It’s Britney, Bitch: Commentary on Distortion in Spears’s Use of Social Media

THE IDEA

As someone who at times seems to only exist on Twitter, I’m fascinated by the ways in which people use the platform to craft their own narratives. But I also love the off-the-beaten-path accounts – bots, parodies, and what I like to call commentary.

I spend a lot of time looking at this third type, namely through examples of @WillMcAvoyACN and @SwiftOnSecurity. I stand by my point that these are not parody accounts. In the latter, as much as they’re prenteding to be Taylor Swift, they’re not going through the daily motions or documenting on her activities. Instead, it’s almost like she was dropped in an alternative dimension – same music, same image, but just talking about tech security instead of herself. Taylor’s persona, which was much more present at the beginning of the account than it is now, served as a gimmick to interest people in the content. McAvoy is a bit different – it’s a fictional persona – but it still prioritizes content over defined character. In his interactions with fans as well as real-life reporters, McAvoy serves as a commentary of journalism by playing through the persona as well as commenting on its usage to hold people accountable for the things they say.

So, as I wrote on Slack:

Inspired by the Twitter account SwiftOnSecurity, I’m looking to build a Twitter profile that engages/raises awareness around a keyword, but doing so through a persona that challenges or distorts the messages being presented. How does this observational view of a topic – one that a persona may have a reasonable stake in – change the ways in which we understand the topic? And in what ways do the tools available on Twitter – GIFs, photos, hashtags, polls, locations – distort or shape the ways in which we understand the project? Thinking around questions from Chun and Parise, why do we invest in this information even when the likelihood of the person behind it false? In what ways does this allow us to imagine the persona and the issues complexly? Can we explore these complexities in a project like this? In what ways do we see a persona like SwiftOnSecurity highlighting or hiding the relationship? Ideally, I’ll be looking at both my construction and reception by an audience (depending on what kind of audience is generated) to talk about how distortion functions in this environment.

 

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Saving Face: Distorting my Internet Performance of Gender and Class

Usually, I use social media to project what I perceive to be a sunnier version of my existence. My existence is of course informed by my lived experience with regard to race, gender, and class. I am a light-skinned Mexican-American female graduate student who grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles. In many ways, I have been privileged and continue to be relatively privileged, if not financially then through the accumulation of cultural capital. This is an undeniable part of my story.

Another part of my story is the pervasive mental illness, substance abuse, and legacy of trauma in my family, reflective of generations of poverty and oppression. My parents’ upbringing was very different than mine. In trying to circumvent the circumstances they were born into, my parents consciously and deliberately modeled the choices they saw their college classmates making. Watching my parents observe what middle class people did (drive old Volvos, go camping, watch foreign movies), I learned how to adapt to to new systems of social values.

Recently, I had been thinking about class and gender performativity on social networking. I knew that I spent more time than I would like to think trying to post reasonably and responsibly: moderately, with infrequent selfies and a sort of overall wry tone. I attributed this as both an adherence to the middle-class value of simulating modesty by not drawing attention to one’s self and one born out of my experience as a woman, not wanting to burden people. I was interested in observing how middle class conventions or habits translate between digital and non-digital contexts and seeing what happened if I distorted my own Internet persona.

I decided to use Snapchat and Instagram to disrupt the narrative of my Instagram. My plan was to take selfies using some of the flashier Snapchat filters, like the flower crown or the dog, and then post these photos on Instagram over the course of a day or a week. I wanted to both subvert class expectations and reclaim these filters, sometimes pejoratively referred to as “hoe filters.” I was interested in seeing what, if any, reaction it generated, but even more to reveal the distortion that already existed in my Internet persona. It’s not like I never posted selfies, but they were edited to give the impression of minimal distortion.

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