The ambiguity of sharing images

Two tweets, about 12 hours apart. It seems to me, in an entirely unsystematic, morning coffee kind of analysis, that the two posts demonstrate something of the ambiguity of image sharing practices and circulation of images (on Twitter)… at least in my experience of one platform, Twitter.

The “Grease” tweet, through humour, attempts to comment on contemporary geopolitics. The veracity (or not) of the image possibly doesn’t matter.

The ‘fact check’ nature of the later tweet directly addresses the (lack of) authenticity of the image itself. Showing the ‘original’.

So there’s something about ‘fakeness’ of media, the politics of circulation, something about simulacrum and the convening of publics and maybe something about the ambivalence of image making and sharing practices that falls within the “meme” discourse.

In discussing her work as part of the RGS-IBG ‘digital geographies’ working group symposium about 10 days ago, Gillian Rose discussed the ways in which we may or may not malign the ‘everydayness’ of photographic or image practices and why it remains necessary to study and engage with the everyday practices of meaning-making (there’s a course for this, co-convened by Gillian).

This perhaps prompts some questions about the above tweets. For example, what is it we can or might want to say about the images themselves, their circulation and how they fit into wider, everyday, meaning-making practices? The doctored image fits into a particular aesthetic of ‘memes’ and is contextualised in text in the post, which also goes for the ‘fact check’ tweet too, in a way. How do we interpret the (likely) different intentions behind the thousands of retweets of the above? How might we capture the ‘polymedia’ (following Miller et al.) lives of such images? (Is that even possible?) How might we interrogate what I’m suggesting is the ambivalence of ‘sharing’? I suggest this cannot be served by the mass analysis of image corpora (following Manovich), nor is it really reducible to the ‘attention economy’ – it’s not only about the labour of sharing or the advertising it enables. Instead, I guess what I’m fumbling towards is asking for the analysis of the circulation practices for (copies of) a single image within a network (which may or may not span different platforms).

The danger, I increasingly feel, is that we all-too-quickly resort to super-imposing onto these case studies our ontotheological or ideological meta-narratives – so, it may ‘really’ be about affect, neoliberalism and so on… except of course, it isn’t only about those things, and while they may be important analytical frames they may not address the questions we’re interested in, or should be, posing. I’m not saying such framings are wrong, I’m saying they’re not the only frames of analysis.

All of this leads me to confess that I am beginning to wonder if our ‘digital methods‘ (following Rogers and others) are really up to this sort of task… As yet I’ve not read anything to convince me otherwise, which actually sort of surprises me. The closest I’ve got is the media ethnography work of the outstanding Why We Post project – but, of course, that isn’t particularly a “digital” method, which maybe says something (maybe about my own bias). I’d be interested to know if anyone has any thoughts.

A further thing I wonder is whether or not these sorts of practices will remain stable enough for long enough to warrant the ‘slower’, considered, kinds of research that might enable us to begin to get at answers to my all-too-general, or misplaced, questions above. I remain haunted by undergraduate and masters research into now-defunct platforms and styles of media use… friendster and myspace anyone?

Some relevant links:

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