Social Media Narrative:
Issues in Contemporary Practice

hosted by
The Rutgers Camden Digital Studies Center
and Judy Malloy and
the Rutgers Camden DSC Class in
Social Media Narrative:
Lineage and Contemporary Practice

Facebook, November 16 - 21, 2016

Judy Malloy: Introduction

Innovative, interesting, and surprising creative work threads through the vibrant chaos of the social media infosphere, and there are indications that this work is filtering into contemporary art practice. Exhibitions, such as 1stfans: Twitter Art Feed Archive at the Brooklyn Museum, reviews, such as Barbara Pollack's "The Social Revolution," [1] have critically covered social media-based creative work. And there are also indications that social media narrative is receiving mainstream publication and support. For instance, The New Yorker published Jennifer Egan's "Black Box"; [2] Harper Collins India published a print version of Chindu Sreedharan's Epic Retold;[3] and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was the first YouTube-distributed series to win a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Original Interactive Content.

However, there is a continuing need to bring together practitioners, researchers and theorists in the field -- to call attention to their work, to begin to create a cultural corridor in social media, and to explore issues in creating narrative on social media.

From November 16 - 21, 2016, the Rutgers Camden Digital Studies Center (DSC) Social Media Narrative: Issues in Contemporary Practice Facebook-based panel brought together a distinguished group of innovative creators, theorists, and researchers in the field of contemporary social media-based creative practice. Many of the works by participants had been included in the curriculum of Social Media Narrative: Lineage and Contemporary Practice, a DSC course taught in situ as online social media. Many of the issues that panelists addressed -- creative practice on social media, collaboration, community and audience, who owns social media content, identity on social media, social media harassment and trolls -- were continuing areas of discussion in the class.

Thanks to DSC Director, Jim Brown, and DSC Associate Director, Robert Emmons, the DSC Facebook group offered an informal meeting place that allowed students and panelists to come together in a familiar environment that everyone was comfortable with negotiating. There was an audience of other DSC group members; some of whom participated in the discussion from time to time. And while the panel was taking place, interwoven posts of events by other DSC group members enriched the information stream.


1. Barbara Pollack, "The Social Revolution," ARTnews, June 1, 2011. Available at
2. Jennifer Egan, "Black Box," The New Yorker, June 4 & 11, 2012. Available at
3. Chindu Sreedharan, Epic Retold: #Mahabharata #TwitterFiction #Bhima #140Characters, HarperCollins India, 2015.

On contemporary social media platforms, although issues of content ownership have intensified with the shift from non-profit to profit, the technology itself is increasingly amenable to creative approaches, and the participants in this panel have successfully mastered the medium to reflect their vision. It should also be noted that in my Social Media Narrative Class, Rutgers Camden DSC students contributed substantially to the genre. Indeed, one of the pleasures of teaching in this field is how students recognize the potential of the medium and the amazing different directions in which they take it.

In addition to the importance of bringing together practitioners in a relatively new field and of giving students an in situ experience of participating in a social media-based discussion of creative practice on social media, the Social Media Narrative panel built a nexus for an informal archive to immerse students, critics and theorists in a field that can be difficult to approach in an environment where social media platforms are transient islands in a content-diverse infosphere.

As of this writing, the panel remains on the DSC Facebook page. It is also archived here on content | code | process -- in this special section that includes panelists' bios and statements, as well as transcripts of the conversations that evolved around their work during the panel.

The Facebook conferencing system [4] was not designed for viewing lengthy responses, and the archiving was difficult due to the necessity to open "more" and "11 comments" clicks. Nevertheless, Facebook was a workable, accessible, and appropriate platform for an initial exploration of this field.

There is a large body of criticism, theory, and practice on electronic literature as a whole, but the approaches of social media narrators to their work are sparsely documented. On the Social Media Narrative panel, statements and responses to questions provided initial insight into the varieties of creative authoring practice of artists, writers, producers, and performers who work in contemporary social media-based narrative -- contributing to an understanding of the potential for creative work on social media platforms.


4. "Exploring the software behind Facebook, the world's largest site", Tech blog, June 18, 2010 Available at

Underlying many works of pre-web social media narrative were the idea of global artist-initiated communications, as well as creative explorations of the medium itself. As pioneer Canadian telematic artist Hank Bull observed in his chapter in Social Media Archeology and Poetics:

"Small, independent groups often worked outside official structures, using consumer level equipment and home-made electronics. Certainly for the events I was involved in, most of the effort was spent just getting the connection to work. To hear a voice, read a message, or see a face on the screen, beamed in from afar, seemed like some kind of miracle. To have both sound and picture at once was exhilarating. And an event involving several points on a global network, all in touch with each other at the same time, with simultaneous sound, image and text, was a complex, relatively rare phenomenon that took a great deal of planning and preparation." [5]

In this era, we take for granted communication unfettered by geography, instant connection, and the ability to use images, audio and video. However, the idea of co-opting communications systems for narrative -- pioneered by artists, such as Roy Ascott and Bill Bartlett, who worked on I.P. Sharp's ARTEX; such as the 70 works that French curator and critic Annick Bureaud identified on the Minitel; [6] and such as Will Crowther's Adventure running on ARPANET machines and my own Uncle Roger that initially co-opted the WELL's PicoSpan conferencing system -- is present in many of the works described in this panel, for instance Chindu Sreedharan's use of Twitter to retell the Mahabharata; Chris Rodley's unleashing of the Magic Realism Bot on Twitter; Mark Marino and Rob Wittig's performance-based use of Twitter in @Tempspence; the use of Tumblr for NSFW images that Katrin Tiidenberg researches; and the use vlogs for serial storytelling in the transmedia Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

