#NYCC Hashtag Study
My life changed the day I read Alan Moore’s Watchmen. I gobbled up and savored every word, falling love with its dark humor and images of a decaying society and heroes without allegiance. It was a short jump from there to other graphic novels such as Blankets, Blank Hole, and Y: Last Man. Feeling let down by the male dominated and formulaic genre of most comic books, graphic novels were a place where I could find a community. I started posting on forums like xkcd where I was exposed to science fiction and anime culture. My friends within these communities pushed me to attend conventions like Dragon Con – which I did for the first time in 2003.This was my first exposure to cosplay – the act of dressing up as your favorite character, panels of experts ready to talk about your favorite area of fandom, and even a room for dubbing over your favorite anime – a style of Japanese animation. Of course, at this time twitter and facebook did not exist. Fans were left to connect through livejournal, forums, and conventions. As time passed and social networking started to grow so did the popularity of fan conventions – more and more started to pop up all over the country. My favorite author even became part of a Simpson’s episode that focused and somewhat mocked the fan community.
However, along with the growth of conventions so did my responsibilities and the time I could spend devoting to my love of graphic novels, anime, and science fiction started to dwindle. I could only attend a convention once every few years, but I knew the community was still there. This year I had the opportunity to attend the New York Comic Con and was excited to see how social media had changed the landscape of the fan community.
- If you have any questions regarding my research or convention stories you want to share please contact me @Jessaetc
October 8 – Tags V.5 Archive set up to record tweets containing @new_york_comic_con and #nycc for a 7 day period
October 15- Initial review of tweets
November 6 – Tweet code definitions are established using grounded theory
November 14- 150 Random codes were selected and coded using my established code definitions
December 19th- final presentation of findings to class
Study Findings: Pecha Kucha Transcript
I remember my first convention. It was a little anime convention in Somerset, New Jersey called Anime-NEXT. I cosplayed – the act of dressing up as a fictional character – Itchigo Kitty – an adorable pink kitten from outer space.
The moment I put the costume on and walked out of the hotel towards the convention – I felt like a complete idiot. The “mundanes” as Henry Jenkins calls them were openly gawking staring at my pink cat ears and sparkly light up heart wand. But then I slowly started seeing more and more people like me – people dressed up as heroes, villains, and the occasional Pokémon. As Henry Jenkins writes “…a convention serves as an initial exposure to fan culture and an entry point to social order.”
This was my entry point. I was home. After that I was hooked – going to conventions all over the east coast at least once a year. This is my past. This is my entrance into my authentic community that I so lovingly cling. The place I garnered informal knowledge, lifelong friends, and the occasional weekend long enemy.
This ritual , which allows me to stay “ in text” as Mark Duffet calls it, is what inspired my #nycc hashtag study of the 2013 New York Comic Con. During this study I used grounded theory to help me analyze a series of 1500 tweets archived on October 10th with Tags version 5.0 The convention ran from October 10th- 13th in the Javits Center and drew over 116,000 attendees.
Upon my initial research of the convention hashtag I saw that the community was already buzzing with excitement. People were planning their cosplay, lining up rooms to share, and mapping out panels to attend. Many fan websites and organizations were busy posting pre-convention articles touting their anticipation and leaking secret information regarding various featured TV and comic series.
I attended the convention on Saturday the 12th. The second I walked in I knew I was home again. It was wall to wall bodies – all smiling and pushing to meet their favorite actor or comic book author or to thrown down hundreds of dollars at the exhibition floor – this was collective identify in action. Almost every facet of fandom was represented at this convention –there were characters from comics, graphic novels, tv shows, movies, anime, and even a Sharknado. During the convention, I observed not as a fan but as I researcher – I saw othering as described by Henry Jenkins in action – the exclusion of one group over another based on social capitol. This form of group currency is created by the building of knowledge in order to grow social standing within a community.
I searched for the religious experience of fandom as described by Mark Duffet but instead found honest rhetoric of community. On the convention floor everyone was narrating, tummeling, reporting, and affiliating in real life– some of the tweet functions I established during the research sorting process.
Many seemed eager to expresses their experiences all over various forms of social media – possibly oblivious to what was going on on the 140 character in their twittersphere. Starting Friday night of the convention organizers “hacked” user accounts and started posting a litany of promotional propaganda for the convention.
These posts continued even after the story hit the media on Saturday morning and not until the Monday after the convention did the promotional posts stop and a cursory apology given. Such posts as “Getting my nerd on in NYC” or “Getting Nerdy in the city that never sleeps” flooded twitter all containing links to the convention’s website. Con goes said nothing. I heard nothing on the floors, in the sessions, or in front of the signing tables.
Throughout the day I would periodically check twitter to see if anyone had noticed or screamed in outrage. But there was nothing. When I got home I was eager to see what tags tags v.5 was going to show me and it was pretty much what I expected – thousands of promotional tweets from the convention organizers and a small handful of mild complaints from convention goers.
This made me start to wonder about the power of community – how desperate are we to connect, to build and establish that social capitol that we will ignore what is right in front of our faces – the infiltrating of our ambient affiliation space for capital gain. With over half of the tweets being links and most of those links planted by convention organizers – it seems hard to ignore.
Have we done exactly what Howard Rheingold warns when he describes the Internet’s power to let the “big boys seize our fandom, censor it, mediate it and then sell it back to us”? I believe that my twitter hashtag study uncovered something I call selective avoidance within a community –
the act of being so preoccupied with showing off and affiliating that a fan will overlook or flat out ignore other just as important dynamics of the community because it will jeopardize or diminish time spent establishing their social capitol or developing their ambient affiliation space such as twitter.
Initially when I started coding the tweets I lumped these promotional tweets in as affiliation because the users, even though they were not the ones doing the tweeting, still connected to the convention as a means of affiliating with the community. However, after coding the series of 150 random tweets in more details
I noticed the primary function of the tweets being propaganda posts made by the convention organizers at 37 tweets or 25% of all tweets. The only thing that came close was the tummeling tweets which also accounted for 25%. Secondary purposes of the tweets seemed to focus on affiliating or notifying others within the community with a combined total of 104 tweets.
Yet overall the volume of propaganda posts contradicted the honest attempts at connection within the fan community that I saw on the convention floor. The convention organizers got away with this because they put 2 little boxes on the electronic sign-in page that when clicked would allow them to access an attendees Twitter and Faceook accounts and make posts on their behalf.
The font size explaining this was incredibly small and vague making no reference to how the organizers would use this access. So once the posts started happening, convention goers were so ferociously intent on posting pictures of cosplayers and celebrities or reporting on spoilers leaked in the panels that they overlooked or just didn’t care that their accounts were being use as spam generators for the convention organizers – a clear example of selective avoidance. I wonder how many other areas of fandom are guilty of selective avoidance and how many companies seek to capitalize off of it. In this age of information overload as described by Aaron Deiwiche and Jennifer Henderson, where is the box to opt out? What are the “risks to privacy” in a world saturated with network connection and is the “illusion of participation of twitter just cloaking a fundamental passivity? ” In my final observation of the tags v.5 visualization it became clear the #NYCC hastag functioned as more of a lose affiliation network rather than tight knit community – with even the top tweeters tweets being all propaganda post. I hope that fans are smart enough to read the fine print, activity police and participate their own communities and see who is really walking off with their merchandize.