Writing game criticism for an audience that doesn’t read

My first post gave an overview of how the medium of games push for favored criteria used in gaming criticism. Looking back, I didn’t touch on how gaming criticism function specifically on the web as opposed to in magazines or print mediums. In fact, the analysis of mostly prose features would be useful for writing for gaming magazines if those were, like, still a thing. Continue reading

Celebrity Backstage Personas on Twitter: Performance Art or Artifice?

On June 4, 2013, Justin Bieber made Twitter history by becoming the first person to accrue 40 million followers on Twitter.  Like or dislike Bieber’s brand, his milestone is actually the envy and goal of the celebrity Twitterverse, and due largely in part to his construction of his backstage persona on Twitter . Continue reading

This is not a blog post about racist online comments

Well, at least not the sort of “traditional” racism and hatred that gets flagged and immediately taken down. You know, the wayward, vitriolic name-calling and pre-antebellum sentiments that treat women as property, blacks as subpar citizens, ad. naseum. I do understand that these sorts of comments are important and they might carry the most venom… but they don’t necessarily do the most damage. Rather, this is a post about subtleties in online comment feeds- the ones that pass by the any human or computer flagger, the supposedly “balanced” arguments that are of course nothing of the sort and proliferate not just the ether of the Web, but the public political and social imagination. This is a post about coded racism.

I’m borrowing the term coded racism from Jessie Daniels and Matthew Hughey, who suggest in their writing that we have a real problem on hand with “decoding” internet racism. They write that one of the chief reasons these coded comments are so prolific (and more importantly, hard to argue with) is that they are folded into language appealing to “common-sense” arguments. With their work as a starting point, I set out to see the topoi of “common sense racism”- if it exists (I think it does), what its argumentative and linguistic structures are, and what it means for the future of interactive news on the web.

I’ve read more online comment feeds in the last few weeks than I care to admit. A lot of the feed slipped past my scope of interest- xoxokim and sergeantjerry55 telling eachother to eat bullets was not particularly useful of inventive. But there are a number of comments, some deceptively simple or even popular and non-devisive worth looking at.

Like this thread which will be the focus of my post here, which was a tangential conversation going on in the comment section of this article about Treyvon Martin regarding style of dress and whether or not that makes a person suspicious:

lala Lam GailScottt: I have a little more respect for the person that knows how to wear a belt.

Mexoplex lala Lam: because wearing a belt is SO much the judge of character of a man. next youll be telling me the color of one’s skin is a determining factor….. oh wait…..

Gilsharkey Mexoplex: Well, see wearing a belt isn’t all that important, but ensuring that your baggy pants don’t fall down to your ankles as you’re hopping down the street does demonstrate a certain level of class and self respect.

ü Oakspar77777 GailScottt: The person in a suit does merit more respect. His clothes say that he espouses ideas of buisness, hardwork, and success. The person in the thuggery espouses drug use, gangs, and violence. Now, the suit wearer may be a wolf in sheeps clothing, and actually be a crook. The one in thuggery might actually have never broken a law in his lifetime. From their looks, I cannot know the truth of their life. I do, however, know that the one trying to look like a criminal is more likely one than the person trying to look like a successful buisnessman.

ü Shannon MacLeod Oakspar77777: Again, this is the definition of prejudice and why it’s not a good way to run around judging folks. Although, if I ever do get the urge to rob a convenience store or break into some houses, I’ll be sure to wear a three piece suit to avoid being shot. Thanks for the hot tip”

I’d like to point out two particularities in this conversation that are noteworthy. The first is the tonal differences between those who support the idea of making judgments based on appearance and those who don’t. While it’s not entirely easy to predict intonation/intent online, the level of sarcasm in the comments from those not supporting judging appearances is markedly increased compared to those in favor of the judgment. When “Oakspar77777” comments at the end of this thread suggesting that she’ll wear a three-piece suite next time she robs a convenience store and sarcastically writes “thanks for the hot tip,” her point is to make it obvious that she finds the conversation irrational and biased. “LalaLam”s comments also show such blatant sarcasm in this thread. The point here is that the language AGAINST the coded racism is stronger, more sarcastic and edgy, which is counter-intuitive in many regards; logic would suggest the racists would potentially have more to prove or would be fighting more critics. Largely, this illustrates the ease by which coded racist language does not need to rely on tropes of sarcasm as a form of ethos.

So what kind of ethos does the coded racism above (and all over the internet) rely on? I’d like to suggest that it goes back to the topoi of “common sense.” The participants engaging in the coded racism use a form a “mock civic discourse” in the above thread. To prove that their views are “common sense,” their responses are casual, matter of fact, and reply to the previous comments in a tone that suggests they are diplomatic (but firm) and open to civic debate. A good example of this is when  “Gilsharkey Mexoplex” acknowledges a critique that wearing a belt isn’t a good indicator of the quality of the person. In an authoritative response that acknowledges the critique, he writes “Well, see wearing a belt isn’t all that important, but ensuring that your baggy pants don’t fall down to your ankles as you’re hopping down the street does demonstrate a certain level of class and self respect.” The diplomacy here is the acknowledgment that the belt may not be an important indicator of character, a conceit that serves to illustrate the flexibility of the reply and set up the responder as a reasonable and common sense type of person. On the semantic level, even the “does demonstrate a certain level” indicates a hedging which is a rhetorical strategy meant to show flexibility- a quality important to a common sense rhetor- and a great mask for coded racist remarks. Thus, the ethos acts as a massive buffer to the subtleties of what the person is actually saying- remarks that are heavily influence by preconceptions of race and class.

