terça-feira, 23 de julho de 2013

Off-topic: Misinformation and trust on the social networking site Instagram

Well, this is not about games but it is about digital/social media. Here it goes: my paper to the ICA (International Communication Association) 2013 congress that happened in Málaga (Spain) last week.

I wrote this stuff alongside with my doctorate ‘mastermind’. =)

Check the content below:


Misinformation and trust on the social networking site Instagram
Related area 5: Trust in the media

Dr. Gisela G. S. Castro (Professor of Postgraduate Studies on Communication and Consumption Practices at ESPM/Sao Paulo, Brazil; castro.gisela@gmail.com)
M.A. Vicente M. Mastrocola (Postgraduate Research student and graduation level teacher at ESPM/Sao Paulo, Brazil; vincevader@gmail.com)

Taking communication and consumption as leading and intertwining landmarks of contemporary culture, this presentation discusses a relevant issue regarding misinformation and trust within the context of social media. Acknowledging the prominence of digital networks in today’s mediapolis (SILVERSTONE 2006), where mass self communication (CASTELLS 2009) poses new challenges to understanding current modes of sociability and consumption, our focus will be directed to Instagram, a mobile photo based application for Android and iOS systems, in the light of a recent hoax episode involving Brazilian Internet users of this social networking site.

Some figures may help illustrate Brazil’s role in the global consumption market. The country is the fifth largest in the world, it has the sixth largest population and it ranks seventh in terms of Internet usage. Brazilians are heavy Internet users, spending the largest average number of hours in the Internet (23 hours a week). The country currently has 240 million active mobile devices (30% smartphones and 70% mobile phones), for a population slightly over 190 million (link here).

The circumstances that trigger our discussion began to take place in 2012. On one occasion, rumor was spread on the web alerting users that Instagram Host Company actually owned and was willing to sell content posted on the digital social network. As information quickly spread, thousands of Brazilian web users reacted angrily against the site.

The misunderstanding occurred because company officials had recently published new rules and part of the textual information had been misunderstood. Moments after the negative buzz had spread virally through major digital social networks, company co-founder Kevin Systrom issued a statement explaining that the pictures would not be sold under any circumstances (link here).

Even after the official clarification had been delivered, a significant number of Brazilian users remained skeptical about the application causing Instagram to suffer a heavy impact on its levels of trust.

Due to its huge popularity, Instagram quickly formed an active community of Brazilian users, many of whom are keen fans of the application. Therefore, small changes in its interface or protocols will generate immediate response from its fan based community. As Sandvoss and Harrington (2007) remark, for better or for worse fans tend to engage with their passions not in a rationally detached but in an emotionally involved and invested way. Even the slightest conflict of trust may trigger the display of anger and revolt involving fan communities in social media networks.

With this work we aim to highlight how tarnished corporate image may be as a result of distrust generated by misinformation spread among social media users. As Castro (2012: 188) notes, as more and more people spend hours online, digital technology plays a key role on levels of affection, trust or mistrust, it is important for companies to engage their consumers as partners and fans. In this attempt, social media networks can pose as an opportunity as well as a potential risk.

Informed by academic studies on communication and consumer culture, with special emphasis on digital social networks, our empirical research is based on the virtual ethnographic approach (HINE 2000; KOZINETS 2009). The challenge here is to explore the process of making connections while crisscrossing boundaries related to online and offline corporate as well as interpersonal routines and sensibilities.

We welcome the opportunity to present this relevant discussion as a means of contributing to the ongoing efforts in exploring the role played by the media – especially social media – in constructing and deconstructing ever shifting levels of trust and distrust in today’s culture of consumption.


CASTRO, Gisela G. S. Entretenimento, sociabilidade e consumo nas redes sociais: ativando o consumidor-fã. IN: CASAQUI, V. e ROCHA, R. M. Estéticas midiáticas e narrativas do consumo. Porto Alegre: Sulina, 2012, p. 187 - 206.

CASTELLS, Manuel. Communication Power. Oxford, N. York: Oxford Press, 2009.

FEATHERSTONE, Mike. Consumer culture and postmodernism. London: Sage, 2007.

GRAY, J.; SANDVOSS, C.; HARRINGTON, L. (eds.). Fandom: identities and communities in a mediated world. NYU Press, 2007.

HINE, Christine. Virtual ethnography. London: Sage Publications, 2000.

KOZINETS, Robert V. Netnography: doing ethnographic research online. London: Sage, 2009.

SCHOLZ, Trebor (Ed.). Digital Labor: the internet as playground and factory. Routledge, 2013.

SILVERSTONE, Roger. Media and Morality: on the rise of the mediapolis. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2006.

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