Speculative fiction?

I’m in Amsterdam for a conference called The Web that Was: Archives, Traces, Reflections. Today consisted of some interactive workshops, including one run by Amy Johnson and Ariadna Matamoros Fernández using speculative writing to think deeply about the future of the internet. In their workshop “Future historians of the internet,” they asked us to respond to prompts by writing speculative fiction about possible future scenarios. I found it fascinating how this writing brought out our assumptions, hopes, and fears. Lots to think about in using this method!

Just for fun, I’ve shared one of my quick stories below – written in only 15 minutes, and with just a bit of light editing. I didn’t do a great job of thinking into the future, since perhaps this scenario could happen today. But maybe it raises some ideas to consider in terms of social media’s role in our daily lives. Either way, it’s certainly intended to be read as humorous fiction – enjoy!

Workshop facilitators’ prompt: Write an advice column for dealing with the digital histories of deceased loved ones.

Dear Ann Landers,

As you know, we live in very different times these days. I’ve had an Instagram account for my pet turtle, Petey, for about ten years now. Everyone loved Petey – he competed on those animal game shows and also featured in pranks that I carried out – he had 8 million followers and multiple brand deals. Sadly, Petey and I were up to our antics again the other day – we went to the store and tried to scare people by having Petey hide in the broccoli. When they went to pick up some veggies, he would bite their hand and then they would jump and I’d broadcast it on Instagram and everyone laughed and the hearts flew across the screen.

One lady jumped so much that the jar of peanut butter in her basket fell out and hit Petey on the head. The old guy was just not able to handle that and he croaked. We had a beautiful funeral for him – broadcasted on Instagram and archived forever on YouTube. We’ve been grateful for everyone who has sent flowers and for the kids begging their parents for little Peteys so they can also continue the tradition. But now he’s gone and I don’t feel much like continuing his Instagram account – in fact, I can’t – no one wants photos of a dead turtle or the turtle’s funeral plot, that’s just messed up. So, what do I do? Do I delete the Instagram account? Is there any way I can salvage the fame that Petey and I spent so much time working to accumulate? More importantly, what is the best way to make sure he is remembered respectfully?


Concerned Turtle Widow



Thanks for your letter – these things are never easy! I’m sorry for your loss but I’m happy to hear that you and Petey had such a fun life together. And that he was such a profitable pet for you. I bet after all of those funeral costs, you’re more concerned about getting by than your letter lets on. Yes, we all want to be respectful – and you probably know as well as I do that there are protocols for that these days. When someone – pet or person – dies, Facebook turns their page into a virtual museum of sorts. In turn, Instagram sends you a printed photo book of their best shots and a USB, and then archives the account forever in its databases. You probably have both of these on the go for Petey and they’ll be kept pristine by the social media platforms in exchange for your social media data until none of us are around to even care anymore.

But having a pet who was an influencer – well, that’s something different. Looking through Petey’s account, it’s pretty clear that he was the star. You were…well, a prop. You fed him, looked after him, and helped him do his thing. But the real charisma in these photos is Petey and his one-toothed grin. People loved him, and rightly so. Plus, his partnerships with Pepsi and McDonald’s didn’t hurt – he was a turtle for the people, a turtle for everyone. His collabs with famous YouTubers were hilarious – like the episode of My Drunk Kitchen where Hannah Hart almost cooked him along with the lobster! Fans were seriously concerned. Now that he’s gone, what do you have? I bet you look into his now empty artificial pond every day and ask yourself that.

Don’t despair CTW! I think you must take hold of Petey’s legacy and learn from what he left you. The hundreds of Insta videos, stories, and pictures – they not only tell the story of a witty turtle but also the best way to get rich and famous using Instagram. It’s time for you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and make something for YOU. No more taking a side role, no more doing the grunt work – get your influencer swagger on, Petey style.

As we can see, the first thing you need to do is to set up an account – something along the lines of a theme you can really get behind. Petey was about pranks, turtle identity, and making fast food great again. He went and liked all of the influencer accounts on these topics. Then he started to post stylized photos of these things, and established influencers liked him back. Just like Petey, you have to take risks – don’t be afraid to do something outrageous that sparks a lot of attention. You’ll offend some people but others will love you!

Only by learning from your turtle friend will you ever make a successful life for yourself CTW. And Petey will be smiling down at you from heaven, taking selfies and swimming in a divine pond.





Image from Flickr.

