That ambivalent space

Been thinking a lot about group chats on WhatsApp and the like. The ambivalence of those little pockets of space.

— “To put it another way, “a meme is never just a meme,” in the words of Phillips and Milner (2017, italics added) with reference to Harvard’s decision to rescind admission offers from ten prospective students for having posted rape-apologist, pe­dophilic, and violently racist memes on Facebook. A May 2018 court ruling in India, ob­serving that forwarding a social media post is equal to endorsing it, also echoes the point that content sharing is a speech act in its own right (Ashok, 2018).” (Lee & Scott-Baumann, 2020)

Exeter university students suspended over racism and rape claims (BBC, 20 March 2018).

University of Warwick suspends 11 students over hate posts (BBC, 9 May 2018).

Spycams, sex abuse and scandal: #MeToo reaches Korean pop (Justin McCurry, The Guardian, 22 March 2019)

Inside the secret border patrol Facebook group where agents joke about migrant deaths and post sexist memes (A. C. Thompson, Pro Publica, 1 July 2019)

German state suspends 29 police officers in far-right online chat group (DW, 16 September 2020)

Scottish police officers lose disciplinary fight over racist messages (Severin Carrell, The Guardian, 16 September 2020)

WhatsApp Vigilantes: An exploration of citizen reception and circulation of WhatsApp misinformation linked to mob violence in India (Shakuntala Banaji & Ram Bhat, Media@LSE, 11 November 2019)

Facebook’s role in the genocide in Myanmar: New reporting complicates the narrative (Evelyn Douek, Lawfare, 22 October 2018)

Hate speech on Facebook is pushing Ethiopia dangerously close to a genocide (David Gilbert, Vice, 14 September 2020)

Sliding boundaries [2]

Not a School: Using Tech for Good with Samsung

Been alerted to a new suite of online courses from FutureLearn and Samsung aimed at 18 to 25-year-olds.

  • Turn climate anxiety into positive action
  • Solving inequality in education
  • Respect our differences online
  • Building human connection in a digital world

🤔 #신박

See also:

Barclays Life Skills

Barclays Digital Eagles

— RT @MedFet_UK Today we donated our entire stock of disposable scrubs to an NHS hospital. It was just a few sets, because we don’t carry large stocks, but they were desperate, so we sent them free of charge. We don’t usually do politics on Twitter, but here’s a short thread. [1/5]

When you see someone from the government saying the NHS is getting what it needs, that is a LIE. We have been contacted this week by representatives of NHS procurement all over the country, trying to source basic protective equipment and clothing. [2/5]

When we, a tiny company set up to serve a small section of the kink community, find ourselves being sought out as a last-resort supplier to our National Health Service in a time of crisis, something is seriously wrong. In fact, it’s scandalous. [3/5]

Let’s be under no illusions, this is the result of a decade of chronic underfunding and cuts which has left the NHS barely able to cope under normal circumstances, much less when faced with the onslaught of a global pandemic. It did not, and should not, have to be this way [4/5]

So when it’s all over…and the doctors, nurses and other staff have done an amazing job (as they undoubtedly will despite the circumstances)…let’s not forget, or forgive, the ones who sent the NHS into this battle with inadequate armour and one hand tied behind its back. [End] (27 March 2020)

— RT @steak_umm we’re a frozen meat brand posting ads inevitably made to misdirect people and generate sales, so this is peak irony, but hey we live in a society so please make informed decisions to the best of your ability and don’t let anecdotes dictate your worldview ok

steak-umm bless (7 April 2020)

Who is Karl Marx: Meet the anti-capitalist scholar (Adryan Corcione, Teen Vogue, 10 May 2018)

We must dismantle white supremacy: Silence is NOT an option (Ben & Jerry’s, 2020)

My fangirl’s heart [2]

