Videos on Twitter

As I’ve been working on my call to action video, I have been noticing and paying extra attention to videos embedded in tweets on Twitter. Videos on my timeline automatically play but the sound does not automatically start – both aspects of which are more conducive to the casual Twitter user. I also noted that because of this, the way some videos chose to include the script of the video at the bottom in the form of subtitles was useful. I incorporated many of these techniques into making my video and tried to evaluate the ways in which these strategies were useful.
Many of the videos on my Twitter timeline have been features of politicians or important figures speaking directly to the audience. The videos often utilize the floating head technique, which involves the person being taped from the same angle usually just including the top half of their body. Most of the videos that played for longer than 20 seconds changed up the angles of the floating head to maintain the interest of the audience.
The value in the videos in that they provide a different form of media for users to receive information. It is beneficial to see an important figure speaking directly and in a more candid manner because they are better able to connect with the audience. The videos often end with a solid colored shot with text written encouraging or instructing watchers with the next steps the person wants them to follow through with.
Twitter users also utilized shorter 1-2 second videos that acted more like moving pictures. These are interesting and catch the attention of users but don’t necessarily try to advertise a call to action. Both longer and shorter clips usually include hashtags that give the reader a sense of the subject matter the video is about.
I realized the importance of the hashtag in relevance of activism today when I saw a lot of advertising for an #ActivismIRL panel. Cosmopolitan and Harness were teaming up with Twitter to host a panel in which activists would discuss how to turn hashtags into meaningful activism. Though I follow a wide and diverse range of accounts pertaining to reproductive rights, women’s health care, politics in America and women’s activism, the vast advertisement of this panel on different accounts showed how different people are making use of the same type of strategies and tactics.

Twitter as a Public Sphere

Social media activism can be beneficial in that it widens and diversifies a support base. Everyone tweeting about an issue can be heard on the internet. Adding a trending hashtag or using key phrases in one’s tweet can help increase its visibility but being of a certain class, race or identity does not impede on your visibility the way we see it does in a physical in-person activist revolution.

A close look at Habermas and the Public Sphere can help untangle the implications of social media activism and the nature of its inclusivity. The reading delves into the idea of the public sphere as one where citizens come together as a community stripped of their business interests and free of coercion. A successful public sphere is one in which there is great access. A space that holds more diverse perspectives and voices, is a more successful public space.

Twitter is advertised as a public space in that its users can access tweets and read them whether or not they have an account. Creating an account and joining in on public discussion only requires internet access and an email address.

This notion of the public space and the value in social activism on Twitter is complicated by the idea that public spaces often exclude huge portions of the population. There are public spaces that are only accessible by some. At close examination one can see how Twitter is an example of this. Only those capable of accessing Twitter via the internet can participate the activism. Large communities of people are not represented on this public platform in the same way that Nancy Fraser’s critique of Habermas shows that the public sphere is inaccessible to many. Ironically, the excluded communities are often the ones being targeted by the social activism.

In the context of women’s access to healthcare, the issue pertains to huge sector of our world. The decisions being made affect everyone. Recently, the House just voted on the ACHA, which will seriously transform healthcare in America. It includes provisions of defunding Planned Parenthood and excludes coverage of pre-existing conditions. Many communities including low-income working people, senior citizens, disabled people will be significantly hurt by the bill.

So while the issue of access to healthcare in this political climate will affect user on Twitter, it will disproportionately affect many Americans who don’t have the means to be actively participating on Twitter and engaging in political discourse. Though we may initially consider Twitter to be a public space for conversation around this issue, it’s complicated by a close and critical reading of Habermas and the Public Space. Nancy Fraser’s critique of the reading helps us see how public spaces are often not universally accessible.

Similarities in strategy between tweets and podcasts

Tweets regarding social activism issues act in a similar manner as podcasts. Listening to the podcast, “On the Wire,” one can easily see the similar points of interest in making an effective tweet and an effective podcast. “On the Wire” is a podcast hosted by Jessica Abel in which she explores the many tips and aspects to great narrative nonfiction radio. She vibrantly works through the many stages of writing something, recognizing and acknowledging specific challenges on the way.