An even more noticeable incidence of this fake civic discourse phenomena is GailScottt’s response, which suggests that people in suits should be taken more seriously because they espouse ideas of hard work and determination and that “thuggish-looking” people recall drugs, violence and gangs. To prove his coded racism here, he offers another move typical of “civil” discussion, which is that he offers a viewpoint that counters his own, but ultimately strengthens his own ethos. Like a scene out of Cicero’s writing, he offers a side narrative whereby “the suit wearer may be a wolf in sheeps clothing, and actually be a crook,” admitting that he may not know the truth of their life. The admittance of ignorance here is a credibility maneuver to again appear rational and reasonable and have the subsequent statement that “someone trying to look like a criminal is more likely one than someone trying to look like a successful businessman” appear common sense and not imbued with racist principles or philosophies.

This conversation thread, while very much indicative of the common sense racist topoi, was not an anomaly by any stretch. Countless articles and comment sections, regardless of the subject matter, featured similar linguistic principles and used ethos in a similar manner. This Huffington Post piece on a gaffe made Marsha Blackburn about equal pay for women brought up similarly contentious debates in the comment section. And even though the issue was not race but gender, the logic was still the about common sense prejudice. Comments like this were common in the forum:

“I know that most people who come to this site don’t want to hear it, but the gender gap is mostly a myth. Women tend to choose less lucrative fields, and tend to work fewer hours than men. Here’s a link to an article, here on this site, that explains it:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christina-hoff-sommers/wage-gap_b_2073804.html

Again, on a semantic level, the use of hedges to illustrate a certain fairness in argumentation (women tend to chose; gender gap is mostly a myth) were common and helped to code a bias in a seemingly logical argument. If the commenter can create an image of themselves as “for the facts” and reasonable, the implicit biases of the logic seem to slip through the cracks. And in a similar move to the previous thread, this author is even willing to let his argument slide slightly to the other corner in order to increase his credibility and make his point. By noting that the gender gap is just “mostly” a myth (not completely, that is), he appears less extreme, and thus, potentially more objective. Imagine if the above comment was revised to something like this:

“The stupid bitches on this site don’t want to hear it, but all this talk of gender gap is just total bullshit. Women are usually dancers or artists or teachers and things like that and don’t work as much. This article explains it too”

It’s easy to see how that sort of a revision would not be necessarily beneficial for this commenter. It would immediately flag him as a sexist idiot and his point would be lost and not worth anyone’s reply. Rather, his evocation of common sense topoi, to the “facts” and more importantly to his credibility help him avoid this fate.

The effects of common sense racist, sexist, ad. Naseum topoi should not be underestimated. Even though these arguments can be flushed out for intense biases, prejudices and even straight malice, they are often highly affective as they “appear” reasonable, flexible and indicate a “good character” of a person willing to engage in civic discourse. As we become more engrained in online culture and interactive news becomes more of a staple in our lives, it’s worth noting that this model of conversation will likely proliferate, making it all the more necessary to start identifying these patterns and countering them with an ethos other than sarcasm and disbelief.

How Do the Top Nonprofits Use Social Media?

Education. Information. Trust.

Some of the most successful nonprofit organizations place tremendous value in these three concepts when implementing their social media strategy. In a detailed analysis of Facebook and Twitter postings of four of the top nonprofit organizations (NPOs) on social media, I found that the organizations’ writing styles and shared content all focused on educating and informing followers while trusting both their intelligence and ability to act on behalf of the organization or their cause.

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Sports Franchises Use Social Media as A Winning Proposition

On May 21, 2013 during the second period of Game 4 of a National Hockey League second round  playoff between the San Jose Sharks and the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, the Kings Twitter account posted a tweet that was intended to be funny. Continue reading

Ragu Snafu: Social Media Disaster Teaches Valuable Lesson

Imagine throwing a party, you having great conversations with cool and interesting people and then some jerk pokes you on the shoulder, says you suck and walks away.  A version of this scenario played out in social media with Twitter as the party and Ragu as the jerk.  This post provides an in depth analysis of the Ragu Twitter disaster and highlights an emerging pattern from the WRD 525 blog showcasing how humanization and authenticity should be key objectives when writing for social media audiences. Continue reading

The Most Interesting Blog Post in the World

I don’t usually write about memes, but when I do…ah, give it a break. The Most Interesting Man in the World (MIM) is one of the older Internet memes and is slowly losing steam. It debuted in 2007 and reached its peak in 2012 according to Google Trends. I feel that this meme has run its course and is a state of decline. I will demonstrate this with some recent examples of user generated MIM memes towards the end of this post. But first, let me show you the history of the meme and speculation as to how it spread.

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Diagram 1

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Using Silence to Protect Your Brand on Twitter? Bad Idea.

Would you hang up on a customer? Slam a door in their face? Punch them in the face? Ok, we might not need to go that far, but by refusing to engage online concerns and criticism a substantial number of college and university Twitter accounts are risking severely damaging their brand. Continue reading

Pinterest and Gender Roles

The popular online pin board Pinterest has seen incredible growth since its founding in 2010. As of April 2013, the site had over 48 million users, but what’s most interesting about the site is the surprising slant of its demographic. Unlike other social media sites which are fairly equal in their male-female divide, Pinterest female users outnumber male users 4 to 1.

Exactly what attracts American women to Pinterest more so than men is unclear (in the UK for instance, men dominate the social bookmarking site), but it begs the question, if women are the ones generating content for this site, what can we learn about the media that women value. As a result of considering this question, a debate has arisen over the relationship between Pinterest, feminism, and gender roles. Women on each side of the divide are examining the content of the site and questioning the role its playing in the lives of women.

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