Snapchat’s live stories usually present the world in a way that emphasises diversity, tolerance and respect for different races, religions and sexualities. But sometimes they fail miserably – like in the Live Story about yesterday’s Australia Day, which is now available globally.
Australia Day is celebrated on January 26, the day the first fleet arrived in Australia from Britain, and there is a strong movement to #changethedate so that it celebrates Australia, and not the European invasion of indigenous Australian land. That movement is actually so strong that yesterday 50,000 people marched in Melbourne, and thousands more around in other cities all over Australia. Here is a photo of the rally in Melbourne yesterday:
Or take a look at The Guardian’s live blog to see a more diverse view of the day, including the formal celebrations and more.
Now look at how Snapchat presents it in its Live Story. I’ve taken one screenshot of each snap, but they’re all videos so imagine panning and sound. The story is still on Snapchat as of Jan 27, 09:53 am Central European Time.
The first seven snaps are all of young, white people partying or at the pool. The last three are of fireworks.
It’s a short Live Story – the Live Story from the Women’s March last weekend had 71 snaps, so was obviously of a different scope altogether. But what an unbelievably skewed version of Australia Day this shows. What a skewed and stereotypical version of the Australian population it shows. Especially seen in contrast to the coverage of the inauguration and the Women’s March last weekend, this is pretty astounding.
I’ve previously noted that the Norwegian national day as seen on Snapchat appears to be nothing but young people partying in national costumes, which is not how the day looks to me. No doubt most of Snapchat’s portrayals of national, “exotic” festivals (at least exotic to young Americans) leave out a lot, or present things in a skewed manner. But at least Norway doesn’t have 50,000 people protesting the day that Snapchat somehow forgets to include in their story.
It looks as though Triple J may have sponsored this Live Story, based on the emphasis on their Hottest 100 in the first snaps. Triple J has been the radio channel for youth and music for decades, but their emphasis on a music countdown on what more and more people are calling Invasion Day rather than Australia Day may be ripe for change.
Another way in which Snapchat spreads very partial information about the politics of Australia Day is with their selfie filters and geofilters. I couldn’t access them in Norway, but the Live Story seems to have a couple of non-branded Australia Day geofilters, and some sponsored by Triple J. I imagine that Triple J actually sponsored the Live Story, or at least had significant influence on it, based on the number of geofilters they seem to have for the day, and their emphasis on the Hottest 100 on Australia Day. If that’s so, perhaps Snapchat’s US team, which seems to be pretty savvy about diversity in their own country, simply didn’t pay much attention. That would also explain why the narrative arc of the Live Story is pretty flat compared to many of the US Live Stories, which are more skilfully put together.
On Twitter, Elle Hunt shows us how politically biased the selfie filters are, too. This is what happens when advertisers control our means of production:
Here are the full images of her snaps:
But hey. Most people on Twitter like it. They love stories about young, white people getting lit.
But if Snapchat aims to be a news channel, and to spread public information about the public sphere, we need to know where they stand and especially, who is paying for it. In their Terms of Service, they write that
Live, Local, and any other crowd-sourced Services are inherently public and chronicle matters of public interest (..)
If so, their financing and bias should be transparent to the viewers.
[16:42 Norway time Jan 20, 2017: I’ll update this post if more Inauguration-related content appears on Snapchat – and do let me know if there is content in the US that I can’t see here in Norway!]
I’m interested in how Snapchat will tell the story of today’s inauguration of Trump and of tomorrow’s Women’s March on Washington, both in personal Snapchat stories, and I hope, in one or more Live Stories. But Snapchat has been remarkably un-political in its Live Stories of late. This morning, I still see the one posted yesterday about “Winning at Winter”, full of people skiing and snowboarding and enjoying the snow. Nothing else. Is Snapchat deliberately ignoring the inauguration? It seems like the sort of thing they would typically do a live story on. After all, they did Brexit and the US primaries and election. Maybe a live story will appear later on – or maybe it’s a deliberate slight. (The first screenshot here is from yesterday, so there is a Discover story there from yesterday that isn’t there today.)
There is some inauguration-related Discover Content on Snapchat today (as seen in Norway). Here is the complete list, for future historians:
- Daily Mail: Can you recognise retro Kim (photos of Kim Kardashian in underwear)
- Cosmopolitan: The Most Famous Butts on Instagram (photo of woman doing yoga pose with very perky butt)
- Vice: Why These Billionaires are Richer than Half the World
- MTV: Kylie’s First Ever Insta Photos are Pure Gold
- Mashable: How to Keep Your Texts Totally Private
- Refinery29: Popped a Zit? Try This.
- Food Network: How Well Do You Know Your Cheese?
- Brother: Leaving America? Here’s the Best Places to Live
- Tastemade: 13 Foods to Survive the Apocalypse
- CNN: A Brief History of Inauguration Screw-Ups
- BuzzFeed: Are You A Trusting Person?
- People: 12 Epic Secrets About Your Favorite Songs
- National Geographic: When Did People Walk Upright?
- Sweet: 8 Ways to Be More Powerful Starting *Now* (Photo of Barack Obama and daughter Malia)
- Comedy Central: These BTS Pics Ruin the Magic Of Harry Potter
- IGN: Fight the Good Fight with New Zelda & Injustice 2
- b/r sports: Zlatan or Aguero – Who You Got?
3 and 5 could be seen as political – they’re about economic inequality and privacy. 8, 9, 10 and 14 reference the inauguration, and definitely not in a pro-Trump manner.
