Posts Tagged ‘Social Media’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The Spring of 1998.  Good times.  I was a fourth year college student at Michigan State. I was 21 years old. I was dating my future wife. My biggest concern was where I should go to graduate school.  Oh, and I had a cushy job in what was known as the MSU Microbiology Store.  For about 9 bucks an hour, I and a couple co-workers made sure

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Giltner Hall – Where the Microbiology Store was located

the Microbiology labs had enough supplies for…well, whatever Microbiology labs did.  It was quite easy, and I had a great deal of free time to study and keep up a nice solid GPA.

One day in late April, I came into the ‘office’ as my two coworkers were looking at The State News.  The student newspaper had a small story buried deep inside that had some bad news for a great number of students and alums.  The Board and President of the University had decided to disallow alcohol consumption on Munn Field, specifically during football tailgating.  I just shrugged off this story.  But, for my co-worker Adam this news was troubling.  You see, Adam (I can’t even remember his last name) wanted to be a politician. He was soon to graduate and was headed to DC to start graduate studies in Political Science.  Adam read this news as a 22 year old defender of democracy. He felt that the powers that be had passed this measure at the end of the school year specifically to avoid student input regarding the decision.  Adam believed this was unjust, and authoritarian.  He felt something needed to be done.

He decided to call for a protest rally.

Let me just stop for an aside. This was 1998. How do you get the word out about a SNlogoprotest to the community? There was only one week before finals started.  You couldn’t get that story to the student paper in time. The 50,000 students attending MSU would be home for the summer by the time The State News picked it up. Picket lines?  Flyers on campus?  None of these methods were going to have much effect.

Adam decided he was going to spread the word to a small group of students via email.  At that time, MSU had it’s own closed email server only for the campus population.  Adam, and my other co-worker Deborah, sent out their carefully crafted message ringing the tocsin. The initial message went out from two student email accounts to twenty friends in total.  One week from that day (a Friday) there would be a small protest on Munn Field.

The following Tuesday I headed to my political philosophy course. The course had roughly 90-100 students. As with most classes at MSU, I did not know a single person in the class.  As I sat down about 10 minutes before the class started, I heard a couple sorority girls next to me having a heated discussion. These girls said, ‘So, are you going to the protest at Munn Field Friday? My whole house (sorority) is going’!

Oh…my…God! Strangers were discussing the protest. How did they find out? That day, I went into work after class and told Adam. He had heard other people discussing it al well. The word was getting around, and Adam had lost control of the information. Friday’s planned protest  went from being a small hand-chosen meeting to being….well, we didn’t know what.

drinkingguidejpg-5fcad23e6601a3abThe Friday of the protest was cold and rainy.  As 7pm grew nearer, I was getting more and more nervous.  A couple friends and I decided we needed to trek over to Munn Field to see what was going to happen.  A couple days earlier, the Administration learned of the protest. The University wanted to put a stop to it.  The campus police took out an ad in The State News that warned about consequences for students ‘trespassing’ on Munn Field. Things were getting serious.  Walking over that Friday, I quickly realized thousands of others were heading out to do the same thing as me and my friends. The protest was no more. Now, it was just a gathering.

When I got to the field, a large crowd of students had already formed.  The police had fenced off the field with ‘No Trepassing’ signs. On the other side of the field, local police were lined up in their cars.  It wasn’t just a couple cops; police were out in force.  Of course, many students had already been drinking and it only took one student to climb the fence. A shirtless guy made the leap, ran out onto Munn Field and started to dive in the mud. Others followed. A couple guys started to throw a football around.  The police weren’t sure what to do.  As they started to move on the field, the students who had ‘trespassed’ jumped back into the big crowd of students outside the fence and disappeared.  It seemed the crowd might disperse.  Then, someone yelled that the crowd should march on the President’s house.  Sure, why not? Hundreds of students started to march.

