A Comparison of Popular Song Lyrics Using Voyant

Comparison of Lyrics in Popular Song

This small study compares common themes in two collections of popular songs chosen by two groups of participants in community music groups in Ireland. The two groups for the purpose of this comparison are :

  • Group A: residents at a nursing home in Kerry aged 70 plus and all Irish by birth
  • Group B: A mixed age & ethnicity adult education group attending a community education course at a community centre in Cork city.

Both groups worked over a period of weeks with a community music facilitator developing skills in singing together as a group. Over the duration of the course the groups selected favourite songs to sing as their repertoire. There was no pre-selection by the facilitator and the participants suggested ideas for songs from their own repertoires and backgrounds.

The purpose of the analysis in this blog is to examine these songs using a text analysis tool Voyant ,in order to see whether themes emerge from each song collection and to draw conclusions based on that information. Do the themes emerging from the two groups overlap or correlate? Does this give some insight into the commonest themes in popular song in Ireland or in popular song generally?

Each group came up with a ‘songbook’ of selected songs. In order to examine the findings it is useful to interrogate each separately and then to make comparisons. Group A’s songbook was made up of the following songs, largely traditional ballads:

GALWAY BAY

MY LOVELY ROSE OF CLARE

RED IS THE ROSE

COUNTRY ROADS

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING

KATE’S SONG

THE HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN

WHISKY IN THE JAR

WILL YOU GO, LASSIE, GO

TOORA LOORA LOORA

SALLY GARDENS

BLUE MOON

ALWAYS ON MY MIND

YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE

OH SUSANNA

DIRTY OLD TOWN

THE MOUNTAINS OF MOURNE

THE CLIFFS OF DOONEEN

WHEN I’M SIXTY FOUR

THE STAR OF THE COUNTY DOWN

THE SHORES OF AMERIKAY

SPANCIL HILL

CLARE TO HERE

NORA

COME FROM THE HEART

When the text from these songs was entered into Voyant the following word cloud result emerged:

This illustrates that the four most frequently occurring words are: chorus, love, oh and old. Already this gives some insight into common themes of the song and even into song form as it is clear that choruses occur frequently, a characteristic that might be expected in Irish songs designed for joining in and ‘sing-along’. However if we are to concentrate on themes rather than form, then the word ‘chorus’ must be eliminated and Voyant instructed to treat it as a stop-word.

This yields the following result, available as an interactive view by clicking here  or on the image below

 

Now the most frequently occurring words are: love (27), I’m (21), old (19), oh (18), it’s (17). It is usual in text analysis to ignore pronouns but in this case it gives a useful insight. It can be assumed from this information that most of the songs in this corpus are sung from a first person perspective and that thematically they are nostalgic and romantic in nature, indicated by the references to ‘love’ and ‘old’.

As far as trends go the raw frequencies of these individual words – or tokens as they are called in text analysis – throw up some interesting information in the line graph above. Although there are clear peaks in the document where certain words are more dominant due to their prominence in individual songs such as ‘old’ in Dirty Old Town, there does appear to be a reasonably consistent occurrence of the top words throughout the songbook. This can be examined further by taking a look at relative frequencies. The word ‘loved ‘ has been included as it is a frequently occurring one (13 times) and linked to ‘love’ of course. The graph below shows that there is some trend of occurrence throughout the document even if it is not that consistent. Certainly ‘love’ is a re-occurring theme, which comes as no big surprise.

 

So if we draw from this analysis that the important themes occurring in songs chosen by the nursing home group are love and nostalgia, how does this compare with the songs chosen by Group B, a more mixed age and ethnic group?