BTS and K-Pop fans strike a blow to support #BlackLivesMatter (R. O. Kwon, Vanity Fair, 6 June 2020, crossposted 7 June 2020; see also “Deconstructing K-pop fans“, Billboard, 16 March 2020; “Global production, circulation, and consumption of Gangnam Style“, IJOC, 2014)

I’m troubled, though, by some of the ways people seem to view activist K-pop fans—as an invading monolith, an alien body. “I’m a little saddened that we’re seen as an outside force in all of this when in reality we have been deeply involved since the beginning by sharing petition links, donating, and spreading useful information,” says @7soulsmap. “It’s less about K-pop and more about us already being a well-networked community on social media.” In addition, as is often pointed out, many K-pop fans are Black, and it’s simplistic—and racist—to imagine that the two groups are mutually exclusive.

The BTS Army and the transformative power of fandom as activism (Emma Madden, The Ringer, 11 June 2020, crossposted 12 June 2020)

Traditionally, the purpose of activism has been to challenge systemic hegemonies and corporate structures; from its beginnings, fan activism has functioned similarly—even if for nonpolitical ends. […] Then, when the internet arrived, “fans were early to embrace networked communication because they were in effect already a virtual community of people brought together around common interests without regard to geographic location,” writes Jenkins. […]

Buttressed by the advances of fandom within the past few decades—diversity, empowerment, cocreation, and participation—the BTS Army is made up of lawyers, scholars, academic tutors, graphic designers, authors, artists, marketing professionals, and very online teenagers, all of whom contribute to the overall organizational structure of the Army. As a result, they’re on equal footing with, or perhaps even surpass, BTS themselves, in terms of drawing light on charity causes […].

Surprised at seeing K-pop fans stand up for Black Lives Matter? You shouldn’t be. (Yim Hyun-su, The Washington Post, 12 June 2020)

So why did many of us not see this side of the K-pop fandom? For one, while the gamer and streamer communities have been taken a lot more seriously by the media, efforts to study the K-pop community have been scarce.

And as many female fans and beat reporters have pointed out, we must also address the elephant in the room — sexism. It’s what has demonized the word “fangirl” and other things women are passionate about, leading to bizarre stereotypes of who K-pop fans are.

TikTok teens and K-pop stans say they sank Trump rally (Taylor Lorenz, The New York Times, 21 June 2020)

RT @m_older Hi @nytimes, are you sure “prank” is the word you were looking for here? (21 June 2020)

RT @ngleicher 1/ There’s been an important debate today about an online campaign to inflate ticket sales at the Tulsa rally, and whether this constitutes deceptive behavior (cc
@persily @evelyndouek). Based on public reporting, this isn’t CIB as we define it. #thread (21 June 2020)

RT @aetherlev Okay I want to talk about the TikTok/K-pop stan let’s-troll-Trump operation and specifically about the data gathering aspect of it. (21 June 2020)

TikTokers are trying to troll the Trump campaign through its online store (Zachary Petrizzo, Daily Dot, 27 June 2020)

The civic hijinks of K-pop’s super fans (Crystal Abidin & Thomas Baudinette, Data & Society, 1 July 2020)

The mobilizing power of the BTS ARMY (Aditi Bhandari, Reuters, 14 July 2020)

Makes you think

Naturally, I have been consuming a lot of reports, analyses, and opinion pieces about the COVID-19 pandemic — or rather, consumed by them — lately. The pieces listed below are ones that I do not necessarily agree with but that I can’t stop thinking about since. As always, I am placing them all in one place for my own convenient reference.