5 Overlaps Between Platform Studies and Games Studies

Checking out the Queerness and Games Conference (QGcon), hosted by Concordia with the involvement of the Technoculture, Arts and Games (TAG) lab and international organizers, has got me thinking! One of the reasons I wanted to attend the conference is that a number of students have approached me for advice about researching topics that bring together games and social media. Another reason is that when spending time with and reading the work of games scholars, I continue to have lightbulb moments where the crossover between their research and that of social media scholars becomes even more apparent. So, here are some quick overlaps I’ve observed:

  1. Platforms and games are both forms of software – many of us are interested in interrogating that software and the way it shapes player/user experiences while also identifying player/user workarounds.
  2. We are both interested in materiality – I’ve been loving discussions of embodiment and the role of materiality in gaming including consoles, controllers, etc (a photo of a game label on floppy disc got me right in the nostalgia). This ties into platform studies-related discussions of embodied representation, interfaces, hardware, devices, and material affordances.
  3. Critiques of politics, economics, and power relations – I spend a lot of time critiquing platforms for their political leanings, their discourses about community and democracy, and their profit motives in terms of how they affect users. Similarly, games folks have discussed the politics behind whether gaming companies heed or ignore player concerns as well as the different economic drives for indie game developers in contrast to AAA game producers.
  4. Platforms and game cultures are enmeshed – Gaming fandom takes place on platforms like AO3 and Tumblr, game streamers broadcast on platforms like Twitch, and – in turn – fandom discussions and popular notions passed around social media can influence game design and the representation of marginalized individuals in games.
  5. We are tackling a lot of the same issues – It’s such a joy to be attending a queer games conference, which feels very home-y like other small, queer gatherings I’ve been to (thinking of my Digital Intimacies peeps) and perhaps certain topics are coming up that might not at other sorts of conferences. However, folks have discussed gender representation – including, and especially, the need for representation of trans and non-binary individuals – as well as the importance of counteracting racism, sexism, ablism and other social issues in relation to games. Many social media scholars are working on similar avenues, producing research and confronting platform corporations about how they’re not doing a good enough job of making their platforms safe, usable, and welcoming for a diversity of people. This is shared heavy lifting that both our scholarly communities do.

Those are my thoughts. I don’t want to reify a difference that perhaps isn’t actually there – I know lots of games scholars and social media scholars that mingle. However, sometimes we hold our own conferences and have our own talks, classes, and spaces. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – it is, in actuality, fairly essential – but I love to see what we can build when we hold dialogue across these areas and share ideas for better futures of games and social media alike. On that note, Professor Mia Consalvo and I have been working on a 1-day workshop, called Going Live, which brings games studies scholars and social media scholars together to discuss live streaming technologies and cultures. We’ve been putting it together for nearly a year and the big day is almost here, join us if you can!


A fast-paced summer

Oh, to have seasons again! The fact that summer only lasts a handful of months in Canada adds to its pertinence – and even more for profs whose summer is marked by the temporal boundaries of semesters finishing and commencing. Anyways, all that to say there was a lot to do and some adventures were had. Here’s a recap:

My international conferencing took place in May and early June this year. It was quite a rush to land in Prague for the International Communication Association‘s annual conference following the semester, especially after a re-directed flight and missing luggage. The European heat wave and thousands of scholars distributed between two hotels made this conference feel like it was buzzing with non-stop activity. I presented a new take on the microcelebrity-like strategies that some of my participants demonstrated on Instagram and Vine. This was for our panel “Platforms at Work,” featuring the fantastic Jeremy Morris & Austin Morris speaking about app stores, Anne Helmond and Fernando van der Vlist talking about platform APIs and third-party integration networks, Brooke Duffy and Ngai Keung Chan presenting on the self-branding of college students and job-seekers, and the extremely insightful David Hesmondhalgh as our respondent – Google all those names if you’re not familiar with them, you won’t regret it! Amidst this intensive conferencing, I also managed to see some sights, eat a Trdelnik filled with ice cream, and have one of the best cappuccinos of my life at Onesip Coffee.

At ICA, we celebrated the launch of Zizi Papacharissi’s Networked Self series. These books build on Zizi’s cutting-edge 2010 A Networked Self edited collection and discuss the impact of networked technologies on life, love, and sentience, among other topics! If you’re picking up the Platforms, Stories, Connections collection, you can find my chapter, “The more I look like Justin Bieber in the pictures, the better”: Queer women’s self-representation on Instagram.

After ICA’s intensity, it was a pleasant change of gears to join a smaller gathering of scholars for Roskilde University’s Intimacies Online, Online Intimacies conference. It consisted of two fantastic days of presentations and chats with scholars similarly immersed in questions concerning digital technology and sexuality, gender, intimacy, kinship, and identity. I gave a talk about the intimate networked counterpublic of queer female Viners that once existed. I asked those present to ponder with me what kind of platform infrastructures, policies, and practices are conducive to the formation of such collectives and where else they might emerge across the web, apps, or platforms.

Arriving back in Montreal, it was time for Concordia University’s Interdisciplinary Summer Institute. This year’s theme focused on examining hateful ideologies and hate-speech, especially in online contexts. As part of a team of experts, I taught about platform moderation and policies relating to hate-speech and censorship as well as technocultures that give rise to harassment and discrimination against marginalized users. It helped that the day before my presentation, my paper with Jean Burgess and Nic Suzor about “patchwork platform governance” was published in Convergence. In it, we discuss inconsistent platform governance mechanisms, which often sustain cultures of practice that are conducive to harassment and the censorship of queer women’s self-representations. I also taught the walkthrough method for analyzing apps to attune the students to biases that become programmed into software.