At this point, I was done.  This was going nowhere. It was quickly turning into a waste of time. It was more of a roving party than a protest. I went back to my dorm room to get ready for finals on Monday. But, as I sat in my room, I could see police lights outside. Students were running down the halls of my dorm shouting.  Something big was happening out in the streets. Friends started to call me to give me updates. I heard the words ‘fires in the street’, ‘riot gear’ and ‘tear gas’.  No, no, no. This couldn’t be happening.  Finally, at midnight, I had to go outside and see for myself.  It was madness. A major bonfire had been lit in the middle of Grand River Avenue.   Police were in riot gear. Tear gas was in the air. My eyes starting watering and my throat was closing up.  There was nothing I could do, and I wasn’t going to get involved. I marched back inside my dorm and went to bed.

The events of the previous evening filled the newspapers the next day.  Amazingly, it wasn’t just the local media.  National organizations started to pick up the story. MSU students had ‘rioted’ for the freedom to drink beer!  A bunch of drunk idiots were shown burning couches and breaking windows. It was an embarrassment.

Adam hoped to change the University’s political methods. He wanted to give students a stronger voice. He hoped for a powerful display of direct democracy. Unfortunately, his protest turned into a farce.


This story flooded back to me recently for an interesting reason. I have been reading a good deal about social media lately as I begin preparations for a new ‘History of Social Media’ course at RMU.  The other day, I was speaking to a colleague at RMU who has a couple kids in college. We were discussing drinking and the college life, when I began to retell the above story.  But, as I told it I had a revelation.  Those of us who lived through that night at MSU, and the news media that covered the story,  missed the most revolutionary angle of the event. Nineteen years removed, this story is not about drinking, beer or riots; this story is about the viral nature of social media!

When Adam and Deborah wrote to their 20 friends on email, they had no idea what they were doing.  They believed they were inviting a handful of well versed, intelligent and serious students to make a show of structured resistance. In fact, they provided the university with a first taste of the Internet’s power.  Within a week, that email message did what viral information does; it spread exponentially.  It was a glimpse of our future. Twenty years on, and I realize that Adam’s protest did change the world.

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By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

As a student of history, I am usually pretty dubious about claims to novelty.  When someone says ‘There has never been a time/event/thought/argument like this before!!’, my first thought is usually ‘You sure about that?’ But, there are times when professions of originality are justified. No matter what the cliches claim, history doesn’t simply repeat itself ad infinitum.

This political season has had a number of ‘never-befores’.  Just because it is a ‘never before’ though, doesn’t mean that it will be a ‘never again’. The most revolutionary aspect of this election cycle, and the one that will be with us for the foreseeable future is the role social media is playing in our political culture.  This blog post will be the first in a number that will explore the sometimes exciting, sometimes troubling innovations in the quickly developing realm of social media politics.


To label social media politics as revolutionary is not hyperbole, nor is it surprising. Social media has revolutionized so many parts of our lives, why not mainstream electoral politics?  However, what is shocking is the transformative figure at the forefront twitter-social-network-icon-vector_652139of this revolution. It is not some youthful radical Congressional candidate from Berkeley or Brooklyn. No, this revolutionary figure is a 70 year-old angry dude who, prior to last year was best known for a reality television series and a combover.  Of course, I refer to Donald Trump.

Since he entered the race for the Republican nomination last June, Trump has continually been underestimated.  Over and over, political prognosticators have made two incorrect, though related projections.  One group of media fortune-tellers simply believed Trump would inevitably lose because of his ‘lack dailynewstrumpof a filter’.  According to this mainstream assumption, Trump would say too many offensive and/or ridiculous things, and the inherently moderate American voter would surely turn away in disgust.  That did not happen in the Republican primary, and these prognosticators were forced to reassess their beliefs….but only slightly. The Nostradamus crowd predicted that once Trump had to deal with the larger American general electorate, he would either veer to the center. The assumption was that Trump would batten down the hatches, go middle of the road, or inevitably face defeat. If the latest polls are any indication, these ‘expert’ opinions may be proven wrong as well.  What the nation’s political commentators never grasped was one of the  reasons Trumpists love Trump: The man never does what most rational observers would expect.

