Black Users, Enclaving, and Methodological Challenges in a Shifting Digital Landscape
featuring Sarah Florini, Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies, Department of English Arizona State University
Tuesday, December 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm
Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University
Much work on Black Internet users and social media has focused on the idea of counterpublics. For example, Twitter is conceived of as a space in which people can speak back to the dominant culture. However, Twitter is also (often) publicly available, searchable, and allows people to connect with users they would otherwise not find.
Digital enclaves, on the other hand, are places where marginalized people can “step away,” or avoid interactions with dominant groups, such as closed or secret pages on Facebook. Building upon previous work about social media counterpublics, Sarah Florini, Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies at Arizona State University, argued that digital enclaves do not exist in isolation, but rather are connected to and in conversation with these counterpublics.
Florini drew from her project on Black Americans’ use of transplatform social media. Users shift from platform to platform, depending on their needs; they might purposefully seek out the affordances of a particular platform in some situations, and find creative ways around the limitations of another platform in others. Florini predicted that use of enclaves will continue to increase. Black social media users she interviews in her work “have consistently been at the vanguard of what we think of as stuff everyone does on the Internet.” Black Twitter users, for example, pioneered the now common practice of live-tweeting serialized television shows; the 2014 podcast explosion was preceded two years prior by a boom in podcasts by and for Black communities.
Overall, Florini summarized, Black Americans have “long cultivated complex processes of expression grounded in principles that have become central to digital media use.” What will digital sociality look like if people continue to seek out interactions in enclaved spaces, rather than in dominant public spaces, or counterpublics? If this trend continues, as Florini anticipates, digital enclaves will have widespread effects on our digital sociality across many areas, including platform design, media companies’ business models, legal and policy issues, and methodological and ethical questions for internet researchers.
notes by Donica O'Malley
Black users have consistently been at the vanguard of digital and social media use, pioneering and anticipating digital trends including live tweeting and the podcast boom. As harassment on social media platforms becomes increasingly aggressive, and increasingly automated, users must develop strategies for navigating this hostility. Having long endured coordinated campaigns of harassment, Black users are again at the forefront of a shift in digital practices – the creation of digital enclaves. With new patterns of use, digital media researchers are faced with new, and a few old, methodological and ethical questions.
Sarah Florini is an Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies in the Department of English at Arizona State University. She earned a PhD in Communication and Culture from Indiana University. Her research focuses on the intersection of emerging media, Black American cultural production, and racial politics in the post-Civil Rights Movement landscape.
Aaron Edwards, “Long Live the Group Chat.” The Outline. September 27, 2017
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