Amanda Stevenson on the Twitter chatter surrounding Texas HB2 and Wendy Davis’ Fillibuster

TXPep

by Eric Enrique Borja

On September 12th, Amanda Stevenson was kind enough to discuss the work behind her recent paper in Contraception entitled, “Finding the Twitter users who stood with Wendy.” In the paper, Amanda examines Twitter chatter surrounding the Texas omnibus abortion restriction bill (Texas HB2) before, during and after Wendy Davis’ filibuster in summer 2013.  The implications of Amanda’s results and conclusions are eloquently outlined both in the article published in Contraception, and her op-ed piece “Twitter analysis shows not all Texans want abortion rights limited,” which was published in the Houston Chronicle.

In this post I will only briefly go over some of the major takeaways from Amanda’s talk.  I highly encourage you to read Amanda Stevenson’s articles for the full story.

1) “The Citizen’s Filibuster”

Amanda discussed one of the first major events in summer 2013, now referred to as the Citizen’s Filibuster. On June 20th, a special session of the Texas legislature was held. On the agenda was a pair of bills that would ban abortions after 20  weeks of pregnancy, restrict access to medication abortions and require abortion clinics to become ambulatory surgical care centers. In response to the special session abortion-rights groups such as: NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, Planned Parenthood, and the Lilith Fund, quickly organized a “citizen’s filibuster.” TXPepMap

Approximately 700 people were organized in a flash, and the citizen’s filibuster was successful. Amanda showed that social media was important prior to Wendy Davis’ filibuster because it was instrumental in mobilizing people across the state of Texas.

2) Social media provided the primary coverage of Wendy Davis’ Filibuster

If it weren’t for the success of the Citizen’s Filibuster, Wendy Davis would have never had the opportunity to stage her filibuster. And if it were up to mainstream media outlets, the world would have never known what Wendy Davis had accomplished that day. Amanda discussed how mainstream media outlets failed to cover the filibuster. Therefore, social media became the primary source of coverage on Davis’ filibuster – with YouTube providing live streams for the world to see.

3) Social media data is generated through a selection process

Given the protocols that govern Twitter’s API, and the issues of access to technology, the kind of data a researcher pulls from social media is highly selective. Amanda was careful to point out that this does not mean social media data is useless, but that when you are interpreting your results you must be careful with what you think you are explaining. For Amanda, social media data is great at analyzing discussions that occur in social media, but falls short in accurately capturing public opinion. Interpreting social media data is like interpreting any kind of data a sociologist may collect; you have to take into consideration what and how much your data actually captures.

4) Hashtags can be a way to classify opinions

standwithwendy

Trying to understand what people are attempting to convey through a tweet is a hard problem to resolve. One way this can be resolved, as illustrated by Amanda’s study, is to categorize tweets thematically using hashtags. For example, the hashtag “#standwithwendy” was a popular hashtag used through Davis’ filibuster. Users typically tag their tweets with hashtags to categorize them.

5) Social location estimates are inconclusive

In general, users do not GPS-enable their tweets. It’s been found that it is primarily younger males in urban areas who do. Therefore, to not further limit her sample, Amanda generated location estimates for users in her sample. Amanda writes, “For each account whose tweets had GPS data, I collected 100 tweets from the Twitter REST API v1.1. For all accounts, I collected location data from user profiles in the form of text strings.” By combining GPS data from GPS-enabled tweets and whatever location data she could garner from geocoded text string, Amanda was able to generate location estimates for more users than if she had solely relied on GPS data.

What impresses me the most about Amanda’s work is that she is careful (both in her talk and her paper) not to overreach in her conclusions.  Moreover, her work is a great example of a project that elegantly employs qualitative and quantitative methodologies, something I aspire to achieve in my own work on social media. We all look forward to seeing more as Amanda’s dissertation develops.

Sociology Centennial

UT Austin Sociology Centennial Celebration

The Sociology department at the University of Texas at Austin turned 100 this year, an event worthy of celebration.  Many thanks to University of Virginia President, Dr. Teresa Sullivan (former Longhorn Vice Provost and proud Sociologist) for her talk on the future of Sociology and her help in launching our next 100 years. A video of our first 100 years can be found here.