Indeed, when I ask students to conceptualize creating a narrative on Facebook I am asking for different considerations of how social media platforms can be used. If looked at in terms of authoring systems, both the affordances offered by the platforms themselves and the individual systems that writers and artists have developed could be considered authoring systems. For instance, as an authoring platform, Facebook offers the possibility of using lexia-sized spaces, the opportunity to use text and images and video in any combination, reverse chronologically displayed content that the user alters every time he or she adds to a previous post, the ability to react (like) without commenting, etc. Using these constraints, it would be possible to develop a somewhat better way of authoring a panel on Facebook -- i.e. a collection of authoring strategies that would work on Facebook for this purpose could be devised.


5. Hank Bull, "DictatiOn, A Canadian Perspective on the History of Telematic Art". In Judy Malloy, ed., Social Media Archeology and Poetics, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2016. pp. 127-138.
6. Annick Bureaud, "Art and Minitel in France in the'80s", in Malloy, 2016, p. 139-146.

In real-time, a Facebook-based panel is lively and stimulating, changeable, and live-jazz-unpredictable. And it should be noted that Jay Bushman's observation about the difficulties of creating audience-useable archives of social media-based works is applicable also to a Facebook panel -- where no conversation is going on in isolation, and when it is in progress, readers simultaneously experience and/or participate in different conversations.

This does not mean that it cannot be differently archived.

In reviewing the panel transcripts, two areas of study came to the forefront. One was the diverse interesting approaches of creators to their social media-based creative work, including their relationships with their audiences and communities; the other was concerns about the hazards of the social media environment. This introduction, an informal creative practice tour through the transcripts, begins with the former and concludes with the later.

Addressed are: issues in writing on social media as creative practice (Rob Wittig, Dene Grigar, Deena Larsen, Jay Bushman); the role of audience and community (Chindu Sreedharan, Marco Williams, Alice Wong, Judith Adele); approaches to code and technology (Chris Rodley, Robert Emmons); mixed social media environments: performance, painting, photography (Joy Garnett, Matt Held, Katrin Tiidenberg); the social media environment: trolls and harassment (Jim Brown, Antoinette LaFarge, Mark Marino); and content ownership (Cathy Marshall). pdf's of the entire conversations, including the names of those who asked questions and the complete answers, are attached as transcripts to each panelist's pages.

1. Creative writing practice on social media is not easily codified, nor at this point should it be. But, to begin this review of the dialog that took place on the Social Media Narrative: Issues in Contemporary Practice panel, Rob Wittig, Dene Grigar, Deena Larsen, and Jay Bushman provide windows to contemporary writing practice.

"Excuse me, we're building a novel,
may we borrow a few of your words?'"
-- Rob Wittig

Rob Wittig, who was a founding member of the early IN.S.OMNIA BBS, speaks -- accompanied by a chicken Caesar salad intertwining of the real and the text virtual ("'s me inelegantly wolfing down my chicken Caesar salad from the Northern Shores Cafe right as I'm writing...Here's me picking up shredded cheese off my desk...") -- of the continuing exploration of writing practice that social media engenders:

"...I adore how writing in social media constantly allows. encourages. material explorations of writing. Writing in ways we haven't before. New strategies. New orthography. New locutions. Including parts of our mental verbal flow that had been excluded from other styles. And not always because of any kind of necessary technological affordance...."

And, he underscores the role of collaboration, noting that:

"The second thing is the idea of crowdsourced creativity, which I've been in love with ever since the early early days of Invisible Seattle, when we built the Novel of Seattle, by Seattle by dressing as Literary Workers and walking up to people on the street and saying 'Excuse me, we're building a novel, may we borrow a few of your words?'"

"Then I invited people from all over the Twittersphere
to join me in a 24-hour storytelling extravaganza
where I would post one of my 24 stories
each hour at the beginning of the hour."
-- Dene Grigar

Electronic Literature Organization President, Dene Grigar, looks at authoring strategies for social media in terms of the constrained writing that is at the heart of electronic literature. Writing about the 24-Hr. Micro-Elit Project, a collaborative work for which she edited her stories about living in Dallas, Texas into Twitter-sized literary texts, and, inviting others to contribute, posted one every hour for 24 hours, she observes that:

"Constrained writing offers a unique challenge in that it forces us to express ourselves within a tight structure. As a form of constrained writing, flash fiction requires us to express ourselves in a brief and pithy way. But Twitterature is flash fiction on steroids: We only get 140 characters to convey a story containing conflict, characters, setting, mood, and other narrative elements -- hence, the term "micro" in the title of my project..."

