Textual intimacies, Faux Pas, and Truncative Devices.


My colleague Jenny Kennedy and I are starting a project to look at what we term “truncative devices”.

For now, I loosely define “truncative devices” as digital linguistic mechanisms of prematurely ending conversations or ejecting oneself from a communicative exchange.

Think: ending Twitter/Facebook/social media comment threads and conversations with

reactive affordances such as hearts (RIP star) or likes,

pictograms such as stickers or emoji,

keystrokes such as emoticons or fullstops,

or catchphrases such as “cool story bro” or “that’s nice hunny”.

We’ll be building on Jenny’s work on sharing (see Conceptual Boundaries of Sharing) and my work on intimacy (see Communicative <3 Intimacies).

At the Digital Intimate Publics Symposium in Brisbane last month, Jenny presented a fantastic paper on over-sharing.

One of her examples cited “cool story bro” (see Know Your MemeGoogleSlate, Urban Dictionary) to “shut down” sharing, or shape what kinds of sharing is “appropriate”.

She says that over-sharing is a “necessary process of seeking reciprocity”, and “mutually protective social mechanism” in which speakers recognize risks and vulnerability.

Today, The Age published an article, “Ending texts with a full stop is terrible, study confirms“, based on an academic study, “Texting insincerely: The role of the period in text messaging(paywalled, sigh – and h/t to Jenny for the link).

The study found that “[w]hen the exchanges appeared as text messages, the responses that ended with a period were rated as less sincere than those that did not end with a period. No such difference was found for handwritten notes.”

The Age reporter, Rachel Feltman, writes that “the text message full stop has taken on a life of its own. It is no longer just the correct way to end a sentence. It’s an act of psychological warfare against your friends.”

This politics of the fullstopping reminded me of a vignette I love to share whenever I present my work on Influencers.

In my physical and digital fieldwork with Influencers in Singapore, one of the most memorable incidents was what I like to call my “k.” faux pas.

And according to the wisdomsss of Google, Reddit, Yahoo, and 9GAG, the “k.” struggle is very real.

During the early stages of my fieldwork in 2012, an Influencer asked if I was upset with her because I had responded to her text message with a mere “k.”.

She had found it difficult to situate my emotional state – her words: “I didn’t know if you were angry or if you just donʼt use smileys”.

Apparently I had not included any emoji/emoticons to signal my mood to her.

She also explained to me that “k.” with a period appeared curt and less palatable than its variants, “ok”, “okay”, “ok.”, and “okay.”.

It would have been preferred if I had responded with an emoticon, such as in “okay :)”, but better still if I had taken the effort to scroll through my keyboard to insert an emoji instead, as in “okay ⊗”.

My texting faux pas underscored the tacit communicative norms Influencers seemed to collectively enact, but to which I was not (yet) privy.

Despite having previously established good rapport with my informants, this incident caused me to lapse into a temporary frame of unfamiliarity and strangeness.

I became even more aware of how anthropologists “make the familiar strange by their presence and questioning” (Malefyt & Morais 2012: 75), and how my accidental disruption of an otherwise mundane routine uncovered implicit communicative norms and rituals that facilitated social relations among my informants.

From then, I was careful to construct my textual responses conscientiously, noting that they signify “affective discourse” (Zappavigna 2012: 71), beginning with an emoji keyboard app I immediately downloaded to my smartphone.

Do you know of any other “truncative devices”? Please tell us while we begin to explore such everyday vernacular :)


You know how anthropologists list the second, third, fourth languages they speak on their CVs? (PS: my friend, the polyglot goddess, Gaby David can speak 8 languages?!)

And you know how programmers list C+, Python and Java on their CVs?

I feel like I should have the license to add “Fluid in emoji and emoticon” on my CV.


Malefyt, Timothy de Waal, and Robert J. Morais. 2012. Advertising and anthropology: Ethnographic practice and cultural perspectives. London: Berg.

Zappavigna, Michele. 2012. The discourse of Twitter and social media. London: Continuum.

Digital detox, Media panics, and What’s next.

This continues from my earlier post on Essena O’Neill, Authenticity, and Vlog Wars.

Here are more thoughts triggered by the frenzy over Essena O’Neill’s announcement that she is quitting the industry.

I will look specifically at how the mainstream and popular press have reacted to O’Neill’s video, and the surrounding discourse of moral panics.

I wrote my PhD on Influencers’ culture and commerce. I am an anthropologist who focused on Influencers in Singapore in my PhD. If you’re interested, the abstract to my thesis, Please Subscribe! Influencers, Social Media, and the Commodification of Everyday Life is here. If you’re not a fan of words, a watered-down very early version exists as a 3MT speech here. My other posts on Influencer culture are here.


Influencers, their social media savvy, and their commodification of everyday life are of especially topical significance given their international prominence recently.