Othering the virus (Marius Meinhof, Discover Society, 21 March 2020)

The overwhelming racism of COVID coverage (Indi Samarajiva, Indica, 10 September 2020)

The hypervisibility of Chinese bodies in times of COVID-19 and what it says about being British (Aerin Lai, Discover Society, 12 April 2020)

The whiteness of public space (Tom Trevatt, Discover Society, 2 July 2020)

From exotic to ‘dirty’: How the pandemic has re-colonised Leicester (Bal Sokhi-Bulley, Discover Soceity, 16 July 2020)

Why are Africa’s coronavirus success being overlooked? (Afua Hirsch, The Guardian, 21 May 2020)

Asian universities offer lessons to West in Covid response (Joyce Lau, THE, 17 September 2020)

The COVID-19 “success story”: Why has the world singled out New Zealand for praise? (Houssem Ben Lazreg & Adel Dhahri, ABC, 24 June 2020)

Does global health still have a colonial mindset? (Jack Grove, THE, 15 July 2020)

Walmart workers say they face a choice: Their safety or their paycheck (Betsy Shepherd, New Orleans Public Radio, 9 April 2020)

“We’re not essential. We’re sacrificial.”

Food delivery companies share staff’s temperature readings (Madhav Chanchani, The Times of India, 10 April 2020)

Zomato and Swiggy, who are aggregators of restaurants, over the last few weeks have started highlighting restaurants that do temperature checks regularly more prominently on their applications. Rebel Foods rolled out the practice of sharing temperatures of everyone involved in making the meal last week and also plans to share a medical certificate of those involved from next week.

Covid-19 pandemic shines a light on a new kind of class divide and its inequalities (Robert Reich, The Guardian, 26 April 2020; see also: “I’m a nurse in a deprived area of the UK. Here’s the sinister truth about Covid and inequality“, 18 June 2020)

Sure, the velociraptors are still on the loose, but that’s no reason not to reopen Jurassic Park (Carlos Greaves, McSweeney’s, 6 May 2020)

The non-tactile world (Alex Sayf Cummings, Tropics of Meta, 5 April 2020)

The reason Zoom calls drain your energy (Manyu Jiang, BBC, 22 April 2020)

Put to the test — The sociology of testing (Noortje Marres & David Stark, special issue of the British Journal of Sociology 71(3), June 2020)

Thank God for calm, competent deputies (Sam Walker, The Wall Street Journal, 4 April 2020)

Why America can make semiconductors but not swabs (Dan Wang, Bloomberg, 7 May 2020)

How Asia’s clothing factories switched to making PPE — but sweatshop problems live on (Alessandra Mezzadri & Kanchana N. Ruwanpura, The Conversation, 29 June 2020)

These gloves help fight COVID-19. But they’re made in sweatshop conditions. (Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times, 22 September 2020)

Women’s research plummets during lockdown — but articles from men increase (Anna Fazackerley, The Guardian, 12 May 2020; see also: Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, Katrine Marçal, 2016; “She divorced me because I left dishes by the sink“, Matthew Fray, HuffPost, 25 January 2016; “It’s so much more than cooking“, Zoe Fenson, The Week, 2 October 2019; “Pandemic lockdown holding back female academics, data show“, David Matthews, 25 June 2020)

The underlying sexism of the conversation about cleaners and Covid (Sarah Ditum, The Spectator, 14 May 2020)

How a 15,000-year-old human bone could help you through the coronacrisis (Remy Blumenfeld, Forbes, 21 March 2020)

코로나19가 드러낸 ‘한국인의 세계’ — 의외의 응답 편 (천관율, SisaIN, 2 June 2020; see also my earlier post on “the moral policing power of the notion of 민폐“)

The Bluestocking: Woke Capitalism (Helen Lewis, 28 June 2020)

RT @mgwalks Every day, the internet picks a hero and a villain, and you just hope neither one is you. (6 June 2019)

Home sweet home

Everyone around me is telling me that I am pre-adapted to the lockdown lifestyle. Iron Bottom and all. Other than the constant, low-key humming of anxiety, I am indeed okay and acknowledge my privilege of being able to work from home. Whether there is a point to it⁠—well, that’s a whole other question.

