MeituXiuxiu, Cultural diffusion, and Asia Exotica

This week my social media feeds have been flooded with updates from White friends who have just discovered 美图绣绣 (mei3 tu2 xiu4 xiu4), or “meitu” as it is popularly known in the English-speaking world. Among Influencers and everyday users in Singapore, and in the vein of nationalist acronymic efficiency, the app is more commonly abbreviated as “mtxx”.

MeituXiuxiu has been a vital part of the Influencer ecology in Singapore since 2013, where the tasteful editing or “shopping” of selfies is neither shamed nor scorned but celebrated and rewarded. I have written about the monetizing of such selfie skills as a form of “subversive frivolity“. While mobile phone-editing apps are proliferate in Singapore, as is elsewhere in East Asia, MeituXiuxiu was one of the earliest players in the app industry with built-in single-button functions that “augmented” or “corrected” bodies according to dominant standards of Chinese beauty in the region.

Guided by context from my fieldwork among Influencers and their use of MeituXiuxiu, in this post I try to make sense of the recent uptake of MeituXiuxiu among English-speaking White folk. Screengrabs were taken from the Apple app store, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter on 19 January 2017, 1000-1030hrs, GMT+8.  Continue reading MeituXiuxiu, Cultural diffusion, and Asia Exotica

Code-switching and linguistic acrobatics on the internet


When I was conference-hopping last month, I caught up with an academic friend who had unfollowed me on Twitter. While transiting from a proper academic conversation at the dinner table of a nice restaurant to a more intimate catch-up about our personal lives over drinks in a cosy bar, my friend admitted that they thought my use of Twitter was very “brave”. I didn’t understand. Specifically, they had unfollowed me because my Twitter stream was too “cluttered” and “spammy” and my tweeting habits were too frequent. It seemed “brave” was polite-speak for “homgh aren’t you afraid someone important might see your tweets”? Continue reading Code-switching and linguistic acrobatics on the internet

From Subversive Frivolity to Normativity: A lineage of Trump memes

The internet has been saturated with Trump memes. Some times they are hilarious, some times they are hurtful. Some times they bring relief, some times they are agonizing. This post is a product of my observations and archive of Trump memes and their evolving power from “subversive frivolity” to “normativity”. I demonstrate how Trump memes have transited along a continuum as: attention fodder, subversive frivolity, the new normal, and popular culture.

Screengrabs with the black header were archived from the mobile app version of 9gag on 8 November 2016, around 0001hrs, GMT+8 time. They include all the posts tagged “Trump”, with the earliest backdating to 14 weeks. There were 141 original memes in total but a handful have been omitted from this post. Screengrabs without the black header were archived from various news sites and social media throughout the Election season.

Continue reading From Subversive Frivolity to Normativity: A lineage of Trump memes

Eyewitness virality, Racism, and Journalistic responsibility

Last week, I spoke with a reporter regarding the Internet virality of Michelle Dobyne. They intended to run a ‘where are they now’ follow-up piece on Dobyne’s life post ’15 minutes of fame’. In the end, the TV clip and its companion article condensed our 8-minute interview into these anonymous soundbites:

“We asked a noted social media expert what makes a video viral worthy. She said catch phrases and exoticism, something that takes us away from our routine lives.”

“Our expert said what Dobyne and other viral video stars are able to do long term with their 15 minutes of fame is anyone’s guess.”

Since much of what I had to say about eyewitness virality, racism, and journalistic responsibility did not make the final cut, this morning I transcribed my conversation with the reporter and wrote it up for this blogpost. Continue reading Eyewitness virality, Racism, and Journalistic responsibility

#PorteOuverte, Instagram algorithms, and Emergent tropes.

I got up this morning, did my routine check of feeds, and learnt about the Paris attacks/shootings/explosions/blasts.

My Twitter feed was crowded with several hashtags and a mixbag of Tweets:

1) A few Tweets were sharing snippets and updates from news agencies.

2) More were calling out news agencies for irresponsible reporting and for stirring moral panic with half-formed, speculative, clickbaity, and contradictory reports.

3) Most were encouraging fellow Tweeters not to crowd the hashtags with peripheral information, prayers and opinions, and plain old spammy advertising.

Such is the nature of one’s feed when I only follow 164 Tweeters, most of whom are academics and media scholars.

I took to Instagram to watch vernacular visuals emerge, as I did with #OccupyCentral, #CharieHedbo, and #JeSuisAhmed.

Unlike these earlier case studies, there has not yet been an iconic symbol, an iconic scene, tributes to the dead, or live images of happenings on the ground.

However, Instagram’s interface update that now offers related hashtags, “Top Posts”, and “Most Recent” posts has changed the ways in which I received information. Screenshots taken from public Instagram hashtag streams on 14 November 2015, 1100hrs, GMT+10.

#ParisShooting was the first hashtag I saw on Twitter. This is what Instagram suggested when I searched the tag.


#ParisShooting and #ParisShootings seemed to present tributes to the victims, with the Effiel Tower emerging as a generic symbol of sentiment (unlike the more specific pencil, rifle, or black ribbon from #CharlieHedbo)

However, #ShootingParis and #ShootingInParis seemed to present photo shoots in Paris.

#ParisAttack was the second hashtag I saw on Twitter. This is what Instagram suggested when I searched the tag.


Here, we begin to see

1) vaguely related selfies + sentiment expressed in the captions

2) Screenshots of world leaders issuing press statements

3) Art of the French flag and French colours

4) And the emergence of a new meme – the peace sign modified to resemble the Effiel Tower.

#ParisMassacre was one of the “Related” hashtags Instagram suggested to me.


However, clicking on these images revealed that the posts were published in January during the #CharlieHedbo shootings.

Also curious is that I have not come across a mainstream news publication/news report that has used the term “massacre” in their coverage.

Here are other hashtags suggested to me by Instagram.

The Top Posts for #Paris and #PrayForParis presented more tribute art and collages.

The Top Posts for #Bataclan (one of the sites of the shootings) and #EaglesOfDeathMetal (the band that was playing in the Bataclan, concert venue at which the shootings occurred) presented some images of tribute and others of concert-goers and the venue pre-shooting.

I cannot decipher the Top Posts for #ParisInFlames or how this is related to the incidents. #ParisOuverte is the least used, and is probably a misnomer for the primary hashtag, #PorteOuverte.

Now, the thing that really annoyed me is that #ISIS was one of the “Related” hashtags Instagram suggested. Well, according to mainstream news reports and chatter on Twitter and Facebook right now (1240hrs GMT+10), we don’t yet know who the attackers are or what their motivations may be. However, anti-Islamic and Islamophobic sentiment is already beginning to emerge by uninformed users on various social media. Instagram’s algorithms are obviously not helping with the situation here.


The primary hashtag for this incident, #PorteOuverte, presents tribute posts. Here we see

1) The Eiffel Tower peace sign emerging as the main meme

2) Pray for Paris, with the Effiel Tower substituting the letter ‘A’

3) The French flag and French colours

4) Images of the Eiffel Tower and Paris city pre-incident

Text posts on #PorteOuverte were mostly screenshots from Twitter, presenting

1) Embassy hotlines

2) Signal boosting the #PorteOuverte hashtag

3) Users offering their homes as refuge

4) Users paying tribute

5) Screenshots of news reports

Over and out,