Public shaming, Peer surveillance, and the Profitability of internet drama.

From Internet Virality to Social Justice

In April 2017, a man and woman dubbed the “Toa Payoh couple” attained internet notoriety when a video of them verbally assaulting an elderly man over a table at a hawker centre went viral on Facebook. For a country of just over 5 million residents, the original video amassed over 3 million views and over 41,000 shares alone, discounting a cluster of other views and shares via reposts. In a matter of hours, reactionary internet users took to “CSI-ing” the perpetrators – colloquial forum lingo for intense profiling based on in-depth and corroborative internet searches – to identify the actors in the low-resolution video. (While local variants of “CSI-ing” borrow from hacker traditions of doxing, in which large amounts of private identifying content is released punitively, thus far practices of “CSI-ing” seem to be less intense and malicious, focused on small bytes of information such as a person’s full name, age, place of residence, and workplace).

Initially, the couple was misidentified as staff members of a bank, compelling enraged internet users to publicly denounce the services of the corporation and pressure the firm to fire the couple. Although the bank quickly clarified that the couple were not staff members, it was still up against seething backlash and fake rage-ridden feedback abounding on several social media platforms. The damage had been done.

As public outrage soared, this nugget of internet virality began to be picked up by for-profit populist tabloid websites, notable commentary blogs, and eventually, mainstream news outlets in digital and print formats. With the twin validations of internet-native virality and traditional media prominence, the police swiftly took action and the couple was arrested on the offence of causing a “public nuisance”. The internet cheered; vigilante activism struck again. The incident officially peaked and began to quickly tumble into obscurity – after all, the temporality of trends and controversies are accelerated in the age of the internet.

One week later, more precise updates about the couple were still streaming in on social media, albeit with less intensity. Fervent internet users posted updates on public forums, Facebook, and Twitter about – among other mundane information – the couple’s ages, marital status, professions, and grainy details of their business in the education sector. Close-up photographs of the couple – faces pixelated and otherwise – were unearthed from social media archives. Screengrabs of their now-private social media accounts also made their rounds. All the while, the story accumulated saturation fatigue: readers grew overwhelmed with minute packets of information to the point of disinterest, and the incident approached the death of its virality in late-April when the couple was arrested. However, public interest in the incident surged again in mid-August when the parties attended a court hearing and the woman tearfully expressed remorse to journalists on camera, only to instigate another wave of criticism on social media.

If this process feels all too familiar, it is because internet vigilantes and purveyors of public shaming blatantly rinse-and-repeat this cycle with controversial stories and situations that circulate online. Earlier in the same month, a Facebook video featuring an aggressive 70-year-old man propositioning gay sex and then slapping an American man on the MRT similarly went viral. It was recorded and uploaded by a fellow commuter in the same train cabin, and 1.5 million views and over 19,000 shares later, The Straits Times reported that the man was arrested for “causing public nuisance and voluntarily causing hurt”. Unlike the “Toa Payoh couple”, and perhaps in consideration of his old age, internet commentators did not “CSI” the elderly man to the same extent, but instead offered moralistic chidings of his assumed homosexual orientation and lack of maturity.

The efficacy of public shaming via internet virality – resulting in authoritarian intervention and social – enjoys a twisted track record in Singapore’s internet culture. Continue reading Public shaming, Peer surveillance, and the Profitability of internet drama.

Overly Honest Acknowledgments.

I just completed the acknowledgments for book 02 and now I want to cry.

Today in Overly Honest Academia:

“Finally, if you have made it this far down our acknowledgements, you have earned the *actual* backstory behind this book project. When we first proposed this book to each other in 2015, we were full-time PhD candidates who were multitasking on soon-to-be expired scholarships, but who were also running on wild ambition and pure adrenaline. Between this moment and the eventual publication of the book, the co-editors have collectively experienced two marriages, five house moves, one childbirth, three deaths, four job changes, and thousands of text messages on email, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Truth be told, this book could only be completed because neither of the co-editors lost stamina or hope concurrently, and were able to dip in and out of the project according to the peaks and troughs of our personal lives, while the other party soldiered on. As such, we would like to acknowledge the collegiality and friendship we have shared as young women academics, and to thank our partners, family, and loved ones for their understanding and support throughout this process.”

