Author Archives: Gabriel's Blog

The polarizing act of social media

Since playing with friends from a young age, most people are taught principles of fairness and to treat others like you want to be treated. This has to be implemented into a person’s thinking as early as possible. As we get older, groups become more influential as we mature. In today’s world, groups are formed differently, but have some the same powerful influences they had before social media. Social media mobilized communicating and connecting with people. It is effortless to find a group supporting a personal interest or cause. Because of this affordance, the expectations of belonging to multiple groups accompany the “always connected” modern lifestyle. In “The Daily We: Is the Internet really a blessing for democracy?,” Sunstein discusses and mentions empirical data about the tendencies of like-minded groups to make more extreme decisions than groups which include a wide range of opinions. Groups have always had a profound influences dating back to the historic extreme cults and clans such as the Klu Klux Klan. Groups such as these overshadow logical reasoning of an individual to support the more extreme ideals that mildly supported within a group. Peer pressure and other social factors influence this decision, but Sunstein pointed to the diversification of a group to be a determining factor.
Social media and its various platforms emphasize connecting with people and building massive online social networks. As social media has aged, so has the users and their networks. Most users have many connections/friends/followers that they have never met and never intend to interact with in the real world. Because of the growth of online social connections, platforms such as Twitter and Facebook allow for you to filter you news feed. This is a vital curation tool, but it also changes the dynamics of the diversification of the presented information. For example, if you see a comment you do not like or agree with on Facebook, the user has the option to remove this specific user’s post from their future news feeds. Like I mentioned, this is useful tool, but by eliminating opposing opinions, we fall into the trap Sunstein cites in her work. Lack of opposing opinions reinforce like-minded thinking even further and presents the threat of extreme decision making.

A few weeks ago, I saw an episode of Modern Family that I continued to forget to mention. This episode depicts the family communicating and interacting only through Skype. Claire, the mother, is attempting to patch up things with her daughter, Haley, after a boisterous fight. Claire is trying to find Haley to talk things out through video chatting the rest of her family. A few conspiracies were started around Haley’s ambiguous Facebook status and were reiterated by the family who had no knowledge of what Haley was up to. This episode relates to how groups influence an individual and how this influence is more extreme when derived from a group.


who is actually participating?

Respond to this quote from last week’s reading: “It seems most likely that the virtual public sphere brought about by [computer–mediated communication] will serve a cathartic role, allowing the public to feel involved rather than to advance actual participation.”

The public sphere is supposed to a place where citizens can come together and discuss issues they have with public policy. Public sphere is intended to be a place where every voice can be heard with equal amount of influence as all other members of society. Since the growth of technology and social media, the public sphere has been transformed much like the other societal institutions. For an environment to be considered a public sphere, it must:

  • Disregard of status: Preservation of “a kind of social intercourse that, far from presupposing the equality of status, disregarded status altogether. […] Not that this idea of the public was actually realized in earnest in the coffee houses, salons, and the societies; but as an idea it had become institutionalized and thereby stated as an objective claim. If not realized, it was at least consequential.” (loc. cit.)
  • Domain of common concern: “… discussion within such a public presupposed the problematization of areas that until then had not been questioned. The domain of ‘common concern’ which was the object of public critical attention remained a preserve in which church and state authorities had the monopoly of interpretation. […] The private people for whom the cultural product became available as a commodity profaned it inasmuch as they had to determine its meaning on their own (by way of rational communication with one another), verbalize it, and thus state explicitly what precisely in its implicitness for so long could assert its authority.” (loc. cit.)
  • Inclusivity: However exclusive the public might be in any given instance, it could never close itself off entirely and become consolidated as a clique; for it always understood and found itself immersed within a more inclusive public of all private people, persons who – insofar as they were propertied and educated – as readers, listeners, and spectators could avail themselves via the market of the objects that were subject to discussion. The issues discussed became ‘general’ not merely in their significance, but also in their accessibility: everyone had to be able to participate. […] Wherever the public established itself institutionally as a stable group of discussants, it did not equate itself with the public but at most claimed to act as its mouthpiece, in its name, perhaps even as its educator – the new form of bourgeois representation” (loc. cit.).