Why should I bother with social media?

Our social media savvy tweeters dominated at ASA and keep our blog lively with new posts weekly.  This article from ASA answers the question: Why bother with social media at all?

Bv0dL79IEAAsHmvBlogger Marc Smith’s Twitter Analysis Graph from the ASA annual conference.

Blogger Philip N. Cohen’s Family Inequality blog post on the twitter graph.

Why should I bother? (link to ASA article)

The shortest, simplest answer to the question “why should I bother?” is “You don’t have to.” Really, you don’t have to be on television if CNN calls. You don’t need a Twitter account. But, there are some reasons you might want to do these things.

Here are just a few.

Using social media can facilitate:

1. Establishing yourself as an expert

2. Conceptualizing and developing ideas

3. Developing a reputation for your thoughts, ideas and interactions

4. Building relationships

Media Sociology Blog – ASA pre-conference summary

UTAustinSOC party at ASA bringing together old friends and new

Brandon Andrew Robinson Writes for the HuffPost

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Fourth year doctoral student, Brandon Andrew Robinson, writes for the HuffPost. Robinson’s piece is entitled, “Online Foreplay and Bringing Sexy Back.”

Excerpt from the piece:

Although the actual offline sexual encounters may not go according to the ways people discuss online, online foreplay can help lessen some of the fear or embarrassment of discussing sexuality, HIV, sexual practices and other aspects of one’s sex life. In a time of managing sexual risks, finding pleasurable and sexy approaches to discussing and experiencing one’s sexuality is important in order to counterbalance the now-common fear-driven approach to thinking and talking about sex.

To read the rest, follow this link: Online Foreplay and Bringing Sexy Back

 

#BlackTwitter/#BlackPolitics: the Lifeblood of a Community

black twitter

by Eric Enrique Borja

This post is based on a larger paper I wrote for AFR/LAS 381: Black Radical Traditions.

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In a stirring introduction to the multi-disk collection Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs, 1960-1966, the scholar, musician, and activist Bernice Johnson Reagon wrote that the “struggle for freedom” revealed “culture to be not luxury, not leisure, not entertainment, but the lifeblood of a community.” It was, she added, “the first time that I know the power of song to be an instrument for the articulation of our community concerns.”

- Ruth Feldstein, “I Don’t Trust You Anymore”: Nina Simone, Culture, and Black Activism in the 1960s.

hashtags like #DangerousBlackKids #solidarityisforwhitewomen #girlslikeus and more prompt INTERNATIONAL convos about real issues.

– Tweet by Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh)

Over the past four years unprecedented large-scale movements have challenged states across the globe, and social media has been an important component in their development and articulation. With the advent of social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, people have the technological ability to instantaneously transcend space, time and resources (Aouraugh and Alexander 2011; Castells 2012; Earl and Kimport 2011; Eltantawy and Wiest 2011; Gerbaudo 2012; Hands 2011; Holmes 2012).

According to the World Bank, there are nearly 2.5 billion Internet users worldwide[i]. And according to Facebook’s Investor Relations site[ii] there are over a billion monthly active Facebook users. Furthermore, among African-Americans between the ages of 18-29 40% of them report using Twitter, which is much larger than the 28% of young whites who say they use it (Smith 2014).

young-african-americans-have-high-levels-of-twitter-use

The questions I explore in my research are: are we currently living in a historical moment where a new repertoire of contention is emerging? If so, how is social media changing the way we collectively contest for our interests? Therefore, my research focus has been political contention (Tilly 1986, 1995) – how “ordinary people[iii]” contend against the state for their collective interests. But it has been largely limited by how sociologists approach and define political contention. The course AFR/LAS 381: Black Radical Traditions with Dr. Minkah Makalani has expanded my understanding of political contention, reframing how I approach Tilly’s concept of a repertoire of contention.

Is Twitter the underground railroad of activism?