I love you, Megan Lindsay Brown (´• ω •`) ♡

Microcelebrity Around The Globe: Approaches to cultures of internet fame, coming to you in December 2018.

MA and PhD theses on cultures of internet celebrity.

Moshimoshi folks,

I have just spent several days poring through a crop of MA and PhD theses by postgraduates around the world who are studying cultures of internet celebrity, microcelebrity, and influencers. I was really excited by this steady stream of pre-published or soon-to-be published works on emergent and cutting-edge practices that have been so swiftly archived and analysed by these early career researchers.

If it is helpful, I list these references and their publicly-available links (mostly Open Access via the authors’ institutional repositories) below. If you have a thesis to add to the list, please feel free to comment. If you are nearly completing a thesis on any aspect of internet celebrity, I would love to hear from you (especially if you focus on cultures outside of the US and UK).

Here is a paragraph summarising this crop of theses, lifted from a forthcoming piece of mine to be published in December 2018 in ‘Abidin, Crystal, and Megan Lindsay Brown (eds). (forthcoming, 2018). Microcelebrity Around the Globe: Approaches to cultures of internet fame. Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing.’

“Focusing on how commerce and industry are impact microcelebrity-audience relations are Neal’s (2017) thesis on Instagram influencers and sponsorship, Mustonen’s (2017) thesis on YouTubers coming out to fan communities, Sedláček’s (2016) thesis on how YouTubers’ audiences are shifting away from TV practices, and Bruijn’s (2016) thesis on how YouTubers are negotiating a balance between commercialism and authenticity. Considering the cultures of microcelebrity on newer social media platforms are Gkoni et al.’s (2017) thesis on Snapchat and emoji use as ‘fam’ subcultures, Bingham’s (2017) thesis on practices of professionalism among Twitch microcelebrities, Blight’s (2016) thesis on community building across streaming platforms, and van de Put’s (2017) thesis on the process of becoming a celebrity on Musical.ly. Finally, looking outside of the Anglo-centric U.S. and Euro-centric U.K. are Bakke’s (2017) thesis on commercial bloggers in Norway, Meng’s (2014) and Wang’s (2017) theses looking at wanghong on Weibo in China, Meylinda’s (2017) thesis looking at beauty vlogs in South Korea, and Limkangvanmongkol’s (2018) thesis looking at beauty bloggers’ practices in Thailand. As newer cohorts of postgraduates and early career researchers delve deeper into the cultural and political complexities of microcelebrity practices in their parts of the world, one can be assured of generations of critical works on cultures of internet celebrity from around the globe.”

* Continue reading MA and PhD theses on cultures of internet celebrity.

Readings on the politics of knowledge production.

Moshimoshi friends,

I am feeling a little brave after writing on the need for postcolonial research on internet celebrity, drawing from Edward Said (1978), Gayatri Spivak (1993), Raewyn Connell (2007, 2014), Daya Thussu (2006, 2009), Koichi Iwabuchi (2002), and Christine Yano (2013). If it’s helpful, refs are below.

I would love to read more in this vein on the politics of knowledge production and cultural circulation, so please feel free to beep me your recommendations. Tack!

* Continue reading Readings on the politics of knowledge production.

Where is the money on Tumblr? (part 1)

Hi folks!

I am at the International Communication Association conference (#ica18) this week. I gave my talk this morning but felt really unsatisfied with it, mostly because while I was speaking I suddenly saw a new way of reframing my approach and liked that so much better. And so, to soothe my soul and also to braindump everything so I don’t forget the magic, I am going to speed blog my thoughts as a stream of consciousness here (as such, please excuse the lack of references, especially to the very good emerging scholarship on Tumblr, etc. But feel free to drop me an email if you would like to be pointed to further resources).

The talk was entitled “Where is the money on Tumblr? Cultures of celebrity and labour in Tumblr’s architecture” and I hope to polish it into a publishable version soon.

If you would like to familiarize yourself with my prior work on Influencer cultures and internet celebrity, click through hereContinue reading Where is the money on Tumblr? (part 1)