MH370 Tragedy: A Social Media Buzz and Fuzz

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This article originally appeared in St. Cloud Times on Monday, April 14, 2014.

“What really happened? Where is the plane? What is your government doing about it?”

As a native of Malaysia, these are the questions I get bombarded with almost anywhere I go since the MH370 tragedy broke March 8.

Because I am not residing in Malaysia and have received only secondhand news, I avoid the topic each time someone asks about the tragic incident, my opinions on conspiracy theories, and our government’s responses to the event.

Whenever necessary, I choose not to speak about the missing plane conundrum. Instead, I criticize how this incident has become a global sensation, especially through social media, by attracting international attention and sparkling lots of superfluous — and rather inaccurate — “expert” knowledge on the subject matter.

Those who have been in the loop should be quite familiar with the narrative about the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370: The plane took off March 8 from Kuala Lumpur International Airport heading for Beijing. At about 1:22 a.m., Vietnamese air traffic control noticed they had lost contact with MH370. The Boeing 777 carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew has not been seen or heard from since.

During the past month, international support was expanded from the U.S. to Australia, rallying to gather facts and hints that will help search missions. Along with that came thousands of armchair critics and self-proclaimed experts of aviation, many firing gibberish and offering ridiculous explainations.

Social media commentator Ren Yi told The Associated Press social media has been augmenting a general sense of negativity toward Malaysia by giving voice to rumors, doubts, speculations and paranoia, while seeming to offer family members false hope.

Some claimed aliens were involved while others believed the Bermuda Triangle had a twin sister in the Gulf of Thailand. As for conspiracy theorists, most point to the possibilities of hijacking, terrorist attack and theft.

According to AP reports, accounts forwarded on Chinese social media have it that the plane is being held hostage in Central Asia, that Malaysia shot it down because of possible hijackers wanted to crash into the capital city’s twin towers, or that the U.S. diverted it to a remote island to prevent secret information from reaching China.

Even within the Malaysian circle — my friends and families in my social networks — social commentaries seemed to focus only on the incompetence of our leaders. Some of them took the opportunity to frame the incident as a politically motivated catastrophe.

Regardless of what we believe to be true, many social media users have yet to learn to distinguish facts from fiction. Many people simply take quick looks at news stories from unknown sources and distribute them obnoxiously within their own networks. Anything marked with “#MH370” was deemed newsworthy by them and shared and re-shared virally.

Of course, it doesn’t help when a major news channel such as CNN keeps sensationalizing the story with all kinds of specialist perspectives and postulations. Most of my friends won’t question the accuracy of information if it comes from a U.S. network like CNN. And with the seductive headlines and savvy presentations about the flight disaster put together by these major networks, they make the information even more believable and encourage audience to disseminate them.

The result for uninformed users is they are deceived by misinformation. Families were given false hope. Most Malaysians were misrepresented as incapable individuals. Cynicism and distrust are filling airwaves, and they are not helpful to the collaborative search.

Although it’s understandable for people to get emotional when a disaster happens, we should be cautious about what we do or say, online and offline. Words are powerful. Given the MH370 tragedy, we don’t need further nuisances. Instead, we should remain concerned and act with empathy. Don’t spread any more hearsay. Focus on proven facts.

Image source

Students Talk Technology: Tech Tools for College Education

Many studies have revealed that college students today arrive on their campuses with high literacy in the latest technology and mobile devices. It is not uncommon to see students walking around with their beat earphones, texting while waiting in the hallway, and snapchatting with their friends in the dining hall. Yet, in the sea of options, what educational technologies are students using to help them with their studies? In the video above, I interviewed a trio of undergraduate students at St. Cloud State University (SCSU) to quiz them on their favorite tech tools and innovations they hope to see in the future.

All that tech has caused something of a dependency, too. The following infographic reviews responses from SCSU students about their technology-using habits — ultimately showing a trend that leads to a techno-reliant generation.

Infographic

Ideas/comments? Add your two cents to the comment section below!

Prepping for NCA Convention

This summer, I was notified that my proposal to present at the coming National Communication Association annual convention has been accepted. It was a paper I developed for a mass communication research methods course last year. I must confess that I am really excited for this is my first (national) conference in the communication discipline. In the past, I have been attending local and national conferences pertaining to rhetoric, computers and composition studies; this will be a rather different context as I suppose the audience has shifted from humanists to social scientists. I am spending these couple of nights leading to the conference prepping for my presentation delivery.

