Japanese Yaoi Fandom Culture and its Vulnerabilities to Australian Child-Abuse and Child Pornography Laws

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This blog will explore the cultural, social and symbolic significance the Japanese Yaoi fandom culture has played for its female audience. I will examine the way in which the difference in cultural normative frameworks between the Japanese culture and western culture renders Yaoi vulnerable to Australian Child-Abuse and Child Pornography Laws. The purpose of this blog is to reveal the ideologies that underpin the extension of these laws to Yaoi and the way in which they work to strategically censor certain forms of expression deemed inappropriate according to socially constructed moral standards. Consequently, Yaoi is deemed as an inappropriate form of expression as it threatens socially constructed conceptions of childhood innocence and asexuality.

Introduction to YAOI (no climax, no point, no meaning)

Since World War II and with the rise of the Internet revolution, Japanese anime (cartoons) and manga (comics) have attracted rapid growth and prosperity through their attainment of national and international recognition. One particular genre of the Japanese art forms, which is quite interesting and significantly popular amongst young women, is YaoiYaoi emerged in the 1980s and  actually focuses on the romantic and homoerotic sexual relationships between young, beautiful boys and men (shock horror to our western standards). Yaoi is more sexually explicit (depicting fellatio and anal intercourse), and is easily accessible throughout Japan, with a primary target of young women and teenage girls. While images of Yaoi may give off the impression that its simply a cartoon version of porn, the truth is that the genre has become an important tool of self-expression and liberation for most young female fans.

However, as you can imagine, Yaoi has been controversial in Western countries for its depictions of young males and underage boys in sexualised contexts. The situation in Western countries is different, as the discourse of ‘what about the children’ permeates pretty much every sector of the society. So such homoerotic narratives are highly segregated and excluded from comic books, which are exclusively regarded as a children’s medium (McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.96).  Such representations are aligned with child abuse material and child pornography, creating the assumption that material like Yaoi, will harm children. Consequently, these fictional representations have attracted legal sanctions and have been the target of censorship in Western countries, particularly in Australia, where such material is expressly prohibited and labeled as ‘child pornography’. According to Mark McLelland (2011, p.467), such legal prohibitions are unjustified as they ‘not only [foreclose] the fantasy lives of young Australian fans, but [they] also [harm] them by aligning them with paedophile networks’ and silencing their self-expression.

Yaoi’s Significance in the Expression of Young Women’s Sexual Culture

Interestingly, Yaoi attracts a large online community consisting of young heterosexual women and girls, who produce, consume and disseminate purely fictional accounts of love and sex between young males. The genre is arguably a feminist enterprise as it emerged in the 1980s ‘as a reaction against the contrived and formulaic heterosexual love stories marketed at a female audience,’ which aimed to condition femininity and the expression 2af87352b32b9a19e39b53dc58aa1db6of female desire (McLelland 2005, p.67). As mainstream entertainment failed — and in my opinion,continues to fail —to adequately serve the sexual interests of women, arguably, women had to resort to Yaoi because they could not enjoy fantasies tailored to their desires if they were expressed through stories grounded in hegemonic codes of masculinist patriarchy. This is because patriarchal norms ‘often [do] not allow girls to comfortably express sexuality such that some adopt Freudian penis-envy’ (Williams 2015) and try to gain access to the ‘phallus’ (Nagaike 2003).

Consequently, Japanese women used Yaoi as a form of empowerment because male homosexuality was symbolically understood to be a beautiful and pure form of romance (Wood 2006, p.395). As Akiko Hori (2013) explains, this is because ‘a fictional romantic relationship between equal partners is much more likely to…be plausible to, female readers and creators if the relationship is between two men.’ If you also notice the characters depicted in Yaoi, they tend to be depicted with androgynous physical features. This is an important stylistic technique in Yaoi as it invites a broader range of readings from the texts and allows women to stimulate and negotiate their own romantic and sexual fantasies that portray more equally grounding relationships. Thus, the exploration of inner sexual desires through male homosexuality allows women to reconfigure and adopt male subjectivities in a safer and more liberating environment, enabling them to develop an independent fantasy life outside the confines of patriarchal limits (McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.99). For example Fujimoto et al (2004, p.87) found that because the sexual encounters only involve men, female Yaoi fans felt ‘freed from the position of always being the ‘done to’, and are able to take on the viewpoint of the ‘doer’” (Fujimoto et al, 2004, p.87). Further, as there is an absence of female bodies, Yaoi makes it safer for women to explore sexual violence that are usually performed with women as targets as a means to undermine them. As Fujimoto et al (2004, p.87) continued, ‘if it is men depicted [in rape scenes], then they cannot get pregnant, lose their virginity, or become unsuited for marriage’. Thus, the removal of the ‘femme avatar’, allows greater freedom of sexual imagination (Camper, unknown), and enables women to distance themselves from ‘their shameless sexual ecstasy’ (Fujimoto et al, 2004, p.87).