Then I was off to Brisbane to visit family, friends, beaches and to stop by the Digital Media Research Centre (DMRC) at the Queensland University of Technology. Visiting the same office space where my PhD had taken shape was definitely nostalgic! But the centre is also changing and growing, so I’m excited about the future possibilities this opens up for digital media research in Australia and internationally. I gave a presentation to the graduate students about the North American job market, sharing about my experience of the application and interviewing process. Having deferred my graduation ceremony the previous year, I finally crossed the stage in my floppy hat and robe! Nothing like tradition and celebration to bring closure to such a significant and transformational period of life.

And a proud pic with my supervisors Jean Burgess and Elija Cassidy:

Returning to Montreal in August, I hit the ground running with four weeks of intensive French classes! Administered through Concordia Continuing Education, our fantastic instructor Florence brought energy to the morning classes, which were filled with interactive activities. The course reminded me of the full spectrum of being a student, from the expectations, the hope, and the pride that comes with rising to a challenge all the way to the exam stress and fatigue. Having a fresh view of these feelings will add to my perspective in the upcoming semester as I aim to be attuned to the full range of highs and lows involved in the learning process.

Photo 2018-08-19, 12 11 20 PM

I’ve scurried to get some grant writing and paper drafting completed before the semester starts, amidst enjoying the beauty of Montreal’s summer and never-ending festivals -including a very rainbow-filled Pride. Now the air is a little more crisp and the hallways are increasingly busier. I’m excited to roll out my new syllabus for the undergraduate research methods course I’m teaching this fall and I’m looking forward to many ambitious plans taking shape!

Highlights of the Semester – Winter 2018

[Delayed posting but better late than never!]

It’s difficult to believe that four months have already passed since I started my new position in the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia University. It’s been a whirlwind semester and it seems like just yesterday that I was putting final touches on syllabi. As much as I was focused on the students’ learning, I have to say that I also learned so much throughout these courses. Every week, I developed lectures and tried out new learning activities – some with more success than others. And students brought their sharp minds to the material, raising questions I had yet to explore, bringing in creative ways of understanding concepts, and connecting topics to their lived experiences. While a single post cannot contain all the semester’s highlights, here are a few from each course and beyond the classroom.

COMS 354 – Youth and Media

Getting into discussions of what major players influence young people’s media practices, Jarrod Walczer (PhD Candidate and Research Associate at the Queensland University of Technology) joined us via Skype to talk about social media platforms’ regulation of kids’ content. We discussed rising concerns over algorithmic production and disturbing content on YouTube Kids as well as Jarrod’s emerging research about unboxing communities.

The students also worked in groups to explore a range of youth-driven media relating to particular causes. We discussed young people’s contributions to participatory cultures and transmedia activism, looking at how selfies, memes, and other forms of media can be pivotal to taking a stance on pressing issues. Students compiled different forms of youth-driven media into “online profiles” that took many different shapes, such as this animal rights Instagram account.

We also had Sam Reusch from Apathy Is Boring speak with us about what it’s like to work for an organization based around youth-driven media. She shared about the way they use multiple forms of media to engage young people in getting involved in Canada’s democratic processes.

COMS 472/521 Communication Technologies and Gender

This class was all about reinventing and reimagining the current gender inequalities that are programmed into technologies and reinforced through technological practices. From day one, we brainstormed these problem areas and what issues needed to be addressed.

We had an intense and edifying guest talk from Lex Gill, Research Fellow at The Citizen Lab, and Tina Salameh, a Concordia Computational Arts alum who fights for digital rights (basically, a digital privacy ninja). Lex ran us through national and international concerns over technology-facilitated violence against women, addressed in a Citizen Lab submission to the United Nations, and Tina gave us an intro to cryptography and metadata.

Students’ final research-creation projects showcased innovative solutions to a range of gender-related problems. They addressed stereotypes and societal pressures relating to women’s digital self-representation (e.g. selfie shaming that coincides with pressure to display oneself as normatively attractive), gender biases programmed into platform technologies – from the games website Steam to websites that sex workers use – and issues in the gaming industry like sexual harassment in virtual reality games and gender binaries in avatar creation. Projects took all shapes, from podcasts to interactive presentations and videos, like a PSA that addressed abstinence-only responses to sexting.

Outside the Classroom

It was inspiring to start making connections around Montreal! I had a great time presenting my research to the Laboratoire de communication médiatisée par ordinateur (LabCMO) at UQAM. As one of their newest members, I’m excited about what collaborations we can cook up!