The songs chosen by Group B are:

BOTH SIDES NOW – JONI MITCHELL

IMAGINE- JOHN LENNON

ANNIE’S SONG – JOHN DENVER

HAPPY – PHARELL WILLIAMS

THE HEART MUST GO ON – CELINE DION

SALLY GARDENS

RED IS THE ROSE

SOMEONE LIKE YOU – ADELE

MAKE YOU FEEL MY LOVE – BOB DYLAN/ADELE

THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC – ABBA

Already we can see that there is a much higher incidence of contemporary music (1970’s to present) than in the previous sample group and only two traditional songs : Sally Gardens and Red is the Rose , both of which were also chosen by Group A. It is also clear that the two corpus are of different lengths which is why it is important to pay attention to relative frequency as opposed to raw, the latter giving the total number of occurrences of a word. What else can text analysis tell us about emergent themes in this second corpus?

Below is an interactive representation of the Voyant Analysis which allows the user to search different tokens and view findings accordingly. A full screen and therefore more user friendly interactive view can be reached by clicking here:

By using the search panel on the Reader section of this report it is possible to quickly see the distribution of a word’s occurrence. The word shows up highlighted in the text as well as in a line graph below. From this we ascertain that the song ‘Happy’ contains many examples of that same title word as well as the word ‘clap’ and so it makes sense to exclude these from the search and include them as  stop words to avoid  skewing the resulting word count frequency.

‘Like’ is  also removed as it is usually used as a comparison or within metaphor. Having assessed the frequent words, it is helpful to pick ‘love’ and ‘feel’ and represent them in the graph as they appear to be the dominant ones throughout the document.

Does this text analysis offer any insight into these song themes? Love and feelings are always going to be dominant themes in popular song and so in a sense the analysis merely backs up what we already know. The fact that ‘old’ appears throughout Group A’s songbook – even allowing for the peak around Dirty Old Town- does tell us something about the nostalgic style of these more traditional songs compared to more recent songs. Both groups threw up ‘I’m’ as a high frequency word, which would indicate that most of the songs from both groups are written from a first person perspective. That offers an interesting pointer for investigating a larger corpus to see if most popular songs are indeed written as first person narrative. Casual observation would guess that they are. Does this then make it easier for people to identify with the singer/ writer and is this why people select these songs above third person narrative?

Voyant certainly offers many opportunities as a starting point for analysing textual data and in this case helps to not only discover and validate information about themes but also about song form and perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mapping for Good: Reflections on Crowdsourcing & Humanitarian Open Mapping

Introduction

 In this post I give a brief insight into Crowdsourcing as it is used in the Digital Humanities and also describe my experience of using three open source, crowd-sourced mapping tools:

 Crowdsourcing in Digital Humanities

In her blog post on Crowdsourcing and Community Engagement Alicia Peaker quotes Enrique Estelles-Arolas and Fernando Gonzales-Ladron-de-Guevara’s definition of crowdsourcing:

“A type of participative online activity in which an individual, an institution, a nonprofit organization, or company proposes to a group of individuals of varying knowledge, heterogeneity, and number, via a flexible open call, the voluntary undertaking of a task.”(Crowdsourcing and Community Engagement)

This definition provides a fairly accurate description of the projects I recently contributed to as I experimented and explored some crowdsourced activities and open mapping for humanitarian causes.

Peaker remarks onhow enthusiastically public audiences respond to a well-defined project to which they can contribute through an expertly designed interface’, so my question when approaching the tasks was to see to what extent these are well designed interfaces and to what extent my response, as a new user, can be measured in terms of enthusiasm.

In the blog post Digital Humanities and Crowdsourcing: An Exploration from the Museums on the Web conference 2013 , the authors identify two main types of Crowdsourcing projects. Open Mapping falls under ‘Crowdsourcing projects that require the “crowd” to integrate/enrich/reconfigure existing institutional resources’ as opposed to ‘create/contribute novel resources’. The activity required of the crowd is ‘locating’, i.e. ‘placing given objects in physical space….. and providing information on locations’ (Digital Humanities and Crowdsourcing).

What exactly is Open  Mapping ?

