movement

By Jennifer Malat


Never Doubt quote by Margaret MeadRecently I had lunch with 
Patricia Hill Collins, a prominent social theorist at the University of Maryland, and our upcoming symposium keynote speaker. As we talked about the widespread enthusiasm for the idea of The Cincinnati Project, I shared that it has been surprisingly easy to find people who would like to partner with us.

Is this because we are living in a new social movement?

Dr. Collins and I discussed this question. She told me that she worked with students last fall on this very subject. From their research, they concluded that we are, indeed, living in a new social movement. Their specific research and findings will be discussed at a later date.

How do we define a social movement? There have been many efforts by sociologists to clarify the criteria for a social movement. A concise definition by Blumer and Park in 1939 defined social movements as “collective enterprises to establish a new order of life. They have their inception in the condition of unrest, and derive their motive power on one hand from dissatisfaction with the current form of life, and on the other hand, from wishes and hopes for a new scheme or system of living.”*

Sociologists tend to modify the definition when witnessing a new social movement. For example, in the early twentieth century, a social movement polarized around unrest with the current political model. Since around the 1990’s, a “contention” model of social movement is more widely used, and this allows for the definition to include those who are seeking to change culture, not just politics or economics.**

Usually people who are living during a social movement aren’t aware of it. Only later do historians and sociologists tell a story of action that changed the direction of society.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr during Civil Rights Movement

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leading a civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 1965.

From 1954– 1968, The Civil Rights Movement conducted coordinated efforts including boycotts, sit-ins, and marches, along with the individual efforts of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Junior. It’s easier to see the collective impact of these efforts after the fact.

Today, we see signs of a social movement in the actions and words from many people of our society: grassroots organizing, government officials speaking out, and artists making demands and expressing the emotions of millions in their work.  Black Lives Matter is the most prominent of the current movement, but attention is also being given to high rates of poverty and inequality as well. Since we have recognized that we are in the midst of a social movement, our challenge to our students, our peers, our partners is, 

“How will we use this social movement to make our community a better place for ALL people?”

*Herbert Blumer. “Collective Behavior,” in Robert E. Park, ed. An Outline of the Principles of Sociology. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1939, p. 199.
**McAdam, Doug, Sidney G. Tarrow, and Charles Tilly. Dynamics of Contention (Cambridge Studies in Contentious Politics). New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
cinciprojectWe are living in a NEW Social Movement
read more