Many accounts celebrated the overwhelming success of young Influencers.

For instance, 21-year-old Australian YouTuber Troye Sivan, whose Internet fame has propelled him to star in Hollywood movies, Broadway plays, and clinch a recording contract with music label EMI Australia, was named by Time Magazine to be among the worldʼs 25 most influential teenagers of 2014.

However, other damaging reports revealed the pitfalls and shortcomings of this relatively new industry:

In December 2014, 25-year-old British YouTuber Zoe Sugg, who broke records for being the fastest-selling debut novelist, selling over 78,000 copies in a week, was exposed for having used a ghost-writer. (She wrote book two herself).

Later in April 2015, 23-year-old Australian health blogger Belle Gibson (digital estates since removed), who built a career on claims that she overcame terminal brain cancer through the wholesome food recipes and alternative therapies she was promoting, admitted that she never had the disease.

18-year-old Essena O’Neill’s story leans towards the apparently ‘dark side’ of social media and Influencer commerce, and her desire to ‘leave it all behind’. Some commentators have branded this the ‘digital detox’.

Once again, although at the peak of prominence now, this is not new.


In my ethnographic work with Influencers in Singapore, many young people have experienced similar tensions. But they’ve found savvy ways to cope with these stresses and exercise their agency everyday whether or not they choose to stay or leave.

In a display of self-reflexivity and self-parody, many of them also produce entertaining narratives as such:

One prominent Influencer who recently left the industry is ohsofickle (blog, Twitter, Instagram, store).

Now a 25-year-old, she started in the Influencer industry at age 15, before deciding to leave after becoming a mother last year. Unlike O’Neill’s sudden announcement, ohsofickle’s exit and her announcement of departure seemed more measured and careful.

In March 2015, ohsofickle hinted that in “planning for the future” she may use social media more recreationally than proactively for her career. She mentioned that her life situation had changed since becoming a mother, and she wants to feel less pressure while continuing to use social media.

Six months later in September 2015, ohsofickle released ‘the big news‘ that she was leaving the Influencer industry (i.e. commercial social media, not social media per se) for her own and her family’s privacy. However, unlike O’Neill who claimed that her social media presence was “faked”, ohsofickle mentioned that she felt it would be difficult for her to continue her commerical social media presence while omitting/not blogging in depth about her “personal life”.

She implied that keeping her digital estates purely commercial/advertorial-oriented would make her blog “very different”, and “not really [her] style anymore”. Despite leaving the industry, she has left her digital estates in tact as an archive. In her amicable farewell, she expresses thanks to her followers, clients, and peers. She continues to use her social media as a regular user (additional private Instagram account here), post-microcelebrity.

Her thoughts on the O’Neill case are screengrabbed here:


“I feel you girl~~~ social media was a huge part of my life and this year I finally managed to wake up and not be so into it anymore and it has been pretty nice so far – enjoying real life (and occasional updates here and there). :) i used to have to worry about not having enough pictures to post and i had to post one picture EVERY DAY. Actually there’s really nothing wrong with making lotsa money from being popular online (it is easy money and good money) but it is a big problem and you need to WAKE UP when you get so obsessed and into it you forget how to enjoy life for what it really is and you constantly need approval and likes to feel valued and happy.”


Before we jump onto the media panic bandwagon that social media/technology is a bad thing and that we need to “save the young people”, let’s be clear that the discourses on the O’Neill case are actually very different and ought to be disentangled:

i.e. attack on social media per se vs attack on selfies, beauty industry, Influencer industry, youth and fame, etc.

i.e. O’Neill is quitting social media altogether vs O’Neill is quitting the social media/Influencer industry.

As of November 4th, 2015, 1200hrs GMT+8, her viral video has been taken down, and her updated Instagram account, @letsbegamechangers, seems to be set to private. However, O’Neill is now posting on her new Vimeo account.

Her new website, ‘letsbegamechangers.com‘, still features products and services on her ‘Game Changing Stuff’ tab. However, she says on the crowd sourcing funding page, ‘Support Me‘, on her new site:

Sponsored Disclaimer: I will never do paid posts or advertisement for ANY brands on this site or in any of my videos ever again. Everything I mention, I mention because I use it and love the product. There is NO money associated.

Shall we make this rabbit-hole a less painful exercise? Here’s a sheet for Social Media Moral Panic Bingo. Right click + Save. (And all the educators out there collectively sigh)

SMMP Bingo


I catalogued the top 40 Google News searches for “Essena O’Neill” on November 4th, 2015 at 1600hrs GMT+8. After omitting replicas, I handcoded 36 news headlines.

Here are the 12 main discourses in media coverage so far. I’m sure more will develop as thinkpieces and commentaries surface in the next cycle of this media panic.

1) O’Neill has quit social media.

2) O’Neill has quit social media and is now a role-model.