I also met many fascinating scholars at McGill University’s Queer Research Colloquium, hosted by their Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, and bounced around my ideas for a book chapter that’s brewing about queer women’s feelings of scarcity on Tinder.

It was also a great experience to share with students about my research on queer women’s use of social media for the Arts and Science Federation of Associations’ speaker series “Speaking to Power.”

And I found time to binge watch the entire reboot of Queer Eye on Netflix. It inspired me to look at past scholarly critiques of the classic show and see if they still stand (spoiler alert: many do), leading to this Conversation article and several lively chats.

I’m sure a lot more happened but those are some snapshots. I’m grateful for all my colleagues who were kind enough to have coffee with me, give advice, and answer my newbie questions, of which I still have many! There were always exciting things happening around the department and associated spaces, like our rad Feminist Media Studio. It was also an exciting day when my new equipment arrived, alleviating my whirring 2011 Macbook Air from its ongoing pain.

Never a dull moment! Looking forward to what future semesters bring.

Three flawed assumptions the Daily Beast made about dating apps

(Cross-posted from the Social Media Collective blog)

Image from @Cernovich

Last week, the Daily Beast published an article by one of its editors who sought to report about how dating apps were facilitating sexual encounters in Rio’s Olympic Village. Instead, his story focused mainly on athletes using Grindr, an app for men seeking men, and included enough personal information about individuals to identify and out them. After the article was criticized as dangerous and unethical across media outlets and social media, the Daily Beast replaced it with an apology. However, decisions to publish articles like this are made based on assumptions about who uses dating apps and how people share information on them. These assumptions are visible not only in how journalists act but also in the approaches that researchers and app companies take when it comes to users’ personal data. Ethical breeches like the one made by the Daily Beast will continue unless we address the following three (erroneous) assumptions:

Assumption 1. Data on dating apps is shareable like a tweet or a Facebook post

 Since dating apps are a hybrid between dating websites of the past and today’s social media, there is an assumption that the information users generate on dating apps should be shared. Zizi Papacharissi and Paige Gibson[1] have written about ‘shareability’ as the built-in way that social network sites encourage sharing and discourage withholding information. This is evident within platforms like Facebook and Twitter, through ‘share’ and ‘retweet’ buttons, as well as across the web as social media posts are formatted to be easily embedded in news articles and blog posts.

Dating apps provide many spaces for generating content, such as user profiles, and some app architectures are increasingly including features geared toward shareability. Tinder, for example, provides users with the option of creating a ‘web profile’ with a distinct URL that anyone can view without even logging into the app. While users determine whether or not to share their web profiles, Tinder also recently experimented with a “share” button allowing users to send a link to another person’s profile by text message or email. This creates a platform-supported means of sharing profiles to individuals who may never have encountered them otherwise.

The problem with dating apps adopting social media’s tendency toward sharing is that dating environments construct particular spaces for the exchange of intimate information. Dating websiteshave always required a login and password to access their services. Dating apps are no different in this sense – regardless of whether users login through Facebook authentication or create a new account, dating apps require users to be members. This creates a shared understanding of the boundaries of the app and the information shared within it.  Everyone is implicated in the same situation: on a dating app, potentially looking for sexual or romantic encounters. A similar boundary exists for me when I go to the gay bar; everyone I encounter is also in the same space so the information of my whereabouts is equally as implicating for them. However, a user hitting ‘share’ on someone’s Tinder profile and sending it to a colleague, family member, or acquaintance removes that information from the boundaries within which it was consensually provided. A journalist joining a dating app to siphon users’ information for a racy article flat out ignores these boundaries.

Assumption 2. Personal information on dating apps is readily available and therefore can be publicized

 When the Daily Beast’s editor logged into Grindr and saw a grid full of Olympic athletes’ profiles, he likely assumed that if this information was available with a few taps of his screen then it could also be publicized without a problem. Many arguments about data ethics get stuck debating whether information shared on social media and apps is public or private. In actuality, users place their information in a particular context with a specific audience in mind. The violation of privacy occurs when another party re-contextualizes this information by placing it in front of a different audience.

Although scholars have pointed out that re-contextualization of personal information is a violation of privacy, this remains a common occurrence even across academia. We were reminded of this last May when 70,000 OkCupid users’ data was released without permission by researchers in Denmark. Annette Markham’s post on the SMC blog pointed out that “the expectation of privacy about one’s profile information comes into play when certain information is registered and becomes meaningful for others.” This builds on Helen Nissenbaum’s[2] notion of “privacy in context” meaning that people assume the information they share online will be seen by others in a specific context. Despite the growing body of research confirming that this is exactly how users view and manage their personal information, I have come across many instances where researchers have re-published screenshots of user profiles from dating apps without permission. These screenshots are featured in presentations, blog posts, and theses with identifying details that violate individuals’ privacy by re-contextualizing their personal information for an audience outside the app. As an academic community, we need to identify this as an unethical practice that is potentially damaging to research subjects.

