This blog post was part of the coursework for the Ethnographic Practicum course, “Ethnography of the University 2020: Focus on Knowledge.” It was originally posted in the category “Online Communities.”
While I was doing research for my ethnography I found myself actively engaging in people’s story activities. On Instagram, stories can have interactive elements such as polls, Q&A’s, quizzes, and sliding scales. Even when I didn’t have a strong opinion on the matter at hand, it was so easy to voice my opinion that I almost always did so. I decided to put this to the test for myself, using my personal Instagram and my online social group as test subjects.
Inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine I used my Instagram stories as a forum for public debate on the use of a dragon decal. Through the open debate, I had a great time discussing with my friends the cultural significance of mythological creatures, and the impact of cultural appropriation in tattoo culture. I was surprised at the willingness of my peers to interact with this debate, with many replying to my polls and Q&A questions with lengthy discussion, as displayed in the attached images. My peers and I were able to grapple with complex questions of race, identity, and culture, through a seemingly vapid medium. The casual style of conversation also made it easier for others to engage as well.
Through my research I have seen the sentiment repeated that online activism can be a useful tool, utilizing the high levels of engagement encouraged by social media apps to churn positive outcomes. I found that the semi-anonymity and the low-level commitment made it much easier for people to engage with me. Most of those who participated in my open forum were people I hadn’t really spoken to much before.
Following my experiment in public social media debate, as well as my research in social media activism, I have been finding it more tempting to engage with people online that I follow but don’t have a relationship with. It is surprisingly easy to respond to people’s political views when they post them on their own stories, and it is even easier to have an open discussion when I already have the bare minimum of a social link through mutual following on Instagram.