Thus, while on the surface Yaoi simply looks like another form of ‘porn material’ through its depiction of sex between young males and minors, Yaoi is in fact, a highly self-critical and transgressive genre, which provides a supportive space to deconstruct and challenge patriarchal normative notions surrounding gender, sexuality and male-female power relations (McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.99). Yaoi opens up a new world dictated by equal social relations, which is foreign to women – even in the 21st century. Such texts are important as they contribute to changing the deeply rooted internalised beliefs, which perpetuate inequality in gender and sexual relations.

Yaoi’s Position in Japan & Australia’s Legal Landscape

Despite its social contribution and its ability to foster a sense of solidarity amongst its young female fans, the foreign cultural origin of Yaoi conflicts with the generalised western anxiety towards the relationship between media and children. While Japan has a more conservative ideological attitude towards gender relations and homosexuality, the nation’s mediascape allows a more fluid and liberal exploration of ideas as it promotes a social and commercial space for queer and feminist stylisation (Williams, 2015).

Nevertheless, Japan’s Criminal Code does criminalise the sale and distribution of ‘obscene material’. In the early 20th century, the objects of censor for ‘obscene material’ adopted a traditional formalistic approach, which prohibited portrayals of adult genitals and pubic hair. As Zanghellini (2009, p.162) explains, this approach ‘created the conditions for the emergence of underage sex and nudity as a theme in erotic manga and anime’ in the 1950s and 1960s. After all, the issue of pubic hair and adult genitalia was not an issue with pre-pubescent children, nor were there any legal sanctions for depicting sexualised representations of children. While the definition of ‘obscene material’ was replaced in the 1980s to broadly include material on the basis of ‘the overall degree of raunchiness and extent of sexual imagery’ (Zanghellini 2009, p.164), the constitutional provision in the Code protecting freedom of expression nevertheless protects material such as Yaoi (Zanghellini 2009, p.160). Thus fictional representations of children —as opposed to actual children— are protected under the Criminal Code.

However, as Michael Lev (1997) claimed, ‘by Western standards, Japan appears unique for condoning public displays of raw sexual imagery and for blurring the lines between adult and child pornography’, with the depictions of youthful male bodies simply being downplayed ‘as an object for the erotic gaze’ (McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.99). This western anxiety of the need to protect childhood innocence and purity is not an old phenomenon. After all, the depiction of young beautiful boys was a prominent feature of classical and Renaissance art. What was once considered beauty and ‘art,’ has now been redefined as ‘child pornography’ and pedophilia by political and social discourses. According to Alan Hunt, the cultural image of the ‘child’ has emerged because ‘risk assessment’ and ‘moral management’ has become a structural feature of late modernity (McLelland 2011, p.469). Now, individuals are expected to be more responsible towards the self and society, and engage in the act of self-moralisation as a means to avoid risk.

As a result of the moralisation of risk, there is ‘a proliferation of…bureaucratic regulation in the everyday world’ and ‘an expansion of the responsibilities that burden citizens in a way that reinforces and even multiplies the regulatory impact’ (Alan Hunt quoted in McLelland 2011, p.469). The need to preserve ‘childhood purity’ is a clear example of this ‘risk anxiety’ and has particularly grown in the age of the Internet and media technologies. As a result of this new breed of social anxiety, the activities surrounding Yaoi fandom is deemed as ‘risky’, which has prompted the Australian government to take stronger measures in ensuring the protection of children from harm.

In Australia, all sexual representations of minors (under the age of 18) in any medium are illegal. For example, under section 91FB of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), ‘child abuse’ material includes material depicting a person who is, or appears to be, a child as a victim of physical abuse or engaged in a sexual pose or activity. It also includes the private parts of a person who is, or appears to be a child. Section 91H of the same Act grounds this definition by making it clear that offending material includes ‘any film, photograph, print or otherwise [the] mak[ing] child abuse material’. Similarly, section 473.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) defines ‘child pornography material’ as material that depicts a person, or a representation of a person, who is, or appears to be, under 18 years of age and who is engaged in or appears to be engaged in sexual activity.

It goes without saying that child abuse is a heinous crime and thus such laws are extremely important. However, unlike other Western countries—such as America and the UK— these are extremely expansive laws, which is problematic. These definitions have created a broad category of ‘child pornography’ as it not only includes material depicting harm to real children, but it also extends the definition to purely fictional representations of characters who are or appear to be under-age in sexual contexts. This includes the mediums of animation, comics, art and text. In fact, in McEwen v Simmons & Anor [2008] NSWSC 1292, the accused was found guilty under s 91H(3) of the Act, for possessing illegal material depicting Bart and Lisa from The Simpsons engaged in sexual interactions. As Justice Adams held at paragraph 41, ‘the word ‘person’ included fictional or imaginary characters and the mere fact that the figure depicted departed from a realistic representation in some respects of a human being did not mean that such a figure was not a ‘person’’. This decision confirms that Yaoi producers and consumers are vulnerable to prosecution, as material expressly or impliedly depicting characters who ‘appear underage’ (which is usually the case in Yaoi) in a sexual context is illegal. Thus  these laws not only target adult pedophiles dealing in representations of actual children, but it also inadvertently criminalises the activities of female Yaoi fans.