 Open mapping is the use of open sourced street maps that allow contributors to interact with the map in a number of ways. This varies according to the mapping project and application but in Open Street Map for example a new unschooled citizen cartographer such as myself can edit features on the map, re-naming places and streets and adding and verifying new features according to local knowledge. In this way I was able to edit the map of my local area of Cork city, Sundays Well , renaming Daly’s Bridge to its colloquial name “The Shakey Bridge”,adding in the location of a lifebuoy and updating the name of a local restaurant as well as adding my favourite local café to the map.

OSM User Experience

As a complete newcomer to open street mapping I found this to be quite an empowering,fun and potentially addictive activity. Up until a few weeks ago I was not aware that there were any alternatives to Google Maps and the democratisation and non commercial ethos of open source, crowd sourced mapping appeals to me. I have always been fascinated by maps and the possibilities they present in terms of what features we may choose to display as well as the concept of deep mapping –  a way of integrating many layers of information – is one to which open street mapping can open a door.

However, I was surprised at the speed at which the changes I made took effect. On the one hand it was frustrating that they did not appear instantly and that there was no pop-up window confirming I had actually succeeded in making an edit. On the other hand when I checked 24 hours later the changes were in place and this too surprised me in that no further verification was required.Genuine local knowledge is not a pre-requisite for participation. The system is therefore trust based and therefore open to abuse. The mischievous side of me is tempted to enter some false information inorder to test how long it would be before it were corrected. I wonder how many regular users there are of OSM and how much traffic to the site.There is an optional system of validation – the user can opt for this – and on the map of Cork City Centre there are numerous queries for features requiring verification. I responded to one by verifying the location of the DH lab – a query that was set 7 years ago!

HOT OSM

Humanitarian Open Street Maps is open to users registered on OSM. Its stated purpose is in times of crisis or disaster, to use the community of mappers on a voluntary basis in order to ‘create, online, the maps that enable responders to reach those in need’.

It operates using some of the attributes described by Peaker such as ‘simple, repeatable tasks’ and the best practice of making ‘clear what each participant adds to the project and why each participant matters to the project as a whole.’ It also offers a way of ‘connecting participants to each other through forums, collaborative tasks’ (Crowdsourcing and Community Engagement).

HOT OSM User Experience

It wasn’t that simple to find my way to the HOTOSM site or navigate to the start. You need to go to ‘Task Manager’. Once in , I chose to map at Beginner level a project of high priority that had already been 65% mapped and therefore had a higher chance of overall completion in my opinion. I realised quickly that it was important that I could align with the ethics of a project before participating in the mapping and so I chose the “Female Genital Mutilation ‘ campaign by the Tanzania Development Trust , Sawida District.

I also realised it was important to me that the mapping project offered some prospect of success in terms of completion. This project had a helpful Youtube video explaining what I had to do : map buildings and roads. It looked straight forward enough.

 

What I wasn’t prepared for was how hard it would be and how long it would take me to complete a tile.The size of the tile was daunting for a beginner and although it was clumsy and laborious at first and I did find it a good way to slow down. With practice I got faster but after an hour and a half I still had not mapped all the buildings or even begun on the roads.

It required intense concentration and at all times I was acutely aware that these were real people’s homes and this made me concerned that I was performing the task incorrectly. I felt enormously responsible and anxious that if I didn’t get it right or if I missed somewhere that someone who needed assistance might literally ‘fall off the map’. This anxiety and a certain amount of guilt – I didn’t want to give up on people just because I could – compelled me to continue for longer than I might have for a non-humanitarian project but ultimately I couldn’t finish the tile. I never did get as far as mapping the roads and hope that a more skilled mapper will finish it off.

MapSwipe

 MapSwipe is an app for mobile phone or tablet and is not dissimilar to HOTOSM in that its purpose is to map areas for Humanitarian aid and Development. After a brief tutorial you get offered an area to map and are presented with a series of tiles to map, marking according to what you see and then swipe to move on.