From Richard Iton’s (2008) book In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics & Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era to Shana L. Redmond’s (2014) book Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora, we see a reframing of what it means to collectively contend against the state. Where Iton (2008, 2013), Redmond (2014) and many other scholars (Cohen 2004; Feldstein 2005; Griffin 2013; Neptune 2007; Sweet 2011)  explore the cultural forms/protest tactics of music, literature, religion and dance, I argue the advent of social media in the 21st century has produced a new cultural form where Black politics is developed, expanded and rearticulated. I claim, in other words, that the cultural forms/protest tactics of music, literature, religion and dance constitute an old repertoire of contention, which is today being replaced by a new repertoire of contention that primarily utilizes social media, specifically hashtags (#). This is best illustrated by the social phenomenon popularly referred to as #BlackTwitter.

dangerousblackkids

#dangerousblackkids

Adopting a similar understanding of the signifier “Black” that Redmond (2014) uses,  “Black” is “a way to call attention to the overlapping projects of diaspora and racial formation that actively seek recognition in mutual struggle” (Redmond 2014:5). With this understanding of the signifier “Black” we can better understand the political potency of #BlackTwitter. In other words, the signifier “#BlackTwitter” refers to those users who are within the diaspora, and who actively articulate their political claims through the use of # such as #DangerousBlackKids, #DonLemonLogic, #girlslikeus and #solidarityisforwhitewomen, to name a few. I claim #BlackTwitter, similar to the Black anthems analyzed by Redmond (2014),  “negotiate[s] and announce[s] the ambitions and claims of those whose very bodies [throw] into crisis the normativity of rules and liberties“ (Redmond 2014: 4).

The 21 Biggest #BlackTwitter Moments of 2013

The political potency of # for Black politics resides in the new space/time (Massey 2006) it creates. Which, in turn, fundamentally shifts the process of nation-ness (Anderson 2006) and marks a new phase in the mediazation of modern culture (Thompson 1991); two fundamental shifts comparable to the structural and cultural shifts that formed the modern repertoire of contention (Anderson 2006; Della Porta and Diani 1999; McAdam, Tarrow and Tilly 2001; Swidler 1986; Tarrow 1994; Tilly 1986, 1995; Young 2002).

Furthermore, it is important to keep in mind the unique historical position of Black people when working through Tilly’s concept of a repertoire of contention. Therefore, the new space/time created by the # also provides the place where Black culture and Black politics are rearticulated, forming a community that encompasses the Black diaspora.

girlslikeus

#girlslikeus

So similar to Redmond’s Black anthems, # “constitute differently configured diasporic formations that link people to one another through and beyond race into communities organized by imaginations of freedom from and an end to hierarchies of difference,” (Redmond 2014: 14). The # used by #BlackTwitter are the spaces where such communities are created – where the nation can be rearticulated, subverted, and transcended.

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Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict. 2006. Imagined Communities. Brooklyn, NY: Verso.

Aouragh, Miriyam. 2011. The Egyptian Experience: Sense and Nonsense of the Internet Revolution. International Journal of Communication, 1344-1358.

Castells, Manuel. 2012. Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age. Malden, MA: Polity Press.

Cohen, Cathy J. 2004. “Deviance as Resistance: A New Research Agenda for the Study of Black Politics.” Du Bois Review, 1:1, 27-45.

Della Porta, Donatella and Mario Diani. 1999. Social Movements: An Introduction. Oxford, England: Blackwell Publishers.

Earl, Jennifer and Katrina Kimport. 2011. Digitally Enabled Social Change. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Eltantawy, Nahed and Julie B. Wiest. 2011. “Social Media in the Egyptian Revolution: Reconsidering Resource Mobilization.” International Journal of Communication, 1207-1224.

Feldstein, Ruth. 2005. “I Don’t Trust You Anymore’”: Nina Simone, Culture and Black Activism in the 1960s.” The Journal of American History, 1349-1379.

Gerbaudo, Paolo. 2012. Tweets and the Streets. London, UK: Pluto Press.

