PhD Defence: Rik Smit (University of Groningen)

Image: Sylvia van Schie, illustrator

Platforms of Memory: Social Media and Digital Memory Work

Date: 29 March 2018, at 16.00h
Venue: University of Groningen
Promotor: Prof. dr Marcel Broersma

On Thursday 29 March 2018, Rik Smit will defend his PhD Thesis Platforms of Memory: Social Media and Digital Memory Work.

People increasingly share their experiences and knowledge about the past on social media. Simultaneously, social media are enormous archives that contain vast amounts of audiovisual material from which the past is reconstructed. This study examines this ‘memory work’ by social media users and these platforms themselves by means of three case studies.

The first case study revolves around a chemical weapons attack in Syria in 2013. In the days after the attack, thousands of videos were uploaded on YouTube by various individuals and organizations with their own agendas. The research showed that especially videos edited by mainstream media gained popularity and visibility, instead of the material uploaded by witnesses. The main reason for this is that these media know how to curate footage well.

The second case study zooms in on the Facebook page Justice for Mike Brown. During and after the riots in Ferguson in 2014, this page was used for diverse types of memory work. Page users shared their personal memories of Michael Brown, reconstructed the shooting, created iconic and recognizable images and phrases, and made historical comparisons. Facebook’s technology played a guiding and shaping role in these practices, especially in terms of visibility and dominance of specific representations.

The final case study investigated the memory work behind the scenes of the Wikipedia page on MH17. Some editors have more power over how an event like the MH17 disaster is re-constructed on Wikipedia. They can also deny other editors from editing the page. This ultimately shaped the content of the wiki.

All three cases show that users as well as platforms themselves play an important part in the representation of the past in the present.

Image: Sylvia van Schie, illustrator