Map Swipe User Experience

This was the first mapping application I tried and I was immediately confronted with questions to myself around ethics and personal values when deciding which project to choose. I opted for a project to eliminate malaria in Angola that required the mapping of buildings. However I found the

pictures on the Tutorial to be quite poor quality and there were so many instructions that it was tempting to give up before I’d even started. I think this was largely due to the frustratingly small size of the interface I was using – a mobile phone. This is much too small for a mapping project and when I looked at it on a friend’s tablet it was much clearer. On the phone it was hard to get a context and I couldn’t see anything properly. I was constantly squinting at poor quality photographs of bush land.

What was irritating is that I kept being presented with tiles of similar landscape despite constantly swiping because I couldn’t identify anything. There seemed to be no way of opting for an alternative section of map.

The app has a gamification element but it appeared meaningless because I got to level 3 without identifying anything, only swiping.

I got very frustrated with this app but due to the humanitarian aspect, the real or at least perceived value of the activity I persisted, determined to find a building ! ( I never did find one).

Reflection

I enjoyed this exploration into open source mapping and humanitarian mapping. I definitely won’t be using MapSwipe again but OSM and HOTOSM have opened up a whole new world, a world I can be part of mapping if I choose. I value the contribution it is possible for an individual to make both to their locality and towards humanitarian responses.Despite my initial enthusiasm I can’t see this becoming a regular pastime of mine but I could see myself participating in communal real time ‘mapathons’ alongside others, in the same room as well as linked up across the globe. That would give me an increased sense of purpose and connectivity as well as the reassurance of progression and task completion.

References

Crowdsourcing and Community Engagement. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2015/10/crowdsourcing-and-community-engagement.Accessed 15 Feb. 2018.

Digital Humanities and Crowdsourcing: An Exploration | MW2013: Museums and the Web 2013. https://mw2013.museumsandtheweb.com/paper/digital-humanities-and-crowdsourcing-an-exploration-4/. Accessed 15 Feb. 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cost of Free

 

Recently I attended a music festival. A free music festival. The same free music festival my friends and I have enjoyed over the past few years, wandering from stage to stage and taking our pick of the fine music on offer. At least that was how it was until last year when it had become so popular that it was almost impossible to get in to hear any of the bands – let alone see them – due to the huge numbers of people attending. This year the festival – sponsored by a major company – required online registration in advance in order to attend these free events. With my radar for data privacy finely tuned as a digital humanist I bristled at this requirement but nonetheless dutifully handed over my name and email address in exchange for a wristband. So was this an exercise in crowd control, a way of measuring numbers of fans attending the festival or a way of extracting valuable personal data from me the client to pass on to the festival and sponsor?

There’s nothing particularly novel or surprising about this. It’s something that every single one of us does every single day; we hand over our personal data in exchange for free. Its what Dr Alex Krotoski describes in her fascinating documentary (Cost-of-Free – The Virtual Revolution -The Cost of Free – Documentary). It is normal for more or less every activity we undertake online, whether its buying train tickets, listening to music or paying a bill, to require the divulging of our name and email address at the very least. And how convenient it is if we can login via Facebook or Google Plus without having to remember another pesky password. In this way those companies can gain access to our friends lists, public profile and more. How many people bother to edit the permissions required for using these apps? Even if they do there will always be an information exchange required. And most of us do it willingly, accepting it as a trade off for access to the free web. As such, says Krotoski we are “ complicit in the deal for free”.

According to her the apparently free Internet has turned consumers into a commodity. “Consumers are becoming the consumed”.

Google is one of the richest and most powerful companies in the world. To google is now a verb, an activity we undertake billions of times every day. Google benefits from our use by gathering vast tracts of personal data about us whilst apparently giving us everything for free. This allows them – and other companies – to sell us advertising that is directly targeted at us based on our behaviour, interests, social interactions and personal data.

It’s questionable as to whether people even care. On casual observation, many seem to accept this as just how society is now and Krotoski asks, “Are we sleepwalking into surveillance?” There is an expectation that we are being watched, a tacit comfort in disclosure in the public sphere, a complacent and naïve trust in online security despite frequent hacks and data thefts. How many people were even surprised at Edward Snowden’s revelations about government surveillance of emails and instant messaging ? Who feels unsettled by listening device innovations like Siri and Alexis?