But, in my opinion, public sphere depends on the means of open communication. Today’s technology and social media networks afford us with an open line of communication with basically everyone in the world. This affordance has advanced our lives to where we are today by transporting valuable life changing information instantaneously.

However, because the ability to participate in public debate has become so easy, people assume online participation is enough and never act on their support. Participating and congregating online has proven to be a powerful tool, but without physical action, it is mostly just words on a screen. Feeling appeased by online participation lowers the number of people who traditionally participate. This ease has harmed the public levels of participation and I only see it getting worse. By participating online, people feel included and needed which appeases a vital part of our human nature. People who feel included are less angered by whatever the outcome because they feel as if they have done their part. This is a dangerous path for the public to follow. During the President Obama’s election campaign, I remember the amount of people hoping he would get elected, but were not planning to vote. This is not a direct correlation with the subject matter, but it demonstrates how people are slow to act when it comes to public policy, even when they support the cause. I think modern technology has elevated this even further, but hopefully, the policy makers will adjust and implement more technology in their communication and research methods.


Social media’s youth influence

Recently, I came across a few old television shows that I have not seen in years, A Different World and Saved by the Bell. Saved by the Bell was not a show I watched consistently when I was younger, but my older sibling religiously watched, so I had no choice but to tune in. Save by the Bell was set in the early 90’s around a few high school friends who are going through the normal growing pains of teenage life. The basics of how to deal with a poor report card to figuring out a plan to ask your crush to prom were covered in this television series. The good natured image of the show was preserved by the predictable storylines demonstrating honesty is always the answer. The sitcom depicted a tight knit collective community that represents high school life during those times. The individual stories frequently involved student events such as pep rallies, dances, and fundraising events. These events would be considered collective action during those times.


With the added component of social media, the storyline for a high school sitcom would be very different. Modern high school students are much more advanced because of the social media and technology. Today’s high school students have many of the same advantages that college students have. The collective community that Saved by the Bell depicts would be much more open and individually based. Representing pep rallies and local school events would change to online postings on Facebook. Openly discussing rumors from last weekend’s festivities would change to viral videos on Instagram and anonymous messages on YikYak. How do you think you high school experience would have changed because of social media?



Also, many of the episodes revolved around the one the friends getting left out of a situation. Most of the time, this happened to the nerdy friend, Screech. In today’s world, Screech would have a much different role in their group. He would have many more options of friends on digital social media networks than he does in the bubble of high school. The environment for past high school life closely followed the three principles of Axelrod:

  1. A likelihood of meeting in the future
  2. An ability to identify each other
  3. A record of past behavior

High school attempt to create an environment that everyone can share in a while striving to be their best. “Axelrod’s “Three Conditions” describe what would be the most important conditions for ensuring cooperation among strangers in a competitive environment. I think today’s society has moved away from the need to create a cooperative environment and more so cultivating a space to discover specific interests and ideas.


Why so judgy?

When thinking of the amount of online information we consume daily, it is human nature to prioritize in order to make this process effective. It is our nature to rank whatever we come into contact with, physically or digitally; we rank the information in regards to importance or reason to remember. Our minds work much like computers, but we have a less definite storage capacity. We cannot remember every piece of information that we consume, so we have a type of auto-delete process that empties out every, so often. I believe social media platforms are capitalizing on our need to prioritize information, but applied toward people’s profiles or online activity.


Social media platforms such, as Facebook or LinkedIn, provide extensive options to represent yourself through your profile information. Profile detail option such as music interests, or relationship status gives a quick extensive look at who the user is or who they want you to think they are. This type of profile driven platform emphasizes the identity of the user. The importance of your profile information and profile picture draw much more attention to the image your profile creates rather than contributed content.

