General Election 2015: Highs, lows, and moments of confusion

It’s hard to believe that the vote for the UK’s new government took place just seven days ago. Time during the election campaign seemed to take on an extra special quality for me, whereby the five weeks and three days of campaigning seemed to last for my entire life. Yet, as we emerge from the election into the world of a Conservative majority government, some events seem hazy in memory.  Ellen Watts and I felt we would try to make light (and a little sense of) some of the campaign’s more interesting events. Here’s our top moments of the 2015 campaign, with some tentative analysis just for fun.


Ellen: When Miliband was pictured leaving Brand’s flat and the press speculated there could be an endorsement, I laughed and told everyone that would never happen. Then it did. Brand’s ‘anti-voting’ position was never as rigid as the press reported, and he’d always liked Miliband, but I was still blown away. I think this definitely had more potential to damage Brand than Miliband, whatever the press say. Many of Brand’s fans support the Green Party, and he’s much closer to them ideologically. For me, the most interesting thing about the whole episode is the debate over whether Miliband should have ‘gone to’ Brand. Does this demonstrate the trivialisation of elections, or a bold willingness to reach out to Brand’s nine million followers? Cameron called Brand a joke…well, even if it made no difference, at least it showed that Miliband can take a joke!

Screenshot of's "Brand: People do listen to The Sun"

Screenshot of’s “Brand: People do listen to The Sun”

Amy: I agree with you that the point of interest here is the debate about whether Miliband was right or wrong to go to Brand. It speaks to a larger tension between older and newer forms of social media and did spark some discussion in the press along these lines. Both sides seemed to accept that this was an attempt by Labour to reach that notoriously homogenous, disengaged group known as ‘the youth’ (note: they are not homogenous and disengaged). The argument seemed to be divided into whether Miliband was doing the right thing because he was, at least, making an attempt to reach the youth through Brand’s social media following, or whether attempting to reach the youth was a pointless exercise. Whatever the reality, The Sun has claimed victory in the phony war between traditional and newer media, clearly ignoring the nuances of intermedia dependency even as it is displayed on the very same webpage (see image).

Ed Miliband: sex symbol or North London geek?

Amy: The press had something of a crisis over how to represent Ed Miliband. Was he the “North London geek”, as branded by Jeremy Paxman in the ‘Battle for Number 10’, unable to eat a bacon sandwich competently and hence unable to run the country competently? Or was he ladies’ man, with a “Very Tangled Love Life”? The Daily Mail article did it’s very best to perpetuate the latter, but it read like a very boring account of the relationship histories of most people in modern Britain. The alternate headline made up in the PhD office, “Man has relationships with women he meets at university and through mutual friends before marrying his wife”, seemed more accurate if less sensational.

 Ellen: Our headline is definitely better. The ‘North London geek’ thing particularly intrigued me. We definitely saw Miliband play up to the ‘geek’ label more afterwards, talking more about his favourite video games and baseball teams in interviews. Paxman definitely didn’t mean it as a compliment, Charlie Brooker even speculated that unnecessarily adding ‘North London’ was an anti-Semitic dig, but Miliband tried to reclaim the geek label and use it to his advantage. I think that this was probably the right move; better to admit to having obscure interests than to forget which football team you ‘support’.

Joey Essex

Ellen: Joey Essex interviewed Miliband, Clegg and Farage for his ITV2 special ‘Educating Joey Essex: General Election, What Are You Sayin?!’ He didn’t vote in 2010, and was on a mission to learn more about politics so that he could this time. Whilst the programme was (of course) pretty silly, the ability of some of Essex’s interviewees to relate to him demonstrated positive qualities in them. Anyone who knows Joey’s history must’ve felt a little ‘emosh’ seeing Nick Clegg talking to him about improving mental health care.

Meeting ‘ordinary celebrities’ is becoming yet another proxy for meeting ‘ordinary voters’, but I still wish Cameron had become involved. Joey did vote, after going to the wrong polling station, but we don’t know who for. I’d love to know if he got confused that Miliband, Farage and ‘Nick Legg’ weren’t actually on the ballot papers. Joey Essex general election pundit, Amy, what are YOU sayin’?