While such laws have been justified by governments for minimising the risk of inappropriate tendencies towards children and fuelling child abuse by potential abusers, such justifications are not conclusively supported by empirical research (The Conversation, 2014). This is particularly evident in the context of Yaoi, where there is nothing to suggest that young Yaoi female fans have connections with pedophile networks, or, indeed, that actual pedophiles are interested ‘in these highly scripted and aestheticised accounts of the sexual exploits of beautiful boys’ (McLelland 2011, p.472). Nor are minors objectified in the same manner actual children who are victims to real abuse can be. Thus, considering the youthful nature of Yaoi fans, and the central role it has played in their emotional and sexual development, such laws seem unwarranted. Especially considering it would naturally be expected of young teenagers to explore sexualised representations of characters that share similar ages. It would be more concerning if youth were being exposed to sexualised representations of much older adults.

As a result, these laws could be more harmful as they unfairly silence adolescents and deprive them of freely exploring and expressing their transgressive sexual fantasies in a secure, safe and supportive environment. Sexual fantasy and explorations of gender expression is completely normal and crucial to development of sexual identities for adolescents. Despite the normalcy of such activities, Australian law continues to prevent any form of sexual imagination for adolescents. As Judith Levine (quoted in McLelland & Yoo 2007, p.35) writes, according to the law, ‘young people have no legitimate claim to sexual expression, desires, or identities’. Instead, such paternalistic laws dictate the correct forms of intimate relationships we are allowed to keep, and when we are allowed to enjoy them. Furthermore, negatively associating young Yaoi fans with pedophilia and criminal activity —when no actual person is harmed —further perpetuates this harm, and alienates them by stigmatising their innocent conduct. Thus, while Australian policymakers have used such laws to protect children, they are inadvertently harming adolescents.

Furthermore, the stylised artistic nature of the two-dimensional Yaoi visual representations reflect how there is no intention by consumers and producers to depict actual children and represent reality. As Mark McLelland (2011, p.474) has identified, it is precisely the lack of relationship between the online sexual fantasy spaces and their offline everyday sexual interests that fans describe as liberating. In fact, such fantasies serve as ‘idealised self-images’ as they are mere symbolic extensions of the consumers and producers’ own identities. Ueno Chizuko goes further to describe the symbolic representation of beautiful boys as a ‘third sex’, as they are neither male nor female (McLelland 2005, p.21). The figurative transitory nature of Yaoi characters means that they have fluid symbolic identities, enabling them to adapt and apply to a diverse range of appropriations by women with a range of sexual orientations. Thus, Yaoi characters cannot be understood as ‘children’, ’male’ or ‘homosexual’; instead they represent a third gender, which is disconnected from the activities of actual male homosexuals or depictions of real children (McLelland 2005, p.21). However, despite such important functions of Yaoi, it is clear that Australia’s draconian laws reflect the government’s inability to understand and engage with such symbolic creative expressions and interpretations.

Conclusion

In closing, this discussion demonstrates the way in which Yaoi provides an empowering platform for young females to safely express their transgressive sexual desires, outside the confines of patriarchal discourse. It is clear that such laws are unjustified as there is no demonstrable relationship between the production and consumption of Yaoi, and harm to actual children. Instead, these laws simply criminalise a fandom culture and silence young females, which is more harmful. While many freedom of speech advocates maintain that such laws are a form of censorship, unfortunately, in Australia, we do not have rights protecting freedom of speech. Thus there is no recourse for Australians to challenge the legitimacy of these laws.

The only way such laws can be changed is through a change in social morals, attitudes and beliefs. However, even this seems too difficult in the context of Yaoi manga and anime for two main reasons: Firstly, mainstream public is ignorant to the symbolic functions genres such as Yaoi play for adolescents and; secondly, the western moralising discourse towards the need to protect the image of the ‘child’ has become so pervasive, that it has codified these beliefs into law and ideology, preventing any form of discussion or negotiation about the creative expression and symbolic interpretations of such representations. Thus, even if representations of child nudity are made purely in the name of art, social norms and homogenised moral discourses rob such representations of having artistic merit. However, hopefully, policy makers will recognise that such laws have no utility, and silencing adolescents may be counterintuitive and more harmful.

