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IR16 Fame and Microcelebrity on the Web

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Moshimoshi Internet researchers of the world,

We’re less than ten days to IR16.

Are you ready? *throws confetti*

I hope you’re as psyched as I am to be reuniting with fantabulous scholars at the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR) Conference in Phoenix later this month.

I’ll be chairing a panel on Fame and Microcelebrity on the Web with Angela M. Cirucci (Temple University), Vimviriya Limkangvanmongkol (University of Illinois at Chicago), Megan Lindsay (Arizona State University), and Renee M Powers (University of Illinois-Chicago) – all alumnae of the OIISDP who bonded over our love for #whatwouldwajcmando.

We promise oodles of exciting brainfarts on new research surrounding women and microcelebrity culture online. See you there? Abstracts below!

Thursday, 22 October 2015
Navajo room



The main objective of the panel is to present cross-cultural case studies (Asia and North America) that discuss developing trends of fame on the Internet and expand on existing theories of microcelebrity. Taking an ethnographic approach, our aim is to broaden the methodological and theoretical approaches to the study of self-made celebrity and self- branding on social media, particularly that of young entrepreneurial women professionalizing their craft. Additionally, young women who are not intentionally pursuing celebrity but through online interactions have the potential for celebrity-like experiences will be discussed. We offer new ways of thinking about microcelebrity, identity, and social media.

The five members of this panel sought each other out through academic circles on social media platforms because of their similar research interests and regularly discuss their projects through email chains, Facebook posts, and Twitter conversations. Our mutual interest in social media, celebrity culture, and commercial use prompted us to come together and create a panel for IR16. Although submitting individual papers is also an option, working within a panel allows us to present a dynamic dialogue founded in mediated collaboration and varying experiences and perspectives.


Celebrity culture is a discourse that focuses on individualism, identity, and public transformation, and constituted by a real or imagined audience (Marshall, 2006, p. 635). Reality television brought about the average, everyday celebrity, but new media have taken celebrity culture to another level. ‘Microcelebrity’ was first coined by Theresa Senft in her work on Camgirls (2008) as a burgeoning online trend wherein people attempt to gain popularity by employing digital media technologies – videos, blogs, social media, etc. Microcelebrities are “non-actors as performers” whose narratives take place “without overt manipulation”, and who are “more ‘real’ than television personalities with ‘perfect hair, perfect friends and perfect lives’” (2008, p. 16). Unlike mainstream television and cinema celebrities who are public icons with large scale followings, microcelebrities are famous only within small, niche networks (Marwick, 2013). Senft also foregrounds microcelebrities’ focus on responding to their communities in the ways that maintain open channels of feedback on social media to engage with their audience.In addition, microcelebrity involves the curation of a persona that feels “authentic” to fans (Marwick, 2013, p. 114).

In response to this, our panel offers a discussion on the themes of:

– (re)presentation of the self in the age of social media
– formulaic productions of microcelebrity on social media
– manifestations and experiences of Internet celebrity across different social media platforms
– self-branding techniques by everyday social media users
– case studies of embodied experiential affective work online and offline
– expand existing theories of microcelebrity through cross-cultural case studies
– methodological approaches to studying Internet celebrity
– reifications of microcelebrity status through fan (and anti-fan) texts
– gendered responses to microcelebrity (i.e. “catty” women and hoards of gossip)
– disengagement with internet fame
– accidental celebrity status shaped and influenced by platform affordances
– positive internalization of celebrity experiences


Our five papers are conscientiously ordered to present the unfolding of a metanarrative of microcelebrity in the age of social media, and the evolution of shared concepts of the internet, following the investigation of magic, myth, accidents, the darkside, and structural guides.

We begin with Online red carpet: The magic of instaselfie culture, which investigates self-made microcelebrities and the deliberate affectual and aesthetic work they engage in, thus illuminating the high glamour of Internet fame through methodological explorations of ‘celebrity’ imagery.

I’m not famous famous, I’m Internet famous: The mystification and folklore of microcelebrity fame on social media, moves away from the more obvious reputation work of microcelebrities to look at those whose origins of fame are shrouded in folklore and myth, exploring alternative discourses of celebrification on the Internet circulating in the popular imaginary.

Accidental celebrity: Exploration of fame, timing, and response to popularity focuses more on Internet users on the periphery of microcelebrity, and how their accidental stumblings into fame especially at the intersection of Internet imaginaries of race, class, gender, and sexuality.

How does she afford all that?: Rumors, anonymity, and the darkside of being a YouTube microcelebrity takes us over to the flip side of microcelebrity, in pursuit of narratives of the lesser seen ugly and less glamorous backstage of celebrification, which speaks to Internet ethics and the social imaginary.

Finally, we conclude with Identity guides: The implications of Facebook’s affordances and tacit celebrification, that uncovers Internet fact and fiction through the examination of the meta-structures of social media platforms, without which, microcelebrification would not be possible.

Our cross-cultural research material also present comparative examinations of the digital imaginary across cultures. The five papers move from a more traditional South East Asian country, to an extremely cosmopolitan South East Asian country, to marginal peoples and persons of colour in various parts of North America, to vloggers in the Anglophonic West, to investigating the material structures of microcelebrification with supporting interviews from emerging adults in a large, East Coast City in the US. Our panel also collectively presents interpretations and operations of microcelebrity across different social media platforms including Blogger, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, and social forums.


boyd, d. (2007). Why youth (heart) social network sites: The role of networked publics in teenage social life. In MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning – Youth, Identity, and Digital Media Volume (ed. David Buckingham). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Horton, D., & Wohl, R. R. (1956). Mass communication and para-social interaction. Psychiatry 19(3): 215-229. Republished in Particip@tions 3(1), viewed 15 June 2013,

Marshall, P. D. (2006). New media – new self: The changing power of celebrity. In P. D. Marshall (Ed.), The Celebrity Culture Reader (p. 634-644). New York, NY: Routledge.

