Friday, 26 August 2016

Teen Celeb Fandom Congregations and Meme Overloads :Understanding the Logic Behind Modern Twitter Parties

Positive Meme doing the rounds on Caster Seymenya support hashtags
Everyday there seems to be a new celebration on Twitter; a form of covert prestige (memeing) hashtagging of which slightly older twenties folks like myself will never truly be part because the partying seems to be centred around the cult of YouTube, TV and Pop music celebrities, usually based in the US.  Hearing of an endless stream of celebrities being praised or dissed as per the prejudice of one Twitter user galvanising support from a bunch of other tweeters bemuses some tweeters and angers others. Often the Alt-Righters, thinking of their own prejudiced agenda, bark that "Twitter Parties are full of morons trying to act like uneducated sheep" and even self-confessed left-wing commentators have asked what the real "purpose" behind a Twitter Party is meant to be, as they believe they are created over "trivial issues" such as trying to find out whether Louis Tomlinson of 1D fame is "OK" or the most recent #MichaelHit7MillionParty which I've discovered is part of the 5S0S fandom racketeering circuit. They bemoan that these hashtags are trending over the more grown-up ones such as #LabourHustings events during the current UK Labour Leadership race between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith or the recent #Brexit ones confirming whether someone had voted Remain or Leave being overtaken by #DogsAtPollingStations which was a comic attempt to defuse some of the tension that had been generated during the Brexit campaign and to amuse those that had already voted or couldn't vote during that Thursday.  Who'd really object to seeing images of cute canines smiling and woofing outside drab "Polling Station" signs?

I think critics have taken a rather harsh line with Twitter hashtagging recently. They are unwilling to understand that social media parties are essentially a new way for fans to express approval/disapproval as a collective and to follow/communicate with one another in the future through sharing their positive (or negative) views about a celebrity or group. One has to remember the early days of mass teenage fandom, when Beatles fans had to show their love by standing out for hours in the pouring rain to wait for John et al to emerge from their hour gig or to send letters of admiration that would too often be censored by Brian Epstein (their slightly overbearing manager) before being given to the Boys to sign/acknowledge and send back appropriate replies. Nowadays fans have the right to take advantage of a variety of channels of which to communicate with one another. The question is whether these channels can be open to abuse and allow legitimised threats and trolling under the radar? When does fan trolling/defending go too far?

MemeFest: A New Form of Satire?

A Meme of my very own special creation!
Internet Memes being used on social media party hashtags have courted a certain level of controversy over the past couple of years in the social media platform world. Meme generators have made the ability to captain existing and new pictures easy for even the most amateur of Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram and Facebook users, so the variety and abundance of them is difficult to ignore. Critics of meme-users state that it is not a "digital artform", it doesn't "make a statement worth reading" and are used to try and silence opponents before a conversation can even begin. Some Memes can be classed as witty if the creator has taken the time to try and properly associate the image with the message they wish to convey; for example I created a "A Merry Can Fail" meme using the famous Mr Willy Wonka picture from the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film when Twitter users in the US started mass complaining about NBC cutting their Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony coverage short and sending it out on a 1 hour time delay despite the BBC broadcasting live coverage of the same ceremony even at 12am! You can be thus satirical with a meme if you choose to be; it can get mass appeal laughs when posted at the right time and on the right hashtag where you know it will have most impact.