Amy: Well, where to begin? Essex’s programme naturally drew a lot of media attention and was much discussed on social media. It fits the trope of engaging ‘the youth’, although perhaps targeting a different demographic to that of the Brand interviews (ergo, they are not one homogenous group). It therefore helped to perpetuate ‘the engagement of young people in politics’ as a narrative throughout the campaign. Perhaps because of this, most parties wanted to become involved with his investigations, and took his slip-ups in good humour (the Lib Dems changing their website to feature the ‘Liberal Democats’ was a personal highlight). And who knows, maybe Essex’s programme did help some to understand the election and decide who to vote for. I think there’s probably a thesis in that, Ellen…

#Milifandom (and #Cameronettes?)

Ellen: Whilst I feel like some of the photoshopped images of Ed Miliband’s face on semi-naked models will haunt my dreams forever, #Milifandom raised some interesting questions about participation. I was happy to see its founder, Abby, hitting back at journalists who saw her enthusiasm as childish, arguing that she had started #Milifandom as a response to media attacks on Miliband. I hope that she and other Milifans haven’t become totally despondent about politics before they can even vote.

Amy: I was overjoyed at the emergence of #Milifandom. After all the talk of youth participation here were some youth’s actually participating. Using a social media platform to express not only love but reasoned arguments for supporting Ed Miliband, it turned out that they were both knowledgeable and passionate. Obviously, there were some sceptics, with fandoms usually associated with 1D-obsessed teenage girls. Nevertheless, in #Milifandom we saw many of the traits that the old guard lament as lost in young people, and the wonderful thing was that it was organically created in a new media logic understood by its core audience and mistrusted by older generations. A timeless recipe really.

I was confused at the emergence of #Cameronettes. The Telegraph tried to clear it up, but in fact made me more concerned. Was it created by CCHQ, a teenage girl, a twenty-something male student, or a twenty-something male student masquerading as teenage girl? I stopped collecting data on this quite quickly basically because I couldn’t cope.

The ‘biased’ BBC

Amy: This also had me confused consistently. In my collection of data from Twitter and Facebook, I alternately learned that the BBC was left-wing/right-wing (delete as appropriate) and it was made clear that the Beeb was not giving enough airtime to UKIP, the Conservatives, UKIP, Labour, or UKIP. Even their debate audiences, as Nigel Farage brought to our attention, seemed to be unfairly weighted. Yet, the BBC is heavily regulated to ensure it gives even coverage to all parties, based on their size, and – as I found out by talking to their journalists – they have to produce graphs at the end of every week to prove it. So they are at least technically unbiased, then. Problem-solved. I must also give special mention to BBC Breakfast’s election coverage involving the ‘Travelling Sofa’ and the ‘Steph-o-meter’™, which kept me amused during many an early start. Kudos, Breakfast team.

Ellen: The BBC definitely cannot win. For the Conservatives, accusing the BBC of bias is a win-win, undermining negative coverage of them but possibly more importantly undermining the authority of the BBC itself. This is crucial when you plan to appoint a culture secretary who thinks that the license fee is ‘unsustainable’. As for UKIP, for all the involvement of comedians in this campaign its funniest moment was definitely still Farage attacking the audience at the Challengers’ Debate. How not to win people over 101.

The “selfie election”. Or was it the “social media election”?

Amy: Thesis-wise I was absolutely thrilled the media began to give various monikers to the election – it fits right in with my introductory chapter. However, both of the prominent ones given above are questionable. No-one can argue that selfies were not in abundance, but calling this campaign the “selfie election” refers to a derivative of a specific use of media, rather than having campaign activities aligned to a media platform, such as in “the television election” or “the internet election”. The “social media election” does do this, and certainly social media use by politicians, journalists and voters alike was central throughout the campaign. Yet in the aftermath of the vote, left-wing commentators considered that their existence within the social media bubble had led them to believe the outcome of election would be more favourable for them. It clearly wasn’t, so perhaps “the social media” election is somewhat of a misnomer, in terms of the medium’s impact on outcome.