Dating app companies also perpetuate the assumption that user information can be shared across contexts through their design choices. Recently, Tinder launched a new feature in the US called Tinder Social, which allows users to join with friends and swipe on others to arrange group hangouts. Since users team up with their Facebook friends, activating this feature lets you see everyone else on your Facebook account who is also on Tinder with this feature turned on. While Tinder Social requires users to ‘unlock’ its functionality from their Settings screen, its test version in Australia automatically opted users in. When Australian users updated their app, this collapsed a boundary between the two platforms that previously kept the range of family, friends, and acquaintances accumulated on Facebook far, far away from users’ dating lives. While Tinder seems to have learned from the public outcry about this privacy violation, the company’s choice to overlap Facebook and Tinder audiences disregards how important solid boundaries between social contexts can be for certain users.

 Assumption 3. Sexuality is no big deal these days

 At the crux of the Daily Beast article was the assumption that it was okay to share potentially identifying details about people’s sexuality. As others have pointed out, just because same-sex marriage and other rights have been won by lesbian, bisexual, gay, trans, and queer (LGBTQ) people in some countries, many cultures, religions, and political and social groups remain extremely homophobic. Re-contextualization of intimate and sexual details shared within the boundaries of a dating app not only constitutes a violation of privacy, it could expose people to discrimination, abuse, and violence.

In my research with LGBTQ young people, I’ve learned that a lot of them are very skilled at placing information about their sexuality where they want it to be seen and keeping it absent from spaces where it may cause them harm. For my master’s thesis, I interviewed university students about their choices ofwhether or not to come out on Facebook. Many of them were out to a certain degree, posting about pro-LGBTQ political views and displaying their relationships in ways that resonated with friendly audiences but eluded potentially homophobic audiences like coworkers or older adults.

In my PhD, I’ve focused on how same-sex attracted women manage their self-representations across social media. Their practices are not clear-cut since different social media spaces mean different things to users. One interviewee talked about posting selfies with her partner to Facebook for friends and family but not to Instagram where she’s trying to build a network of work and church-related acquaintances. Another woman spoke about cross-posting Vines to friendly LGBTQ audiences on Tumblr but keeping them off of Instagram and Facebook where her acquaintances were likely to pick fights over political issues. Many women talked about frequently receiving negative, discriminatory, and even threatening homophobic messages despite these strategies, highlighting just how important it was for them to be able to curate their self-representations. This once again defies the tendency to designate some sites or pieces of information as ‘public’ and others as ‘private.’ We need to follow users’ lead by respecting the context in which they’ve placed personal information based on their informed judgments about audiences.

Journalists, researchers, and app companies frequently make decisions based on assumptions about dating apps. They assume that since the apps structurally resemble other social media then it’s permissible to carry out similar practices tending toward sharing user-generated information. This goes hand-in-hand with the assumption that if user data is readily available, it can be re-contextualized for other purposes. On dating apps, this assumes (at best) that user data about sexuality will be received neutrally across contexts and at its worst, this data is used without regard for the harm it may cause. There is ample evidence that none of these assumptions hold true when we look at how people create bounded spaces for exchanging intimate information, how users manage their personal information in particular contexts, and how LGBTQ people deal with enduring homophobia and discrimination. While the Daily Beast should not have re-contextualized dating app users’ identifying information in its article, this instance provides an opportunity to dispel these assumptions and change how we design, research, and report about dating apps in order to treat users’ information more ethically.


 [1] Papacharissi, Z., & Gibson, P. L. (2011). Fifteen minutes of privacy: Privacy, sociality and publicity on social network sites. In S. Trepte & L. Reinecke (Eds.), Privacy Online (pp. 75–89). Berlin: Springer.

[2] Nissenbaum, H. (2009). Privacy in context: Technology, policy, and the integrity of social life. Stanford, CA: Standford University Press.

When it’s sunny, it’s heaps sunny!


Had to refresh my memory about Ellen’s style over the years.

Hello from the depths of 3rd year PhD land! This week has been an exciting foray into the past 20 years of lesbian media representation, from k.d. lang to Ellen through to The L Word and contemporary coverage of Kristen Stewart’s ‘gal pals’. It’s no big shock that lesbian TV and movie characters, as well as celebrities, have been ultra-feminized and heterosexualized for male viewers and that characters who challenge gender norms or show genuine same-sex desire tend to be invisible, one-time appearances, or get killed off at the end of the season. Mostly, I’d like to think this is changing. But then I was reminded that the MTV Awards kiss between Madonna and Britney Spears was back in 2003 and, more than a decade later, female celebrities are still kissing each other for ‘shock value’ as they emulate girl-on-girl porn aimed at male audiences. Although it’s true that more celebrities are identifying as fluid or just ‘anything but heterosexual’ and – as they argue – it doesn’t matter who they’re kissing, the fact that same-sex attraction and desire are still continually trivialized because they’re put on display for men (e.g. Britney kissing Rhianna in 2011) really doesn’t do anything to challenge heteronormativity.