Everyone seems to accept that once something is on the internet it stays there forever even if you think you’ve deleted it. This is exactly where it can come back to haunt us as we have no control over how our data will be used in the future. Not only are our youthful indiscretions preserved indefinitely but there are shocking cases in history of data collected for one purpose being used for another. Dana Boyd cites the example of how the data on religion that was collected in the Netherlands prior to World War 2 was used by the Nazis to locate Jewish people.

It appears that the cost of free could be quite a high one, albeit one we seem happy enough to pay.

Reference

Cost-of-Free – The Virtual Revolution -The Cost of Free – Documentary. https://cost-of-free.wikispaces.com/The+Virtual+Revolution+-The+Cost+of+Free+-+Documentary. Accessed 5 Dec. 2017.

 

Digital Humanities- what’s that?

I’m  at the end of the first semester of my MA in Digital Arts and Humanities at UCC so it seems like a good time to sit back and reflect on what I’m doing here, where its going and what exactly Digital Humanities is. Much time seems to be spent in a debate about this and whilst debate keeps things vibrant it can become a bit exasperating  at times to be working in such an all encompassing field. The title Digital Humanist seems to mean different things to different people.

The fundamental concept is about connecting the Arts and Humanities with Technology. Its also about how we use technology and how technology uses us, about making best use of digital tools for humanities based projects and asking questions about this very process. Its about transformation, democratisation, activism. It begs for definition and at the same time rejects it. The Digital Humanities Manifesto is a frustrating and confusing document with multiple contributors that challenges our conventional way of reading and defining. Whilst being limited in its design – it appears very amateurish , like desk top publishing from the nineties – its refusal to conform to a standard is beginning to make more sense to me the longer I engage with DH.

Can DH really be all things to all people? According to a useful blog I came across by Dr. Amanda Visconti, who writes under the  pseudonym Literature Geek the answer to the question ‘Am I DH? ‘ is simply : ‘Yes, if you want to be.’ Her clear and interesting  post ‘What, where and how of Digital Humanities’ helped me to move towards some kind of definition of DH.

Word diagram which reads :What is DH? Research, Teaching & Learning about history, the arts (the humanities) in digital ways ( building & using software, websites, datsets..) & humanities thinking applied to the digital , all in the context of community and values
‘What is DH?’ slide taken from Literature Geek blog post

Over the last few weeks there have been some lightbulb moments, like the announcement in one of our lectures that creativity is fundamental to DH and fresh opinion is valued; Bloom’s taxonomy of learning is turned on its head and Create rather than Remember becomes the guiding principle of teaching and learning.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Turned on its Head

Another one was waking up to the concept of accessibility in the digital sphere. As an able bodied person I have often considered the issue of access from a buildings perspective but never thought about what I could put in place on myn own website or digital contributions to make my site more universally acceptable. As it happens, embracing a form of universal design and installing a simple word press plug-in WP Accessibility , can kickstart this process quickly. I’m trying it out on this site and now have side toolbar toggles that can alter the text size and background , as well as skip-lines and prompts that remind me to write in Alt text for images. I’m awake to ideas about how I might present my material differently and am considering whether there is a way I could present song in a form that can be enjoyed by deaf people.

The scope of possibility for transformation and activism through DH is another area that interests me , even simply the potential to link up easily with those working on similar or complementary projects. It is inspiring to find that we can link under a banner such as #TransformDH or that I will continue to discover banners, groupings and hashtags that are relevant to my work such as #soundingthefeminists and #theworldislistening.

I have been exposed to a dizzying array of  ideas , projects and themes that constitute Digital Humanities. What has jumped out ?

On reflection  I  realise that I have already learnt a lot about what DH is -what I’ve referred to here only scratches the surface. I am now in a position to appreciate the freedom of not being confined or constrained by rigid definitions  and to enjoy a sense of possibility and expansion within and without this discipline.