Nothing has displayed Trumpian ‘irrationality’ more than the candidate’s Twitter account. Like all social media, Twitter allows the user to instantaneously respond to external events, or share individual thoughts and personal desires. Trump tweets have allowed America to see the ‘realDonaldTrump’.  But Trump’s Twitter has become much more than simply a tool for his personal attacks, or a display of his psyche. Trump has  transformed the social media tool into a personal permanent propaganda platform. In this, he seems to eerily understand our media saturated environment better than any major political figure in recent memory. Here is how it all works:

  1. In 140 characters, Trump shoots off 3 or 4 controversial messages a week, knowing full well the media echo-chamber will spread his message to the masses.
  2. His twitter followers see his tweet, and adopt his political lexicon.
  3. However, many of these ‘followers’ are not Trumpians. Some are social media watchdogs who wait for the candidate to write something outrage.
  4. These people then retweet the original tweet with criticism attached, sending it to a whole new audience.
  5. Eventually, social media news platforms of both political stripes pick up the tweet, share it, and pass it on to an even more diverse audience.
  6. Lastly, once these platforms are all writing similar articles, the largest outlets get involved.  When Trump’s tweets get enough traction, it gets splayed in the MSM (Main Stream Media) of major Newspapers, TV and radio. And just like that….billions upon billions of humans can’t stop analyzing Trump’s latest statement.

This methodology of political propaganda is obviously cunning.  But, there is a very strange paradox wrapped into this method as well. Trump’s social media campaign speaks to his voters and, perhaps even more importantly, he speaks in the voice of his voters. Trump provides quick-hitters in black trump-twitterand white absolutes. After all, there can truly only be absolutes in the Twitter-verse; in 140 characters nuance is all but impossible. For a very large portion of humanity living in a confusing time of change, this absolutism is obviously reassuring. However, for many of the people Trump is speaking to and for, the original medium he is using for his message is one of the most troubling symbols of our rapidly changing world. For a great number of Americans who wish to ‘make America Great Again,’ social media is an enemy. It is understood by wide swathes of Americans as THE vehicle feeding our nation’s already intense narcissistic tendencies. Even more mysterious is that one of Trump’s most important demographics has no experience with using social media at all. Last year, when Trump was still fighting for the Republican nomination, almost 40% of his supporters were over 65 years old.  These same 65 year-olds are generally the ones who, at the very least, don’t have a strong connection to social media.  According to Pew Research, only 9% of Twitter users are over 60 years old. 91% of Twitter users are ‘kids these days.’

So, what is happening?  That is a much more difficult question to answer.

I think part of the answer can be found in the duel nature of social media in our political culture. It is both a source of enlightenment, and also a source of paranoia.  Perhaps investigating this duality in my next blog will shed light on this paradox.

 

 

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty. 

Thesis: Ignorance is bliss.

Antithesis: Knowledge is power.

Disturbing Synthesis: A little knowledge and a lot of ignorance is damn frightening.

The first two statements are cliches..  But, as with all cliches, there is a great deal of truth to them. What I am finding is that the third statement, though not as pithy or memorable, is no less true.  It seems like everywhere in America today, this disturbing synthesis is prevalent. The latest example is popular, and popularly misguided reactions to the ebola outbreak.

Those who are completely ignorant of ebola are not necessarily problematic. Approach them on the street and ask about the disease, and you may get blank stares and a shrug of the shoulders.  They have no worries; no concerns; no 291933-ebola-virusknowledge.  Honestly, the vast majority of Americans will never be affected by ebola, and so is it really surprising that our notoriously narcissistic selves may simply say, ‘who cares’?  Many of the ignorant may be callous, a great deal may be apathetic, but they are not dangerous.

The antithesis of this state is knowledge. An understanding of how the disease transmits, what it does to those affected, and how likely it is to spread is necessary. A realization that help should be sent to Africa is nobly knowledgeable.  Those with knowledge appreciate that there are much greater worries in this world than the highly unlikely chance of catching ebola. Knowledge, and its offspring perspective, allows an American to realize the food we put in our mouths poses a much greater threat to our health than any hemorrhagic fever.  Nonetheless, the informed American appreciates the power, and horror of disease, and the necessity of containment.  In our globalized age, a disease affecting Africa may not reach us personally, but the social revolutions, economic catastrophes, and military strife that may come as a result of the disease very well could.  Being an isolationist is not an option when it comes to fighting microbes.  Paradoxically, being self-centered should lead to a concern for the other.