Eliciting participation in collaborative narrative requires nurturing the collaborators and inspiring their interest. Grigar also emphasizes the importance of involving others in "making the narrative come to life," and her statement describes how the 24-Hr. Micro-Elit Project encouraged participation by creating an interesting premise:

"...I developed an overarching theme of "metro life" and channeled experiences I had had and people I had met from when I lived in Dallas, TX. Unforgiving traffic, ubiquitous fast food joints, the desperation to find one's individuality and humanity all reflect what it was like to live in the fourth largest city in the country at the beginning of the 21st century. Then I invited people from all over the Twittersphere to join me in a 24-hour storytelling extravaganza where I would post one of my 24 stories each hour at the beginning of the hour. Participants were encouraged to post theirs as well. And I captured all of our stories on my website."

"The conceit is that
as the town's people come and go,
so too do authors"
--Deena Larsen

Talking about transferring her hypertext Marble Springs, (Eastgate Systems 1993) to a wiki, hyperfiction and hyperpoetry writer Deena Larsen, looks at collaboration in terms of authorial creation of a world model that enables readers to enter and not only explore but also contribute to the narrative:

" vision of Marble Springs grew to an open-ended, never ending place -- a one-to-one map of reality as people came and went in the town. I wanted a place where readers could make their own marks on the town."

"The conceit is that as the town's people come and go, so too do authors," she responds to a question about her choice of platform. "Thus, being able to contribute to Marble Springs is central to the work. And thus, I chose to do it as a wiki."

In response to a question, "How did you go about meeting the creative challenge of imagining so ~many~ characters?" Larsen begins with a story:

"I grew up loving the Colorado History Museum, where I'd go every chance I got. The ladies there fed me and gave me white gloves and i was able to touch and read journals, touching the words that women had written down in the mining towns and prairies. Looking back, I was probably the only kid they ever saw interested in that stuff. Moreover, I devoured my copy of Spoon River Anthology, and I just wanted a better way to discover relationships between Masters' characters."

"there's a major issue
that I run into again and again,
that I continually look for new ways to solve,
and that I haven't cracked yet:
-- Jay Bushman

Jay Bushman is Transmedia Producer and a staff writer for The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.[7] Social media has been a major part of his storytelling practice, since he first started using Twitter over ten years ago, and, as evidenced in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, he is particularly interested in dramatic storytelling with strong character voices.

JM: " this memorable work of social media narrative that utilizes deceptively homespun vlogging both as a medium and as content, the medium really is the message. And, as Ricky Collins mansplains to Lizzie, 'The key to success is content, content, and content'"

Indeed, one of my favorite episodes is episode 25 "VidCon Interruption" -- in which Lizzie, (Ashley Clements), usually shown vlogging in her bedroom, appears in a corridor of the Southern California web video conference Vidcon, and her cousin Ricky Collins (@maxwellglick) unexpectedly enters the screen -- transforming the churchy original into a salesman-suited principal in a web video company, who in his words ('due to my calculating choice of career path I have yet to achieve my doctoral degree') is 'plunging into the lush progressive frontier of online video.'"

On the panel, Jay focuses on issues of archiving transmedia-created social media narrative:

"There are limited toolsets - thank Zod for Storify - that can help in some cases, but they are usually limited to small scale compilations, or to single platforms. They do not scale for multi-voiced, multi-format, multi-platform stories. For example, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries sprawled across 35 individual social accounts on a dozen platforms. Social platforms are already not great at helping you find something that happened last week, last month or last year, and it's almost impossible to find an old story if the pieces of it are spread across multiple sites."

An archival list of links for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries was created in chronological order, but it does not provide the rich interface to the original audience experience that Bushman seeks. To deal with this problem, his company, The Horizon Factory

"aimed towards building an easy-to-use authoring system to compile multiple kinds of media -- video, audio, text, graphics, social and interactive--into an mobile, tablet and/or SmartTV app that would serve as a single package, a sort of multiplatform version of a DVD box set."

but Horizon Factory was not able to find funding.

JM: Nevertheless "...And importantly, the potential for transmedia in social media narrative is brilliantly illustrated in transmedia episodes: "Darcy Follows Lizzie" (on Twitter); Lydia and her cat Kitty appear on Tumblr and Facebook, and the interactive role of the audience when the work initially aired was an integral part of the production."


7. The YouTube series, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, was created by Hank Green and Bernie Su.

2. In addition to the audience as collaborators, other panelists -- Chindu Sreedharan, Marco Williams, Alice Wong, and Judith Adele, for instance -- use social media and/or transmedia to broaden audience horizons, recast classic literature, create user empathy, and/or create community.

"...when it was 'playing out',
there was some great responses.
In fact, I wouldn't have finished it
but for that interaction."
-- Chindu Sreedharan

Chindu Sreedharan, whose Epic_Retold, a 1605 day Twitter retelling of the Indian epic Mahabharata, has also been published in print book form by Harper Collins India, observes in response to a question about whether the 140 character limit was frustrating or challenging, that "actually it was quite liberating. You need to write only 140 characters - often two sentences - at a time before you could publish. So I wrote in increments, which made the writing process seem so much more achievable. Importantly, you got to know what the readers thought of your work in real time."

That the audience is always on his mind is clear from his opening statement:

"A crucial aspect of making a story work is the 'attitude' (which goes beyond mere 'voice') of the protagonist. This is even more crucial in #Twitterfiction, where you have more demanding audiences. I found first-person telling the most effective to capture this on Twitter."