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Songwriting Women Part 1 : Ciara O’Flynn

I’m hosting a weekly radio show on Thursdays at 12pm on  UCC Campus Radio 98.3fm . I’ll be shining the light on women and songwriting and in particular on some local Cork women’s voices. Here’s the first of my interviews with Ciara O’Flynn from the band Pinhole.

Ciara reminisces about  growing up around the Cork contemporary  music scene and reflects on her influences and chosen playlist which includes Sheela na Gig by PJ Harvey and Cathy Davey’s Snitch. She talks about her songwriting process and themes and we get a pre-listen of some brand new songs from the band’s upcoming album . The show kicks off on a different theme as I play a few jazz numbers inspired by the recent Cork jazz festival.

She’s looking a bit nervous here but you’d never know it from the interview.
Songwriter Ciara O'Flynn looking a little cheeky and nervous as she cosies up to the microphone in the studio at Campus Radio
Singer-songwriter Ciara O’Flynn

Why don’t you ? Time Well Spent & Switching Tack in Silicon Valley

When I was a kid there was a programme on tv called Why Don’t you ? , the catchphrase being: “Why don’t you just switch off your televison set and go and do something less boring instead ? ”

A great idea from some well meaning  and morally motivated producers in the BBC, but did it work ? Not in my experience , because even then in its now laughably infant form , television was addictive and parents would despair at the long hours their children languished in front of them. They lamented their declining literacy skills. As Willy Wonka said in Charlie in The Chocolate Factory ” What did children do before television? They used to read ! ”

So plus ca change and plus la meme chose we might say . Perhaps, except in those days in the 198o’s television was only broadcast at certain times of day. It was limited in its availability : there was a nine o’clock watershed , a cut off at midnight and nothing except soccer, snooker and cricket on Saturday afternoons. Guess what ? I used to close the curtains on sunny afternoons and watch cricket and snooker. I drew the line at soccer.

We now live in a world where stimulation through our multiple devices is unlimited its availability. that is ‘switched on’ and connected all the time . A world where we are permanently distracted and perpetually overloaded with information and seduced by advertising. Most adults find it difficult to control our addiction so how can we expect this of our children? The impact on social relationships and family communication is evident, without any study to prove it.  So I was interested to read this week about something of a counter revolution taking place in Silicon Valley led by some of the creators of highly addictive and popular smartphone and social media  features : the ‘pull to refresh mechanism’ and the  Facebook ‘like’ button.

A number of high achieving technological innovators now turned ‘refusenik’ were interviewed in The Guardian article : Our minds can be hijacked: the tech insiders who fear a smartphone dystopia  

Essentially some of these men are experiencing a disaffection with the addictive power of smartphones and feedback loops such as the ‘like ‘ button, so much so that they are disconnecting from the internet, attempting to limit their own 24 hour access – even using other apps to do so. Some even regret their own inventions. Tech industry critic and former Google employee Tristan Harris compares the pull to refresh mechanism to a slot machine:’Each time you’re swiping down …….You don’t know what’s coming next. Sometimes its a beautiful photo. Sometimes its just an ad’. Loren Brichter who invented the feature regrets the way he is constantly distracted from his family by the allure of his smartphone and wonders whether ‘anything I’ve done has made a  net positive impact on society or humanity at all’. He wouldn’t be the first person to regret his invention. Einstein apparently regretted his part in the creation of the atom bomb.

According to the  website of the advocacy group Time Well Spent  that Harris set up with former fellow Google employee James Williams: ‘In the Attention Economy, technology and media are designed to maximize our screen time. ‘ It isn’t surprising that they also claim that ‘ Advertising-fueled technology platforms are caught in a race to grab our attention.’ but this is not making us happier or improving our wellbeing . What Time Well Spent is seeking to do is to persuade designers to use technology differently, in order to enhance our lives.They offer a challenge and practical design solutions as to how technology can be redesigned to put our best interests first. They also identify insights and apps that allow each of us to make choices about how and when we use our devices. Its a little like Why Don’t You ?

