Highlighted Selections from:

'Not This One': Social Movements, the Attention Economy, and Microcelebrity Networked Activism


DOI: 10.1177/0002764213479369

Tufekci, Z. “‘Not This One’: Social Movements, the Attention Economy, and Microcelebrity Networked Activism.” American Behavioral Scientist 57.7 (2013): 848–870. Web.

p.849: The emergent new media ecology which integrates participatory media into the structure of global information flows has fundamentally affected the means of production and distribution of attention, a key resource for social movements. In social movement scholarship, attention itself is rarely examined directly; rather, it is encountered in the study of means of delivering attention such as mass media or celebrities. This conflation of the resource, attention, and the pathways to acquire it, such as mass media, was less of an analytic problem when mass media enjoyed a near monopoly on public attention. However, the paths connecting movement actors and public attention are increasingly multiplex and include civic and social media. In this article, I examine the concept of attention as a distinct analytic category, reevaluate social movement scholarship in light of weakening of the monopoly on public attention, and introduce and examine a novel dynamic brought about by emergent attention economy: networked microcelebrity activism. I examine this novel dynamic through case studies and raise questions for future exploration. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.850: Attention is the means through which a social movement can introduce and fight for its preferred framing, convince broader publics of its cause, recruit new members, attempt to neutralize opposition framing, access solidarity, and mobilize its own adherents. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.850: Indeed, for many politically motivated actors—ranging from political parties in democracies to repressive governments in autocracies, from formal movements to ad hoc coalitions, such as “Anonymous”—gaining, denying, sustaining, and manipulating public attention is a key concern for all formal, semiformal, and informal movements with a stake in challenging or defending structures of power and authority. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.850: this article treats mass and other forms of emergent civic, participatory media, social and, as pathways to public attention. This allows differentiating the effects of participatory media and mass media on movement trajectories and being able to focus on some of the novel dynamics of these newer pathways such as, networked microcelebrity activism examined conceptually and through a case study in this paper. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.851: Herbert Simon (1971) noted,

The wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. (p. 40)

-- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.851: Explicit conceptualization of attention as a distinct resource is not just more accurate; it allows examination of the impact of emergent means of attention acquisition through pathways that do not start with, or remain limited to, traditional mass media, even if they do also incorporate it. Such novel pathways to attention were a crucial part of the story of the “Arab Spring” uprisings that swept through the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 and 2012. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.851: The political-activist networked microcelebrity shares certain practices with the nonactivist microcelebrity, which Marwick and boyd (2011) conceptualize as a “mindset and set of practices in which audience is viewed as a fan base; popularity is maintained through ongoing fan management; and self-presentation is carefully constructed to be consumed by others” (p. 14); however, since the identity of the microcelebrity activist is constructed as activist first and foremost, the audience is seen not as fans but rather as political allies, supporters, political opponents, and mediators to broader publics such as journalists; and attention is treated, at least insofar as the issue is addressed explicitly, as an instrumental resource that is sought for the cause rather than solely for the sake of attention on the person. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.852: Although some of these mechanisms have been analyzed as potentially weakening democratic participation, for example, through “homophilous sorting,” in which like-minded individuals mostly find and hear from each other in “filter bubbles,” many of these mechanisms are seen to increase participation and as potential positive. In particular, the lowering of participation costs has been proposed as a key mechanism of democratization (Benkler, 2006), and it has been argued that the Internet facilitates “lower costs of certain kinds of collective action by making it cheaper to communicate with others and provide means of decentralized action” (Farrell, 2012, p. 39). -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.852: For example, slacktivism, often derided for lack of impact, can also be understood as an intervention in the attention ecology. Thus, rather than a slacktivist-activist distinction, which relies on a conceptualization of separate “real” and “virtual” worlds in a digital dualist framework (Jurgenson, 2012), one should study various strategies for acquiring attention and examine the tactical ability (or lack thereof) of social movements to link attention, a necessary but not sufficient resource, to movement outcomes—and as decades of research on the relationship between media and movements shows, this has always been complicated. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.852: Gamson and Wolfsfeld (1993) argue that social movements “need news media for three major purposes: mobilization, validation and scope enlargement” (p. 116). -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.853: As many scholars have noted, acquiring attention through mass media has involved significant trade-offs, some quite detrimental, to social movements, such as losing control of framing of events and also having to engage in tactics that may be advantageous to obtaining the crucial media coverage while injuring the desired message (Gitlin, 1980; Meyer & Gamson, 1995). In fact, the inability to control framing of movement message by mass media has been a consistent finding in social movement research. As Benford and Snow (2000) summarize, a vast amount of scholarship finds that “social movement activists rarely exercise much control over the ‘stories’ media organizations choose to cover” (p. 626). -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.853: The trade-offs movements encountered in their interactions with media stemmed, in part, from the fact that social movements have long been at a “power dependency” disadvantage vis-à-vis mass media (Gamson & Wolfsfeld, 1993) because of the oligopolistic control the institution had over attention acquisition. T -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.854: Emergence of participatory media may change the power media have to frame social movements, as social movement actors can forcefully offer their framing, diffuse their preferred framing to large audiences in ways that would have been simply impossible or prohibitively costly before social media, challenge journalists directly, or create a strong enough attention (“buzz”) around their own framing that it becomes harder to ignore. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.854: Even positive mass media coverage does not equate to a movement’s getting its preferred message out. For example, the Nuclear Freeze movement’s “enormous” demonstrations in 1982 ended up with media’s concentration on “the rally’s size and good behavior,” which in turn “smothered and obliterated the urgency and terror that had brought so many together” (Meyer, 1990, p. 130). -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.854: Many movements, especially successful ones, have consciously and strategically adopted a stance of developing “repertoires of protest” designed to attract the maximal positive national attention in their preferred framing (Torres, 2003). These repertoires often need to be updated through cycles of “tactical innovation” (McAdam, 1983) to remain in the public eye. New media ecology adds to these repertoires of protest, which can both help with preferred message framing as well as gaining attention. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.855: Andrews and Biggs (2006) show that mass media can become a key means of diffusing movement tactics within the movement, even exceeding the role of interpersonal social networks or movement organization. The rise of Internet-based social networks creates more enhanced ability to share movement tactics without necessarily requiring mass media intermediation. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.856: As Gitlin (1980) documents in his study of media coverage of Students for Democratic Society and the antiwar movement in the 1960s, mass media outlets tended to highlight flamboyant, provocative, media-savvy, or spectacleoriented movement actors (carrying Viet Cong flags, dressing or acting in a flamboyant fashion, for example) with more coverage while ignoring the other messages emanating from the movement. Hence a small section of movement actors, chosen largely by mass media, came to monopolize public attention and became de facto movement spokespersons. Gitlin also argues that media framed the movement as a group of extremists who were excessively focused on trivial matters and highlighted and exaggerated internal dissent within the movement—all of which, in effect, meant that the movement lost control of its message and lost its broader appeal. In the end, the process Gitlin (1980) dubs the “making and the unmaking of the new left” resulted in fringe elements that dominated the message and the movement’s becoming isolate, and finally running out of steam as disillusioned and tired adherents left. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.857: The attraction of alliances with celebrities for social movements is clear: Celebrities command attention and “are accorded the chance to speak publicly about political issues, whereas experts on the issues, not to mention average citizens, have far less chance of gaining access to the media” (Kurzman et al., 2007, p. 358). In an age of fractured publics and tougher competition to reach mass audiences, many social movements have turned to this path (Meyer & Gamson, 1995; Thrall et al., 2008). -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.859: For example, Egyptian activist Gigi Ibrahim has appeared on the BBC, was featured on the PBS show Frontline, has been on the cover of Time magazine, was a guest on The Daily Show, and has been the recognizable face of the Tahrir revolution in many media outlets. Her social media presence reflects this trajectory: On January 31, 2011, she had about 3,200 Twitter followers; 1 month later, she had almost 11,000. On the anniversary of the January 25 uprising, and in a year of tumult, more demonstrations, and intense mass media coverage, she was approaching 40,000 Twitter followers (and approximately 20 months after January 25, 2011, the number is more than 60,000). Her popularity on social media and coverage by mass media are closely interlinked phenomena, as Ibrahim was partially educated in the United States, attends the American University in Cairo, speaks English flawlessly, and is often described as attractive and well-spoken; she is thus a natural cultural and social bridge. Her politics, self-defined as “revolutionary socialism,” however, represents a relatively small group in Egypt and would ordinarily be defined as marginal in Western media -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.860: Finally, for the networked microcelebrity activists, social media are a place of selfpresentation and framing in both the political and personal sense. Many of the most prominent activists use social media primarily as an activist tool, with more of their updates containing political events, testimonies, and documentations; however, many monitored for this study (selected both through observation and interviews with activists and through accounts identified as influential by other studies) also include personal updates with differing frequencies (and the relative mix of personal and directly political in a microcelebrity activist feed, although beyond the scope of this study, is a potentially important research question). The particular calculations, strategic presentation, and conscious and nonconscious decisions to share (or not share) nonpolitical moments on these media create new questions about the emergent faces of activism. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.867: The emergence of such activists in the global public eye, not surprisingly, creates unequal dynamics—although this is not the same kind of “privilege” as that of a regular celebrity, as all activists, especially those in repressive regimes, take big risks to their life and liberty. Rather, it is the privilege of attention. Visibility may also prove to be a two-edged sword by increasing regime attention on activists as well. However, according to multiple accounts and attempts to trace the fate of such activists, this visibility provides a form of protection not accorded to others, which is a source of tension and unease. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.868: The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s director for international freedom of expression, Jillian C. York, interviewed in conditions of anonymity other activists who had been detained and have been the subject of solidarity campaigns and reported that her interviewees each “said a variation on the same theme” such that “they were treated well, and sometimes even given special privileges, because of their status” (York, 2011). The activists in that case were also highly cognizant of the inequality structured in their visibility. As she recounts, the activists she interviewed expressed concern “that the same treatment was not extended to his fellow detainees, a reminder that being a blogger is a position of privilege in its own way” (York, 2011). This tension is another reminder that social media introduce novel dynamics but do not create a “flat” or “hierarchy-less” structure, as sometimes assumed. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.868: Perhaps the most important difference that flows from these cases is that the “power-dependency” relationship between media and the social movement actors has been fundamentally altered. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014

p.869: This weakening of formal institutional control over attention brings about major changes to state capacity in dealing with dissidents. For example, during the height of the Tahrir protests, Mubarak’s regime wanted to negotiate with some of the movement leaders—however, lacking institutional leverage, these leaders themselves were not in a position to negotiate or “sell out” (Ghonim, 2012). Mass media can no longer unilaterally decide to “appoint” who gets to act as a movement’s spokespersons, nor can activists who become de facto spokespersons shed ties of accountability to the broader movement, for better or worse. -- Highlighted apr 19, 2014