Ok, learning time over, it’s officially the weekend! The rest of this post is just a general update because I’ve been missing-in-action in the blogosphere lately. I’ve completed the data collection phase of my PhD, including interviews with Tinder, Vine, and Instagram users during January – March, the calls for which were posted on this website. Talking with people is hands down one my favourite parts of this job, so it was just amazing of interview participants to take an hour of their time to talk about everything from hashtags to selfies. Now I’m knee-deep in data from all three of my mixed methods (interviews, platform analysis, and user content analysis), which I believe is probably a common PhD situation. I discovered MAXQDA for qualitative analysis, which I’ve added in the latest update to my ‘Tools and Resources’ tab, and I’m slogging through making sense of all the text, photos, and media articles (I swear I’m not getting paid by these guys but their software is awesome, you can even code in emoji!).

It’s also been the season for exciting announcements and opportunities! With plans to fly to the U.S. in a couple of weeks, the one that’s most on my mind right now is my upcoming PhD internship with Microsoft Research New England’s Social Media Collective. I’m super excited to be working with the SMC’s researchers on a three-month project about ‘off-label uses’ of mobile apps. Now to hunt down the best coffee places and study alcoves in Cambridge, MA…

I’ll be taking a couple of weeks off during my internship to present at the International Communication Association’s 66th Annual Conference in Fukuoka, Japan. I’ll be presenting some work-in-progress from my analysis of interviews with Instagram users, looking at how they represent their sexual identity. Warning – the presentation has a high cuteness factor because I’m also talking about representations of same-sex couples so there’s a lot of adorable couples’ selfies – d’awww. I’m also on a panel in Journalism Studies about ‘The New Gatekeepers’ of news information. I’ll be talking about Facebook and Twitter to illustrate the role that platforms play in gatekeeping news. The other panelists, who will bring different perspectives, include Elizabeth Dubois and Heather Ford – whom I met back in the day at Oxford and who continue to amaze with their cutting-edge research and methods – and C.W. Anderson who’s been great to work with!

I feel like there must be a way to reverse the saying, “When it rains, it pours” to make it something positive… Especially relevant here in Australia, “when it’s sunny, it’s heaps sunny” (I don’t think I’ll be pitching that to Hallmark anytime soon) might be appropriate since I’ve also had two papers hit the press recently! It’s funny timing, but the first of these is a paper about Tinder that I’ve worked on for two years. In fact, I gave my first PhD conference presentation about it back in 2014. It’s been through the fire: multiple conference presentations, one rejection, two re-writes, and multiple revisions but the whole process has helped to produce something super solid (or at least I think it is, would love to hear your thoughts!): “Dressing up Tinderella: Interrogating authenticity claims on the mobile dating app Tinder” in Information, Communication & Society. 

The second paper is part of a special issue in Social Media + Society called “Me-diated Inter-faces” edited by Katie Warfield, Carolina Cambre, and Crystal Abidin. This batch of papers emerged from our Selfies workshop last summer (Aussie winter) at the Social Media and Society Conference in Toronto. Crystal recently explained the fun and fast-paced process of pulling this together and all the fantastic people involved (her post comes complete with #squadselfies). My paper “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer visibility through selfies: Comparing platform mediators across Ruby Rose’s Instagram and Vine presence” uses examples of Ruby Rose to illustrate how the two platforms frame her selfies and self-shot video differently. This paper was a lot of fun to write and I made a video lecture about it for Katie Warfield’s course “Images of Social Justice” at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, which will be online soon! In the meantime, here’s a radio interview with a Vancouver station where I discuss how selfies can challenge normative notions of gender and sexuality.

I think that pretty much catches us up on the big things! There will surely be more PhD developments – this week’s reading about lesbian representation in the media will give me a good idea about what sorts of representations are being reproduced through social media and what’s new in terms of how same-sex attracted women represent themselves. And I’m definitely looking forward to future adventures in the US and Japan!

2015 Tinder Highlights

While popular media outlets are gathering their ‘highlights of 2015’ stories, I thought I’d share some of the most interesting Tinder developments and articles that I came across this year. They are fascinating (or even bizarre) pieces of data that I came across in attempting to understand the evolution of this popular dating app as we see it today. Some of these developments are important to my thesis in that they highlight the vision and values programmed into Tinder’s design as well as the public’s reaction to Tinder. Others are simply fun to reflect on as we anticipate what could be next in the world of dating and hook-up apps in 2016.

Unless I missed something in the frenzy leading up to my confirmation, the year didn’t pick up for Tinder until March. That’s when the company unveiled it’s profit model, Tinder Plus – a monthly subscription giving premium users access to the Rewind button (to undo a swipe) and a Passport function allowing them to swipe on users in other cities.

