By Aijing Song
Friday 12-3 pm
Social media has increasingly played a significant role in facilitating more inclusive and open societies. Since social media is fundamentally a participative and an inherently democratizing medium (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013), it enables citizens to freely and truthfully participate in sharing information and producing digital content. This essay will unpack the concepts of participation and user created content (UCC) from Hinton and Hjorth’s book of Understanding Social Media. It then will demonstrate how these two concepts are related to the theory of Web 2.0 and how Hinton and Hjorth are approaching to these two concepts. Also, this essay will look into the connections between the two concepts and the #BeTheFilter campaign I worked on this semester. Finally, it will identify some problems of social media and analyze how these problems will influence the two concepts in the future.
Participation and User Created Content (UCC) according to Hinton and Hjorth
There are two aspects of definition regarding Hinton and Hjorth’s term of participation. One aspect refers to public’s online response (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). According to Hinton and Hjorth (2013), the emergence of Web 2.0 collapses the hierarchy relationship between the public and the ‘old monopolies and systems of power.’ This is because Web 2.0 expands the networked individual’s access of information and evolves the internet into a two-way participative media that encourages active conversations among users (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). With the ‘privilege’ given by Web 2.0, users can freely and directly respond to online articles through comments or ‘likes,’ having timely and relevant interaction and discussion with not just the content contributors, but also other audiences who share the same interest in the topic. An example for this can be the active discussion on The Guardian’s article regarding Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement of abolishing 457 temporary working visa in Australia (Figure 1). In this sense, instead of being recipients/consumers for the media’s massive information, the public becomes active participants to construct the meaning from the media through both their individual and mutual online space (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013).
Another aspect of participation focus on the term of ‘produser’ (Bruns, 2008), an idea that describes users as ‘media producers’ (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). Hinton and Hjorth (2013) suggest that users are becoming the ‘source of the original material’ when they are the producers of songs, videos, articles, images, etc. and the disseminators who share these content through social media. This kind of participation relates to Jenkins’s ‘participatory culture.’ According to Jenkins (2006), participatory culture has ‘relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations…’ Melbourne’s street art is a good example for offline participatory culture as it provides space and stages allowing artists to produce and share their creations.
The participatory culture also grows in the online space as Web 2.0 removes the technical barriers and simplifies the process of creation, providing means for users to produce and distribute content and therefore allowing them to participate as the sources or media producers (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). Users who upload their workout videos on Facebook can be characterized as media producers (Figure 2). Compared to the first aspect of participation, which is responding to the content created by governments, online newspapers, or organizations, etc. the idea of ‘media producer’ demonstrates the public’s deeper participative level in the media landscape.
Hinton and Hjorth (2013) define UCC as ‘the kinds of content that produced intentionally by users, usually for the purpose of consumption by other users.’ In this sense, the two aspects of participation, particularly the aspect of ‘users as producers’ are closely related to UCC as users produce and distribute the content on the social media platforms based on certain intentions. Take YouTube channel as an example. There are a lot of makeup tutorial videos produced by female users with an intention to teach people to do different types of makeup (e.g. daily makeup, Indian bridal makeup, etc.). These users upload their makeup tutorial videos to YouTube with a more focus on the exhibition to others than enriching their personal profile.
Hinton and Hjorth’s Approach to Framework
Hinton and Hjorth’s article contextualize the concept of participation and UCC through a comprehensive, detailed, and critical approach. They first explain the term of participation by splitting it into two aspects. The first aspect of participation refers to public’s online commentary activities whereas another aspect emphasizes the idea of ‘users as producers.’ Through utilizing relevant examples and combining scholarly literature, Hinton and Hjorth provide a detailed understanding of the idea of users as ‘media producers.’ They also demonstrate the different participative features of social media and how these features influence users’ participation in the platforms. Hinton and Hjorth explain the concepts of user generated content (UGC) and UCC, drawing a distinction between these two concepts by emphasizing UCC’s intentional and consumption characteristics. To gain a critical comprehension of UCC, Hinton and Hjorth evaluate some of the implications for UCC.
To better illustrate how these two concepts are often implemented in real life online space, Hinton and Hjorth conduct critical analyses of different activities and phenomena, including crowd sourcing, citizen journalism, and online activism. Wikipedia is an example of crowd sourcing, which refers to an open online environment where millions of users can combine their efforts to produce content or solve the problems (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). Hinton and Hjorth also use citizen journalism and online activism as two practical examples to demonstrate how users utilize social media to increase their participation in the production of content and the construction of their meaning and interpretation from the media (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013). The explanations of these grounded practices help Hinton and Hjorth to highlight social media’s participative and empowering characteristics. Furthermore, the identification of these practices’ problems such as transparency, trust, and quality enables Hinton and Hjorth to draw a comprehensive conclusion of the two concepts.
Relation to #BeTheFilter and Criticism
The concepts of participation and UCC underpin the operation of the #BeTheFilter campaign I worked on this semester. In relation to the concept of participation, on the one hand, my group members and I worked as the media producers. We created four social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Weibo and WeChat and use them as platforms to disseminate the content (e.g. poster) and activities (e.g. ‘Gather Like’) we produced. On the other hand, the campaign has a reliance on our audience’s participation regarding their response to our content and activities. To boots audience’s response, we chose the four platforms with users who are highly active in interacting with online content, activities, or other users through commentary or ‘like.’ Also, based on the demographic of users from these four platforms, we selected our target audience and tailored our content and activities to them to maximize their response/participation. As to the concept of UCC, all the productions we made for the campaign have explicitly intentions to educate audience regarding how to identify fake news, think critically before they share something as the facts, and call out fake news when they encounter it. Moreover, the four social media account we set up for this campaign aimed to make sure our productions could be expressly seen by our target audience. Therefore, our campaign could be able to encourage target audience’s interaction with the campaign and its messages.
The #BeTheFilter campaign can be considered as online activism as the purpose of the campaign is to use social media platforms to organize around the fake news issues. Since parts of fake news are the result of the citizen journalism phenomenon, our group members and I are the #BeTheFilter campaign activists who seek to raise the public’s awareness of the misleading, inaccurate, or even fake news problems caused by citizen journalists.
While citizen journalism speeds up the news circle for the public and empowers them through allowing their participation in the production of content, it inevitably causes problems. Fake news is and will continue be a problem for the usage of social media as not every citizen journalist has objective judgment, critical thinking, and adequate professional training and knowledge. Also, when users produce content based on their bias and self-interest, their productions are inevitably causing the problems of the marginalization or manipulation of other group users, and the commodification of social media. As a result, these implications will potentially affect or even limit people’s participation in the media landscape. It is predictable that self-regulation and censorship regarding users’ participation and content creation are needed to ensure social media maintain as an inclusive, participative, and democratic medium.
Facebook. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/iconnetworkuk/?fref=ts
Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013c). Social Network Sites. In Understanding Social Media (pp. 32–54). London: SAGE.
Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013b). Participation and User Created Content. In Understanding Social Media (pp. 55–76). London: SAGE.
Karp, P. (2017, April 18). Australian government to replace 457 temporary work visa. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/apr/18/australian-government-abolish-457-temporary-work-visa?CMP=soc_567
YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=makeup+tutorial