 

Feminist Hashtivism in Ireland – DAH Colloquium Review

UCCDAH Research Colloquium Review October 2017

Dr Abigail Keating: Feminist Hashtivism & The Irish Context

Hashtivism (hashtag activism) is a relatively new social media phenomenon that has grown in prevalence over the last number of years to the extent that the hashtag is now a ubiquitous and recognisable symbol even to those who do not engage with social media. Hashtagging has entered our every day lexicon and hashtivism has demonstrated its power to mobilise people into action, from its early use in The Occupy Movement to the Repeal the 8th hashtag which is now according to Dr Abigail Keating, the second most frequently used hashtag in Ireland.

On Wednesday, October 11th, Dr Keating was the guest speaker in the DAH Active Learning Space at UCC and presented a fascinating overview of her research into feminist hashtivism in the Irish context. Coming from a film and media studies background Keating has a particular interest in pop culture participation and specifically in issues of control, representation and autonomy of women across screen media and in particular in the digital arena. She asserts that hashtivism allows new opportunities of representation for women and new ways to voice concerns that are at the heart of the feminist movement. This at the same time that according to her, many other more traditional modes of communication have been closed off to women.

She traces the trajectory of the social media activist movement from the Arab Spring to the rise of the use of the hashtag in the Occupy movement and that movement’s global reach, through Black Lives Matter and then to the crucial impact it had in the Irish context during the marriage referendum with #MarRef and #hometovote. Irish hashtivism is following international trends and Keating sees the use of the hashtag as a democratisation of the digital space, citing Henry Jenkins blog about the Occupy movement:

She refers to the power of transmedia use of the hashtag as it moves beyond its own platform. By journalists picking up on hashtag threads, those who are not directly engaged with the conversation on social media are still likely aware of particular hashtags and their message as they are reproduced through other forms of more traditional media. This to some extent counterbalances some demographic disadvantages of the hashtag in terms of its generational and social impact. Most users of Twitter are women under 40.

Dr Keating maintains that the hashtag is an indicator of a grassroots movement although she acknowledges its extensive use by corporate interests and advertising. Again echoing Jenkins she describes how no one person owns the movement and this can both benefit and damage it as the hashtag is adopted by counter views and trolls. That said an advantage of this openness is the possibility for online dialogue between opposing viewpoints.

What Dr Keating presents is more an informative and interesting overview of her research and less a critical argument. According to her, hashtag activism provides a more democratic opportunity for the representation and autonomy of women and feminist issues. This occurs at the same time that, according to her, many other more traditional modes of communication have been closed off to women, although she does not elaborate on why she believes this to be so. Given though that women are the primary users of social media, it makes sense that feminist hashtivism has become so well used.

Soon after this talk the #Metoo hashtag exploded on Twitter in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations, providing a current live example of feminist hashtivism. Since this hashtag went viral Twitter reports more than 1.7 million men and women have used it in 85 countries as well as millions more on Facebook.

And yet, to what extent does this kind of activism create real and lasting social change? Is it just a ‘me too’ copy cat medium that makes me part of the social media club? Do I as a woman want to closely identify with the social media influencers to who I am most aligned and is this just a trendy quick and easy way to express solidarity without actually having to do anything except check my phone?

The wider media is responding and the cartoons below are from The Nib, an online comics journal. Questions are being raised, such as how appropriate it is for women who have experienced trauma through sexual abuse or harassment to explore this in such a public domain and without in depth explanation or support. Is there now huge pressure on women to come forward and tell their stories? What if I don’t want to be part of #MeToo, #Repealthe8th or whatever the current campaign is and how long before it is replaced in the headlines by the next viral hashtag? Will it all be forgotten and I and all the others left with the private repercussions of exposing my story?

Debate is healthy and one thing is without doubt: hashtags both initiate and revive debate at a speed or participatory level that could never have been imagined just a few years ago. As to how profound their impact will be over time, we shall have to wait and see.