In contrast, social media platform builds a community through shared content of users. Platforms such as Twitter or Instagram has very few options for the profile settings. It has a open blank format. with a low word limit (160 characters for Twitter profiles). Most Twitter profiles are only a few words, with no complete sentences, and a picture. You can quickly scan a profile and have no idea about the user. Twitter profiles have short self-description, but much of the time the area is used to describe the theme of shared content. It is used to broadcast what type of content should be expected from the user.

In my social media activity, I would say I monitor/participate mostly on Instagram and now again on Twitter. Instagram is based mainly on the content/picture posted by the users which fits the kind of style I choose to consume a large share of my digital content. I participate in order to continue to build my online presence amongst what I consider my closer-knit online network. I feel Instagram urges you to participate by the way they choose to visually display the content’s feedback. This is what drives all social media applications and most business. Competition is the driving force for many social behaviors and social media applications depend on this part of the human psyche to drive content and its curation. Instagram does this in an effective manner. Other platforms post multiple types of measures of favor such as the way Twitter post retweets and favorites, and Facebook shows the number of likes and number of comments. These ways are effective and provides large amounts of feedback for users and the platform. Instagram chooses to only post the number of likes position right above the screen name of the user. This is effective concept to quickly gain the attention of viewers. It really depends on the style you wish to consume your social media content.

The place to think…

Steven Johnson’s video, “Where do good ideas come from?” is remarkably simplistic description of the criteria you need in order to create a space that cultures innovation. He also dispels the myth of great overnight ideas. Great ideas takes time to mature and develop. He describes great ideas forming in “slow hunches,” or incomplete ideas, that come together over long periods of time. He mentions that Tim Berners Lee, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, took ten years to come up with his masterful idea. Timing is a key factor, but Johnson focused mainly on the space or environment where innovation takes place. He describes a space where “slow hunches” collide against each other is where innovation happens. A place that facilitates the exchange of ideas, so that they can be transformed/combined to form the brilliant ideas that impact our lives. He illustrates that by making a place where “hunches” are constantly colliding into each other fosters innovation and furthers knowledge.

This common space where ideas can be easily shared and compared against other ideas is today’s modern web. This ability to exchange ideas has altered the way we live and communicate. Johnson states that connectivity promotes innovation. “The chance favors the connected mind.”

But this also places an importance on cultivating your personal social capital. Our social capital is more important to us than ever before because more and more of our lives is becoming digital. Our social capital is, at times, the first and only representation of ourselves. It is odd to think that we are not representing ourselves, but we are through the relationships we choose to cultivate and through our reputations. The Wikipedia definition of reputation is “Reputation of a social entity is an opinion about that entity, typically a result of social evaluation on a set of criteria.” Social evaluation has never been easier because of the affordances of today’s web. This key component shifts more significance towards your history, background, and social relationships.

Reputations are a cliché thought when discussed in a traditional sense. I mean by traditional sense of what it meant to a high school student who just wanted to be cool enough to not be bullied. But now, I think our reputation is an even more vital part to our identity. Social media has changed how we meet people. Before, we knew nothing about the person we were about to meet if they were a stranger. We might have seen a picture or heard a kind (unkind) word about the person. With today’s powerful and convenient technology, we can sit in a coffee shop and basically find out a large majority of a stranger’s personal information. Since this has become a norm, our reputation takes the lead in our identity in many cases. Although this has been true for quite some time now, a large part of our headline news is about a celebrity or political leader damaging their online reputation. In November, President Obama delivered one of his annual Thanksgiving speeches and his two daughters, Sasha and Malia, accompanied him to the event. Obviously, any event that involves the President is a global event, so that is just amplified on social media. Apparently, a comment or two was made about the President’s daughters during this event on Facebook.

Elizabeth Lauten, communications director for Republican Representative Stephen Fincher of Tennessee, had said via a Facebook post that Obama’s daughters, Malia, 16, and Sasha, 13, needed to show “a little class,” complaining they appeared to look uninterested last week during an appearance with their father at a White House pre-Thanksgiving ceremony at which he had “pardoned” a turkey.