It is the last, the synthesis, that should keep us up at night; it is the synthesis that must be fought against.  The happy medium between knowledge and ignorance is not all that happy, but it is disturbingly easy to come by.  Google, 24 hours news, and social media are the pushers of spin, sensationalism, conspiracies and half-truths.  The American people are the addicts.

Ebola-is-realIn a perfect world, Google allows us to find ‘truth’ in a simple easily structured search format. If you ‘google’ ebola, you will get articles from the WHO, the CDC, and the BBC.  But, accidently put an ‘h’ after ebola, and the logarithm used by the website offers you the opportunity to search ‘Ebola Hoax’.  Search that, and you start to fall down the rabbit hole.

I got a glimpse of this the other day. Riding home on the train, four adults, seemingly sane, began to discuss ebola.  There were the typical concerns and questions.  Some of the claims made were incorrect; the disease has not killed 30,000 in Africa, even though this train rider stated it was fact.  But soon things got out of hand.  One of the men shouted that ebola was actually created by the government; he stated that it was categorically true that ebola has been patented and that the government is controlling the disease.  How did he propose to prove this shocking revelation? He said to his friend, ‘give me your phone, and let me ‘Google’ it. I’ll show you!’

The tools for finding information are there for us to use.  They have the capability to provide anyone and everyone with the power of knowledge. Absolute ignorance is now, more often than not, a choice.  The problem seems to be that most people choose to collect only snippets of knowledge.  A ’30 second’ blurb here; a meme there.  Throw in a facebook status posted by a friend with some strange conspiratorial theories, and the synthesis of ignorance and knowledge is off to the races.  Though sprinting away from ignorance, we’re too often stopping far short of knowledge.

By Blake Whitmore, RMU Student.

With Obama’s approval rating at an all-time low and serious issues like raising minimum wage and Obamacare being hot topics, people are flocking to Facebook to voice their opinions. Inevitably, debates begin. Friends are lost, family members are enraged, and rarely is a solution ever met. But with these 5 easy steps, you can win every Facebook argument ever.

1. Copy & paste EVERYTHING into Google
Research to find out if anything your opponent said is inaccurate or from a terrible source, like Joe Shmoe’s blog or Fox News. Chances are your opponent has done little to no research on this important political topic, just like you. So find all of their errors, manipulate them to your advantage, and finally exploit them!

duty_calls2. Present data & numbers
It does not really matter if your data has sources; people like numbers. List dollar amounts and percentages so people will think you are smart and informed. Be specific too. Throw in a few decimal places to make is all look legit.

3. Repeat yourself over and over and over and….
If your opponent did not respond the way you hoped just rephrase your statement and comment again. Eventually you will get the right wording that they will understand and ultimately you will change their opinion.

4. Expand your vocabulary
Make sure to use large words that you only vaguely understand. Your opponent will think you are more educated than them. Make sure to hit on all the hot button words you heard on the news while walking by the television this morning: socialized healthcare, debt ceiling, deficit, and economic inflation. We are all unparagoned, so you have to assert that you are smarter. You want to make sure to nidificate the situation. Throw in a excogitative statement about Bitcoin, because no one actually knows how that works, but you can sound like you do!

5. Put your foot down
Your opponent is definitely wrong. Make that very clear throughout the argument. Start your statements with, “The cold hard fact is…”. That makes it sound super serious and really important. It will terrify your opponent and make them cower in fear behind their keyboards. They will eventually submit and tell you that you were right. You knew you were right from the beginning, but there’s nothing like validation from Facebook friends you haven’t seen in years.

Congratulations! You now have the skills to win any political debate on Facebook!

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

For the holiday season, we at the Flaneur’s Turtle have increased our efforts to promote the site:

Michael Stelzer Jocks has infiltrated the Salvation Army. With each donation, he sings, “All I Want for Christmas is Youuuuuu….to ‘LIKE’ and ‘SHARE’ the Turtle.”