Marwick, A. E. (2013). Status update: Celebrity, publicity, & branding in the social media age. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Senft, T. M. (2008). Camgirls: Celebrity & community in the age of social networks. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Solove, D. J. (2006). A taxonomy of privacy. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 154(3), p. 477-564.

Marwick, A. E. (2015). Instafame: Luxury selfies in the attention economy. Public

Culture, 27(175), p. 137-160.

Online red carpet: The magic of instaselfie culture in Thailand
Vimviriya Limkangvanmongkol, University of Illinois at Chicago

The worldly explosion of selfie culture has occupied the social media landscape in Thailand, shaping the rise of microcelebrity in the attention economy. This research examines the celebrification of the new breed of Thai celebrities driven by the selfie culture and Instagram use. I argue that Thai microcelebrities are instaselfie, referring as a subset of instafame (Marwick, 2015) mind-set and online self-presentation practice but focusing on using selfie posts to gain social capital. Using visual and textual analysis methods to unpack the instaselfie mind-set and practice, publicly available selfie photos of twenty Thai Instagram users who have more than 30,000 followers were qualitatively analyzed. Instaselfie celebrities transcends beyond the showcasing of their faces and bodies by embracing the glamour of an envidious “good” life/look, “luxury” lifestyle and “celebrity”-type personality. The final section illustrates three outstanding examples which are selected according to their unique positioning: a selfie queen, a beauty influencer, and a luxury elitist.

I’m not famous famous, I’m Internet famous: The mystification and folklore of microcelebrity fame on social media
Crystal Abidin, University of Western Australia

The attainment of microcelebrity has been theorized as being ‘achieved’ and ‘ascribed’. However, microcelebrification is seldom as neatly categorized, as demonstrated by folkloric speculations of celebrification in Singapore. To demystify fame on social media, a more nuanced nomenclature for the formulaic geneses of microcelebrity is required. In response, this paper reports on long-term online and offline ethnographic fieldwork among cohorts of social media microcelebrities in Singapore and East Asia. It investigates the folkloric imaginaries of celebrification in the vernacular of everyday users and the press, and introduces the notion of ‘systemic’ and ‘diffuse’ microcelebrification; the former being more constituted with a firm indication of one’s crossover into microcelebrity, and the latter being less organized and contingent on a more organic accumulation of attention before attaining microcelebrity.

Accidental celebrity: Exploration of fame, timing, and response to popularity
Megan Lindsay, Arizona State University

Celebrity is often thought of as a person, or individual identity. Within the literature, scholars provide examples of individuals adapting online lives to enhance their popularity and pursue an achievement of status. According to Marwick (2011), celebrity may also come through cultural phenomena. A study of young adult women in the US provides examples of the daily lived experiences when individuals are exposed to some form of internet fame or popularity, because they identified and capitalized on an ongoing cultural phenomenon. However, the narratives, motives, and intentions of these heterogeneous (e.g. race/ethnicity, age, sexuality, and socioeconomic status) users varied, and the daily lived experiences of certain women complicate the idea of celebrity as a pursuit. I will examine four case examples of young women who happened to gain traction online and elaborate on the ways they chose to (dis)engage, further pursue, and interact with their online presence, post-fame.

How does she afford all that?: Rumors, anonymity, and the darkside of being a YouTube microcelebrity
Renee M Powers, University of Illinois-Chicago

This paper explores the world of YouTube beauty vloggers and the people who love to hate them. Using discourse analysis, I focus on a forum created specifically for discussing the content and lives of popular YouTube beauty vloggers. The forum participants hide behind anonymity to discuss and dissect the lives of the most popular vloggers in the beauty industry. These forum discussions point to a darkside of microcelebrity unique to online spaces and to the darkside of boyd’s (2007) characteristics of networked publics. When a microcelebrity’s communication is persistent, searchable, and replicable to an invisible audience, it can easily be aggregated to be used against him or her (Solove, 2006). The invisible audience uses this aggregated information to create or support rumors about the vlogger. All digital footprints have the potential to become proof of feminine transgressions. This includes not conforming to an appropriate economic class performance, not policing one’s body in correct ways through postfeminist consumption practices, and violating the trust of the audiences. Ultimately, forum participants ‘hate-watch’ these popular beauty vloggers to find more apparent evidence to support the rumors and opinions that the other forum participants have perpetuated.

Identity guides: The implications of Facebook’s affordances and tacit celebrification
Angela M. Cirucci, Temple University

In defining microcelebrity, media technologies are often described as integral to the self-branding process. This paper argues that social networking platforms are not social utilities, but, in fact, celebrification utilities. That is, they are programmed to necessarily brand users by extracting and filtering identifications to be easily consumed by advertisers, just as celebrities and microcelebrities promote specific, “authentic” aspects of self that can be easily consumed by fans. Through a discourse analysis of Facebook’s affordances and in depth interviews with emerging adult women (n=30), I present a meta-analysis of celebrity culture through the narratives of everyday women who are not actively involved in self-branding but are instead compelled by the site’s inherent design to tacitly brand — they unknowingly align with corporation-like mission statements, ignore multiple, dynamic selves, and discard their right to anonymity.

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