Ellen: I agree. Social media use during campaigns is now obviously necessary, how out of touch would you look if you didn’t use it, but I don’t think it will ever be sufficient to lead a party to victory. Ed Miliband started using Instagram last September, much to the amusement of the press, and it became its own little fascinating bubble of Milifandom before #Milifandom was even a thing. Clearly though, David Cameron’s lack of Instagram, or a selfie with Joey Essex or a bride-to-be and her hens, wasn’t a barrier to electoral success.

And finally, Al Murray…

Al Murray discovers the result in Thanet South

The Pub Landlord discovers the result in Thanet South

On attending the 1st Leuven-Montréal Winter School on Elections and Voting Behaviour

Originally published at

The 1st Winter School on Elections and Voting Behaviour, a joint endeavour between KU Leuven and the Université de Montréal, took place in Leuven, Belgium between 15th and 22nd January 2015. The school was organised by Ruth Dassonneville from KU Leuven, and brought together PhD students from universities across Europe and North America. The Winter School focused on specific sub-topics within the field of elections research, including: economic voting; strategic voting; psychological behaviour; issue voting; participation; and – pertinently for me – media effects. It aimed to give attendees an overview of methods and studies currently used to analyse the behaviour of voters during elections, as well the opportunity to present a paper and gain valuable feedback on our ideas, approaches, and research designs.

A number of high profile researchers were invited to deliver a class on each sub-topic and to act as discussants during the presentation of student papers. Key speakers were André Blais, Michael S. Lewis-Beck, Patrick Fournier, Claes de Vreese, Romain Lachat, and Marc Hooghe.  For ‘media effects’, I was fortunate to listen to a lecture and receive feedback from Claes de Vreese, editor of Political Communication and Professor and Chair of Political Communication atThe Amsterdam School of Communication Research, University of Amsterdam.


The paper I presented at the school described the methodological approach I take in my research on this year’s UK general election. Specifically, it highlighted the problems facing internet researchers in our attempts to collect valid and reliable data sets, suggestions for how we might overcome these, and an overview of how I intend to apply this within my own research. The feedback received from both de Vreese and my fellow PhD students was constructive and helpful. The Winter School fostered a sense of community amongst the students, as illustrated by the many who offered to put me in touch with, or send me the work of, scholars conducting research in my field. For those students in the early stages, or perhaps even their first few months, of research, feedback was extremely forthcoming from fellow students – perhaps because of our innate desires to project our own methodological preferences and conceptual predispositions on the research design presented. Nevertheless, personal preferences notwithstanding, the constructive suggestions and criticisms offered to all presenters was one of the most worthwhile features of the Winter School.

As one of the few researchers in attendance using predominantly qualitative methods, I found the Winter School to be particularly illuminating in terms of my understanding of the benefits of quantitative research, both to assess voting behaviour and the use of methods to establish relationships between different variables. Of particular interest to me were the papers presented relating to media effects which utilised quantitative or experimental designs. Jӧrg Hebenstreit, from Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, presented a paper on the influence of money on the outcome of US elections; a topical area of study which has obvious ramifications for the ways in which advertising is used by parties, candidates and super PACS. Marijn Nagtzaam, from Leiden University, presented his initial research design on ‘second-order’ electoral personalization, proposing an exploration of the impact of preference voting for candidates based on a prior choice of party. Choosing a favourite paper from the day, though, leads me to Rim Sabrina Sassi’s submission, from Université Laval, on microtargeting in electoral campaigns.  Microtargeting is a fascinating subject, not least because of its meteoric rise as an asset for campaign teams, but also because of its ethical and societal implications – there are many angles from which this subject could be approached.  Sassi’s suggestion exploration through experiments using Facebook provoked much discussion and it is clear that this research design provides the basis for an interesting and highly original thesis.

