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Voice, Static, and Silence on Tumblr

Sun, May 27, 9:30 to 10:45, Hilton Old Town, M, Chopin

Session Submission Type: Panel

Abstract

In popular discourse Tumblr is known as the “internet’s home of nerdy people and gorgeous photos” (Literally, Darling, 2013), and in marketing discourse as a platform favored by fashion bloggers and creative workers, social justice and queer communities, fandoms and those interested in sexually explicit content. Tumblr is a micro-blogging platform that was launched in 2007, and ten years later it hosts 374.6 million blogs and has 368 million active users (Tumblr, 2017). This means it is more popular than Twitter, Snapchat, Baidu and LinkedIn, yet it remains fairly under-researched.

This panel brings together five international scholars (Denmark/Estonia, the United Kingdom, Sweden/Australia, and North America) at various stages of their careers, who have long held an interest in Tumblr, despite its baffling academic marginalization. All four presentations explore how Tumblr’s architecture, perceived affordances and user cultures give voice to or silence certain groups of people. Relying on analyses of Tumblr content, platform architecture, ethnographic materials created with a community of users, expert interviews and press content, we ask: who is being heard, who feels silenced, which voices are prioritized by the platform, and who is profiting from it? Our analyses are situated in the history of Tumblr’s content filtering, flagging and promoting rules and the changes in its architecture. Both of these stem from Tumblr’s search for a profit model (being acquired by Yahoo on 2013, and Yahoo being acquired by Verizon in 2017 being key moments) but have an impact on the features that give or silence certain voices, and on what different groups and communities perceive the platform to be ‘for’.

The first presentation analyzes experiences of long time Tumblr users who feel their participation has given them a critical, questioning voice and maps a three-pronged explanation as to why Tumblr is experienced as voice-giving. The second presentation analyzes the subtle evasive practices that pro-eating disorder bloggers use to work around Tumblr’s rules, which they experience as silencing and stigmatizing. The third presentation analyzes Tumblr’s new Fandometrics ranking system, which amplifies the voice of its loudest fandoms, thus encouraging social jostling and ushering fandoms toward the increasingly widespread, consumerist data-capitalism and fetishization of quantification. The fourth presentation analyzes Tumblr’s architecture in relation to celebritizing and monetizing affordances, to find who is being heard the loudest on Tumblr, and whether they are profiting from it.

References

Clarke, A. (2003). Situational analysis: Grounded theory mapping after the postmodern turn. Symbolic Interaction. 26(4). 553-576.
Gillespie, T. (2015). Platforms intervene. Social Media + Society. 1-2. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305115580479.

Literally, Darling. (2013, 12 July). Tumblr: social media for the socially awkward. [Online]. Availavle at: http://www.literallydarling.com/blog/2013/07/12/tumblr-social-media-for-the-socially-awkward/.

Tumblr. (2017). About. [Online]. Available at: https://www.tumblr.com/about.

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