Since the presentation format is an interactive scholar-to-scholar configuration, I have remediated my paper into a poster. See below:

NCA Scholar to Scholar

Please let me know if you have any suggestions to make this presentation better. Thanks!

Vine: Redefining Racial Stereotyping in Six Seconds

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Vine debuted earlier this year and has become the most popular video-sharing mobile app today. Unfortunately, the technology has been misused to reinforce racial stereotyping, causing ethical issues that need to be considered and addressed by media practitioners.

Check out the video clip below.

Here is a work-in-progress ethics paper I am developing for a media ethics course this semester. This essay seeks to explore and examine the racist aesthetic in one of the most popular social media today, Vine. By identifying the likeness between Vine and early minstrelsy, and by scrutinizing the identification process in racial stereotyping, this article considers the ethical dimensions in the video-sharing app as a new stage from racial comedy. I also seek to establish strategies for confronting stereotyping on social networking platforms based on three major ethical theories in moral reasoning, namely deontological, teleological, and virtue theories. Following are some excerpts from my paper:

… when Viners are forced to strip off the less necessary scenes of their video, they eliminate some important elements that are essential to telling a complete story. This becomes problematic in ethnic humor, as racist or stereotypical jokes may be perceived out of context.

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In many ways, these Vine videos with racial overtones and negative stereotypes are simply technologically refined minstrels, which mock Black culture as uncivilized. The “Black vs. White” dichotomy further reinforces tension between the oppressed and its dominator.

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Cultural studies scholars believe meanings are always constructed within the range made possible by institutional frameworks. They then are reconstructed as people use them in their particular social situations. “The meaning that any object has at any given time is a contingent, historical achievement” (du Gay, 1996). Hence, a critical look at any demeaning behaviors, either by the members of the marginalized culture or by others, is crucial to developing strategies for intervention.

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A deontological perspective would object any act of prejudice or discrimination, including racial stereotyping. As the universal moral standard according to a Kantian maxim of “do not deceive,” Viners’ stereotypes would be deemed demeaning and thus shall be avoided.

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A teleologist would concur that racist jokes on Vine help marginalized cultures to gain popularity and normalize themselves among White supremacy.

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… an Aristotelian approach to confronting racial stereotypes on Vine may be to allow Viners to continue sharing racial sensitive content while requiring Vine to provide a warning for mature content and an option for Viners to report inappropriate content.

Read the full paper below.

PS: The document will be updated as the semester goes. Check back by late December if you’re interested in reading the final draft.

Image by insidemobileapps.com

An Introduction to Social Media Marketing

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Drastic changes to mass communication approaches over the past 50 years have opened new doors to advertisers to market products and businesses. In the face of rapid technological advancement, the next target is in sight – to empower technology consumers who are now in control of the media messages they are exposed to, and to take advantage of the trend in online social networking in tailoring targeted marketing. Though, the idea of social marketing is not a relatively new concept. According to Alan Andreasen (1994) of Georgetown University, marketing scholars wrote about topics that would be considered social marketing in the late 1960s and literature about social marketing were well established in the early 1990s. However, new communication technologies available today have given Internet users greater autonomy in creating and sharing content, such as online social networking sites.

With the explosion in popularity of online social networking sites among online users in early 2000s, businesses and corporations are forced to pay more attention to reaching their customers on this popular medium. “Web portals, as content aggregators, provide efficient access to information [that are useful to marketers] and services online: they are electronic gateways or entrances that provide numerous links to other sites and information that is needed” to target potential customers on a personalized level (O’Murchu et al, 2004). Nonetheless, the problems remain in the lack of expertise and proficiency among SME owners in developing and executing effective social media marketing campaigns for their businesses.

Last month, I received a project in my Organizational Communication class with Dr. Matthew Vorell to create an informative video that discusses the basics of social media marketing for SMEs in St. Cloud, Minnesota. After a phone conversation with an executive in the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce, I got an idea about what local businesses may be looking for in terms of resources to help them get started with social media.

Here is a short interview I did with Luke and Jason from DAYTA Marketing last Tuesday. Helpful comments are welcomed!