Whilst the Winter School provided an important overview of research into elections and voting behaviour, the real benefit of the week spent in Leuven was the ability to connect with like-minded researchers and share knowledge and insights from an international perspective. The time I spent at the school gave me space to think about my own research and assess where it fits with studies being conducted by the next generation of elections scholars. Crucially, the Winter School introduced me to some fascinating new approaches and paths which I can investigate for application to my own research. Due to its success, the 2nd Winter School on Elections and Voting Behaviour looks set to be held in Montréal in 2016. Attendance is highly recommend for those political communication and elections scholars who would like to better understand how we fit into the research landscape, network with colleagues working internationally, and acquire lessons that can be applied to your own thesis.

The influence of ‘specialised’ media: the case of women’s lifestyle magazines

When I talk of ‘media elites’ within my research, I am referring exclusively to professional news production organisations. I do stretch the concept beyond the old guard of print and broadcast organizations to online only organizations with significant reach, think or Buzzfeed, however an article in Cosmopolitan magazine regarding the political parties’ and issues relevant to women, specifically the content in the picture below, made me wonder if I’m missing out on a large group of potential influencers by ignoring media produced for specific populations.

Image taken from UK Cosmopolitan, November 2014 edition.

Image taken from UK Cosmopolitan, November 2014 edition.

Publications such as women’s and men’s ‘lifestyle’ magazines, those targeted at different age groups, and those with specialised content – such as music, hobbies, or technology – share the hybrid characteristics of ‘elite’ news producers, but differ their general tendency to retain stable loyal audiences. Recognizing the difference in publication context, this is a state of affairs that news producers, in their constant competition to grab audience attention with the same stories, cannot take advantage of.

Continuing with the example of UK Cosmopolitan to illustrate this point, according to a reader profile produced by in August 2014, Cosmopolitan’s readership is the most loyal in the UK market with ‘41% only choosing to read the brand’.[1] Within the same publication, the Editor-in-Chief, Louise Court, stated that ‘, Twitter, Facebook, Cosmo on Campus, Cosmo Body and the launch of Cosmopolitan Fashion are just part of the Cosmo universe. It’s no coincidence that Cosmo is the brand every newspaper, TV and radio station wants to talk to when they feature coverage of young women or matters of interest to women generally.’ This demonstrates that the brand is able to maintain a loyal readership whilst extending its scope across different platforms and into the realm of hybridity – with the brand’s coverage of young women being represented in broadcast media and other print publications.

Arguably, publications who have succeeded in firmly entrenching the hybridity and reader loyalty might be in a position to mobilise their audience on issues or exercise influence over them to a greater extent than is currently the case for news producers. With their niche content, these publications can push campaigns they know will be of interest to, and be supported by, their audience. They can also lend weight to existing campaigns and create news stories from their actions.

A pertinent example of occurred this week. The UK’s Elle magazine is planning it’s first ‘feminism issue’ and as part of this asked the leaders of the three main political parties to be pictured wearing a specially-designed version of the Fawcett Society’s “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt.[2] Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg obliged, alongside a handful of male celebrities, but David Cameron did not.[3] The Elle team ran the below image on its website, showing Clegg and Miliband flanking a space with a question mark where Cameron should have been. This omission then became a news story.

Picture taken from

Picture taken from

There are two impacts that Elle UK’s editorial decision to focus Cameron’s absence could have on their audience:

  1. Influence – by framing the story in this way, and with the news media promoting this narrative, the negative perception of Cameron as anti-feminism will resonate with the audience (and potentially with a wider audience through news remediation).
  2. Mobilization – Elle’s readers responded to the story in great numbers by sharing it on social networking sites.[4] Not only did this help to spread the story to a wider audience and strengthen the narrative, with its discourse of outrage and disappointment in the PM, but it also mobilized Elle’s readership and a wider audience to express their support for the Fawcett Society’s t-shirt campaign.

To apply these outcomes to the Cosmopolitan piece: whilst the author makes clear that they cannot tell the reader how to vote, it is explicitly stated that women in general would be ‘better off’ not voting for UKIP due to sexist comments made by Nigel Farage and party members. With a loyal readership to count on, rather than the fragmented audience that many news producers face, this message from a leading women’s lifestyle magazine may be more influential in deciding voting preferences for a particular demographic than any number of news stories on the same subject.