The article (link at bottom) continues to describe the outburst the comments caused and that she “resigned” the next day. This an extreme example, but demonstrates the significance of our social interactions online that affect our social capital and reputation.

Social Capital

Reflect on a time you were a part of an online event that was trying to establish social capital. How could this event been improved?

An example that came to mind is fantasy football. This example is trivial, but is a simple example of an online event where you are trying to establish social capital. Most fantasy football leagues are conducted online for the most part. Most adults or even college students do not have time to meet every week to discuss rosters or injury reports. This is done completely online and for the few fantasy football online meeting rooms, the interfaces are impressive and quite extensive if you consider their purpose.



The specific event that each participant must establish social capital would be the initial draft before the league begins. This online event each of the participants must come up with a team name, potential style of offense and defense, past fantasy league experience, most current record, and other optional notes. Some of the optional notes that I have seen have included former or present playing experience, sport knowledge event awards, and any other accolade that would establish them as a threatening player. I did not participate fully partly because I had no idea the profiles would be so extensive and so competitive. Although the draft is normally random or based on past rules, during the season trades are allowed and this is where player’s profiles come into play. If your profile looks unimpressive a player may not consider doing a player transaction with you. Also, higher level more experience players have establish a recognizable relationships with certain players and league administrators. This all influences the success of the player in the league.



Although fantasy football leagues are insignificant in the grand scheme of life, they illustrate how people and platforms plan to establish an online presence and social capital. The social capital from online fantasy leagues may not carry over into the real world, but it does illustrate how a person’s social capital can be utilized and managed. It is also a prime example of network capital. Manuel Acevedo discusses this network capital in “Network Capital: an Expression of Social Capital in a Network Society:”

“When the interaction takes place among members of an electronic network, which are likely loosely-knit in geographic terms, the resulting social capital is network based. Network capital could then be understood as a measure of the differentiated value in the Information Age that communities structured as social networks generate on the basis of electronic (digital) networks for themselves, for others and for society as a whole.”

Loosely-knit networks is an accurate description of fantasy football leagues. Yes, many of players are friends, but many are friends of friends of co-workers and so forth. The network is tightly knit in some areas, but not throughout. Manuel Acevedo continues in explaining how network capital works:

“It is a result of cooperation via electronic networks, and in turn fosters the habit of such cooperation. This cooperation includes sharing of information and the use of computer-mediated-communications but it goes further towards group work, the creation of specific products, and the achievement of set objectives”

“It is created by communities of interest, where membership is based on personal interest, skills, background/experience and sharing of a common purpose. While network technologies allow for anyone in the world with Internet access to take part (in fact many virtual communities are geographically dispersed), physical proximity may be a factor as well.”

Network capital holds important potential for human development and specifically for development cooperation, where global and local issues mix fluidly in the processes leading to greater options for people and improved living conditions. The global citizen will have more possibilities to become involved in social causes, with lesser constraints of place or time.

Acevedo descriptions of network capital correlates with how online fantasy football leagues are coordinated. It is interesting to see how serious these leagues are and the amount of money you can win as a prize. Below is a link to a fantasy league’s money rules. As you can see, people are buying in large to compete for large money prizes at the end of the season!

It’s a small world after all

Milgrim’s Small world experiment examined the average path length for social networks of people in the United States. The “six degrees” describes the number of people on average it would take to connect two people in a network. This type of experiment was only the start social network analysis and a basis for social media networks to study how to better connect with their users. Visualization of networks is vital to social media growth. Different versions of Milgrim’s experiment has been performed in different fields of study. Yahoo and Facebook combined forces and performed their version of the Small World experiment.

According to Cameron Marlow, Facebook’s chief data scientist, “Facebook depends on its connectedness… This is our best chance to measure this fundamental piece of the social graph, so the more users that participate, the clearer the signal will be.”

