Produsage is a hybrid term coined by Axel Bruns to describe ‘user-driven production’ when a user not only makes use of existing content on a social media platform but produces new content. Trendwatching.com has conceived a clever alternative to the constructs of Generation X and Y- a ‘Generation C’. The letter denotes the ‘Content’, the ‘Creative’, the ‘Collapse’ of old media models, the ‘Control of the new, the increasing idolization of ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Cash’ (Produsage F, 2018). Production of new content can take many forms- a simple tweet, an image upload onto Instagram, a video onto YouTube, a creation of a meme or GIF- the list goes on. The easy accessibility to the Web 2.0 has given rise to a highly new participatory culture on social networks. Users of media no longer remain passive but are interactive. The question remains whether or not the emergence of user-generated content is good or bad. It’s evident that though there are some positive arguments made in favor of ‘Produsage’, there are also serious pitfalls to consider. Three case studies-Catfish, -will demonstrate the problems when users also become producers. A wide range of issues poses serious challenges to social media networking; copyright infringement, identity theft, bullying and mob behavior, dissemination of false information or images without second-party consent continue to plague the World Wide Web.
With the advent of social media, we have also witnessed a dissolution of traditional gatekeeping practices in journalism. “Blogs, forums, uploading of photographs or videos to the Internet, are now being labeled ‘citizen journalism’ as distinct from traditional or professional journalism.” (16, Barnes, 2012). Citizen Journalism or alternatively participatory journalism or crowdsourcing is a clear example of Alex Brun’s concept of ‘Produsage’ in practice.
The drawback of citizen journalism is when user-produced news content is proven to be inaccurate or downright untrue defying the key principles of news reportage. Two underlining factors of professional journalism centers around the discovery of truth and verification of information. Users may produce false news content or disseminate false information, with the intention of deceiving, garnering attention or unbeknownst to them. Twitter users generated tweets during the Sandy Hook Newtown shooting where some reported seeing a purple van, a second shooter and a fake letter (Lipschultz, 2017). Another example of how citizen journalism can go awry is when an aircraft at the George Charles airport in St. Lucia was reported by social media users as a plane crash when in fact it was only experiencing some difficulty. In this case, users believe they are disseminating accurate information when in fact they’re not. “One false story or erroneous report, one blog that is filled with inaccuracies, can be picked up by many more websites and media entities and be circulated around the world in minutes.” (26, Barnes, 2011)
The term ‘Catfishing’ has its origins in a documentary called Catfish where it was revealed that a 40year-old housewife created 15 different online persona’s in an attempt to dupe the narrator of the documentary (Kottemann, 15).
Another case study is when 28-year-old Chinese restaurant owner in South Florida misappropriated images of two young men, creating fake online persona’s to delude young teenage girls. The depth of deception continued for three years and went so far as to bestow one of her characters a fatal case of Leukemia, detailing his final days on social media (Kalson, 2013). More and more cases of Catfishing have surfaced and it is a common phenomenon now where social media users take the concept of ‘Produsage’ to a new level. However unlike citizen journalism, users aren’t generating news content, they are generating personalities. The reasoning behind this phenomenon is debatable but can be linked back to Gratification Theory, specifically the need to socially integrate, establish identity and to escape. In Catfish, Angela, the woman who created different online identities is, in reality, a middle-aged housewife and caretaker of her husband and disabled stepsons. She not only creates an identity but a fake online community to support the persona. “By aggrandizing her presence online she builds her own circle of ‘siblings’ and ‘friends’ – a world in which she feels appreciated and loved.” (Dijck, 2012) Although Gratification Theory may not help us understand every case for Catfishing it does illustrate how users can not only produce content but lives, with histories, illnesses, deaths, and communities that grieve the characters death.
The use, specifically of another person’s images without their consent isn’t limited to Catfishing. Users of social media may produce and disseminate content that harms second-party individuals. Ankel describes her reaction as a young girl when nude images of her were posted onto social media and distributed through the grapevine. The article narrates her attempts to uncover the original leak of the images although she is ultimately unsuccessful. (2018, March) This case isn’t an isolated incident but does demonstrate how user-produced content can escape accountability especially when virtual reality doesn’t have a corporeal body to point the finger at.
Other cases of when ‘Produsage’ has gone awry is when social media site Reddit instigated numerous conspiracy theories during the 2016 elections in the United States This incident is an exemplar of how user-produced content can snowball and cause serious political implications. Things which are shared on social media platforms take on a life of its own and can easily devolve into a misdirected vehicle for justice, anger or justification of opinion. Six months after the Boston Marathon bombing a girl posted a photo of herself in her Halloween costume dressed as a bombing victim. She received such severe backlash from the inappropriate post that it resulted in her receiving, “thousands of negative tweets and even death threats.” (Lipschultz, 2017).
To summarise, the social media concept of ‘Produsage’ depicts the issues when users also become producers of content. It’s particularly tricky to immediately filter user-produced content due to the amount of internet traffic but one of the solutions that have been proposed to correcting the imbalance of inaccurate news information is an integration of traditional news media and citizen journalism. There are also other pervading problems such as cyber-bullying and online mob-behavior as well as the political implications when an idea or sentiment, such as racism or discontent aimed at an individual, can take hold and gain momentum due to its trending rather than due to accurate information or reasoning. When an average social media user is free to produce content, despite ethical and legal restrictions, the results are not always in favor of the argument of democratic practice. These are the pitfalls of ‘Produsage’.
Ankel, Sophia. (2018, March) What I learned when naked pictures of me were leaked online. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/22/naked-photos-leaked-online-abuse-sexual-harassment/ [Accessed 23 April 2018]
CATFISH, F. (2018). FILM REVIEW | CATFISH – The NORTHSIDER. [online] The NORTHSIDER. Available at: http://thenorthsider.com.au/film-review-catfish/ [Accessed 23 Apr. 2018].
Dezuanni, M. (2009). Blogs, wikipedia, second life and beyond: From production to produsage. Screen Education, (53), 158-159.
Dijck, van José. (2012, Sept 17). Facebook and the Engineering of Connectivity. A multi-layered approach to social media platforms.
Kalson, S. (2013, Jan 27). Hook, Line and Sinker ‘Catfishing’ Dupes the Unwitting on Social Media. Pittsburgh Post – Gazette
Kottemann, Kathrin L. (2015) The Rhetoric of Deliberate Deception: What Catfishing Can Teach Us. University of Louisiana at Lafayette, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 2015. 3712554.
Lipschultz, Jeremy Harris. Social Media Communication: Concepts, Practices, Data, Law and Ethics, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.
Page, R. E. (2012) Stories and Social Media: Identities and Interaction (Vol. 3). New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis.
Picone, Ike (2011, March 28). Produsage as a form of self-publication. A qualitative study of casual news Produsage. New Review of Hypermedia and Multimedia, Vol 17, Issue 1: Exploring Produsage (99 – 120)
Produsage, F. (2018). FCJ-066 The Future Is User-Led: The Path towards Widespread Produsage | The Fibreculture Journal : 11. [online] Eleven.fibreculturejournal.org. Available at: http://eleven.fibreculturejournal.org/fcj-066-the-future-is-user-led-the-path-towards-widespread-produsage/ [Accessed 26 Apr. 2018].