MSJ Salvation Army

Dr. Peter Stern has been dressing like Baby New Year, wearing a sash with the Turtle’s web address.

New-Year-Baby Peter

Tricia Lunt is making the rounds at Chicago bars singing a sultry “Santa Baby” alternative: “Turtle baby, slip some insight under my tree….”

Trish Christmas

I am working as Santa at Macy’s and giving the children boxes full of Turtle posts.

…that are also wrapped in Turtle posts.

…with a card that says “Don’t be naughty – read the Turtle.”

…“PS: I was totally kissing your mommy underneath the mistletoe last night.”

Paul Santa

We plug the Turtle via social media, in classrooms, and on the side of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower in Chicago, but it’s not done out of vanity. (Ok, it is for me. Like Lady Gaga, I live for the applause.) The Flaneur’s Turtle and all other print and digital publications must self-promote. A publication has no value if it has no audience.

It’s like that old saying: If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to see it, it won’t get on Instagram.

On social media, where I shamelessly plug myself, I saw a quote from a 1992 Paris Review interview with poet Yehuda Amichai: “When you’re a poet you have to forget you’re a poet—a real poet doesn’t draw attention to the fact he’s a poet. The reason a poet is a poet is to write poems, not to advertise himself as a poet.”

One aspect of the quote is agreeable: all artists should create their art because they love to create it – not because they hope to label themselves as poets, musicians, painters, actors.

However, artists should not forget they are artists, and they damn sure need to advertise themselves.

We live in a world of endless distractions that….

Hold on. Blake Shelton is dressed like an elf on Kelly Clarkson’s NBC Christmas Special. Hilarious. And she’s such a cutie pie.

Blake and Kelly

Ok. Like I was saying, we live in a world of distractions. We have to fight for people’s attention in the classroom, at the dinner table, on social media. It’s even more pressing for artists and little ole publications like the Flaneur’s Turtle, who need to figure out how to be ever-present and influential without being annoying and intrusive.

Growing up, I wanted to be a writer. Part of the appeal was my misconception that it was a perfect fit for a shy, antisocial kid like me. I could hide away and write in a log cabin in some anonymous woodland area, speaking only to myself and the forest creatures until I went insane like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

I eventually learned that art has a business side full of professional connections and branding and marketing. It is a separate art form unto itself, and it can be exhausting. But it’s all necessary.

So, thanks to everyone who reads the Turtle and joins us in conversing about our topics, both online and in person.

Now go give the gift of the Turtle to your loved ones this holiday season. I’m sure they’ll love it way more than jewelry or a new smartphone.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Sagging Pants?  Outrage.  Twerking?  Outrage.  Largest bank in Europe laundering money for drug dealers and terrorist organizations? Crickets.

The first two examples above can really kick up an American’s dander. The third was passed over with barely a murmur.  Fashion choices that affect no one; dancing fads that look like other dancing fads; someone working the system to get food stamps when they are not needed.  Such stories have become social media, and mainstream media obsessions.  The publicized word of mouth outrage has been metastatic. It feeds on itself.  Outrageously however, our saggy-pants-illustration-vl-verticalnational obsessive outrages point in the wrong direction. Real outrageous stories and happenings fall by the wayside, replaced by the latest absurd outrage d’jour.  We need to figure out what is going on, and get outraged over this misplaced outrage.

Start with baggy pants.  I pointed out in my last post how sagging jeans is still a topic people get riled up over, two decades since they became a common fashion trend.  The notoriously stiff and starched George Will wrote a somewhat hilarious opinion piece about pants a couple years ago, calling the ubiquity of blue jeans in our culture “an obnoxious misuse of freedom”.  While a just a wee-bit of an overstatement, ol’Georgie boy will be pretty happy to know that this freedom is slowly being curtailed in certain parts of the United States when those blue jeans are a just a bit too saggy.  That’s right, in some towns of our ‘sweet land of liberty’, it is now a fine-able offense to wear ‘baggy pants’.  In April, a Louisiana town passed an ordinance that would fine baggy pant wearers “$50 for the first offense, $100 for the second offense and $100 plus 16 hours of mandatory community service for the third offense.”  And, in case you think this is an issue of a white, racist majority, trying to legislate modern Jim Crow laws, think again.  Jerome Boykin, the president of the local NAACP chapter declared, “There is nothing positive about people wearing saggy pants. This is not a black issue, this is not a white issue, this is a people issue… Young men who were in prison who wanted to have sex with other men would send a signal to another man with his pants below his waist.”