Over the past two months, I have seen my fair share of all these jokes (or in-jokes) about Zoom meeting hacks (e.g. wine in a tea mug), revised dress standards (e.g. an ABC news reporter caught pantsless), seeing colleagues in a new, softer light, judging famous people by their bookcases (e.g. Owen Jones’s criticism of Michael Gove for owning a book by David Irving), and children immediately figuring out how to feign interest and attention “in gallery view”.

And apparently I am not the only one who is reminded of Goffman.

RT @BiellaColeman I wish Erving Goffman were alive to comment on this moment when parts of the back and front stage of life are blurred and performed via screen. (12 May 2020)

Once the red pill is taken [2]

Despite coming from a postcolonial society myself, I didn’t have much awareness of the decolonisation agenda, I must embarrassedly admit. I can in fact pinpoint the moment when the concept first registered in my mind. It was in 2007, in a mall in Kuala Lumpur where I was hanging out with fellow panelists after a conference and impulsively bought a book titled Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Then, to be honest, I didn’t think much about it for another few years. Now I am in an environment where hardly a day goes by without it being brought up, and this has enabled me to realise that it is a far broader battle than including non-Western books in the reading lists.

Let me share my bookmarks on this topic — style. (Remember

Geraldine Moane (1999). Hierarchical systems: Patriarchy and colonialism. In: Gender and Colonialism: Psychological Analysis of Oppression and Liberation.

Elijah Meeks (2011). Digital humanities as thunderdome. Journal of Digital Humanities 1(1).

Randy Connolly (2020). Why computing belongs within the social sciences. Communications of the ACM 63(8): 54-59.

Khari Johnson (2020). DeepMind researchers propose rebuilding the AI industry on a base of anticolonialism. VentureBeat, 11 July.

Lydia Emmanouilidou (2018). What can AI learn from non-Western philosophies? The World, 16 February.

Matti Pohjonen (2019). Artificial Intelligence in Ethiopia? Yes. Really. SOAS Centre for Global Media and Communication, 7 June.

Dan M. Kotliar (2020). Data orientalism: on the algorithmic construction of the non-Western other. Theory and Society.

Mark Surman (2016). “The rise of digital empires is creating a colonial vision of the internet — we have to stop it”. New Statesman, 1st September.

Nick Couldry & Ulises A. Mejias (2018). Data colonialism: Rethinking big data’s relation to the contemporary subject. Television & New Media 20(4): 336-349.

Olivia Solon (2018). Elon Musk: we must colonise Mars to preserve our species in a third world war. The Guardian, 11 March.

Jeongmin Kim (2020). Former North Korean diplomat vows to improve protection for defectors if elected. NK News, 19 February.

Han Woo Park (2020). [기고] ‘대구’를 ‘도구’로 이용하지 마라. 매일신문, 23 February.

Marius Meinhof (2020). Othering the virus. Discover Society, 21 March.

Thus, what failed in Europe is not liberal democracy but postcolonial arrogance. There was no lack of information, language ability, or time to learn what had happened in China. There was a lack of relating Chinese disasters to ‘us’, due to prevailing notions of orientalism and colonial temporality. Regrettably, Chinese state media have now started, too, to tell the story of the outbreak as a contest between ‘our’ and ‘their’ political systems rather than a natural disaster, and started to spread similar conspiracy theories as new orientalists did before. This may in turn make them underestimate the danger of a return of the virus in the coming year.

Filipinos angered by racist comments from internet users in Korea (Lee Hyo-jin, The Korea Times, 10 September 2020; see also Vladimir Tikhonov’s Facebook comment to the article below, emphasis my own)

It is schizophrenic. Self-contradictory, at least. On the one hand, South Koreans dream of ‘conquering’ South-East Asia, Philippines included. ‘Conquest’ means, of course, the locals consuming South Korean goods and enthusiastically loving the likes of BTS. On the other hand, South Korean netizens do not even manage to hide their nouveau riche contempt towards the Filipinos who supposedly are left far [behind] South Korea in a permanent race towards the elusive fetish of ‘modernization’. It is racism, of course, but it is also a sentiment comparable to what, say, the labour migrants from poorer Eastern Europe have to endure while working for richer Western Europeans. So, how do they envision Filipinos enthusiastically consuming South Korean masscult after being so explicitly shown their ‘proper’ place in the international capitalist oecumene? Few people tend to love [those] who openly despise them.