Abel skillfully considers the art of framing and the importance of it in telling a story. It is a key strategy in helping one flesh out and better tell their story. Framing is best utilized as a clear articulation at the beginning of the podcast to explain the objective. It lets the listener know what to look for and acts as a type of thesis statement.

Other strategies mentioned include using anecdotes. The logic is that multiple miniature stories can be more impactful than straight up numbers. The trending #ShoutYourAbortion was popularized on twitter and was attached to personal anecdotes concerning abortion. The hashtag was extremely prevalent and was successful in working against the taboo of having an abortion.

Eric Detweiler, who runs Rhetoricity, a podcast that draws on rhetoric, theory and sound effects, spoke earlier this week over Skype with us on tips for podcasts. He encourages podcasters to write how they talk. This includes the notion that people talk in sentence fragments. This concept is a critical component to how Twitter works. The clear word count cut off on tweets supports users foregoing full detailed sentences with multiple adjectives for succinct fragments that get to the point.

He also encourages podcasters to use the active voice. It forces one to attribute actions and makes for an overall more concrete narrative. On twitter this week, I’ve been more perceptive to the ways in which tweets for social activism use sentence form to create a narrative. The tweets regarding social activism have a tendency towards the active voice in order to create a clear narrative of the issue and who’s to blame for it. Many of the tweets recently dealing with reproductive rights identify specific politicians as the subjects of the sentence fragment. It helps readers and supporters of the issue to hone in on who is having a damaging effect and who has the power to make change.

Social Media Activism

The issue of reproductive rights is attached with great uncertainty under the Trump administration. The nature of how women deal with their health will be greatly impacted depending on the people appointed to make decisions due to the clearly conservative platform at hand. Much of the social activism on Twitter regarding the issue is aimed at helping people understand the possibilities of how populations will be impacted. In Mirani’s article, “Sorry, Malcolm Gladwell, the revolution may well be tweeted,” the author delves into the importance of how Twitter activism is productive in its ability to make populations aware of what their governments are doing in their name. Planned Parenthood’s Twitter account especially calls attention to the new political actors being appointed in the Trump administration and their beliefs. For example, today, the Senate confirmed Neil Gorsuch to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. This is a rattling decision in the eyes of many because his decision-making history is indicative of a more backwards approach to women’s health issues. Moments after the decision was confirmed, my Twitter timeline was filled with evidence of Gorsuch’s alarming record on care at Planned Parenthood, birth control access, and LGBTQ rights.

This is a time in which we’ve seen Donald Trump openly bash news and media outlets that publish something he does not like. Twitter gives a space for the outpour of tweets calling attention to the damaging potential of many politicians and acts or bills. Twitter allows people opposing the conservative standpoint of the administration in regards to women’s health to not need the help of major mainstream media outlets to share the facts. Many tweets openly call on specific politicians to listen.

Much of the Twitter content surrounding reproductive rights issues is explicitly educational. The tweets aim to explain topics that are seen as uncomfortable or undiscussed. For example, Planned Parenthood, @PPAWI, tweeted a link to a video with the caption, “Watch our resident sexpert, Mia, cover the basics of sexually transmitted diseases.” This type of tweet implicitly makes the taboo very explicit and is trying to bring to discussion what so many have been conditioned to think is unmentionable or off-limits conversation.

In the article “Small Change,” Gladwell says that social media activism is built around weak ties and manages acquaintances. It does not result in high risk activism because you don’t feel you can ask people you don’t know too much so as to not confront socially entrenched norms and practices. Planned Parenthood often shares links to interviews or articles by patients opening up about their experiences with abortion or healthcare clinics. The tweets encourage people to talk about how they have been directly affected. This rejects the notion that abortions need to be hidden and encourages people to share their stories. Furthermore, calling attention to these women drives home the point of how many people have had abortions so as to explicate the consequential nature of the government’s decisions. The idea is that if nearly one in three women are to have an abortion, these voices need to be heard.

The hashtag #IStandWithPP has been popularized to support Planned Parenthood. The organization has come to symbolize a promotion of choice for women in their decisions about their own health. While it may have originated with the threat of the organization being defunded by the government, it is still revived whenever another issue in the same vein is brought up. The report called “Beyond the Hashtag,” discusses the same phenomenon with #BlackLivesMatter. There were a number of defining events, not just the initial, that boosted the hashtag.  (