Oh boy. Let us get this out of the way right now.  The homophobic baggy pant prison theory/rumor is false.  The look evidently did come from the prison system.  But, all inmates had baggy pants because it is a suicide risk having belts in the clink.  Furthermore, EVEN if the homophobe theory was true, who really cares where or how the trend began?  How does this justify outlawing someone’s fashion choice? This is unfortunately a rhetorical question.  American history is filled with ridiculous, often vicious laws regulating personal choices. See Jim Crow.

Outspoken outrage has been turned into legislation, and today’s hyper-connected world may be partly to blame for the ubiquity of such outrage, and hence, for the growth of such laws as well. Social media, and 24 hour news cycles, has allowed outrage to reach a deafening cacophony.  Modern media allows, perhaps even encourages, miley-the-screamoutrage to become obsession, with conspiracy theories, and unsubstantiated rumors (Prison homosexuals) travelling on fiber-optic cables, leaving the truth struggling behind, as it tries to connect with a dial-up modem. This is the world of the internet memes.  Memes can produce a falsified, angry narrative hidden behind universally recognized pop-culture humor. This internet guerrilla propaganda depends upon the most absurd of photos, and most flippant of reasoning to make a point, produce a laugh, or create a sneer.  Talking points then become repeated verbatim, creating an echo chamber of outrage that feeds upon itself.

Memes allow our outrage to be directed at the most daft and harmless social trends.  See twerking and Miley Cyrus for the most recent example.  Just this previous weekend, Saturday Night Live poked fun at the outrage about Cyrus’ VMA performance, using a nuanced, advanced humor to point to the absurdity of twerk-rage.

If you think this is all tongue-in-cheek, just quickly Google “Miley Cyrus Fall of Western Civilization“. You will find people who make such an argument.

So now, the big problem. Our contagious, self-spiraling outrage is making Americans truly blind to the forest for the saplings. If you ask Americans how they feel about baggy jeans, or Miley Cyrus twerking, you will get outspoken opinions, outrageous in their passion.  But, ask them about the HSBC scandal, and you would most likely get blank stares.

download (1)What is that, you may be asking?  A couple years ago, authorities discovered that HSBC, Europe’s largest bank, had been laundering billions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels, dictatorial regimes, and even Al Qaeda.  The United States military have shocked and awed nations and civilians for much less, but HSBC got a relatively light sentence from Washington D.C. The bank had to pay a 1.9 billion fine, which sounds all well and good, until you learn that outrageous total is about 9% of the company’s pretax yearly profit.  Oh, and another thing, not ONE manager, VP, CEO, CFO, got jailed, or even fired for this little indiscretion of laundering cash for murderers.  Where was the outrage?  Where were the memes?  Where were the viral videos?  Good questions.

Such ignorance of the HSBC makes me…well… outraged.  I need an answer.

Stuart-Gulliver

HSBC CEO Stuart Gulliver

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is an example of Freud’s ‘narcissism of small differences’.  Maybe we get outraged over someone wearing baggy pants, or stealing an unnecessary 30 dollars from the government each month, or twerking because we are similar to those people.  They are us, and we are they with only a couple tweaks of the cultural dial.  Maybe HSBC is too big; too nameless.  Miley Cyrus was that girl next door who has gone bad.  HSBC is a multinational corporation. I know what Miley Cyrus looks like; I have no idea what HSBC’s CEO looks like (Stuart Gulliver).  We feel powerless attacking a monolithic bank. We feel empowered to shame a kid wearing jeans we don’t like, or a girl dancing in a way we find offensive.

It really is outrageous.