But then, if we understand this nouveau riche contempt as the flip side of the sub-imperialist desire to ‘conquer’ South-East Asia with South Korean products, things start looking logical. Well, that is how non-European imitations of European imperialism/racism look like…

How TikTok colonises trends started by Black creators (Lola Christina Alao, Vice, 28 August 2020; see also about “digital blackface“)

“You can’t enjoy the fruit of something that is rooted in our lived experience without acknowledging where it came from.”

Colonizing the future (Kevin P. Donovan, Boston Review, 28 September 2020)

It is this unequal capacity to secure a future, design reliable plans, and make credible promises that defines our era, not merely the inequality of income and wealth. Working people are confined in an interminable present, unable to escape the short-term demands of rent, debt, and food; illiquidity looms large and overshadows daily life.

Has the game changed? [3]

Initially I thought this post was about the emergence of a new genre, but come to think of it, the genealogy goes way back to Denise Calls Up (1995), The Contact (1997), and You’ve Got Mail (1998).

Nevertheless, I have noticed a group of movies and other cultural products where our digital and multimodal ways of being are finely weaved in. Here are some, for my own reference, and I will add more.

Metaphors we live by [2]

Would your football club be better run as a co-operative? (Dave Boyle, The Guardian, 9 May 2012)

How academia resembles a drug gang (Alexandre Afonso, LSE Impact Blog, 11 December 2013)

A degree of studying — Students who treat education as a commodity perform worse than their intrinsically motivated peers (Louise Bunce, LSE Impact Blog, 15 January 2020; see also Lee & Rofe, 2016)

Universities are more like sports clubs than businesses (Richard Oliver, Times Higher Education, 15 January 2020)

Hammers and nails

On two occasions I went on record and stated that digital technology has hit women and men so differently that South Korean women’s experience of being online has more commonalities with that of women at the other end of the world than that of South Korean men living next to them. I am mindful of how sweeping this statement could sound. As a researcher, I am also mindful of the possibility of everything looking like a nail to me because I have a hammer that is gender.

I have been pondering a lot about this and at least two things are certain to me. First, this hammer came to me – How Thor! – without me even seeking it out. Second, well, I stand by the statement.

For my own continuous pondering, here is a mini collection of studies and stories on gender, technology, and borders, which I have been gravitating towards lately.

# South Korea’s online trend: Paying to watch a pretty girl eat (Frances Cha, CNN, 3 February 2014; see also “새터민 먹방” and “탈북미녀 먹방”)

# The price of shame (Monika Lewinsky, TED, March 2015; see also trolling and cyberbullying particularly prolific against female politicians, journalists, and academics)

# My first virtual reality groping (Jordan Belamire, 20 October 2016)

# #ThanksForTyping spotlights unnamed women in literary acknowledgments (Cecilia Mazanec, NPR, 30 March 2017; see also Hadley Freeman, a woman who shed light on the issue a decade earlier)

# What Google bros have in common with medieval beer bros (David M. Perry, 22 August 2017; see also “life hacks”, “selfies”, “gossips”, and “nagging”)

# Thermostats, locks and lights: Digital tools of domestic abuse (Nellie Bowles, The New York Times, 23 June 2018)

# Donna Zuckerberg: ‘Social media has elevated misogyny to new levels of violence’ (Nosheen Iqbal, The Guardian, 11 November 2018)