And in a response to a question about the real-time nature of the work Sreedharan emphasizes that:

"Twitter is made for real-time storytelling, I feel. There is an immediacy, an urgency, about the platform that demands concurrency in narration, both in substance and style. Partly this is because of audience expectations...and I don't think a story that gives the impression of not playing out in Twitter is made for real-time storytelling... Epic Retold is an old, old tale, but presenting it as happening now was an interesting - and enjoyable - experience!"

This feel for the audience resonates in the way in which the text flows, whether in print or intertwined in reader Twitter streams.

JM: "...when I first experienced Epic-Retold in my Twitter feed, it seemed as if in my daily information stream, battles on ancient grounds were threaded into Digital Humanities and electronic literature celebrations and wars -- so that in the midst of pithy 140 character documentation of alliances, triumphs, shared victories and veiled feuds, we read: 'The righteous war you seek exists only in Yudhistira's mind...Come, we must prepare for the battle at night!' #TwitterFiction #Mahabharata'"

"If a person allows her or himself
to become fully immersed in the playing
-- reading the texts,
pausing to make choices,
I think the potential for empathy is high."
-- Marco Williams

Award-winning film director Marco Williams' The Migrant Trail accompanies his The Undocumented, a film that documents migrant deaths along the Arizona-Mexico border. The "game" is a potent example of how -- when transmedia accompanies films -- the affordances of interactivity contribute to empathy and understanding of core messages. In his words:

"The Migrant Trail asks players to experience a perilous border crossing through the eyes of various migrants as they make - and in many cases don't make - the journey across the Sonoran desert into the U.S. Death is a central theme in that journey and it is used throughout the game to highlight the starkness of the choices migrants face.

The true goal of the game is not to highlight death, per se, but to create empathy".

On the panel, in discussion with DSC Social Media Narrative students, Williams explored audience issues, explaining that he wanted to reach a wider audience than a PBS film.

He envisions an audience of ages 13-25, considers that the work is most effective when guided by a teacher and has created a study guide for teachers. The Migrant Trail, he also observes, "can be particularly effective when playing with a partner. Decisions have to be negotiated. This invites more reflection."

JM: When as a protagonist in Marco Williams' Migrant Trail -- -- we join a group of migrants crossing the desert from Mexico to the US, over and over, the supplies dwindle as we share them with stricken comrades, and their/our chances of making it to safety in Arizona are fraught with exhaustion, heat stroke, scorpion bites, arrest by the border patrol, or death in the dessert. The reality is overwhelming; we do not emerge unscathed by the experience.

I played this game again yesterday evening, following 6 or 7 of the characters. No one whom I became/followed made it to safety.

"'s always in the back of mind
as I use social media...
how can I make it more accessible?
How can I bring in more people
and make it more inclusive?
How can I demystify it
for people who don't understand it
or are uninterested?"
-- Alice Wong

A sociologist, research consultant, and disability activist based in San Francisco, Alice Wong is the Founder and Project Coordinator for the Disability Visibility Project(DVP), a community partnership with StoryCorps and an online community on Facebook and Twitter, dedicated to recording, amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture.

On contemporary social media platforms, dedicated communities such as DVP, are a hybrid approach to audience and community. There is often a host, in this case Alice Wong who elicits and guides the discussion, but in general the goal is community discussion rather than producing a collaboratively authored work, and in addition to community members who participate regularly in discussion, there are likely to also be many members, who are an audience that listens to the dialog.

JM: "On Thanksgiving Day I visited the Disability Visibility Project's Facebook page and 'liked' what you said: 'It's a place for all of us and I'm thankful everyday to be able to share this space with you.' This afternoon, I returned to the Disability Visibility Project's page and spent longer than I had intended reading a linked-to Washington Post story that focused on Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton's daughter, Kathleen -- her supportive home life to which she herself contributes and how she has benefited from a day program at the Art and Drama Therapy Institute. Kathleen has Down's Syndrome. I also read with pleasure that to celebrate their second year, the DVP has announced an extension of their community partnership with StoryCorps, so that people with disabilities will continue to have the option of recording their story. The DVP -- -- is an extraordinary example of how social-media has the potential to foster activism, bring together a community that is in great need of mutual support, and encourage personal narrative by people with disabilities on issues of identity."

As a host, Alice is supportive and encourages participation. For example, on the Social Media Narrative panel, she began a discussion on access to social media, and her voice on the panel was the voice of an experienced host, whose role is to elicit and encourage discussion.

In the conversation she started about access, she said:

"'s always in the back of mind as I use social media and the various things I create for it--how can I make it more accessible? How can I bring in more people and make it more inclusive? How can I demystify it for people who don't understand it or are uninterested?"

" of the most gratifying aspects
of this kind of artwork is hearing from audience member
who has never heard a Hamlet before,
and who is moved and astonished
by its narrative and outcome"
-- Judith Adele

As co-director of Avatar Repertory Theater (Second Life, Kiteley), Judith Adele has been working with Shakespeare folios and quartos to create virtual world adaptations. In her words:

"These immersive experiences take many months to produce, so we've done only a few, such as Shakespeare's The Tempest, where we put the audience on floating crates and kegs in a steampunk shipwreck and where the boatswain transformed into a flying dragon to become Prospero. Several of our audience arrived as dragons for that one and watched from in the water near the ship. We also produced Howard Barker's 13 Objects for the Barker 21for21 festival, in a grunge Slum City installation using the artwork of Arcadia Asylum, and adaptations of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, where the audience found themselves falling down the rabbit hole, swimming in the sea of tears, on overstuffed sofas in a Victorian parlor overrun with tiny talking chess pieces, or sharing a moving train with talking insects and animals."