PhD Year 2: The view from the beginning

I haven’t posted anything to this blog in quite a while and I could give various tired excuses: I was busy, I struggled with some bad medication (which I no longer take), the dog ate my blog post… However, I want to look forwards and not backwards and so this little ramble will do just that.

It’s the beginning of a new academic year. For me, above everything else, looking forwards into Year 2 primarily means that I see the UK general election looming ever closer. With just under 8 months to go, the parties are seemingly eager to begin campaigning (unofficially of course). This means that the pressure is on to refine and enact my methods of data collection in order to answer the burning questions I have about communications in an election campaign. As it turns out, choosing the right method(s) in political science is not straightforward, and choosing the right methods in political communication – particularly for research involving the internet – is especially hazardous.

This may seem obvious, but information online moves so quickly it can be gone before you have even had a chance to record it. Consider a basic Twitter feed. Refreshing it after just a minute will show a completely different bundle of information, and within that bundle, the researcher has to shift through opinions, facts, data, links, funny jokes, terrible jokes, and a plethora of images. Dave Karpf has some wonderful thoughts on this, and the ways in which we can collect data from the online world. His advocates the application of kludginess[1]derived from the word ‘kludge’ meaning an inelegant workaround that solves a problem – as a concept to consider in internet research design. This has become crucial in informing the thinking and approach I am taking methodologically. That is to say, I agree with Karpf that pragmatic approaches which may involve a combination of methods are needed. I would urge anyone interested who has not yet read Karpf’s work to do so, details of which are on his website. As an aside, for those interested in movements and campaigning (dystonia awareness advocates, I’m looking at you) his book, The MoveOn Effect: The Unexpected Transformation of American Political Advocacy (Oxford University Press), is particularly insightful.

Information disappears quickly online: the top tweets in my Twitter feed at 8.20pm (left) and just 1 minute later (right).

Information disappears quickly online: the top tweets in my Twitter feed at 8.20pm (left) and just 1 minute later (right).

As well as looking ahead to the 2015 election, and since my Dystonia does not seem to be going anywhere, I am looking forward to a year of commitment to treatment through botulinum toxin injections alongside the continuation of clonazepam medication. Last year the first set of injections didn’t work, but this year I’m hoping that we will get it right.

Dystonia is one of those disorders where everyone is affected differently, and so it follows that treatments work differently for every patient. Thanks to my habit of seeing the world through my own conceptual prisms, I think I can apply the concept of kludginess to the treatment of Dystonia; it really is trial and error. Many people living with the disorder develop their own ways of coping by creating their own repertoires of treatment; I know that many use diverse combinations of medication, botox, surgery, physical therapies, yoga, meditation, support groups, or prayer. In the same way that researchers try to find the right way to capture relevant information online to answer a specific question, trying to find the right way to treat your specific form of Dystonia often involves an inelegant solution and a mixed approach. We try one route. Sometimes we fail and try again. Nevertheless, we hope that in the end we’ll find the right combination of methods to solve our problem.

[1] David Karpf. (2012). ‘Social Science Research Methods in Internet Time’. Information, Communication and Society. 15: 5, 639-661.

Book Review: Doris A. Graber, ‘On Media: Making Sense of Politics’

Please note: This review is not the final version. The definitive version will be available at Wiley Online Library (link to be provided once published)

On Media: Making Sense of Politics is an introductory text for those new to the field of political communication. Graber’s book focuses upon the role that the media play in political learning. The author argues that it is possible for news media to enhance citizens’ civic IQs, but, if they fall short, then other media types can cultivate political understanding.

