As an organization interested in media impact, our “water cooler” chatter around the office often includes viral media , music we’re addicted to, and media trends that affect us. Read on to see the meaningful media and cultural phenomenons HI staff has been talking about in August:

  1. Featuring: Media Coverage of Women During the Olympics
  2. Frank Ocean: The Blonde Album
  3. Stranger Things
  4. Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem

1. Featuring: Media Coverage of Women During the Olympics

The 2016 Rio Olympics, as always, is a candy store for journalists, reporters and news stations. Between the buzz on athletes and outcomes of the games, there is never a dull moment. This year, the Olympics gave the media a large supply of material to work with. What caught our interest most about these issues was the timeline of when these topics entered mainstream media, and the response in online conversation.

We reviewed social media analytics from July 5th through September 5. We compared the timeline of the two dominating conversation topics brought on by the media – sexist commentary and the all-encompassing chaos of holding the Olympics in Rio.

search results showing the most used hashtags for each topic

Search results showing the most used hashtags for each topic.1

Leading up to the Olympics, countless articles were produced discussing if Rio, Brazil was prepared for the games. Concerns ranged from water and air pollution, safety, undesirable living conditions, police resources and a financial crisis, along with the looming threat of the Zika Virus. In our investigation on Twitter we found that online conversation mirrored the concerns from a month before the games until a few days after its start (August 7). Major leading topics in the Twitter conversation included Rio’s Reporters without Borders’ (RSF) campaign for violence against journalists (meant to coincide with the Olympics), athletes dropping out of the games to avoid Zika Virus, and buzz about Brazilian police warning tourists about the lack of resources in the city. We were sure that these issues would remain the leading topics of conversation throughout the Olympic games, or the excitement of the sports would overtake the discussion of such concerns. However, another topic took the stage – sexist media coverage. Not far after the games commenced, major headlines switched from things like “8 Big Problems Facing the Olympics” to “Top 10 Most Sexist Things to Occur At the 2016 Rio Olympics So Far.”

“Robberies, Zika, Unclean water…who’s ready for for the 2016 Rio Olympics!” – Tweeted on August 2, 20161

In the graph below, you can see the sharp decline in conversation about concerns just three days after the games began, with posts dropping from 10,000 to just over 4,000. During those few days, there was a sharp increase in conversation about events that both audiences and news sources claimed were sexist. Media that criticized sexist remarks and attitudes played a large role in this switch – pieces like Dove’s Olympic Campaign which responded directly to sexist media commentary, Canadian olympic kayaker Adam Van Koeverden’s blog titled “Feminism in Sport,” and Megan Ford’s “Olympics Media Sexism Bingo”. These posts received up to 2,500 retweets.

“#Rio2016 is nearly over, but a recurring theme emerged over the past two weeks: accusations of blatant sexism” – Tweeted on August 19, 2016″1

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Conversation about sexism experienced major spikes as the Olympic Games continued, while conversation about concerns such as Zika Virus and safety decreased.1

The peaks where Olympic concerns rose higher than sexist concerns at the end of the Olympics were due to the RSF campaign on August 22, and on September 2, when the World Health Organization announced that there were no Zika infections reported during the Olympics. 

The Olympics have not only brought awareness to the issue of women in sports, but also the sort of sexism that still exists in the 21st century, and the media and press that coexists alongside it. Sports throughout history have been wonderful examples of the current social norms and values in the society it lives in. This is reflected in the emergence of women’s softball in WWII, or seeing the difference in norms while going to a sports game in a different country. Women in sports is not simply a matter of all inclusivity, but a symbol of the women’s rights movement.

We can also see from these patterns that the internet today has evolved to become a self-regulatory system with its own checks and balances. We can be upset by the fact that we thought we had made more progress towards gender equality, and the fact that journalists and commentators fell victim to old views of gender roles. However, it is apparent that we live in a more sensitive and aware society that can not just be aware, but is also able to call out these wrongdoings. Many journalists, bloggers, and individuals on social media feel it is important to call out iniquities if and when they appear, regardless of whether it flows with the current conversation. Sexism in sports is an old issue, and one that was just as apparent in past Olympic games. However, the concerns about women’s rights did not emerge in the games as significantly as it did this year. The 2016 Summer Olympics was not the showcase for these problems, or the first time that they emerged. Rather, the resulting media coverage and conversation at this year’s Olympics was able to show a shift  towards an increase in active advocacy and the fight for equality online, including the proclivity for the “small,” everyday people to call major media players out, a massive field leveler. The internet is a symbol for free speech, and because of that, it is a place where people – no matter who they are – will be called out for what they choose to say. These results are comforting, and reflect a sign of the changing times towards active online advocacy and equal representation in media.

1Data was produced using social media analytics platform, Crimson Hexagon.

2. Frank Ocean: The Blonde Album

frank-ocean-blond-compressed-0933daea-f052-40e5-85a4-35e07dac73df

Source|Rolling Stone

Frank Ocean recently released his new album, “Blonde”, to critical and financial success. Despite its musical complexity and enigmatic lyricism, it debuted at number 1 on the Billboard album chart. His last album, “Channel Orange”, was similarly praised, but had a more controversial release in 2012. Shortly before its release, Ocean penned a letter on his Tumblr blog revealing his first love was a man. This was shocking news for the R&B and Hip-Hop communities, which have been notoriously criticized for homophobic attitudes in the past.