Reference List

Camper C, ‘Yaoi 101: Girls Love “Boy’s Love”, Wessesley Centers for Women, viewed 20 October 2016, < http://www.wcwonline.org/WRB-Issues/298&gt;

Crimes Act 1900 (NSW)

Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth)

Fujimoto et al, Y 2004, ‘Transgender: Female Hermaphrodites and Male Androgynes’, U.S. — Japan Women’s Journal, no.27, pp.76-117.

Hori, A 2013, ‘on the response (or lack thereof) of Japanese fans to criticism that yaoi is antigay discrimination’, Transformative Works & Cultures, 2013, vol. 12.

Lev, M 1997, ‘In Japan, Schoolgirls Accepted as Porn Objects’, Chicago Tribune, 16 February, viewed 20 October 2016, < http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1997-02- 16/news/9702160361_1_lewd-sailor-moon-human-sexuality>

McEwen v Simmons & Anor [2008] NSWSC 1292

McLelland, M 2005, ‘The World of Yaoi: The Internet, Censorship and the Global “Boys’ Love” Fandom’, The Australian Feminist Law Journal, vol.23, pp.61-77.

McLelland, M 2011, ‘Australia’s ‘child-abuse material’ legislation, internet regulation and the juridification of the imagination’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol.15, no.5, pp.467-483.

McLelland, M & Yoo, S 2007, ‘The International Yaoi Boys’ Love Fandom and the Regulation of Virtual Child Pornography: The Implications of Current Legislation’, Sexuality Research and Social Policy: Journal of NSRC, vol.4, no.1, pp.93-104.

Mizoguchi, A 2003, ‘Male-male romance by and for women in Japan: A history and the sub genres of yaoi fictions’, U.S. — Japan Women’s Journal, no.25, pp.49-75.

Nagaike, K 2003, ‘Perverse sexualities, perverse desires: Representations of female fantasies and yaoi manga as pornography directed at women’, U.S. — Japan Women’s  Journal, no.25, pp.76-103.

The Conversation, ‘When a drawing or cartoon image can land you in jail’, The Conversation, 27 October, viewed 21 October 2016, <https://theconversation.com/when-a-drawing-or-cartoon-image-can-land-you-in-jail-33418&gt;

Williams, A 2015, ‘Rethinking Yaoi on the Regional and Global Scale’, Intersections: Gender & Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, 37.

Wood, A 2006, ‘“Straight” Women, Queer Texts: Boy-Love Manga and the Rise of a Global Counterpublic’, Women’s Studies Quarterly, vol.34, no.1/2, pp.394-414.

Zanghellini, A 2009, ‘Underage Sex and Romance in Japanese Homoerotic Manga and Anime’, Social and Legal Studies, vol 8, no.2, pp.159-177.

Zanghellini, A 2009, ‘Boys love’ in anime and manga: Japanese subculture production and its end users’, Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, vol.23, No.3, pp.279-294.

The Internet of Things

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The concept, “The Internet of Things” refers to the connection of devices with the internet. This can include pretty much any device – whether it’s your mobile phone, watch, washing machine, coffee maker or television, all these devices have the ability to talk to each other and be connected to the internet. Even smart homes exist now! In fact, there are currently more than 10 billion internet-connected devices and this number will keep rising. Sounds pretty crazy when you consider more than half the world’s population still is not connected to the internet yet our devices are.

Connecting devices online can have a number of benefits, the obvious benefit being that it simply makes life easy. For example, just imagine you have forgotten to turn the lights off at home but you’ve already left for work. Well, it’s no problem when you can easily switch them off through the tap of your phone. Or imagine your alarm clock goes off and notifies your coffee maker to start making coffee. Or what if television sends you a text to remind you that your favourite T.V. Show is about to come on. The possibilities are endless! In fact, my parents recently bought a ‘Smart fridge’, and I must say, it’s pretty smart. It has the ability to send my mum a notification when we are running low on any vegetables or fruits. So it’s quite handy in that sense.

However, while this sounds great and incredibly convenient, imagine the vulnerabilities you also expose yourself to if your entire life is pretty much “connected”. If you think about, if everything is connected, then it can also mean that everything can be easily hacked. As Rachel Arndt describes this dystopian situation:

“The hacked toilet’s lid could be opened and closed remotely, or its bidet function suddenly turned on, leading to “discomfort or distress to user”. The unsecure refrigerator allows hackers into the same network as a person’s computer, which they used to send spam.”

In fact, such hacks have already occurred – in late 2013 and early 2014, hackers got into smart TVs, one refrigerator and routers to send out spam. This is pretty scary as it leaves us more vulnerable and exposed to cyber-attacks on our personal lives. I mean, imagine if someone hacked into your smart home? This could potentially open a new wave of “breaking and entering”.
So while mobilising our devices through the same digital network provides great convenience and efficiency, it is also important to note that it can expose us to greater vulnerabilities. The more online and digitally connected you become, the greater the risk someone can easily tap into your network. As we become more digitally connected, it is important to be vigilant with our security to prevent, or at least minimise the risk of such hacks.