Graber, D. A. 2012. 'On Media: Making Sense of Politics'. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Graber, D. A. 2012. ‘On Media: Making Sense of Politics’. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Graber’s key assumption is that some citizens do not learn politically-relevant information from the news media, but gather information from other media sites. To test this assumption, she undertook an appraisal of the adequacy of the news supply in the United States, a content analysis of serial dramas, and interviews with their audiences. The methods were then replicated in the Netherlands and Greece. Comparisons of news provision and interview data give weight to Graber’s argument, that where citizens cannot learn from news media, serial dramas can provide this opportunity. For example, compared to the US and the Netherlands, Greece has a low newspaper readership and low Internet usage (p.120). Graber thus observes that Greek viewers “paid substantially more attention to the educational values of the dramas than their Dutch and American counterparts” (p.129) because Greek news media does not provide the same learning opportunities. This illustrates how dramas can be catalysts for political learning, providing context and vicarious experiences which citizens use to understand politics.

Graber’s criticisms of existing literature focus on current methods used in political science and polls, which stress knowledge of facts at the expense of measuring understanding. Graber’s empirical work is a decisive move away from this. By focusing on measuring understanding gained from the politically relevant information available, she reveals how “the public is not ignorant about essential political data and can form sound opinions” (p.30), contrary to other contentions. The implications for political science are clear: the discipline must not restrict itself to measuring the learning of facts, but should strive to understand different types of knowledge and the variety of ways in which citizens learn.

Graber assesses media holistically. However, her sample of internet news media lacks detail and would have benefitted from a wider variety of online news sources, instead of being limited to blogs (p.39). Nevertheless, the arguments and analysis given here are well-presented and persuasive, if not generalizable to the entire population. On Media provides an intriguing starting point for anyone interested in the impact of the media upon politics.

Controlling the agenda: the surprising difficulty of raising awareness in the internet age

#np: We are not alone – Karla DeVito

From my research so far (alright, from my extensive reading of existing literature), it would seem that campaigners and activists have a veritable smorgasbord of tools (online and offline) at their fingertips with which to wage promotional war. Yet, what I will term the ‘medical awareness’ agenda, remains narrow; limited to the high profile medical issues, such as cancer, heart disease, etc. Obviously these are very worthy causes, which affect many more people than my condition, and fund-raising and research are vital if we are to overcome them. Yet, dystonia does not seem to have even proportional representation in the media in terms of the awareness that other health issues benefit from. Which leads me to this question: if the barriers to participation and media engagement are lowered through easier access to newer media, why is it so difficult to put dystonia on the public agenda?

Wishing articles related to Dystonia actually appeared in 'lifestyle' magazines...

Wishing articles related to Dystonia actually appeared in ‘lifestyle’ magazines…

When I was diagnosed 6 months ago, my first port of call for information was the internet. Alongside the wealth of knowledge available, I found an army of people with dystonia; a vast global support network that uses social networking sites to share their experiences. Collectively they provide hope for the as yet un-diagnosed, those in pain, or people just having ‘one of those days’. An explicit aim I’ve noticed within the group is raising awareness, something often discussed. There are countless blogs (this one included) which tell stories of living life with a movement disorder. These are promoted on Twitter, shared on Facebook and linked through a network of ‘activist’ blogs. For great examples please see Rebecca Moller’s or Pamela Sloate’s, Pamela also coordinates a Facebook group, Dystonia BloggerMania, and both of these amazing women were nominated in the WEGO Health Activist awards. The Dystonia Society in the UK is also doing what it can to raise awareness, such as producing these fantastic videos. Yet dystonia still remains under the radar of the general public and politicians, and outside of the ‘traditional’ media in the UK.

Taking only the most limited and unreliable sample of people – friends, family, acquaintances, peers, professors, and airplane/airport staff – only one person outside of the medical profession had heard of dystonia before I mentioned it. If we are to understand why, then I suggest that the following assumptions regarding the three main actor groups (media, citizens, and policymakers) should be taken into account:

  1. News producers continue to rely on elite, well-known, or insider sources for health stories (see even when looking for stories starting in newer media spaces. Apart from the Dystonia Society – which focuses on fundraising, support and advocacy – there appears to be no organization which can fill this role;
  2. Lack of education amongst the public, and the relatively small number of citizens affected by the condition (c.70,000), makes the discussion of dystonia in online sites available only to those already in the know, and less attractive to mainstream media;
  3. Similarly, the small number of citizens affected means it is unlikely to find its way on to a political party’s agenda. From what I can tell, and maybe I am wrong, there is no ‘insider group’ lobbying to get dystonia on the health agenda.