3) O’Neill has exposed social media for being ‘fake’.

4) O’Neill has exposed social media for being unhealthy.

5) Selfies are harmful.

Now, moralizing selfies is something I feel very strongly about. So in the interest of time and to save everyone from future clickbait,

Popular press: Selfies are bad.
Academic press: How about no.


6) O’Neill has exposed the beauty industry.

7) O’Neill has exposed the Influencer industry.

8) O’Neill is overwhelmed by viewer support post-viral post.

9) O’Neill is struggling with new issues after quitting the Influencer industry.

10) O’Neill is actually still on social media.

Tech Insider 02

11) O’Neill’s actions are allegedly a hoax.

12) O’Neill responds to ‘hoax’ accusations.


O’Neill is likely going to be branded as the poster girl for social media/technology moral panics for some time.

Even though many of us feel that ‘this too will pass’ because Internet amnesia will kick in and drama gets old fast, we need to think about how we want to respond the next time a media panic as such is served to us.

I want to push back against the dominant discourses that social media/technology is inauthentic/unhealthy/frivolous etc.

Dwelling on the micro-public actions of one 18-year-old (without taking into account nuances like her demographic, context, backstory, motivations, etc) and casting a blanket statement that WE NEED TO SAVE YOUNG PEOPLE or that YOUNG PEOPLE ARE NARCISSISTIC is

1) shallow albeit clickbaity,

2) prescriptive and not descriptive, and

3) just not productive. What is the value of another article describing how O’Neill cried through her video?

And chances are this whole cycle of media panics is just going to rinse and repeat with the next O’Neill.

Remember when we collectively panicked over the wellbeing (even posthumously) of Marilyn Monroe? Britney Spears? Amy Winehouse? Miley CyrusLady Gaga? (Gasp! Why are all these women?! Now stop and think.)

If you’re an educator or someone who is interested in pushing back against media panic discourses, shall we brainstorm on some useful exercises?


1) We could think about how news stories are classified. Just looking at the URL of the sites, we see how the slug for O’Neill is filed under categories such as news, health, trending, world, female, video etc. What does this mean? How have social media posts by everyday users come to be standard front-pagers of news outlets? What does this tell us about the circulation of vernacular knowledge and construction of hegemonic discourses?

2) We could think about the implications of press lexicon. Reading news headlines and articles, we could pick out descriptives/adjectives for the ‘young woman in distress’ trope or social media/technology moral panic tropes. See Bingo sheet above. We could do the same for the visuals and screenshots that accompany these articles. A minimini example I wrote earlier on the Chapel Hill Shooting is here.

3) We could think about intersectionality. Different people use the same tool in different ways depending on their demographic, their need, their intentions, etc. We cannot simply cast out all Influencers/vloggers/Instagrammers/young people for their social media activity.

All these actors probably see themselves as operating on different ladders. Influencers like O’Neill probably see their digital estates as money-making entities.

Others like the Trans vloggers/It Gets Better vloggers/self-injury bloggers probably see their digital estates as community clusters, personal diaries, self-actualization pursuits.

Unfortunately, the temptation is for us to see difference and want to assign distinction and discipline without acknowledging diversity of use and dialogue. (I realize I am on a roll with alliteration. I am a closet poet.)

Shall we not be complicit in the moral/media panic?

This Parenting Panel on ABC is how some of us feel about social media post-O’Neill. But here are other digital media scholars, Tama Leaver and Jean Burgess, encouraging us to think about empathy and agency.

Any thoughts? Let’s chat!

News articles here:

CBC News
CBS News
Daily Mail 01, Daily Mail 02, Daily Mail 03, Daily Mail 04
Guardian 01, Guardian 02, Guardian 03
Huffington Post
New York Times
News.com 01, News.com 02
Sunshine Coast Daily
Sydney Morning Herald 01, Sydney Morning Herald 02
Tech Insider 01, Tech Insider 02, Tech Insider 03
Teen Vogue
Us Magazine
Yahoo, Yahoo UK

The politics of Press lexicon: Chapel Hill Shooting

On 10 February 2015, husband and wife 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat and 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and the wife’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, were allegedly shot dead by 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks in the neighbourhood of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA.

While the impetus behind the shooting is still being debated, news networks around the world have come under fire for their framing of the incident. Specifically, major news networks are being accused of bias and bigotry for their relatively low key media coverage, or omitting press coverage on the incident altogether.

On Instagram and Twitter, cartoons on this selective press reporting have been circulating as critical commentary.

Vernacular commentary on the media silence has also been trending on the following hashtags on Twitter and Instagram:


Coding Press Lexicon

While there is some news coverage on the incident, media hype and fervor has not been as extensive as during the recent #CharlieHedbo/#JeSuisAhmed frenzy. In response, I manually collated and coded the descriptives used on the culprit and victims of the shootings from the top ten articles appearing chronologically on a Google search for ‘Chapel Hill Shootings’. The following data and screen grabs were taken on 12 February 2015, at approximately 1000hrs, GMT+1.