Griffin, Farah Jasmine. 2013. Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists & Progressive Politics During World War II. New York, NY: BasicCivitas Books.

Hands, Joss. 2011. @ is for Activism. London, UK: Pluto Press.

Holmes, Amy Austin. 2012. “There are Weeks When Decades Happen: Structure and Strategy in the Egyptian Revolution.” Mobilization: An International Journal 17:4, 391-410.

 Iton, Richard. 2008. In Search of the Black Fantastic: Politics & Popular Culture in the Post-Civil Rights Era. Oxford, UK: Oxford Univerisity Press

Iton, Richard. 2013. “Still Life.” Small Axe, 40, 22-39.

Massey, Doreen. [2005] 2006. For Space. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

McAdam, Doug, Sydney Tarrow and Charles Tilly. 2001. Dynamics of Contention. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Neptune, Harvey R. 2007. “Book Review: Caliban and the Yankees: Trinidad and the United States Occupation.” Caribbean Studies, 37:1, 310-314.

Redmond, Shana L. 2014. Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. New York, NY: The New York University Press.

Smith, Aaron. 2014. African Americans and Technology Use: A Demographic Portrait. Pew Research Internet Project.

Sweet, James H. 2011. Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

Swidler, Ann. 1986. “Culture in Action: Symbols and Strategies.” American Sociological Review, 51:2, 273-286.

Tarrow, Sydney. 1994. Power in Movement. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 

Thompson, John B. 1990. Ideology and Modern Culture: Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Tilly, Charles. 1986. The Contentious French. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tilly, Charles. [1995] 2005. Popular Contention in Great Britain 1758-1834. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Press

Young, Michael P. 2002. “Confessional Protest: The Religious Birth of U.S. National Social Movements.” American Sociological Review, 67:5, 660-688.


[iii] Tilly defines “ordinary people” as those who do not have access to the formal political mechanisms.

Esther Sullivan Writes for the London School of Economics American Politics and Policy Forum on Informal Homebuilding in Texas

InformalHousingPic

Esther Sullivan discusses housing informality and self-help homebuilding in Texas in her recent post for the London School of Economics American Politics and Policy blog:

Owner self-building plays a crucial role in the production of affordable housing internationally and is widely recognized as a crucial source of housing production for the world’s poor. The concept of informal development has largely been relegated to settlements in developing countries despite its role in producing owner-occupied housing in the U.S. and in Europe, where self-provided housing accounts for over 50 percent of new housing production in countries such as the Netherlands, Ireland, Belgium and Germany…

The little research on informal homebuilding in the U.S. focuses primarily on the ways cities restrict such housing development and regulate informal development out of metropolitan areas. While these studies hypothesize that urban housing restrictions channel poor and immigrant populations to other cities or to rural hinterlands, our research shows instead that residents maintain economic ties to central cities while settling in county lands surrounding city centers where lax regulatory climates accommodate self-built, low-cost, informal housing.

Informal housing remains largely unstudied in the regions outside the U.S.-Mexico border and the communities where this housing is developed have thus not benefited from the policy interventions … To better understand the self-help housing stock found in informally developed communities we analyzed housing processes and housing conditions in two such communities in Central Texas.

Read the entire piece in the LSE APP here: http://bit.ly/1qCKS7B

There you can find a link to the entire article:  “Informality on the urban periphery: Housing conditions and self-help strategies in Texas informal subdivisions” in Urban Studies.

Before You Know It: On LGBT Aging

Before You Know It Pic 2

by Kathy Hill

Before You Know It is an award-winning 2014 documentary film directed and produced by PJ Raval, an Austin local and assistant professor in the RTF Department at UT Austin. It premiered at the 2013 SXSW and showed at the Violet Crown Cinema this summer. In this film, Raval documents the lives of three gay seniors – their challenges, adventures, and their relationships.

