Exploding the boundaries of social media

There was a time—when I was working on my master’s degree—when I paid a lot of attention to “the Other” and all those post-modern concepts that preoccupied academia during the “culture wars.” I read Lacan, Derrida, Barthes, Foucault and all the lions of the post-structuralist movement.

The Social Good Summit explored how to use social media to empower those on the margins.

I learned that “hegemony” could be applied to just about any convention you wanted to puncture. I “flipped” positives, trolled the margins of class, race and gender. I did everything but wear a beret, given that the French seemed to have a lock on the movement.

Then I got a real job.

But lately, as I look at the “edges” of Facebook and LinkedIn and other social media, I think back to my graduate studies.

In an essay called “The Parergon,” Derrida deconstructs the notion of the “frame” or “edge” in a work of art, arguing that it really isn’t possible to have an absolute limit between the inside and outside. This is typical of Derrida, who was always pointing out that there is something happening in the margins if we would but see.

Why do I bring this up?

Because I am always curious, amused and at times confounded by what’s happening at the edges of Facebook and other social media. For example, have you ever really looked at the ads that “frame” the content?

Granted, I don’t see the drawing of an obese woman who wants to lose tummy weight much any more. I’ve stopped seeing the ad that told me to “stop factoring” on LinkedIn. I researched factoring and discovered it is the practice of selling uncollected accounts receivable to a third party. Now why would that always be popping up on my LinkedIn page?

You can write off these quirky little ads, but some cultural studies student is going to do a dissertation on them. Probably already has. What do they say about us? Or not say about us?

And what does it say that more people follow Lady Gaga’s Twitter account than any other person on the planet (29.6 million)?

Workshops and articles I see are filled with information on how to get more followers, engage your customers, be more efficient and cost-effective with your social media buy.

What interests me more lately, though, is how those who are largely marginalized or disenfranchised are using Twitter and Facebook. After all, social media’s promise was that everyone could have a forum. The “Occupy” movement is one such example, perhaps.

Another group I stumbled upon recently is Media on the Margins, a small organization in Australia “committed to celebrating and empowering the voices of people living on the margins of ‘mainstream’ Australian society and the global system.”

On a larger scale, I was impressed by a three-day conference that ended just yesterday called the Social Good Summit. According to organizers (which included Mashable, the United Nations Foundation and the Gates Foundation), “The most innovative technologists, influential minds and passionate activists will come together with one shared goal: to unlock the potential of new media and technology to make the world a better place, and then to translate that potential into action.”

I haven’t had a chance to look at the proceedings, but let’s hope this summit did live up to its promise and some good comes of it. Social media can definitely be a driver of change, especially in developing countries. We need to look for ways to remove boundaries and harness the power of social media in positive ways.

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