Tinder also hired Former eBay executive Chris Payne as CEO in March, replacing former CEO and co-founder Sean Rad who left the position late in 2014 following the company’s sexual harassment lawsuit.

Later in March, Tinder clarified that the introduction of Tinder Plus included the imposition of a swipe limit for non-paying users, declaring that it was “keeping Tinder real” and dissuading users from right swiping without scrutiny.

This didn’t necessarily work, as the BBC reported in April that Tinder was still overrun with spambots pretending to be hot singles.

Media outlets also railed against Tinder Plus’ pricing plan as ageist, since it charged older users higher rates.

April saw Tinder’s first advertisement in the form of Budwiser’s #Whatever Campaign. Though the app previously allowed TV shows and musicians to promote themselves through fake/fictional profiles.

Tinder added a feature allowing users to showcase their Instagram photos in their profiles, providing another social media-vetted outlet for photos (and still prohibiting the use of profile photos not hosted on Facebook or Instagram).

In May, the press picked up on an art project called “Tender” involving the creation of a machine that right swipes profiles with a rotating piece of raw meat.

Tender – It’s how people meat from Marcello Gómez Maureira on Vimeo.

Hillary Duff also released her music video for “Sparks” in May, which included interviews and clips about her Tinder escapades. Later in the month, she released a “fan demanded version” without all of the Tinder talk.

In June, people freaked out about a report from the Rhode Island Department of Health stating that an increase in sexually transmitted infections was due to “high-risk behaviors that have become more common in recent years” including “using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters”. The media interpreted this as: Tinder + other hook-up apps = STIs.

Street Benches

My photo of a sexual health campaign in Los Angeles. 

Trans people spoke out about their experiences on the app this year and the discrimination they experience from having their profiles reported for no reason other than their identification as trans.

In July, Tinder ran the #UltimateCrew contest, giving users a chance to win a spot on a private yacht in Croatia at The Yacht Week, a massive party like schoolies or spring break but created for young professionals.

In August, the media picked up on an influential hashtag created by a Canadian First Nations woman, Jessica Deer. She had been generating social media conversations for a while about racism on Tinder by tweeting the discriminatory remarks she received using the hashtag #shitwhiteguystellme

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsAugust marked a particularly difficult time for the company as Vanity Fair released a long-form piece titled, “Tinder and the dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse'”. The article focused on Tinder’s involvement in New York’s hook-up culture, closing with a quote from a 29-year old guy from Brooklyn: “‘Whereas I would just be sitting at home and playing guitar, now it’s ba-ding’—he makes the chirpy alert sound of a Tinder match—’and … ‘ He pauses, as if disgusted. ‘… I’m fucking.'”

While the Vanity Fair article drew attention in its own right, it entered the spotlight when Tinder reacted by publicly calling out the journalist on Twitter and reacting to the article in a string of more than 30 tweets, throwing what The Verge called a “Twitter fit.”

This was followed by CEO Chis Payne being ousted just 5 months after his appointment and former CEO Sean Rad reclaiming this position.

So it’s no surprise that Tinder has stuck with its #SwipedRight campaign for most of the year, showcasing happy (presumably monogamous) couples who met on Tinder and are in it for the long haul.


In September, Tinder introduced the Super Like feature, allowing users to indicate that they like someone BEFORE that person swipes on them (essentially side-stepping a major design aspect of the app).

In November, an artist matched individuals’ LinkedIn profiles with their Tinder profiles and I think this is wrong on so many levels – I’ve definitely got an ethics in recontextualizing data rant in my brain waiting to be written.

Also in November, Tinder scrapped the Moments feature, which allowed users to display a photo from their phone camera for all their matches to see for 24-hours. While this feature would have been redundant for users exchanging Snapchats or photos in other ways, it was the only means of showing a non-Facebook or Instagram-approved photo.

Tinder’s CEO Sean Rad had a very awkward interview in November, just before Tinder debuted on the stock market, in which he confused the meaning of the word ‘sodomy’ and seemed to make a veiled threat toward the journalist who wrote the Vanity Fair article, Nancy Jo Sales. She responded in an open letter asking him to elaborate.

The app introduced “Smart Profiles” in November, which imports users’ job and education information from Facebook and display it on profiles. The Atlantic described this as a way for “privileged people to date each other.”

And now, in December, Tinder has partnered with Coke in a holiday ad.

Well, I hope this recap gives you an idea of Tinder’s ups and downs over 2015, its interesting reactions to press coverage, and some pretty significant changes to the app throughout the year. There’s already lots to be analyzed about this app’s lifetime to date.

I’ll leave you with a story that I genuinely had some positive feels about. Here’s the widely-reported video of a women receiving news that her girlfriend, whom she met on Tinder, will be her life-saving kidney donor – click the vid for the whole backstory (d’awwww).

