Ethnography Beyond and Within Digital Structures and the Study of Social Media Activism

Authored by: Veronica Barassi

The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography

Print publication date:  December  2016
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138940918
eBook ISBN: 9781315673974
Adobe ISBN: 9781317377788

10.4324/9781315673974.ch37

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Abstract

On April 21, 2011, I was carrying out participant observation on one of the mailing lists of the Corsari Collective, an autonomous collective that I had been following for over a year as part of a comparative ethnographic research on social media activism. That day I started following an email exchange between Franz, one of the key members of the group, and other activists. Writing from Lampedusa—where he was organizing actions in solidarity with refugees and migrants arriving to Europe—Franz wanted to know how he could share some videos on Facebook so that everyone in Milan could “witness at a distance.” His simple question initiated a group discussion among the collective as different members were skeptical of his use of Facebook, given the fact that Facebook was a corporate platform, and was going to appropriate the copyright of their videos. Armed with pen and paper to dutifully write my fieldnotes on the piece of digital ethnography I was carrying out, I started to remember all the different instances during my fieldwork in which activists raised similar questions. My fieldwork revealed that, in the study of social media activism, we need to appreciate how activists understand and negotiate with the corporate nature of social media platforms.

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