Avatar Repertory Theater is vitally interested in the role of the audience in their virtual performances:

"Sometimes we've created entire immersive spaces and put the audience directly into the narrative. For example, in performances of Sophocles Oedipus Rex in 2010-2011, our set builder created the palace at the top of the Theban hillside, with paths (actor entrances) out in the direction of Corinth, Delphi and through the audience to the town of Thebes. Our audience avatars stood on virtual stones with animations so they danced, knelt, prayed and begged as the Chorus with the Chorus Leader. We gave them costumes if they wanted to blend in, and transformed the world around them from a depiction of modern-day Thebes as they arrived, back to 5th century BC as the play starts."

In her statement for the panel, Adele also emphasizes arts education and creative collaboration -- as well as the role of authoring strategies in virtual worlds and the importance of Avatar Reparatory Theater's work with the development of open source simulator software.


Image: MadameThespian Underhill in Second Life is sitting at her work table, manipulating her avatar and speaking her lines as Rosalinde/Ganymede in As You Like It -- in a live show A.R.T. performed in Second Life a few years ago as a part of Shakespeare at the Pavilion.

3. The role of code and technology in social media-based creative work is often so invisible that we do not acknowledge the code-driven nature of the platforms themselves. But in addition to Judith Adele, both Chris Rodley and Robert Emmons addressed their relationships with the code and technologies that make their work possible.

"A poet listens to a CD
that plays the sounds
of the number Pi."
- The Magic Realism Bot

Chris Rodley, a creator of The Magic Realism Bot, is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, where he is studying the impact of social media on writing.

During the panel, there was much student and panelist interest in the creation of the Magic Realism Bot, a collaboration with Chris Rodley's sister Ali, who wrote the code. And Rodley's answers to questions clarified his process, for instance, the role of magic realism in the conception of the bot:

"It was definitely intended as magic realism from the beginning. More specifically, it was originally designed as a generative version of Jorge Luis story premises. However, after a few weeks, I realised that it was actually better at doing fantastical, imagistic magic realism than the conceptual and metatextual style that Borges was famous for. Regarding mundane vs interesting words: actually I made a concerted effort to fill it with "magic-ish" concrete and abstract nouns. Swans, owls, clocks, stars, rainbows, moons, love, time, infinity, opposites, nothingness. Gradually, though, I put in quite a few mundane contemporary words too, and that was really just to ensure maximum variation."

And throughout the panel, Rodley emphasizes the partnership of code and human-originated content:

"...we don't need to think of these bots in a dualistic way as either machine (eg @oliviataters) or person (eg @horse_ebooks). Rather, bots on social platforms are hybrids of authors, their tools, and the responses of other social media users (usually the readers, but sometimes also other random users whose content has been swept up and spat out again). I wonder what other kinds of literary machines we could create if freed from the obligation to regard them as fully automated entities?"

"The most complex issue
that I was attempting to comment on
is the ecological impact that using technology
has on the making and representation of a persona.
Using any media subjectively frames every message,
and works over the maker and the audience..."
-- Robert Emmons

Asking questions about the role of video, images, altered images remixed images, image and text, body and screen, altered self, ghost self, award winning documentary filmmaker Robert Emmons, Associate Director of the Rutgers Camden DSC, creates a challenging richly multi-layered YouTube video for his statement to the Social Media Narrative Panel.

JM: "Your YouTube presence here on this panel not only points to your YouTube channel, but also asks how we respond to video on social media platforms -- not when it is expected but when it appears unexpectedly. According to the sometimes-spoken rules, audio and/or video should quickly divert us from image and plain text, and usually they do. But here we are forced to stop our now habitual habit of skimming text and quickly digesting images. And so your Harvey, so to speak, is not seen or responded to by everyone here. And it is our loss if we do not see it. 'I'm only here because the tools let me make them," you say. 'Without them I don't have a voice.'"

In response, Emmons writes a few words that begin:

"If I would have written an introduction I would have talked about being a filmmaker in a time where everyone who owns a smartphone is a photographer and filmmaker; and more so, on the impact that a social media site like YouTube has on the distribution of film and the creation of mediamaker personalities. The most complex issue that I was attempting to comment on is the ecological impact that using technology has on the making and representation of a persona. Using any media subjectively frames every message, and works over the maker and the audience..."

4. Mixed Social Media Environments -- works that, as do alternative reality games, move between or simultaneously utilize social media platforms and real life -- are represented on this panel by two artists: Joy Garnett, who used social media in a locative book-giving "endurance performance" and Matt Held, who reversed the image-to-social media process in his "I'll have my Facebook portrait painted by Matt Held" series. Katrin Tiidenberg, whose research explores NSFW (not suitable for workplace) selfies on Tumblr, is also included in this section because of the parallel between art-centered feminist photographic representation of performative actions and the work she is documenting.