Many of these articles also embeded quotes ad verbatim and screen grabs from various social media platforms. These were excluded in this small exercise, and only the reporter’s main text was coded.

It should be noted that given the lag time since early coverage of the shooting emerged (the incident reportedly took place just past 5pm on 10 February 2015) some of these top ten articles are rehashes of early reportage, follow-up articles, or tributes to the victims. Another limitation is that I only coded for text, and did not take into account demographical significations of the culprit and victims as represented through photographic or video footage.

Descriptive table

Here’s some quick coding of this small sample:


4 of the 10 articles attributed assigned blame to the culprit with the descriptives “perpetrator”, “killer”, “gunman”, and “militant atheist” – Al Jazeera, Washington Post, The Telegraph, International Business Times.

4 of the 10 articles attributed alleged blame to the culprit with the descriptives “suspected shooter”, “alleged killer”, “suspect”, and “primary suspect” – Washington Post, The Telegraph, Daily Tarheel, Huffington Post.

Washington Post and The Telegraph overlapped their use of both assigned and alleged blame.

The Independent and News Observer remained neutral with their descriptives “man” and “Chapel Hill man”, while WRAL.com only referred to the culprit by his name.


6 of the 10 articles made references to the victims’ ages with the descriptives “young” and “student” – The Independent, Washington Post, International Business Times, Mashable, Huffington Post, News Observer.

8 of the 10 articles made references to the victims’ religion with the descriptive, “Muslim” – The Independent, Al Jazeera, Washington Post, The Telegraph, International Business Times, Mashable, Huffington Post, News Observer.

3 of the 10 articles made references to the victims’ citizenship with the descriptive, “American” – Al Jazeera, The Telegraph, International Business Times.

International Business Times was the most comprehensive with the use of “American Muslim students”, whereas WRAL.com and Daily Tarheel focused on the descriptive, “victim”.

Body text vs. Headlines

The brief analysis above looked at both the news articles’ headlines and main body text. Isolating just the headlines, however, reveals a different percentage of demographical mentions of either party.

5 of the 10 headlines made references to the victims’ ages with the descriptives “young” and “student” – The Independent, The Telegraph, International Business Times, Mashable, Huffington Post.

5 of the 10 headlines made references to the victims’ religion with the descriptive, “Muslim” – The Independent, Washington Post, The Telegraph, International Business Times, Mashable.

2 of the 10 headlines made references to the victims’ citizenship with the descriptive, “American” – The Telegraph, International Business Times.

4 of the 10 headlines made no references to the victims’ demographic – Daily Tarheel, WRAL.com, Al Jazeera, News Observer.

None of the headlines made references to the culprit’s demographic.

Screen grabs of the headlines and links to the articles are archived below.

The Independent

01 The independent - young muslims


02 wral - victims

Al Jazeera

03 al jazeera - muslim americans

Washington Post

04 washington post - young muslims

The Telegraph

05 telegraph - american muslims

International Business Times

06 international business times - american muslims

Daily Tarheel

07 daily tarheel - people


08 mashable- muslim students

Huffington Post

09 huffington post - young victims

News Observer

10 news obeserver - muslim students

Emoji epistemology.


Emoji diversity is old news. The Unicode Consortium proposed recommendations for the interoperability of emoji across platforms in late 2014. Customizable ethnically-diverse emoji representations are on the way. Inter-platform emoji that get lost in translation even have dedicated op-ed pieces (h/t God of Internet culture, Gabriele, for the article). Emoji creative art is also all the rage, and I’ve been attempting to curate a list here for some time (please feel free to add to it).

But experiencing this ‘loss in translation’ and negotiating user-experience and the subjective signification of emoji was an intriguing affair.

It began on a Saturday afternoon, post-lunch coma. @wishcrys resumed her regular transmission of haphazardly brainfarting sans intellect on-the-go.

Some tweets got RT-ed, and accumulated reactions.

For instance, between Apple and Windows, gender and ethnicity got lost in translation. Apple’s pink-clad woman emoji shows up as a blue-clad man. The various ethnicities of the Apple emoji men are white-washed in Windows.

Some times, emoji get upgraded/rescued from poor health issues.

Some times assigning visual gender is subconscious, second nature, ingrained, or a matter of symbolic association.

Some times, artifacts are similarly gendered from symbolic association, muscle memory, or the whimsical organization by app developers.

Unlike their Apple counterparts, women emoji of Windows get to experience fashion variety.

If you’re interested, the good people of Emojipedia put together an archive of emoji as experienced across different platforms. (Credits for these screen grabs and the opening gif to Emojipedia).

What to make of all of this?


Awwyis. Emoji epistemology studies, any one?