 

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Cyber-Warfare: ISIS vs Anonymous

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Cyber-Warfare refers to the politically motivated actions by a nation-state or international organisation to launch an attack with the intention of damaging or destructing information networks of another nation or group. As Simon Tisdall writes, cyber-warfare “typically involves the use of illegal exploitation methods on the internet, corruption or disruption of computer networks and software, hacking, computer forensics, and espionage.” It’s basically a cyber-battle over the internet, with the aim of destroying each side’s digital network and infrastructure.

One of the most recent examples of cyber warfare was when hacktivist group, Anonymous declared a war on the Islamic State. Following the terrorist attack on Paris in November 2015, Anonymous declared “war in Isis” by claiming that it would “launch the biggest operation ever against” it. Initially, the attacks started with shutting down the social media (such as Twitter) accounts and websites belonging to Islamic State leaders and those who support ISIS. For example, Anonymous reportedly removed more than 5500 Twitter accounts linked to Islamic State. Such action is helpful because ISIS supporters rely on social media and the internet to spread their messages and recruit more people. However, it has also been argued that this action can undermine and interfere with the work of authorities’ who are trying to combat ISIS. Nevertheless, in December 2015,  Anonymous claimed that through its efforts, it had managed to stop an ISIS attack in Italy. As you can imagine, the Islamic State has hit back claiming that it would strike back. So there you go, looks like World War III is on it’s way on the Internet.

While Anonymous’ attack on the Islamic State can be viewed as a positive because its aiming to curb terrorist attacks which affect millions of people, it should nevertheless be noted that cyber-warfare can also be a threat to society, if it’s done with the intention of harming people. As Simon Tisdall writes:

“Cyber-warfare attacks on military infrastructure, government and communications systems, and financial markets pose a rapidly growing but little understood threat to international security and could become a decisive weapon of choice in future conflicts between states.”

Thus cyber-warfare can be good and bad depending on who launches the attack and with what intention they launch the attack.

 

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Hacktivism – Cyber Criminals or Political Activists?

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 We now live in an age where our digital network typography is characterised as a distributed network whereby each individual – as an individual node in the system – has the power consume, produce, subvert and disrupt the network. This is what hacktivists such as Anonymous, Wikileaks and Lulz Security essentially do – they subvert, disrupt and hack into networks by gaining unauthorised information as a means to promote social and political aims. This is because hacktivists follow basic liberal principles that:

  • information should be free
  • there should be no secrets
  • There should be no authoritarian regimes

Due to their sophisticated ability to hack into systems which supposedly have the tightest security, these Hacktivism groups have collected an extensive amount of information about international corporations and governments. For example, in 2010, Wikileaks released a 2007 classified US military video depicting US soldiers indiscriminately killing and wounding a dozen of people -including children – in the Baghdad.

 

 

As you can imagine, corporations and governments aren’t happy about this as highly classified information can easily compromise their position and reputation. But is this necessarily a bad thing?
Well, the good think about Hacktivism is that it can help disclose the incriminating truths and secrets of government bodies and corporations. While organisations try to hide information from the public, hacktivists are able to tell the public the truth and hold government bodies and corporations to account. However, the downfall of hacktivism that it can threaten national security and breakdown international relations. Thus depending on how Hactivism is used and in what context, it can be positive, but it can also lead to negative implications.

 

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The Power of Hashtag Activism Transforming the Discourse on Domestic Violence

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With more than two women dying per week as a result of an intimate partner or family member, there is no doubt that domestic violence is an epidemic in Australia. This social issue has received significant media attention – whether it be through news media or or social media, the issue of domestic violence receives wide scope coverage. However, the scope and quality of coverage by different media mediums has had a significant impact on the way in which domestic violence is perceived and understood. In particular, news media has a crucial role in transmitting and shaping social norms and belief as well as ‘inform[ing] the perpetration of this violence, shap[ing] victims’ responses to victimisation, and influenc[ing] community responses to violence against women (McGregor 2010, p.15). However, studies have found that Australian news media fail to report incidents of domestic violence in an accurate manner, which can negatively undermine the experiences of victims. In contrast, social media has emerged as a platform for citizens and domestic violence victims to engage in Hashtag Activism as a means to challenge social beliefs perpetuated by traditional media and spread the awareness about the gravity of the issue. In this way, social media is a platform on which citizens can subvert the gender inequalities news media perpetuates through its news coverage.