Another interesting version of the experiment was done by Coca-Cola. You might have seen the commercials for it. Coca Cola started a campaign in 2013 called “Small World Machines.” In their version of the experiment, Coca Cola intended to connect two nations, India and Pakistan, through vending machines interactions (video is at the bottom).  Because the tension between the two nations, Coca Cola goal seems unattainable, but the reminder that we are all human and are connected in some way.

This campaign was a major success and saw great strides in growth on Coca Cola’s social media followers. Coca-Cola saw 36% growth in the number of fans from India on Facebook. In real numbers, that’s 600,000 new fans that Coca-Cola added in the first 10 days of the campaign.  Reminding people that the world is a small more intimate place where we are all connected in some way is a significant accomplishment for a campaign and hopefully will be the model for future branding ventures.


The 3 minutes video, which was uploaded on the 19th of May, gained over 280,000 views in just 24 hours. It then went on to receive over 1.4m views.

Have you ever named your phone?

Have you ever named your phone or ipad or laptop? It would only make sense to name something that you spend more time with than you do with anything/anyone else. I have heard death screams from the bathroom which sounded like someone had gotten life changing news, but to find out later it was just the reaction of a girl who dropped her phone in the toilet. This is a common feeling to feel attached to your mobile device. It is our multipurpose-do-everything-you-need-instantly machine and for the most part fairly reliable. But…what if we didn’t have our all-knowing best friend with us at all times? What if we still had to call home for directions before leaving to go somewhere instead of looking up the directions on our phone on the way? What would we do without having an available camera in our hands 90% of the time? Without our beloved gadgets, we would have to take a more purposeful, well-rounded role in our own lives. We would plan our days much differently without our smart phones. Gadgets, like most technology, allows us to only remember information we vitally need and leaves the rest to the gadget. Without needing to call home to figure out how to cook something or to stop by a local store for directions, people can turn more into themselves than ever before. Wellman discusses this movement in “New Social Operating System of Networked Individualism”:

The evidence in our work is that none of these technologies are isolated — or isolating — systems. They are being incorporated into people ’ s social lives much like their predecessors were. People are not hooked on gadgets — they are hooked on each other. When they go on the internet, they are not isolating themselves. They are conversing with others — be they emailers, bloggers, Facebookers, Wikipedians, or even organizational web posters. When people walk down the street texting on their phones, they are obviously communicating. Yet things are different now. In incorporating gadgets into their lives, people have changed the ways they interact with each other. They have become increasingly networked as individuals, rather than embedded in groups. In the world of networked individuals, it is the person who is the focus: not the family, not the work unit, not the neighborhood, and not the social group.


This is quite prevalent in today’s society and especially with our generation. Devices that we are constantly using are quite amazing when you think of how much you can do with basically having a PC in your pocket. I do think regulation of devices should be implemented where people see fit, but understanding the benefits of traditional communication is still vital. Today’s technological innovations and forward thinking have given us tools to make our world a connected place which is important for knowledge transportation and resource distribution. As I mentioned before, our technology gives us a chance to forget skills that we once needed. I think just refreshing our memories of how traditional communication (face-to-face) roots provided a landscape for our communication methods. Wellman describes it best. “After making a good connection via email or texting, they wrote, “ we want to hear the music of each other ’ s voices and we want to see and touch each other.”

who needs the most help: muggles vs. wizards?

danah boyd’s “Incantations for Muggles: The Role of Ubiquitous Web 2.0 Technologies in Everyday Life” presents a different perspective to look at how you think of yourself online. danah boyd, a cyber-culture observer, believes that technology has become an ubiquitous part of our lives. The perspective in which you access how we use technology and what would we do without it reveals our dependency. Technology has impacted basically every facet of our lives including our personalities and self image. Through our various technology and social media network, we can portray the self image of our choosing without any immediate ramification. This multiple identity mentality has altered our view of true identity and authenticity.