However, one person's laughs at a meme can be another person's displeasure, especially when memes are used for malicious reasons- e.g. to make explicit death threats against opponents or mock their race/sexual orientation/gender identity/age without sufficient context as subtext around the meme. For example, the popular Harambe Gorilla meme was recently placed on Ms Leslie Jones's website after she was hacked and had nude pictures and personal information stolen from her iCloud account (25th August 2016). Many tweeters who defended Ms Jones implied this meme was used because it has an implicit racial undertone (as gorilla images have been used in the past to state to black people they are subhuman to white people) as well as an ironic Alt-Right appeal to those who hold Harambe up as a "heroic animal figure" apparently shot to prevent him from killing a three year old child at Cincinnati Zoo. As Aja Romano has noted in his article on the Harambe Meme in Vox (17th August 2016) it had a much wider appeal than had at first been recognised: "If you were a progressive, the Harambe meme gave you a chance to mock what you viewed as the hypocritical haranguing of the mainstream whilst avoiding real issues of social justice and  if you were a conservative, the Harambe meme gave you a chance to mock liberal hysteria".  I may have interpreted the meme differently from others by taking offence but from responses I've read it seems my emotional response was not in the minority. So if a majority of tweeters take explicit offense to a meme image posted on social media, should the meme be automatically deleted by the Twitter Safety team or should a person automatically report the image when they see it so it can be referred and then blocked when the team have reviewed consensus evidence? Should memes be removed at all if a person claims they were exercising freedom of expression and didn't primarily aim to cause offence? Should a meme creator be prepared to take down their own image if they see it causes offence? Such questions are raised regularly in my mind when I see certain memes and I often wonder whether I have a duty to report the meme or tweet the person disseminating it to express disapproval or whether to stay silent and ignore the meme in the future. If ignoring racist memes is showing complicity with them, perhaps in the future I have to be more vocal/active in showing disapproval. Should the same standards be applied to Twitter hashtags and parties too?

The Origins of the Twitter Party?:
Thus it's rather interesting to note then that Twitter party memeing was originally designed as a way of promoting a company, product or political group in order to gain followers and highlight and disseminate its key message. Twitter parties were meant to be the modern, perfected, globalised form of the "Meet n' Greet" sessions put on to raise that hype to improve the potential future market success rate. Some hashtag parties (not branded as parties) in 2016 seem to achieve this to a certain degree; I'm reminded of #LincsHour which aims to promote Lincs based companies and bloggers to a wider Twitter audience (Mondays 8-9pm) and promoted content hashtags such as #TryMeFree, created by Coca-Cola to get potential consumers interested in the improved Coke Zero Sugar drink which they say #TastesMoreLikeCoke.

Yet left-wing tweeters are angry that marketing content hashtags designed to create "buzz" can be promoted to trend higher than the free hashtags that those tweeters have made. It can get even more vindictive when they discover a political party has paid Twitter to promote a partisan hashtag close to an important electoral event; this was seen most clearly when the Labour Remain social team promoted #StrongerIn in the last few days before the Brexit vote and Brexiteers saw this as a sign by Twitter to try and manipulate the outcome of the election to favour Remainers who they believed were more "Pro-Big Business and Banks" than for the "ordinary people". Such narrative gained them favour among some undecided social media voters but was based on feeble ground: if Vote Leave had realised the full potential of social media marketing and generating a positive modern buzz they would have used the Promotional content tool to do this. You can't berate a social media team for being conscientious or clever in their attempts to disseminate a message in the same way you can't be angry at meme creators for trying to be comic or satirical or teens wanting to idolise their latest crush via a Twitter party using virtual attendance tweet confirmation.

If we are wanting to be smart about social media platform optimal utilisation, it may be a good idea to start coming up with more positive meme campaigns containing serious messages, in the same way hashtagging has started being used as a tool of empowerment- e.g. the recent conversation started by a tweeter with #WhatAltRightMeans because they wanted to highlight the dangerous anonymous nature of Alt-Righters and how they may hold the key to winning or losing the US Election or #EndTheStigma relating to confronting prejudices behind those suffering with mental illness through telling their personal stories; the hashtag took UK Twitter by storm on a Tuesday evening last month and got UK politicians and care providers talking about possible future solutions to help end such stigma. If we start embracing the semantic narrative of hashtagging for teen audiences, perhaps older users may be able to spread these positive messages further; engage a wider audience and keep a conversation going by tracking a hashtag that you create and you could raise awareness of that issue better than you could ever have imagined. And that's the real "logic" behind successful, modern Twitter parties!