In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Social Media and Feminist ValuesAligned or Maligned?
  • Kate Ott (bio)

introduction

Feminist ethical discourse has from its inception been concerned with how communities “ought to be,” and perhaps more important, how we go about getting there. In other words, the method is as important as the outcome. A feminist assessment of social media, then, is an exploration of how communities form and interact in social media spaces as well as if values expressed via these participatory cultures align or misalign with feminist ethical criteria.1 Digital social media invite participation based on the values of openness, collaboration, and networking, which in theory align with feminist values such as access, cooperation, and inclusion. However, the opportunities social media platforms afford are increasingly shaped by the business models and algorithms behind them, not to mention the material biases users bring with them.

For those working to promote feminist values and practices, we need to critique openness as an absolute social good in and of itself, address the reduction of diversity in social networking from the impact of filters, and consider how collaboration produces big data that raises concerns about user labor and determinism. In order to provide context to the conversation, I consider how these factors impact participatory cultures created via social media through analysis of the #Femfuture: Online Revolution report case study. I utilize this case to illustrate the values and opportunities of digital participation and thus how the uses of such technologies reinforce, disrupt, and transform communities and individuals. Finally, I propose ways of meeting the challenges of social media platform design and user behavior that perpetuate racial inequalities and exploit labor to move us toward greater reciprocity, diversity, and accountability. [End Page 93]

beyond openness, collaboration, and networking

Social media is “open” to all in principle; however, the construction of many platforms is not egalitarian, and users bring hierarchical statuses with them. That is to say, there is a difference between access or interaction and participation. Participation is the key to social media engagement and network creation. Some describe this connection as a form of participatory culture, which stems from user-generated content that combines cultural production and media-sharing.2 Participatory culture has often been limited to groups who come together based on a shared practice, often including resistance to a structural power. The ubiquitous use of social media requires we consider how social media are, or contribute to, participatory culture.3 Defining the technology as “open” sets the debate in dichotomous terms as open versus closed without considering what happens in the openness and who is served by it. In other words, users in participatory cultures both bring and create hierarchies in the open space of the Internet.

Research related to social networks shows that they are much more homogeneous than most of us would like to admit. For example, recent findings in the General Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute demonstrate the racial segregation perpetuated by social networks in the United States.4 The findings show that white Americans’ social networks are 91 percent white; black Americans’ social networks are 83 percent black; while Hispanic Americans have the most diverse racial social networks at 64 percent Hispanic, 19 percent white, and 9 percent some other race. Moreover, 75 percent of whites’ social networks are completely white. By comparison, 65 percent of blacks have black-only networks, and 46 percent of Hispanics have homogeneous racial social networks. Interestingly, when looking more closely at white social networks, homogeneity is not influenced by political affiliation, geographic location, or gender and is influenced only slightly by age. The racial segregation we perpetuate from in-person lives to online lives complicates the promise of openness.5

Additionally, the technologies embedded in social media platforms contribute (more directly than we probably know) to the formation of our networks. The data we generate are used in a feedback loop to promote homophily and aggregate out diversity, making it easier for platforms to shape our desires as well as profit from our consumption. As Eli Pariser writes in The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You, “More and more, your computer monitor is a kind of one-way mirror...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-0334
Print ISSN
0160-9009
Pages
pp. 93-111
Launched on MUSE
2018-04-19
Open Access
No
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