"Each time I unloaded my books,
I photographed them with my smartphone
and tweeted the shot along with location coordinates.
I tagged the images #LostLibrary
and they posted simultaneously
to Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook."
- Joy Garnett

In 2011, an eviction notice caused Brooklyn-based visual artist and writer Joy Garnett to consider the difficulties of moving or storing her 15-year collection of books. She decided to give them away. In her statement, she describes the project in this way:

"While weeding my personal library to move to a smaller apartment, I resisted the idea of selling my books or packing them away to be stored indefinitely. I decided instead to give them away, and to perform this act as a work of art. That is how Lost Library (#lostlibrary) was born, a 'social media endurance performance' in Soho, NYC, during the summer heatwave of 2011.

"From June 19th to July 6th, I repeatedly put as many books as I could fit into two cotton tote bags and carried them from my third floor loft down to the street. I wandered in the heat, a bag on each shoulder, stopping to deposit books (in themed batches) in window wells or stoops. Each time I unloaded my books, I photographed them with my smartphone and tweeted the shot along with location coordinates. I tagged the images #LostLibrary and they posted simultaneously to Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. Some followers, as well as passersby, came to browse my books. Sometimes they tweeted a 'thank you' photograph to show the world what books they chose. Some of them wrote blog posts about the experience and posted photographs of their finds.

#LostLibrary resonated with students and fellow panelists. Comments included: "I love how the lost library contained physical books with a somewhat treasure hunt, photography, sharing with strangers, and so many different social media platforms," and "I am intrigued by how many stories there are behind each book finding a new home--so many layers of meaning."

Noting how in the early 1970's Eleanor Antin used postcards of the photographs to bring her picaresque series of photographs of 100 black rubber boots in various adventures -- 100 boots go to church, 100 boots attack a hillside, 100 boots go to a saloon -- to a wider audience, the question was asked: "Do you have any thoughts on how contemporary social media has enriched such projects with access, image distribution, and the possibilities of interaction?"

In response, Garnett reminds us of #LostLibrary's roots in eviction and of her own #unmonumental project:

"The loss of the library is re-couped through the gift, through a shared walk. But my relationship to social photography, my method of sharing and enacting the gift, is tentative if not embattled. If I'm a picaresque social photo-heroine, I know better than to trust the medium. There is an inherent contradiction; I revel in its hostile embrace.

One precursor to Lost Library and my earlier, longstanding photo-wanderings (, is Smithson's Monuments of Passaic and his musings on entropy. But my photo-wanderings are more intimate, feminine, personal in their sense of loss and recovery. I think of feminist post-conceptualist photographers and their walks -- Susan Silas and her devastating project Helmbrechts Walk, for instance. I think of Virilio's Grey Ecology, his belief that actual things are annihilated as everything is subsumed in our enslavement to speed. Perversely, I share my losses TO real-time in real-time..."

"My original goal
was to paint 200 portraits
(I made it to 75)
and formed a group
that connected me to individuals
around the globe."
-- Matt Held

Visual artist Matt Held's "I'll have my Facebook portrait painted by Matt Held" project began in 2009.

In his statement for the panel, he observes that:

At the time, Facebook was fairly new to the general public as it had previously been limited to universities. I was fascinated with this concept of individualism through digital representation and the spread of democratization aided by social networking and began painting portraits as a means to exam that. My original goal was to paint 200 portraits (I made it to 75) and formed a group that connected me to individuals around the globe."

In response to a question about the details of his inspiration and process, Held writes:

"They are all oil on canvas using the original photo as a digital reference. I'll just reconstruct what my origins of the project were -- I was having a painter's block and one day my wife was playing around with the computer, took a picture of herself in iPhoto -- her interpretation of what she looked like when she was angry -- and posted it to her Facebook page. I loved the shot, decided to paint it and it hit me -- what a wealth of source material Facebook could be. Going through the profile shots of some of my friends I started thinking about what the poster's intent is with some of their photos. Choosing a certain photo to post is a form of control and self-preservation. However, whether it's a conscious or subconscious choice to choose a photo as a representation of your 'self' is not something this project addresses rather an examination of the subjects' character and moral quality as part of the social media dialogue."

The question was asked:

"As is sometimes the role of art, do you think that your paintings will outlast Facebook itself and years from now emerge (from a welter of archived fb profiles) to represent the platform itself?"

Held thinks it more likely that in the future "it's most likely the project, and the paintings, will get drowned out with all the other noise."

JM: "Painting is potentially far more archival than digital storage media. There is no guarantee that Facebook users won't wake up one morning to what Myspace users woke up to a few years ago -- a massive unannounced difficult-to-retrieve removal of their "old" content. And perhaps most important, as your Facebook painting do, painters divulge something in the subject that screen grabs do not. For example, you can look at old advertisements or even photos of the Chrysler Sebring or the Chevrolet Bel Air, but there is something conveyed in Robert Bechtle's "Bob's Sebring" (2011 oil on linen) or in his "'63 Bel Air", (1973 lithograph) that situates these automobiles in the culture of their era. You do not add the equivalent of Bechtle's houses, lawns, or streets in your images, but nevertheless, your paintings so strongly represent your vision of the people-culture of Facebook that I think they will remain iconic."