Me, myself, and my selfie: Ways of understanding selfies (SMSociety15 Workshop)









I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on the selfies workshop that I had the honour to be a part of yesterday at the Social Media & Society 2015 conference. We had a great turn out for a session we called “Selfies: Inter-faces and ‘me’-diated bodies”, which we packed with 10-minute presentations and interactive questions/brainstorming activities. Katie Warfield kicked us off, explaining that our workshop themes could be positioned within the recent release of two bodies of highly relevant literature:

From this positioning, our workshop presenters addressed a range of subjects, from Crystal Abidin’s research about Instagram microcelebrities balancing commercialization and authenticity in their selfies to Fiona Andreallo’s examination of the photographic vernacular illustrated through the PGUF (Pretty Girls, Ugly Faces) meme. Jocelyn Murtell discussed her interviews with young women about their selfies, identifying ‘the cringe’ as a visceral reaction to photos with ‘too much pout’ – aka the duckface backlash. Then Cristina Miguel showcased her research about users’ decisions to share intimate photos through some social media rather than others and Fiona Whitington-Walsh skyped in to share a forthcoming chapter, co-authored with Katie Warfield, about binary discourses of empowerment or victimization that affect girls’ use of social media. I talked about how to identify aspects of social media apps and platforms that shape the way we present ourselves (paper and streamlined slides here). Lastly, Carolina Cambre wrapped up our session with a reflection on the different ways we can understand and critique self-representations.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js(Not quite a group selfie)

Our workshop participants were phenomenal – getting into the activities, taking pouty selfies and commercial selfies plugging products, and thinking critically about questions, such as how to teach about selfies in the classroom. Thanks to everyone for your engagement, deep thinking, and ideas about how we can consider selfies into the future. If you’re looking to get more connected to selfies research, check out the Selfie Researchers Network and Facebook group!

Strolling, not scrolling: Instagram Walkthrough

My Instagramming usually happens on public transport, after frantically leaving the house with a coffee in hand and a heavy book bag . This means that I tend to Instagram while holding my phone with one hand, scrolling with a free thumb, and constantly scanning my periphery to make sure I don’t miss my stop. My photo browsing happens between bumps and jostles, sometimes leading to unintended hearting and scrolling past masterpieces. My filter selection is rushed, captions are impromptu, and hashtags result from flurries of brainstorming (#wordassociations). I’m guessing these are the usual ‘gramming conditions for a number of users and in the middle of all this, it’s difficult to pay attention to what the app is doing as we engage with its features and the world around us all at once.

Today, as part of my thesis data collection, I took some time to really interrogate Instagram as an app that influences our actions and interactions. Applying a method that I’ve been developing with my supervisors (which you may have heard about at Digcult14 last year as part of our ‘hook-up apps studies’ and can definitely catch some details about at my panel presentation for SMS15 in July), I began conducting a platform walkthrough of Instagram. This method not only looks at the business and governance side of platforms, but also involves a detailed, technical walkthrough of an app – from registration, to everyday use, right up to account deletion and saying, “No, I don’t want to see anymore #sunsets!”

While it’s tempting to think that my daily use of Instagram would be enough to sensitize me to the app’s features, options, and activity flows that influence my ‘gramming, this is quite the opposite. It turns out that with the domestication of this technology into my routines, I all but forget about the social media template framing my content generation and connections with others (see Gehl 2014 for analysis of social media as templates). To highlight how the walkthrough method zooms in on the app’s shaping of user experiences, I just wanted to share one example, focusing on Instagram’s ‘search’ function.

When you tap the magnifying glass to get to the search screen and then tap the search bar, the results are empty before you type anything (unless you have a ‘search history’ – I was using a brand new account so I saw nothing). But then when you begin to type, Instagram provides suggestions of users or hashtags based on the letters you’ve entered. I was particularly baffled by the ‘people’ suggestions after typing the letter ‘a’. For the purpose of the walkthrough, I was only following 5 accounts that Instagram had suggested, so I thought maybe its search suggestions would be for similar accounts or the most followed/popular accounts. The accounts presented in the search do have a lot of followers, but the first one has fewer than the second. The second user, A-Trak, is apparently a Canadian DJ who had a part in that Barbara Streisand song from 2010, and is ‘verified’, so you’d think he would be the top result – maybe. Is there no one more famous, popular, or skilled on Instagram whose name starts with ‘a’? Not so, Akon’s verified account has 2.2m followers, which makes A-Trak’s 213k look tiny. Also, I didn’t connect my account with anything other than my Australian QUT e-mail, so why would it provide me with a Canadian in my top results?

IMG_2978 IMG_2980

Anyways, my questions are endless, but this is just one illustration of how the app shapes the content and people I come into contact with. If I were bored and browsing users one day on the bus, I’m sure I’d be too distracted to wonder why I was seeing certain people over others. This, of course, ties in with the increasing body of research about the opaque and profit-driven algorithms used by platforms, which shape our everyday lives (see van Dijck and Gillespie for much more on this).