Studies (Our Watch, 2015; Morgan, J & Politoff, V 2012; Carlyle, Slater and Chakroff, 2008) have identified a number of negative characteristics in the way in which news organisations report domestic violence and contribute to misconceived notions about the issue. These include:

  • ‘Events-based’ News Reporting: News reports on domestic violence primarily focus on individual incidents located at specific places and times and fail to provide statistics and expert analysis to address the extent of this social problem. Such coverage falsely gives the impression that domestic violence is not real crime; instead, it is an individual, private responsibility as opposed to a social responsibility, and thus does not warrant State intervention.
  • Misrepresenting the Realities of Domestic Violence: Majority of news reports on domestic violence do not specify if there was a current or pre-existing relationship between the perpetrator and victim and thus  fail to present the violence within the context of intimate partner violence. This gives women a false sense of security as it wrongly perpetuates the view that the greatest threat for women comes from strangers.
  • ‘Murder-centric’ focus: News media usually report on homicide between intimate partners as opposed to other forms of violence against women. This is problematic because it ignores the fact that domestic violence includes ongoing physical and psychological abuse.
  • Use of Language which Indirectly Alters Blame and Responsibility: News reports on domestic violence shift the culpability from male perpetrators to female victims by providing unnecessary background details of the victim’s sexual life, use of drugs or alcohol, which portray victims as reckless and partially or entirely responsible for the transgressions committed against them.

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Social Media & Hashtag Activism

As a means to spread awareness of domestic violence and challenge the assumptions and beliefs perpetuated by news media, many activists and victims of domestic violence have taken to social media and participated in the culture of Hashtag Activism. Hashtag Activism unfolds through Twitter and has become a powerful tactic for fighting gender inequities around the world (Clark 2016). Such online activism empowers citizens to share their stories and detail the realities of domestic violence which news media seems to hide. In the past two years, a number of hashtags have emerged as a means to change the discourse surrounding domestic violence. These include: #stoptheviolence; #WhyIStayed; #seethesigns, #PutANailOnIt and #MaybeHeDoesntHitYou.

The hashtag, #WhyIStayed appeared in September 2014 after footage emerged of NFL player, Ray Rice, physically assaulting his wife, Janay Palmer. While the footage shocked the world, news organisations criticised Janay Palmer’s character and questioned why she would stay in an abusive relationship. Fox News Presenter, Brian Kilmeade insensitively said that women who stay with abusive partners send a “terrible message” to other people. This was problematic as it shifted culpability upon Janay for the actions of her husband. In response to such concerns, Beverley Gooden, an author, activist and a victim of domestic violence, started the #WhyIStayed hashtag to encourage women to share their experiences and help others understand the complicated nature of such abusive relationships and why they felt they were unable to leave. Following Goodnen’s tweet, the Twittersphere witnessed more than ninety thousand tweets using the hashtag in one day (Clark 2016). The aggregative and collective force of the #WhyIStayed hashtag spread greater awareness about the realities of domestic violence and how it can entail psychological abuse. Thus victims were empowered to provide a counter-discourse and collectively critique mainstream media coverage of domestic violence and its victim blaming narratives by sharing their own experiences of domestic violence and rerouting dominant news media discourse away from victims’ behaviour, towards the actions of perpetrators (Clark 2016).

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Furthermore, unlike traditional news media which dictates the news agenda, social media enables the mobilisation of diverse groups from across the globe into one online space, ensuring participation is active and equal. Hashtag Activism has provided an online space for groups who are silenced in domestic violence coverage. For example, Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of domestic violence than women in the rest of the community. Yet such incidents receive little coverage (Gilchrist 2010) as traditional news media shapes our understanding of who can be a domestic violence victim and abuser. However, while news media bodies have a tendency to ignore domestic violence committed on Indigenous women, women of different ethnical backgrounds, sex workers and queer groups, Hashtag Activism provides greater understanding on the issue and gives these women a voice to share their powerful stories.

In fact, the #WhyIStayed hashtag gained such momentum that it changed mainstream discourse in the offline world and led to positive action. Mainstream news media took notice of the hashtag and amplified it to the masses by adopting a framework that supported victims and depicted a more accurate representation of the realities of domestic violence. Even the NFL partnered with No More, a domestic violence awareness campaign, to produce a series of public service announcements aired during football game broadcasts (Clark 2016). Furthermore, following the online movement, there was a significant increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines and state-funded programs across America in September 2014 (Clark 2016). In fact, one woman told Beverley Gooden that upon reading the collective experiences of other women, she too, felt empowered to leave her abusive partner. Thus the individual stories were connected together through the hashtag to create an empowering narrative about domestic violence, which produced collective action (Clark 2016).

Thus Hashtag Activism has a discursive and subversive power which is vital to changing the misconceptions traditional news coverage perpetuates about domestic violence. The #WhyIStayed movement demonstrates how social media provides an empowering platform for people from across the globe to bypass the traditional oppressive narratives asserted by news media organisations, and reclaim agency over the production of their own stories (Clarke 2016).