"I also believe that these stories are told
in images, captions, hashtags, blog posts
and that a 'text' doesn't have to follow
the classical narrative structure
to be considered a narrative."
-- Katrin Tiidenberg

As a lecturer at both Aarhus University in Aarhus, Denmark and Tallinn University, Tallin, Estonia, Katrin Tiidenberg focuses on the gendered, sexuality, and embodiment-related aspects of visual self-presentation on social media. In her words:

"One of the interesting things I've found is that people, who are not activists or artists, but amateurs participating for the sake of entertainment, support, relationships and belonging, can still end up pushing back at some dominant cultural narratives. By posting sexy selfies within that particular community on Tumblr (the socio-technical affordances of the platforms and the cultural norms of the community are undoubtedly relevant for how these experiences play out), my informants can reject the 'regime of order and the regime of shame' (Koskela, 2004, p. 206-207) that visual economy predominantly functions with. Occasionally selfie-practices can even lead to 'self-storying as activism' (Crawley & Broad, 2004, p. 68), which means that a blogger will use her own body and her own selfies to push back at what our visual culture positions as photographable. This is a position of voluntary vulnerability that troubles the grand narratives of what is beautiful or sexy; who can be seen; who has the right to show what. So through what is seemingly a personal, maybe even a trivial practice, people can regain control not only over their own (sexual) story telling, but also the narratives of aesthetics or sexiness in a wider sense."

In response to a question about the theories and methods that could be used to analyze the visuals, she set forth her methods in detail and summarized the whole in this way:

"So for me, studying selfies in-situ, is sort of a second tier methods argument. It builds on my experience with studying selfies by using different more and less common frameworks to find the one that works for me. I started with Goffman (1959), which allowed me to approach selfies as performative. It also illuminated how selfies gain a lot of their meaning in interactions. I then moved to a late Foucaultian approach that looked at selfie practices as technologies of the self and revealed the potential for self-transformations through self-care and critical awareness. I then used Rebecca Coleman's (2009) Deleuze inspired theory of 'bodies as becoming,' which further emphasizes the profound relationality between images and bodies, and shows how images can produce particular kinds of bodies. Finally, to situate selfie practices in the wider normative and ideological discourses I used Foucault's concepts of critique and practices of freedom.

All of these frameworks helped me to move beyond just what is on the images, to how they are produced; why they are shared; how they are (expected to be) viewed; why other people's selfies matter; and how words, images and metadata integrate into (more and less) coherent entities of meaning."

And in response to a question regarding looking at NSFW content in the legacy of performative actions -- work in the tradition of feminist performance: Carolee Schneemann, Barbara Smith, Karen Finley, Holly Hughes -- she observes that there is an overlap on Tumblr between NSFW selfie communities and the social justice communities on Tumblr and that:

"...some women definitely approach their selfie practices as a performance and their personal politics illuminates the performative choices they make."

5. Addressing social media platforms as authoring environments, and the role of artists in creating challenging performative work on social media, three panelists, DSC Director Jim Brown, netprov producer Mark Marino, and mixed virtual reality artist and writer Antoinette LaFarge talked with each other about issues of trolls and harassment on social media.

And in conclusion, hypertext researcher, Cathy Marshall looks at issues of archiving social media.

"For example, when we played out @Tempspence,
we did not tell @SpencerPratt's followers
that we were about to write a story..."
-- Mark Marino

New media writer, Mark Marino, who collaborates with Rob Wittig to create netprovs, entered the panel at the onset, saying: "I'd like to speak to the issues of trolls." In his statement, Marino addressed the "troll" aspects of his work, including the controversial @occupymla and @Tempspence, for which realty show star Spencer Pratt collaborated.

Mark asked the panel to consider the issues of identity and nonfiction as fiction from a performance point of view, noting that:

"But we weren't truly trolling in any of these projects. We weren't trying to be 'bad actors' in the sense of stereotypical troll behavior. Instead, we were performing our roles in the midst of networks where the rules of play are tenuous at best. More to the point, we were performing purposeful artistic and critical interventions on networks by breaking the rules -- which on media platforms that are only a nanosecond old can at best only be considered, like The Pirate Code, to be suggestions....I hope that in some small way our trolling, if it be that, may incite and inspire, by pushing us out of the commercialized verified identities of Facebait back to a moment when we saw Internet identities as performance -- times like the late 20th -- or perhaps more like the 18th Century!"

" recent research questions
are about how social media spaces are designed
and how those designs can actually participate in
and encourage harassment..."
Jim Brown

Jim Brown -- whose first book, Ethical Programs, tracked the ethics built into networked software platforms such as Twitter, MediaWiki -- looked at the issues of trolls and harassment in terms of software platforms.

"My new project is an attempt to analyze how software platforms enable or perhaps even encourage online harassment. First, a note about harassment and trolling: I'm really primarily focused on harassment and not the trolling that Mark Marino has already pointed us to in his post. While there are some trolling activities that bleed into the category of harassment, there are plenty of trolls who are more interested in exploring the potentials of online space than they are in harassing or abusing others. (One good source on this is Whitney Phillips' book This is Why We Can't Have Nice Things.)