Fast forward to 2016, there is little conversation about Ocean’s sexuality on the release of “Blonde.” Certainly the topic is less controversial now that Ocean is “out”, and the LGBT rights movement has made some progress since 2012. But “Blonde” also has an ambiguous songwriting style that starts in the unknown and drifts in and out of emotions, lyrics, and characters. Listeners identify with universal feelings around love, loneliness, and heartbreak, before piecing together who they are intended for. The sequence of identification could actually be a way to mitigate cognitive biases, including homophobia. Audiences will anchor on their first associations – beautiful evocations of feelings we all have – which dampens biases around latter realizations. We study how stories change the world, but rarely do we find such a subtle yet powerful example in music that unites us through our commonalities while minimizing our differences.

3. Stranger Things

stranger-things-titles

Source|Empire Online

A television show that lives far beyond its air date is often a signal of something meaningful. By blending Stephen King with an array of 80’s movies and trends, the Netflix Original Series, Stranger Things, has the ingredients of a wonderful and long-fulfilling meal. Thanks to the internet, Stranger Things has grown in popularity since its July 15 release date and has been able to survive in many different forms; threads discussing the outcome, fans producing theories of what happened during season one, and predictions of what will happen in season two.

A key aspect of the popularity of Stranger Things is nostalgia. What was long ago considered a psychological disorder, is now something that is attractive. The show attracted an impressive audience demographic ranging from 18-49 years old. The return to nostalgia has been scientifically found in the upper tier of this demographic through the reminiscence bump – a tendency for older adults to have an increased recollection for events that occurred during their adolescence or early childhood (when memory recollection is higher). A show or event that brings up aspects within their reminiscence bump is both enjoyable and intriguing. This explains why Stranger Things was a hit for individuals in the older demographic, but what about 80’s nostalgia is interesting to those who never experienced it in real life?

Our current landscape seems to be largely nostalgia-driven. This is being seen in the media industry, with reboots and sequels of popular 80’s and 90’s films, and popular bands are coming back with new albums or revival tours.  Marketing for big corporations has always been a big fan of nostalgia as well, recently with the launching of Coke Surge and Crystal Pepsi (drinks from the late 90’s). The fashion industry has incorporated past trends, such as turtlenecks, leather, big-rimmed glasses, and bell-bottom pants. Timehop and the “On This Day” feature on Facebook emphasize nostalgia by pulling data from social media profiles to show users what they were doing years ago on a specific day, and the terms “Throwback Thursday,” and “Flashback Friday,” have become commonplace. This is so popular because nostalgia can be explained in a way that is less about actually memories, and more about an emotional state, and when we idealize them, they become inanimate objects to attain – without the current technology for a time machine, media helps us attain them.

Stranger Things does a brilliant job at tapping into this nostalgia and keeping the audience on the edge of their seat every episode. The success of Stranger Things also cements the emerging success of TV streaming, with the film industry having one of its worst box office years in decades. We encourage you to binge-watch now as we eagerly await Season 2.

4. Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem

Source|USA Today

Recently, the headlines of sports news outlets have been dominated by a wave of athletes making controversial statements and protests over social issues. Many athletes have made public stands to protest police violence and brutality against African-Americans, including Carmelo Anthony and the entire Minnesota Lynx women’s basketball team. This week, Colin Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback battling for a starting role on the roster, provided perhaps the most talked-about and controversial social issue protest by an athlete when he sat down during the national anthem.

Kaepernick had been attempting to generate conversation on this issue by posting related articles to his social media accounts, but few outside of his followers had taken notice. When simply speaking about the issue was ineffective, he decided that action might be a better method for creating a productive conversation. Kaepernick’s actions were meant to protest police brutality and encourage discussion about race relations in America. Negative feedback flooded into his social media account, with the majority accusing him of disrespecting the American flag and the United States military. Hundreds of articles were posted on sports news outlets that provided arguments for both sides of the issue, including conversation around race relations, the connection between the national anthem and sports in America, as well as the song’s relationship to slavery, seemingly providing Kaepernick with the important conversation that he had been striving for.

However, the numerous posts and articles arguing for both sides of the issue may be causing the conversation to be ineffective in actually promoting change. According to the popular communications theory of Uses and Gratifications, audiences of media pieces tend to seek out and consume media that makes the argument that they agree with. People partaking in this conversation may only be consuming the pieces of media that agree with their stance on the matter, which enforces the two-sided nature of the articles.  This brings up the question, how can the media be multi-sided, in a way that shows an audience new ideas, rather than enforcing their own?


Tracking Meaningful Media

In our July edition of Meaningful Media Now, we touched on the conversation around for-profit private prisons and their economic practices, which were adversely affecting prisoners. This was covered both in Mother Jones and portrayed in Orange is the New Black, generating awareness and discussion of the issue. On August 18, the Justice Department announced that it will terminate the use of private prisons. This historic decision will end the reign of private prisons, which were ineffective in providing the proper resources and care for prisoners.

In our January edition of Meaningful Media Now, we discussed the online conversation surrounding the popular Netflix docu-series Making a Murderer. A recent court decision overturned the conviction of Brendan Dassey, who was sentenced for rape and murder. Though the decision could still be appealed, Dassey’s former lawyer Jerry Buting attributed the court’s decision to the success of the show:  “The documentary has certainly had an effect on [people coming forward with new information]….Without the documentary, there wouldn’t have been the same willingness for people to come forward, perhaps.”