“As the Existentialists argued, my life-choices mean something to me, in large part, because I have chosen them as my own. And so too, my Facebook means something to me” (Wittkower, 2010, p. xxiii).
For many people (approximately 800 million people), Facebook is the hub of the internet experience. It is a central location where you can check up on a friend’s status, see what’s happening in current events, watch funny videos, share your favorite music, and read an interesting blog your sister shared on her wall. It’s your entire online life in one place. So it’s no wonder that businesses and organizations are using Facebook to promote their brand.
Once you “like” the Facebook page of an organization, whatever the organization posts will show up in your newsfeed, which is the very first thing you see when you log into Facebook. An organization’s information popping up in your newsfeed is great, but your newsfeed is full of information. So how do the organizations catch your attention? Well, that’s where multimedia comes in.
Beside the blurred out faces and names (it felt wrong to post the names of my Facebook friends), what catches your attention first?
If you look at a screenshot from my newsfeed above, what do you notice first? What catches your attention? It’s the photos. The multimedia stands out among a barrage of status updates about how much a girl you knew back in middle school loves her husband.
Popping up among the hundreds, possibly thousands, of status updates and wall posts a day, multimedia catches your attention. And very cleverly, the multimedia that pops up in your newsfeed is usually just a teaser – a still from a video, two photos from an album, a photo and a headline from a news story – that invites you to delve deeper.
The Sierra Club is one page that has excellently used multimedia to attract people to their page and their environmental cause. They have over 140,000 “likes” and their content is shared broadly and discussed in depth on their Facebook page. While browsing through their multimedia content, one video really popped out at me. Watch it below.
This video is short, entertaining, and its message is clear – the coal industry uses propaganda to keep itself in business. Regarding propaganda, Daniel Boorstin, in his essay on pseudo-events in America, says:
“Propaganda is an appealing falsehood… Propaganda substitutes opinion for facts… Propaganda moves [people] directly by explicitly making judgments for them… Propaganda oversimplifies experience” (Boorstin, 1977, 34-35).
Through a multimedia video posted to Facebook, The Sierra Club exposes the coal industry’s use of propaganda, telling the American public flat out lies to make a buck. The coal industry lies, relies on opinions, and omits facts. (Interestingly enough, you could consider the Mr. Coal video an example of propaganda as well. It doesn’t explore the full issue and simply throws out accusations.)
The video itself is impressive, but what I find most impressive is the dialogue that it spurred. Take a look at a screenshot I took of some Facebook comments on the video.
Screenshot of some conversation around The Sierra Club's video.
Some people comment how much they loved the video, some people get into a discussion about coal and jobs, and some people even admonish The Sierra Club for putting out this piece of propaganda. If this video had been played as a commercial on network television, there would be no dialogue among viewers. Because of Facebook, viewers of the video can comment back to The Sierra Club and create their own conversations among each other.
“Facebook is a key example of [the convergence of personal communication with public media], of a blurring of the lines between one-to-one and mass communication” (Meikle, 2012, p. 14).
That quote from Meikle in his chapter in Facebook and Philosophy: What’s on Your Mind? really gets to the bottom of why an organization posting multimedia to Facebook is so important. Instead of simply throwing messages at a viewer, organizations encourage feedback from their audience.
Another organization using multimedia on Facebook to prompt discussion is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Take a look at the video EPA posted to their Facebook page.
This video is actively trying to start discussion, to “expand the conversation.” One problem though, I think, is that EPA is encouraging the discussion to take place outside of Facebook on an Ideascale site. I think partly because of this, the discussion on EPA’s Facebook is much more shallow.
Discussion around EPA's video.
The conversation around EPA’s video is brief and is mostly “Nice video.” The Facebook user Sina Borzooei tried to spark a discussion by posing a question to a previous user’s statement, but nothing came of it. I believe the discussion would have been richer if EPA had fully used Facebook and encouraged conversation on their page instead of redirecting to an external website (the Ideascale doesn’t have very much discussion on it either). But still, EPA is trying to embrace the fact that Facebook changes the way the way people interact with media. It’s no longer good enough to put your message out there – you need people to take it, respond to it, and spread it.
Before the advent of social media, EPA and The Sierra Club would have shown these videos during a commercial spot on network television. They would have simply thrown their environmental messages at the viewers with no way to interact with the viewers, or for the viewers to interact with other viewers. But with Facebook and other social media, the viewers’ messages and the environmental organizations’ messages converge (you could even call what is created out of this convergence a collective narrative!). The viewers can comment back to The Sierra Club and EPA. And even more astonishing is that the people can create their own content around the organizations’ posts.
These viewers are creating their own content. They are starting dialogues with other viewers. They are brought into the media and are invited to share their ideas.
Facebook uesrs are not just consumers of media – they are creators of media.
Without the creation of content by the users, Facebook would not exist. Facebook relies on user content, and The Sierra Club and EPA are encouraging users to create content around their own content. EPA is even asking for more than just comments. For Earth Day, EPA asked users to share a photo of a personal “Earth Day moment.” EPA shared user submissions on their blog (though not on their Facebook, which is a missed opportunity).
EPA asks for photos from Facebook users.
This creation of content by the users of Facebook, and Facebook’s uselessness without the users’ creation, gets right back to one of our very first readings. In Is There Love in the Telematic Embrace?, Roy Ascott says:
“Telematic networking makes explicit in its technology and protocols what is implicit in all aesthetic experience where that experience is seen as being as much creative in the act of the viewer’s perception as it is in the act of the artist’s production” (Ascott, 2001, p. 308).
Facebook, a form of (or perhaps “a part of”) telematic networking, makes it clear that the creation of content is in the hands of the user because without the user’s content creation, there would be nothing. Facebook is the platform, the canvas, on which millions upon millions of users can create content. Users may post status updates, photos, comments. Environmental organizations like The Sierra Club and EPA may post videos and photo competitions to get users involved and invested in their cause. Everyone is continuously creating content, and every piece of content created only creates more content!
It’s really amazing to think about how much Facebook has changed the face of communication and culture. I never really thought too much about this incredibly extensive network of millions of people, all contributing to one big work. It’s a bit mind boggling, so I’d like to wrap up with another quote from Ascott that puts it much more eloquently than I ever could:
“Telematic culture means, in short, that we do not think, see, or feel in isolation. Creativity is shared, authorship is distributed, but not in a way that denies the individual her authenticity or power of self-creation, as rather crude models of collectivity might have done in the past. On the contrary, telematic culture amplifies the individual’s capacity for creative thought and action, for more vivid and intense experience, for more informed perception, by enabling her to participate in the production of global vision through networked interaction with other minds, other sensibilities, other sensing and thinking systems across the planet” – (Ascott, 2001, p. 312).