Reference List

Carlyle, K, Slater, M & Chakroff, J 2008, ‘Newspaper Coverage of Intimate Partner Violence: Skewing Representations of Risk’, Journal of Communication, vol. 58, no.1, pp.168-186.

Clark, R 2016, “Hope in a Hashtag: The Discursive Activism of #WhyIStayed”, Feminist Media Studies, vol.16, no.5, pp.788-804.

Cohan, C 2014, “#WhyIStayed: Twitter Hashtag Highlights Real Reasons Women Stay with Violent Partners”, The Telegraph, 10 September, viewed on, 1 September 2016 <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11087329/WhyIStayed-Twitter-hashtag-highlights-real-reasons-women-stay-with-violent-partners.html&gt;.

Gilchrist, K 2010, ‘“Newsworthy” Victims?’, Feminist Media Studies, vol.10, no.4, pp.373-390.

McGregor, K 2010, National Survey on Community Attitudes to Violence Against Women 2009: Changing Cultures, Changing Attitudes – Preventing Violence Against Women, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.

Morgan, J & Politoff, V 2012, Victorian Print Media Coverage of Violence Against Women — A Longitudinal Study, Victorian Health Promotion Foundation, Melbourne.

The Conversation 2016, ‘FactCheck Q&A: are Indigenous women 34-80 times more likely than average to experience violence?, The Conversation, July 4, viewed 17 August 2016, <https://theconversation.com/factcheck-qanda-are-indigenous-women-34-80-times-more-likely-than-average-to-experience-violence-61809>.

NPR 2014, “Hashtag Activism in 2014: Tweeting ‘Why I Stayed’”, NRP, 23 December, viewed 1 September 2016, <http://www.npr.org/2014/12/23/372729058/hashtag-activism-in-2014-tweeting-why-i-stayed>

Our Watch 2015, ‘Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety to Reduce Violence against Women & their Children’, Report, November, viewed 17 August 2016, < https://www.ourwatch.org.au/getmedia/339a9055-16fb-4d57-8cb3-3d2a2f9c5fa1/Media-representations-of-violence-against-women-state-knowledge-paper.pdf.aspx>.

Osborne-Crowley, L 2015, “Two Women are Now Killed by Domestic Violence Every Week. The Time for Discussion is Over. It’s Time to Act”, Womens Agenda, 19 February, viewed 3 September 2016, <http://www.womensagenda.com.au/talking-about/top-stories/item/5319-two-women-are-now-killed-by-domestic-violence-every-week-the-time-for-discussion-is-over-it-s-time-to-act>.

From Centralised Media Networks to Distributed Media Networks: Citizen Journalism

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New is a product of journalistic routines and standardised procedures of selectivity. In other words, news is a privileged ‘packaged story’ which is largely driven by the values and beliefs the media wishes to present. This makes media organisations to be quite power in the social, economic and political spheres as they have the ability to dictate and define what news is. However, such pursuits prove to be more dangerous when that consolidated power is only shared by the top few media proprietors. The centralisation of media ownership threatens freedom of expression and limits a diverse public discussion on relevant issues. As Elizabeth Hart claims, it damages ‘the quality and depth of national and international media’ (Hart 2011, p.400). This clearly reflects the current age of Murdochracy, with giant media mogul, Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited controlling 70 percent of metropolitan newspapers and 23 percent of the regional dailies (Hart 2011, p.406). Such ownership and control reflects the way in which legacy media relies on a traditional centralised network, whereby communication is restricted to a one-dimensional model in which legacy media broadcasts the message to a passive audience.

However, thanks to internet, information technologies and our smartphones, the network typology is quickly shifting from a centralised one, to a distributed one in which individuals are no longer passive consumers of news and content, now, they have become active prosumers who contribute to the creation and distribution of news and content. This is because the internet allows mass decentralised communication. In particular, social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Reddit empowers ordinary cropped-03-social-media-management87773citizens to contribute, share and aggregate news. Through these platforms we can easily share photos, messages and videos across the internet, allowing users all around the world to access and engage with such content. Thus the advances in digital technology and the growth of the internet have empowered a new era of citizen journalism. This means that we now live in a participatory culture where ordinary citizens are also contributors to the community through self-expressed user-generated content. Essentially, we can dictate what is important.

Furthermore, not only can we produce news, we can also produce it instantly to the masses online without the constraints of time and space which legacy media has traditionally been confined to. In fact, in many instances, we are able to make the news before traditional news broadcasters can even get to it. This is clearly evident with social media platform, Twitter. As Gina Horton (2013) writes “Twitter is a key player, and the list of news stories that break on Twitter before they do on mainstream media is staggering”. As she notes, the death of Whitney Houston was reported on Twitter one hour before mainstream traditional news media picked up on it. Similarly, users in the Twittersphere were the first to hear about the death of OsamaBin Laden, one day before Barack Obama announced it to the world.