# Online consequences of being offline: A gendered tale from South Korea (yours truly, r@w, 21 January 2019)

# Our incel problem: How a support group for the dateless became one of the internet’s most dangerous subcultures (Zack Beauchamp, Vox, 23 April 2019; see also Ilbe transgressions such as this)

# Female voice assistants fuel damaging gender stereotypes, says a UN study. (Charlotte Jee, MIT Technology Review, 22 May 2019)

# Apple made Siri deflect questions on feminism, leaked papers reveal (Alex Hern, 6 September 2019)

# The guy who made a tool to track women in porn videos is sorry (Angela Chen, MIT Technology Review, 31 May 2019)

# These North Korean defectors were sold into China as cybersex slaves. Then they escaped (Julie Zaugg, CNN, 10 June 2019)

# RT @JamieJBartlett Sadly I can well imagine that deep fakes will not be confined to famous figures & political disinformation – but a way for jealous co-workers & ex-partners to degrade women. (26 June 2019; already been happening! see also “지인능욕”)

# For recording her boss’s lewd call, she, not he, will go to jail (Richard C. Paddock & Muktita Suhartono, The New York Times, 5 July 2019)

# Protecting migrants at borders and beyond (Privacy International, 2019)

# A million refugees may soon lose their line to the outside world (Hannah Beech, The New York Times, 5 September 2019)

# Inside the secret border patrol Facebook group where agents joke about migrant deaths and post sexist memes (A. C. Thompson, Pro Publica, 1 July 2019)

# Race in the digital periphery: The new (old) politics of refugee representation (Matthew Sepehr Mahmoudi, The Sociological Review, 3 July 2019)

# Korean media coverage of Yemeni refugees and their digital footprints, such as thisthis, and this (2018; see also the Feminism Without Borders project)

# ‘베트남 여성 폭행’ 반전…아내는 왜 3일만에 비난대상 됐나 (박사라, 중앙일보, 12 July 2019)

# Marriage immigrants in S. Korea meet with their family members online (Korea Bizwire, 19 July 2019)

# Ars Praxia series, such as this, this, this, and this

# To learn about the far right, start with the ‘manosphere’ (Helen Lewis, The Atlantic, 7 August 2019)

# The misogyny of climate deniers (Martin Gelin, The New Republic, 28 August 2019)

# Attacked for gender, not views: Hong Kong women protesters facing troll army (Rose Troup Buchanan, AFP/The Jakarta Post, 2 September 2019)

On bodilessness

Speaking of space and place, here is something that I have been following and meaning to document for a while: bodiless protests. I am afraid I can’t afford to write it up in a more synthesised manner at the moment, but I thought I’d at least put everything in one place.

# “iPhone candles(March 2010)

# Patent for “robots for picketing” (March 2013)

# Julian Assange featuring in a US conference in hologram form(September 2014)

# Snowden hologram replacing a removed statue of his in Brooklyn park (April 2015)

# World’s first hologram protest in Madrid against the country’s new “gag law(April 2015)


(Image from International Society for Presence Research, 13 April 2015)

# Amnesty “ghost rally” in Gwanghwamun (February 2016)

# Projection of “@jack is #complicit” on Twitter HQ (Jan 2018)

# Projection of “This is not normal” and “sh*thole” (with emojis!) on the Trump Hotel in Washington DC (Jan 2018)

# #WeAreWatching project against institutionalised racism (September 2016)

# The internet is mostly bots (December 2018)

# Shut it downbeamed on the Chosun Ilbo building (July 2019)

# Hong Kong protesters use lasers to block facial recognition tech (2 August 2019; see also the “asymmetric haircuts” tactic and “garments covered in license plates“)

# Wearable face projector (from 2017, but I came across via a pushback against a 2019 #AntiMaskLaw in Hong Kong)

# Syrian refugee who crossed Channel and now works in NHS recalls ‘terrifying’ journey in message projected on to White Cliffs of Dover (Russell Hope, Sky News, 21 August 2020)

# Proletariat teddy bears (September 2020)