I’ve finished up revisions on a few book chapters in the last few months. Here are the preprints:
Rettberg, Jill Walker. “Online Diaries and Blogs.” In The Diary, edited by Batsheva Ben-Amos and Dan Ben-Amos. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, forthcoming. Pre-print, September 2016.
Rettberg, Jill Walker. “Self-Representation in Social Media.” In Burgess, Jean, Alice Marwick, and Thomas Poell (eds.) SAGE Handbook of Social Media, edited by Jean Burgess, . Sage, forthcoming. Pre-print, July 2016.
Rettberg, Jill Walker. “Biometric Citizens: Adapting Our Selfies To Machine Vision.” Preprint. In Kuntsman, Adi (ed.) Selfie Citizenship. Basingbroke: Palgrave, forthcoming. Pre-print, May 2016.
A woman applying to the Norwegian Research Council’s program SAMKUL only has half the chance a man has of being supported.
Update June 28: Here is the dataset of my survey of these students on Google Sheets or download it from Figshare. Feel free to use it but please let me know!!
Anders and I are researching Snapchat stories. Mostly we’re watching hundreds and hundreds of stories to see what kinds of narrative techniques people use, but we also want to know what regular users actually think about stories. Do they watch stories much? Do they make stories? What do they think is a good story?
So yesterday I visited a class of media students at a local high school. They’re planning a TV journalism project for the autumn where they’ll use Snapchat as well as making more conventional news stories, so I gave a short lecture about storytelling in Snapchat and then we had the most excellent class discussion about it, after which they generously filled out a short questionnaire I had prepared. I feel like I got a lot out of this meeting, and hope to visit several other schools too – if you’re a high school teacher near Bergen and would like a visit, let me know!
I haven’t gone through the written responses yet, but there were a lot of insightful comments from the classroom discussion. So I’m using this blog post as a research journal, writing out the student comments I noted down and found particularly useful, and that I may want to quote in future research. The facts: this was a class of thirty-five 16-17-year olds in a Norwegian high school (VG1, medielinjen) on June 1, 2016. I didn’t make a recording, because I didn’t want to deal with handling research data that can be tied to an individual, so this is based on my handwritten notes.
The teachers started off the discussion asked why they like Snapchat – to the teachers, Snapchat stories look like badly done television, and they wondered why the students wouldn’t rather watch better-quality YouTube videos or something.
“It’s easily available,” said one student (lett tilgjengelig was the Norwegian expression), and many others supportived her. “Isn’t YouTube just as easily available?” a teacher asked. The students didn’t have a real answer for that, but they clearly felt Snapchat was more available. I suspect this might be due to the feed in Snapchat. You don’t have to think about what to watch next. You just open the app and start clicking.
A lot (maybe most?) of the students said they like Snapchat because they like seeing their friends’ lives. A substantial number of the students only have their actual friends on Snapchat (I’m guessing more than half? I’ll get the numbers when I go through the written responses) but there are also quite a few who follow celebrities and bloggers they don’t know personally. A student who does follow celebrities said she liked seeing their Snapchat stories because “it’s more personal” (det blir mer personlig når du følger kjendiser på Snapchat). Other students nodded and added that they liked the behind the scenes content.
When asked why they published snaps to their own stories, one student commented, “It’s easy, because you don’t have to plan it.” Others chimed in, saying that there was so little pressure. You can just snap something and post it without worrying too much about it. On the other hand, one student said he far preferred Instagram to Snapchat because the photos are better, precisely because people take more time and are more selective about which photos they post to Instagram.
One really interesting point that came up was the idea of a social media feed as stressful. One student said she liked Snapchat because it wasn’t stressful like Facebook is. “Why is Facebook stressful?” a teacher asked. “There’s just too much! The timeline never ends,” she said (Facebook er stress. Det er for mye på Facebook. Tidslinjen tar aldri slutt.) This seemed to be a feeling shared by many of the students. A young man echoed the first student: “There is always more on Facebook,” he said. “Yes, on Snapchat I only follow people I want to see,” another student said, but then followed up, saying “Well, except the ones I don’t really want to see. I just click through them quickly to make them go away.” I wondered why they clicked through the snaps rather than just swiped the story away, but I don’t think I really got an answer. Maybe to see whether there was something interesting at the end of the story? Or maybe because of the knowledge that the person who posted it would have
A lot of the students seemed to feel this need to cleanse their feeds or to keep their feeds empty. One of the students actually used the term cleanse (rense): “I click through all the stories to clean them away.” (Jeg klikker gjennom for å rense de vekk.) So it seems they like that they have fewer friends on Snapchat than Facebook, thus fewer items in their feeds, and that the fact that stories disappear after 24 hours maybe isn’t just about privacy but about being able to start with a clean slate, or not feel that there was more information than you could handle.
Here is of one of the survey responses I received, transcribed in my handwriting and translated from Norwegian. I’m a humanities scholar, and I’ve not done this kind of research before, so to be honest, I haven’t even figured out how to get my stack of 40 responses entered into a spreadsheet. I started bravely, but only got to the third question, where the student has (as intended) crossed off several options, before my spreadsheet broke down. Do I use several cells in the spreadsheet for each question? Maybe I don’t type in the full response but generate some kind of codes? Like this, maybe: Informant 1, uses-several-times-a-day, sent-snaps-today, didn’t-post-snapto-story-today, posted-snap-to-story-last-week. That is going to be very time-consuming. Is there better software? A better system for organising it? If you have any ideas, please let me know! I’d like to make the dataset public, so it’d be good to organise the data in a way that is useful to me as well as others. (I assume this is social science methods 101 but hey, I’m from the humanities…)