Social media sites and networking have become daily practices for the majority of the population in the west, however like any kind of media, how much is our participation voluntary? Is our media a one way filter-flow of information? Are we only consumers or are we all producers of our own content through our participation? Bird argues that we are somewhere in the middle. She uses Bruns’ (2005, 2006) term ‘produser,’ to represent “the merging of the producer and consumer in an interactive environment” (Bird, p. 502). Rosen’s article is written to address the ‘media people’ from the perspective of ‘who is formerly known as the audience.’ This style/construction of an argument in itself is meaningful in its opposition to being merely consumers and its focus on addressing all people in media control and production instead of just one aspect of mass media. Rosen rejects the idea of top-down media consumption, and argues that now there is more of a ‘horizontal flow,’ where people are connecting with each other through media (p. 14). I would argue that this ‘horizontal flow’ demonstrates the ways in which participatory practices can be voluntary. While the ‘point’ of sites such as Facebook and Twitter is to connect with your peers, the ways in which you can interact are still controlled. On Facebook, until recently, ‘male’ or ‘female’ were the only two gender options. How is one supposed to interact on a profile that is supposed to represent their identity when they cannot even associate their profile with the appropriate gender? On Twitter, you can connect in 140 characters or less, and I have experienced it as more of a site to follow all of your favourite celebrities to get an ‘inside scoop’ on their life as a method of consumption, not creating content as a produser. In contrast, the ‘horizontal flow’ can be seen through people using online blogs, forums and sites such as Youtube as a platform for discussion amongst peers–worldwide peers.
Bird argues that produsers are not the majority, and that although what is seen as the creation of creative content is subjective, commenting your opinion or critique on a Youtube video would not be an act of production, but rather more of a consumption review, where as the actual video created would be done by a produser (p. 504). Issues of authenticity are in focus here, as Youtube creations seem authentic at the grass-roots level, however sometimes those who become successful through their videos cannot owe it all to their online fans. For example, take Grace Helbig…
Grace has become famous through her channel on Youtube, and has now released a movie, a book, and makes appearances on television shows. While her success was dependent on positive reviews of viewers, and she seemed to make a career for herself simply based on the support of her online fans, many people were not aware of her being employed by a business named MyDamnChannel who marketed, controlled, and owned her content. Also, in order to make money from Youtube she had to become a Google partner and host their advertisements on her videos. As one of her fans, it felt better to support her career thinking that just a giant collection of everyday people like myself were able to create a career for this awesome person. This illusion was shattered for me when I realized she was already employed by a company that controlled her creative boundaries, and made it possible for her to portray the image that she could fully credit her fans. Bird supported this argument that internet sensations are not necessarily products of “genuine participatory fan action” (p. 507).
Media corporations are using what I’d like to call ‘DIY commodity’ strategies, in which people and products are marketed as a part of a grass-roots (or Do-It-Yourself) approach. We consume and support these people and products because we think we are making educated choices, and supporting produsers, but this is not always the case. We create fan bases, and become what internet people like to refer to as ‘professional fangirls’ who list youtubers as their role models, buy Toms shoes because they donate to charity (instead of just donating straight to the cause ourselves), and simultaneously saying that we are produsers who reject all forms of top-down consumption. Come on ‘former audience,’ your hypocrisy is showing.