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Another classic example of Citizen Journalism at play was when a 13-year old girl filmed two young women assaulting and abusing an elderly man. The amateur footage was later handed in to the police and was also posted on YouTube which circulated across social media sites.  Channel 9 aired the Footage on a Thursday night and by the next morning, the names of the young women were circulating on social media. Members of the public also called the police and by late Friday afternoon, both women handed themselves in to the police. This one example demonstrates the way in which the combination of the mobile phone and social media has made it harder for offenders to escape liability.

In fact, traditional news broadcasters have also recognised the changing patterns and have thus embraced this participatory culture. For example,151111150033-ireport-share-graphic-red-overlay-tease after the activity of citizen journalists during the 2004 tsunami and the 2005 London Bombings, in 2006 CNN launched its iReport Initiative which allows people from across the globe to share and publish stories, pictures, videos and breaking news in one space. This demonstrates the way in which CNN relies on individuals (who were once passive consumers) to share news stories.

Thus the smartphone and the internet have revolutionised the way in which audiences now engage and participate in the reporting and distribution of news. The media landscape has dramatically shifted from a centralised media network of production to a distributed production, aggregation and curation of information flows. Now, news is no longer restricted to the gatekeeping mode of information and production utilised by legacy media. Essentially, such technologies have led to an innovation in journalism: now, ordinary citizens have the power to share news instantaneously at the tip of their fingertips.  As Kate Bulkley reported many agree that such technological developments have added a richer dimension to current affairs.

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References:

Bochenski, N, Calligeros M, 2014, ‘Gold Coast bus attack: two women leave elderly man ‘upset and shaken’, Brisbane Times, 28 February, viewed 20 September 2016 <http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/gold-coast-bus-attack-two-women-leave-elderly-man-upset-and-shaken-20140228-33pyl.html>. 

Bulkley, K, 2012, ‘The Rise of Citizen Journalism’, The Guardian, 11 June, viewed 20th September 2016 < http://www.theguardian.com/media/2012/jun/11/rise-of-citizen-journalism>. 

CNN, ‘CNN iReport’, CNN iReport, viewed 20 September 2016 < http://ireport.cnn.com/>

Hart, E 2011, ‘Case study 6: media ownership’, in J Bainbridge, N Goc & L Tynan (eds.),Media and Journalism : New Approaches to Theory and Practice, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne, Victoria, pp400-408.

Horton, G 2013, ‘What is Citizen Journalism and How Does it Influence News?’, Brandwatch, 18 September, viewed 20 September 2016, <https://www.brandwatch.com/2013/09/what-is-citizen-journalism-and-how-does-it-influence-news/&gt;.

Apple vs Android

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Hmm Apple or Android? This is a common difficult choice many individuals face on a daily basis! However, as an avid Android user myself, the answer to this question seems pretty clear to me. In my opinion, my Android phone is better looking and has better functions. Of course, there is me being quite superficial and bias towards the Android phone. Moving beyond the surface, the inherent differences between the Android phone and iPhone all comes down to their open vs close softwares.

The Android system is a more open, generative and user-friendly platform which gives users more freedom to change and modify its operating system. For example, Android can be used on different phones i.e. HTC, Samsung, Sony etc. Furthermore, on my Samsung s 6, I can download whatever apps I want on my phone. Similarly, I can install different programs to modify my keypad or change the way I use my phone. Consequently, I have full control of what content I create, how I create it and overall, how I use my phone.

In contrast, the IOS system features a digitally exclusive yet restricted and locked environment. This can essentially be seen by the fact that IOS only runs on the iPhone. Thus everything about the way individuals interact with the iPhone is deliberately tethered to Apple. For example, the centralised App Store is a monopoly point for users: it is the only way users can access content. This reflects Apple’s “walled garden” approach of providing its users with a more consistent, focused and protective user experience at the expense of flexibility and innovation. Indeed, some people may prefer this stable and consistent user experience as the centralised software is more accessible and easy to navigate around. For example, Apple users can easily sync their phones, ipads and laptops which allows their content to be centralised.

Nevertheless, with the popularity of Android phones rising at rapid rates, it seems people prefer having their freedom rather than being restricted by a “walled-garden” approach. In fact, it seems Apple is beginning to realise the benefits of allowing greater freedom and access to their operating systems as in June 2016, the company announced that it would open up some of its platforms (i.e. Maps, Siri and Messages) to other software developers, “marking another step away from holding a vice-like grip on how people should experience the iPhone.” As an Android user myself, I do appreciate the greater flexibility i’m allowed on my phone. I feel as if I have more options and I can truly cater the phone to my own needs. So perhaps Apple taking this strategic move isn’t so much of a bad idea and will boost their sales even more.

 

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