As discussed in yesterday’s post recapping Day 1 of the Digital Media Learning conference here in Chicago, one point raised by Ethan Zuckerman in both his keynote (video below) and panel presentation was that we need to teach our youth media activists about the levers and infrastructure for change. I agree; if you don’t understand the channels through which a movement spreads, then your movement is limited in how far it can go. Moreover, those channels are media in themselves, and how you say something is surely as important as what you say. So why is it that this element of media/civic engagement is so conspicuously left out of the conference (at least, so far)?
Speaking only for myself and what The LAMP works to achieve, it’s a little paradoxical–not to mention uncomfortable–that in order for us to spread our message about critical engagement with media, we have to go through mainstream corporatized channels like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. All of these levers, and their infrastructure, depend on money. They only have value in the first place because of users who fill those channels with content at no charge to the channel, and often at great expense for the user. Yet the fact remains that if you want to reach a mainstream audience and spread your idea or demand for change, you have to engage the three-headed mainstream media beast of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
In the case of open civic engagement, this can be incredibly problematic. Back in September 2011, our @thelamplatoon account was suspended by the powers be at Twitter for what looked to them like spamming, but what was really just us trying to spark a dialogue about commercials for the Kia Soul. There was no recourse for holding Twitter accountable and gaining transparency into their decisions, so all we could do was share the problem with our social media networks and raise awareness about what happened. In October 2012, we wrote about a case of YouTube taking down one of our LAMPlatoon broken commercials; we’ve had other takedown notices since then, and while the process has not grown any more transparent, in every case our videos have been reinstated. Facebook is constantly changing rules and algorithms governing the content that appears in your newsfeed, and those changes are prohibiting the ability of a page to connect with the people who ‘like’ it–unless the page’s owner has a budget to help promote itself through advertising.
All of this is incredibly disheartening, and more than mildly discouraging for anyone trying to break through noise to have his or her voice heard. This reliance on mainstream corporatized media directly relates to our ability to effect change through digital media, and it’s uncomfortable for activists to admit they rely on media giants which are dependent on ad revenue and which profit from any measure leading to increased online privacy. In a news literacy panel this afternoon, I was proud when The LAMP’s Executive Director stood to ask the presenters how they address with their students the tightly-controlled funnel of what news we are able to access. One panelist defended NBC’s record of disclosure about their ownership by General Electric (I guess he missed this story), and none of the panelists had a truly satisfactory response about how they are teaching their students about what happens in a Big Six-mediated landscape. It was disappointing.
Conversations like these are important for the DML community to have, and I know that just because they’re not happening in panels, that doesn’t mean they’re not happening at all. I’m also just one person, and cannot sit in every panel at once so that I can say with 100% assurance that the issue is being completely ignored. However, it is an issue which needs to be pushed to the forefront to occupy a key space in conversations about DML and civic engagement, and I’m unhappy to see it being relegated to the sidelines. Still, I wouldn’t have much of anything if I didn’t have hope for the future, and, well…there’s still one day left to this conference.
Keep up with The LAMP at DML 2013 by following @thelampnyc!