Accurately presenting your identity in face to face interactions is based on many factors such as physical proximity, nonverbal cues, tone of voice, or current circumstances. Each of these examples present different factors that the your conversational partner using to create their image of you. This process is made more difficult if you do not have prior knowledge of who you are presenting yourself or if you have multiple people you must present yourself to at once. Having the ability to use the context clues of your situation makes this process, at times, effortless and normally unconsciously. But online, the context is not as clear. Presenting yourself online is much more difficult; the process of accuarately presenting yourself is as hard/equal to accuarately interpreting someone else’s presentation of themselves. danah boyd describes this overwhelming issue:

This is quite different from the society that you and i were used to growing up. We were used to having walls. We assumed that the norms were set by the environment and that you behaved differently in synagogue than in the pub and that was AOK. Context was key but context depends on there being walls. Online, there are no walls. The walls have come crumbling down. You can cross through spaces with the click of a few keystrokes and it’s impossible to know what speech will spread where. The moment a conversation spreads, it changes contexts. How do you train a generation to speak to all people across all space and all time? It wouldn’t be socially appropriate to get up on your conference chairs and start dancing (but i dare you to) but we act like the world can have continuous norms and rules online. There’s not one public – there are many publics.. and each comes with their norms. Yet, online, we don’t have that privilege.

My online look

“What kind of image, if any, do you try to portray online? Do you create separate personas for different platforms? How representative would you say your online profiles are of you as a whole?”

I would have to say my online image is somewhat a reflection of myself. I consider myself a quiet, to myself kind of guy and that is similar to my online persona. My social media accounts are never automated to post across platforms; each of my post are custom to the design of the platform I am using. I do tend to keep my social media communities separated if possible. I don’t think I am doing consciously because I have a similar core group of friends/ followers across each of my social media networks, but I treat them differently depending on the platform. I am not too involved in anonymous communities such as Reddit, but I am starting to see more of the benefits of these type of communities. In Bernie Hogan’s blog post, “Real Name Sites Are Necessarily Inadequate for Free Speech,” he discusses how “real name sites” such as Facebook and Google+ take away from the freedom of speech that the internet should be used for. He describes anonymity vs. real name sites in a reporter’s metaphor: “Online is on record. Offline is off-record.” He explains this to mean everything online is documented somewhere, whether that be a file or a screenshot. Your online activity leaves a footprint. This is an alarming fact, but should be acknowledged for what it is worth. Many online users do not grasp the ramification of their online activities; headlines of what a famous actor tweeted or a celebrity’s scandalous instagram pictures fill our news daily. This type of scrutiny from online activity has been the starting point for many news segments and many news segment have daily topics chosen from social media outburst. Although many of the victims of this type of scrutiny should know better, many of the instances would have been perceived in a better light if an explanation would have been presented. But that’s is the problem….Online activity is very easily documented, but does not include context of the situation. The article “YouTube and You: Experiences of Self-Awareness in the Context Collapse of the Recording Webcam” describes context collapse:

The problem is not lack of context. It is context collapse: an infinite number of contexts collapsing upon one another into that single moment of recording. The images, actions, and words captured by the lens at any moment can be transported to anywhere on the planet and preserved (the performer must assume) for all time. The little glass lens becomes the gateway to a blackhole sucking all of time and space – virtually all possible contexts – in upon itself.

This is a different perspective in which to think about how your online activity could be perceived. It is much like only hearing half of the conversation and piecing together the rest from the abundant (or lack of) context clues that are left up to you to translate, but only without direction or order. This is not the case in face-to-face interactions. When offline, people  don’t have to worry about their identities or real names because their behaviors are tied to the context of the situation. In face-to-face communication, we carefully (some of us more than others) gauge the situation and evaluate the context clues before we decide how to react, what to say, and how I want to represent myself in my given circumstances. Just as Erving Goffman described self-presentation, we are continuously (normally unconsciously) taking in details of our physical surroundings, the people present, and the overall nature of current situation. We are so adept to this method of soaking up our surrounding that much of the time it is done without a thought and/or while doing something else like participating in other conversations. This unconscious method is missing during online interactions.