So, my recent research questions are about how social media spaces are designed and how those designs can actually participate in and encourage harassment. The link to social media narrative here is this: What spaces are available to people who want to tell stories collaboratively? How are those spaces shaped and designed? Are they safe? How might they be redesigned and rethought?"

Brown's project and the idea of designing harassment-free social media platforms substantially elicited student and fellow panelist questions on ways to avoid harassment, issues that arose in social media in the course of the presidential election, and issues, such as the weight of harassment when it happens both at school and online. In a response to the bullying and cyberbullying question, he responded:

"In the course of this recent research project, I actually looked at the etymology of harassment. It shed light on the exact problem you've noted here. 'To wear out, tire out, or exhaust with fatigue, care, trouble, etc.' or 'To scrape or rub.' (OED). Harassment is about this constant pestering...and online harassment allows this to be amplified. That said, my interest is in examining harassment as it crosses the line between 'online' and 'offline.' The term cyberbulling is, for me, misleading. Online harassment reaches into the offline world, causing physical trauma. Some harassment even involves 'offline' activity (doxxing, SWATting, etc.). I really have no idea how to end it, but I do think we can study it in more productive ways so that we can design better environments. That design is about software, but it's also about community standards. Have you seen Imzy? It's a platform."

"This is the crucial point:
there are no rules of play
on the internet."
-- Antoinette LaFarge

Because her work is available elsewhere on content | code | process, Antoinette LaFarge, an artist and writer and pioneer in mixed reality performance, who works with impersonation, virtuality, and history, chose to respond to the work of other panelists, in particular to the subject of creative trolling, introduced by Mark Marino:

In her words:

"I've been thinking about trolling a good deal as well, and I spoke about it earlier this year at the #UNIT Festival in Berlin. Like Mark, I have a broad history of role-playing in cyberspace, as with the Plaintext Players in the 1990s and early 2000s. And also of creating projects that are undisclosed fictions, which often look superficially like hoaxes or trolling once the fiction is declared or exposed. So this statement by Mark really resonated for me: 'We weren't trying to be 'bad actors' in the sense of stereotypical troll behavior. Instead, we were performing our roles in the midst of networks where the rules of play are tenuous at best.

This is the crucial point: there are no rules of play on the internet. Really. 25 years on, there are no effective rules of play on the net that extend beyond the policies set by managers of specific software. What we have instead are the norms that we have ported over from outside the internet, the best of which are ever useful, like 'trash the idea not the person'. But norms are not rules; they are easy to break, especially in a social arena where people don't actually want certain norms to apply. A lot of the time on the internet, people want to be pseudonymous. It turns out that many of us want to perform more than we want to manage some stable version of ourselves. We even treat our apparently real selves performatively, creating slightly idealized façade selves in spaces like this one."

" seems that people value
the ability to curate their digital selves.
Saving Facebook implies the ability
for someone to get at
an out-of-date version of oneself.."
...Cathy Marshall

In recent work, hypertext researcher Cathy Marshall has been researching the possibilities for archiving social media. As she observes in her statement:

"Reactions to archiving Facebook are mixed. Should Facebook (and its kin) stay ephemeral and always mutable? Is it private and too personal? Is it just too much, too uncurated and uncuratable?"

Marshall and Frank Shipman address the issue of archiving Facebook in Marshall, C.C. and Shipman, F.M., "An Argument for Archiving Facebook as a Heterogeneous Personal Store". One of the things this paper does is to in-great-detail document the difficult process of uncovering Joan Volmer's life by traditional methods. In the conclusion, they bring up some of the issues stating that:

"...Archiving Facebook will doubtlessly be a balancing act. On one hand, people have legitimate concerns about the threat to privacy and loss of control of one's own digital footprint that such a collection represents. On the other hand, a Facebook archive may provide a rich historical resource that documents a time period in the way that fast-disappearing resources like local newspapers, city directories, and personal correspondence did in the past." [8]

In discussing this research on the panel, Marshall observes that

"What I've noticed when I give this talk is that there are always a couple of people (sometimes colleagues I've known for years) who become angrier and angrier. Frank and I looked into this--it seems that people value the ability to curate their digital selves. Saving Facebook implies the ability for someone to get at an out-of-date version of oneself..."


8. Catherine C. Marshall and Frank M. Shipman, "An Argument for Archiving Facebook as a Heterogeneous Personal Store", Proceedings of Digital Libraries 2014, IEEE Press, September 2014. Available at

Judy Malloy
Digital Studies Fellow
Digital Studies Center
Rutgers Camden University
Last Update: May 17, 2017

Panelists' Pages

content | code | process, February, 2017

Judith Adele
(Ada Radius)
- Avatar Repertory Theater

James J. Brown, Jr.
Social Media Harassment

Jay Bushman
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Robert Emmons

Joy Garnett

Dene Grigar
The 24-Hr. Micro-Elit Project

Matt Held
Facebook Paintings

Antoinette LaFarge
Mixed Reality Performance

Deena Larsen
Marble Springs Wiki

Mark Marino

Cathy Marshall
Who owns social media content?

Chris Rodley
The Magic Realism Bot

Chindu Sreedharan

Katrin Tiidenberg
Identity on Tumblr

Marco Williams
The Migrant Trail

Rob Wittig - Netprov

Alice Wong

Rutgers Camden DSC
Class in Social Media Narrative

Judy Malloy