Ty is an LGBT activist from Harlem, New York. Though he is in his 60’s, his passion for gay rights and hope for his own marriage is youthful. He is skeptical, but happily surprised when his advocacy for SAGE, Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, is received well in the Harlem community. Ty is enthusiastic when gay marriage passes in New York. He is eager to serve as the best man for his best friend’s wedding, and he won’t stop asking his partner about their own potential marriage. Ty’s starry-eyed hope is confirmation that you’re never too old to dream of love and marriage.

Robert the “Mouth of the South” is a feisty bar owner in Galveston, TX. Robert’s Lafitte is a welcome stage for drag queens in Galveston and home to many of the LGBT community there. They hold Thanksgiving dinners and life commemorations of drag queens and friends who have passed on and “moved to California,” as Robert warmly puts it. Robert struggles to feel well as he deals with a lawsuit for which he might lose the bar, but his LGBT family keeps the spirit of the bar alive with the continuing of drag performances and festive gatherings.

Dennis is a soft-spoken and kind-hearted widower who lives in Niceville, FL. After his wife died, he began to explore his sexual identity and started dressing in women’s clothing under the name “Dee.” Dennis takes trips to Portland, Oregon where he lives in an LGBT retirement home and explores online dating, gay bars, and even goes on a gay cruise. At the age of 70, Dennis is not afraid to try something different and new. Dennis lives a solitary life in a small old house when he goes back to Niceville. One day, he comes back from Portland to find his house covered in mold. He walks away from the only home he’s ever owned, all of his material possessions and memories. For me, Dennis’s story was the most inspiring; he shows us that self-discovery happens can happened at any age.

Before You Know It Pic

“Before You Know It” is about aging, yet it will make you feel more alive as you watch and listen to each person’s story. Robert’s “Mahna mahna” drag performance made me laugh hysterically. Ty, always asking his partner about marriage, made me blush. And Dennis’s bravery, as zipped up his hot pink go-go boots and walked around the gay cruise ship alone, made me cringe with fear, and then, sigh with admiration. Each story is a reminder that hope for love, discovery of self, and passion for change can happen at any stage of life. “Before You Know It” shows the life as a learning process, specifically in the lives of three gay seniors, but also in a way that relates all people, old or young. We continue to learn more about ourselves and how we can connect with our social world, and that doesn’t stop when we get older.

PJ Raval is named one of the Out Magazine’s “Out 100 2010” and Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 new faces of independent film 2006.” His credits include “Trinidad” (Showtime) and The Christeene video collection (SXSW). Raval’s cinematography work includes Academy Award-nominated “Trouble The Water” and “Bounceback” (SWSX 2013).

Watch the trailer of “Before You Know It” and be sure to catch the film the next time you can:

Enjoy the Ride: Communicating while Commuting

Communicating while Commuting

Commuting – Then and Now.

by Robyn Keith

Researchers and media pundits alike wonder what new media are doing to our social connections. It has only become more and more easy to connect (or disconnect) on our commutes. Here in Austin, Capital Metro’s train, and recently introduced MetroRapid, offer free wifi for riders. On my daily commute to campus I’ve noticed (and taken part in) all kinds of device behaviors: watching the latest Game of Thrones episode on a laptop; listening to music, NPR, or guided meditations; checking social media like Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, or Instagram; learning Italian on Duolingo; cell phone conversations that are just a little too loud (“Can you hear me now?!”); and, of course, texting.

Researchers, media pundits, and everyday citizens alike wonder how these new media impact our society, specifically our connections with others and our “social capital.” Social capital refers to the kinds of resources drawn from people’s social networks. Sometimes these resources can be more obvious (like hearing about a job opportunity when your friend posts it on Facebook). Other times, the benefits of social capital are less direct, like being able to walk to and from your bus stop safely. The term has gained a lot of media attention over the years, especially after the publication of Robert Putnam’s (2000) Bowling Alone, which argued that Americans’ collective social capital had been in decline since the 1960s.

Most research finds that the Internet and other new forms of communication supplement people’s social capital, rather than deteriorating it. But some critics of social media lament the time that people spend on their devices, arguing that we are increasingly “alone together.” Some adopt a nostalgic assumption of the time before social media, a time when apparently everyone partook in face-to-face interactions all of the time.