So, what can be done to raise awareness? We have a wide repertoire of online and offline tools available to us, a global network of activists waiting to be mobilized (many already are), and an organization that could potentially represent us to the existing elites. Campaigning methods are constantly developing to include a hybrid network of newer and older media and methods, and we should take advantage of that; a more ‘joined-up’ approach, targeted local campaigns, lobbying our representatives… the list is seemingly endless, but when the health media agenda is already full, where do we start? I can’t be the only one frustrated by explaining my disorder five times a day, it’s only a matter of time before I start printing explanatory cards and handing them out to passers-by.

Facebook’s first decade raises questions about authenticity of the self

#np: Frank Turner back catalogue

In the social media world this week, Facebook turning 10 has been a pretty big deal. Who could miss the pseudo-emotional videos of your friends’ time on Facebook cluttering up timelines? Still they were more interesting then endless engagement announcements and photos of your friend’s new-born baby right? Maybe that’s just me… a side-effect of being 25.

Many scholars have questioned the authenticity with which we present ourselves on social networking sites. A lack of ‘cues’ for us to interpret others behaviour[1], and the convergence of the public and private spheres[2] may have led to an uncertain environment in which, I believe, we present out ‘best side’ to the world; promoting ourselves as the centre of our social scene, lives filled with travelling, parties, family, and friends. With some exceptions (people who get into slanging matches/write cryptic status updates about ‘fake people’, I’m looking at you) most people avoid posts which tell the world they are lonely, or sad, or depressed.

FacebookFor all the literature written about authenticity, let’s be honest, we all know we do it. Facebook’s ‘A Look Back’ videos, with its orchestral music rising to a crescendo as your ‘journey’ reaches its climax (for now), reinforces the success of your self-promotion (you can even edit it, just in case an unflattering photo got in by mistake). By showing your most liked photos and status updates it creates a feeling of achievement, as though you really are looking back on your life over the past 7 years and, well gosh-darn-it, look how funny/photogenic/embarrassing-but-in-an-ironic-way my life has been. Facebook certainly didn’t show me my awful break-ups, emotional breakdowns, or my dystonia diagnosis. In fact the things that really shaped me – and the lessons that made me a better person – were not represented at all. Because they weren’t there for the code that picked my most liked posts to find, because I present my best side to the world too

What, then, are the wider implications of this? Psychologically, seeing your friends having such a great time can perpetuate the ‘fear of missing out’ (or FOMO, if you like) that some people claim to feel. I have read at least three ‘women’s lifestyle’ magazines recently that attempt to address this problem and the accompanying loneliness or feelings of inadequacy.  Politically, does inauthenticity lead us to promote content whilst thinking only of our own image, rather than the meaning behind that content? Could it lead to a less engaged electorate who cultivate a political interest as part of an image, and because it’s easy, rather than having a real desire to participate? Then there’s always the stark warning of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror:  The Entire History of You. That is to say, what we post with the best of intentions now can be uncovered in a decade’s time, and perhaps not seen quite as it was intended the first time around.

The above paragraph is mere speculation about the long-term impact of in/authenticity on Facebook. I am in no way saying that the representation of the self on social media cannot be true to reality, done with the best of intentions, or made without thought. These are questions that wiser people than myself are working on, and that can’t be answered in a short blog post. Perhaps, however, if the look back videos more closely represented that created by comedians Tripp and Tyler (see below), Facebook could have presented an honest look at what day-to-day usage means for the majority of us.

[1] Baym, N. K. 2011. Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Cambridge: Polity Press

[2] Papcharissi, Z. A. 2010. A Private Sphere: Democracy in a Digital Age. Cambridge: Polity Press