I recently wrote a paper for another class on the relationship between people of color (especially queer people of color) and new media platforms, and I thought since this class seemed to primarily focus on the practice part of the digital humanities, it might be productive to share some research more on the theoretical and social side. Most of my research focused on social media platforms (including some we’ve discussed in class, such as tumblr), as well as youtube and webseries and video games.
By tracking trends in who uses what and why, I found that a unifying motivator for nearly every type of media was that in traditional platforms, certain voices are never heard. Black and queer characters on television have almost always been presented as harmful stereotypes, jokes, or exclusively tragic, and black queer characters have been virtually nonexistent. While tragic stories are important and often true, it is crucial that they aren’t the only ones told. Representation is only effect when its characters are mutli-dimensional and its stories are diverse. The idea of Youtube is that the process is democratized so everyone can create and upload their own content and develop their own audience, without having to adhere to the guidelines of big production companies who think their only audience is the straight white man.
In recent years, especially after it was purchased by Google, whether or not YouTube is truly a democratized space has come into question. Corporate channels can create higher quality videos that overshadow DIY projects. Who becomes a YouTube partner and can make money from the ad revenue per view is determined by popularity, and the rates are really low to begin with, so it’s becoming increasingly harder for independent creators to gain traction. The top four most subscribed channels as of 2015 are PewDiePie, Youtube Spotlight, HolaSoyGerman, and Smosh, all male, and predominantly white (with the exception of YouTube Spotlight, which is the official channel run by YouTube). There are other ways to fund a project, notably crowdfunding with sites like Patreon and Kickstarter, but this is still mostly effective for projects with an audience and fanbase that’s already established.
Words With Girls is an example of an early-ish webseries: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xb64g9Ef5ro
There’s a similar trend sort of taking root in Twitter, which is currently an extremely popular space for people of color. There’s a brilliant article from blacknerdgirls.com by John Minus entitled “Why Black People Tend to Tweet,” that explores the appeal of Black Twitter.
He points to how Twitter gives voice to a community that has been repeatedly silenced, pointing to the devising of a “lingual subculture” that was developed so as to not use the language of the oppressor as an early and lasting example of this need. He talks about how black people “are an opinionated people” who “weren’t allowed to read or write because the power of our thoughts threatened to change the world, and eventually it did.” It is hard for them to be fully themselves without fear, especially as their image is so often warped by mainstream media and “distorted to reinforce what those in power want to believe of us,” which can have a minimizing or demonizing effect. He speaks to the ability to build community on Twitter and how there is safety in the numbers of that community. Twitter is a response to the history of violence against black people that focuses primarily on speaking out and speaking to each other, so that individuals can connect in shared experience and even have a chance at enacting change to end that violence, as seen with activism such as the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Something else that Minus points out is that “people have tried to do organized, scholarly articles on why Black people tweet so much. People want to isolate and monetize the fact that Black people tweet so much. ‘Black Twitter’ exists as a scary gray area of the internet for some, the same way inner cities have scared Middle America for the last 50 years.” He suggests that there is no way to monetize the conversations and connections going on on Twitter, and that if there ever is one the black community will have moved on. That being said, corporations are a very clear presence on the site, as evidenced by the promotional tweets pinned to the top of one’s feed and the sponsored hashtags that dominate lists of what’s trending. Plenty of companies are getting in on hashtag activism. There was a promoted tweet by Think with Google on April 2 featuring a graphic with the phrase “47% of consumers under 24 years old are more likely to support a brand after seeing an equality themed ad” and a caption proposing “When brands support equality, it’s a win all around.” Clearly this is something companies are starting to take notice of in their advertising, and although there are not necessarily sponsored twitter personas as of late, these brands are certainly still attempting to muscle their way into the conversation because they see that being progressive is profitable.
TL;DR: New media is really cool BUT corporations ruin everything BUT there’s still hope (probably).