Commuting 2

Commuting in the 1980s.

Of course, we know this isn’t true, especially in the case of mass transit. People frequently read newspapers during their commute in the 1940s, or listened to their Walkmans in the 1980s. These behaviors facilitate face-to-face interactions no more than new technologies do.

Indeed, it wasn’t until the widespread use of smart phones over the last ten years that “me time” during one’s commute could actually become “we time.” Now, I can post something to my sister’s Facebook wall, make plans to grab drinks with friends later via text, or send an e-mail to a colleague (“Sent from my iPhone”); and all of these behaviors boost social capital in some small way. In a sense, it’s a bit ironic that these devices — so frequently denounced as anti-social — actually enable more social behaviors during a commute than before. It just so happens that those we’re communicating with aren’t necessarily those we’re commuting with.

That being said, it is still important that, now and then, we communicate with those who share our plane, train, or bus with us. Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton recently wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about a study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago. Half of the participants were asked to strike up a conversation with a stranger during their train ride, while the other half could stick to the typical commuting norm and not interact with others. Although many of us tend to be wary of speaking (or even making eye contact) with others during our commute, the researchers found that people who talked with a stranger felt more positively about their commute.

When we talk with people (especially strangers) and have positive interactions, we can build trust: a key component of social capital. Additionally, we can learn a lot by talking to strangers. Back in 1975, social psychologist Zick Rubin conducted a study in an airport. He found that people were willing to disclose intimate details about their personal lives to fellow travelers who they understood as “passing strangers.” And this bears out in real life, too. A colleague recently told me about a cross-country airplane trip, and that she and a stranger ended up talking for the entire three-and-a-half hour plane ride. “This woman was totally different than me,” my colleague said, “and it was totally fascinating. I learned all kinds of things.”

So, whether you learn something new from the person sitting next to you or send messages to someone who isn’t: enjoy the ride.

Twitter analysis shows not all Texans want abortion rights limited

Social media analysis challenges stereotype of conservative state
By Amanda Jean Stevenson
The full text of the article is available at this link to the June 24th edition of The Houston Chronicle
standwithwendyhourly
One year ago this week, state Sen. Wendy Davis drew national attention with her filibuster of HB2, an omnibus abortion restriction bill that has since ushered in a 50 percent decline in the number of abortion clinics in our state. For 11 hours a year ago today, she stood on the floor of the Texas Senate in her pink running shoes as thousands of Texans rallied around her at the state Capitol and 180,000 people watched online. Her filibuster also sparked the wildly popular social media hashtag #StandWithWendy, instantly offering insight into a segment of the state that isn’t so red: Not all Texans agree that restricting abortion rights is a good idea.

Most discussion of Texas in the national media focuses on the state’s extremely conservative factions. But Texas is full of principled people across the political spectrum. Thousands of them marched on the state Capitol to oppose HB2. Before Davis filibustered, 700 people registered to testify in a “citizens filibuster” that lasted late into the night of June 20, and thousands filled Capitol buildings day after day dressed in orange T-shirts, the color chosen to symbolize the fight against HB2. After Davis’ filibuster, 19,000 filed comments against the bill and they continued to fill the Capitol for each hearing and vote. Throughout, they were joined by a digital chorus on Twitter that was hundreds of thousands strong.

I have analyzed the 1.66 million tweets that comprise the Twitter discussion associated with the bill. These tweets came from 399,000 users worldwide. Roughly 44 percent of the tweets were sent from Texans in support of abortion rights, and in all, about 115,500 Texans expressed their support for abortion rights as part of the Twitter discussion of the bill. These Texans are not all Austin liberals. They live throughout the state, in rural and urban areas. In fact, tweets in support of the filibuster were sent from 189 of Texas’ 254 counties, including the majority of rural counties and all urban ones. Only 1.8 percent of the Texas population lives in counties from which no identifiable tweets of support were sent.

The full article

Graduate Sociology Blog