Social Media Selves

Oct 22, 2018

TAA 0042 – C. Travis Webb, Seph Rodney, and Steven Fullwood discuss their social media profiles and what their profiles both reveal and conceal about their identities. Is it possible to remain nuanced and effective on Twitter or Facebook? Can one use social media without being leveled by it, or reduced to a caricature?

C.T. WEBB 00:19 [music] Good afternoon, good morning, or good evening, and welcome to The American Age podcast. This is C. Travis Webb, editor of The American Age, and I am speaking to Seph Rodney and Steven Fullwood. Gentlemen?
S. RODNEY 00:30 Hey. How’s it going?
S. FULLWOOD 00:32 Hey. Hi. This is Steven Fullwood from the– wow. I’m about to say The American Age, which is what we’re doing now. Steven Fullwood from the Nomadic Archivists Project.
S. RODNEY 00:44 And I’m Seph Rodney speaking to you from the South Bronx. I am an editor at Hyperallergic blogozine and I’m also an instructor at the new school at Parsons.
C.T. WEBB 00:57 And to remind you that what we do here is practice the kind of intellectual intimacy which we do our best at given our disparate locations. So I’m on the West Coast, near Los Angeles, and Seph and Steven are in New York where I just was yesterday, so [laughter]. So today, we’re going to talk about the discrepancy– or what does one’s social media profile– and we’re going to talk about our own social media profiles. What do our social media profiles accurately and falsely represent about us? Your social media profile can really only come out in a limited number of registrations. And obviously, we are probably far more– I know we, the three of us, are certainly more complex than that and I suspect most people are as well. So I thought a way into the conversation – and if either one of you has another way in, I’m very happy with that – might be for you each maybe summarize what you think your social media profile says about you. So if you were a stranger looking at your social media profile, how would your politics register? How would your intellectual positions register? How sophisticated or nuanced of a thinker would you appear to be?
S. RODNEY 02:29 Hey, Steven. You want to take that first or shall I?
S. FULLWOOD 02:31 Sure. If you want to go ahead, that’d be great.
S. RODNEY 02:34 Okay, great. I think that I’ve done quite a bit of rumination around this initially when I went up on Facebook, which was many, many, many years ago. Less so, I should say, for Facebook. Because I’ve been hanging around it for such a long time. More so when I created my Twitter profile. And for a while. And I think more so actually– no. More so when I became an editor at Hyperallergic. Because that sort of bolted me into a sphere of attention from writers, curators, other artists, etc. People in the art scene. And it bolted me into such a space of attention that I thought, “I really do need to care about this. I really do need to sort of prune these branches so that I end up with the kind of image that I want. The kind of public image that I want.” What I thought I was doing up until yesterday– and I’m going to explain why this was yesterday. Up until yesterday, what I thought I was doing was, on Facebook, I was sort of sharing these sort of interesting things that I came across my feed. Interesting dance. Interesting performance. Curious ideas. And I thought my Twitter feed was more like, “Here is the sort of slightly more business-oriented app.” Which is, “Here is the stuff that I just edited on Hyperallergic or just wrote for Hyperallergic. And here’s some of my– by the way, here’s some of my political thoughts.” A lot of retweets are people I really, really, really agree with. Strongly agree with.
S. RODNEY 04:21 And then I had a conversation with Travis yesterday when he was in New York. And he said, “You know, the thing about your Twitter profile–” and he also mentioned this about Steven’s, “–is that it comes off as pretty unnuanced [laughter].” And I had to agree. Looking back at the tweet, I see myself becoming progressively angrier. And I think, really, what starts off that process, what sets that ball rolling down that [ravesty?] pill is the election of Agent Orange. I just have been beside myself. I’m just bereft of things to say and do. I’ve actually come to the point where I’ve felt a kind of despair. Because I feel like we’re sliding toward– and this is another podcast. But I feel like we’re sliding towards a kind of autocracy. And it’s deeply frightening to me. And not just frightening. It makes me want to despair. So that said, I think the most accurate vision of me is actually broadcast promulgated by my author page at Hyperallergic. Because there you get to see the kinds of things I write about and care about and how I talk about them. In the–
C.T. WEBB 05:43 How religiously do you share your work at Hyperallergic on Twitter and Facebook? I feel like it’s not that religious. I feel like you– I mean, it’s not like I follow– I mean, we talk so much. I don’t follow your social media very closely. But I do peek in and I don’t feel like you regularly share your stuff on social media.
S. RODNEY 06:01 That’s because I share so much else. But I actually–
C.T. WEBB 06:04 I see.
S. RODNEY 06:04 –do share every single– I don’t write that much these days because I’m editing so much. And because of these other projects. But I write maybe one or two or two or three things per week, and then I do share them both on Facebook and on Twitter. Oh, and I should mention, Instagram. Instagram is a completely different side of me. Basically, all you see on Instagram is what I see in my travels. You see the art that I think is interesting worthwhile sharing. And that’s it. And no social commentary. No political commentary. Just, “Here is what I’m looking at. Here is what I think is interesting.” So that’s a relatively accurate, really, view into who Seph Rodney is, I think. But definitely, the Facebook and Twitter accounts are skewed, I guess, versions of me. Yeah. That’s the long and short of it.
S. FULLWOOD 07:02 Oh, wow. I think my social media presence is– it may be a third, maybe even lower, maybe a fourth of the sorts of things I want to talk about. But I don’t feel like they’re the proper forms to do that. I feel like digitally, I feel like all these caught us by– digital life caught us all by surprise. And that there’s something exciting about it and fun and in a way, a little disturbing. Not even a little. It’s disturbing. There are times when– for example, a colleague of mine passed away a couple of weeks ago. And we all found about it on Facebook. And I’m starting to understand that that’s the norm because that’s one of the ways in which we connect. So it’s a way to connect, but it’s still– I guess there’s no easy way to find out that someone that you care about died. Do you know? But it–
S. RODNEY 07:58 Yeah.
S. FULLWOOD 07:58 It’s starting to become a little more frequent because it’s an area where we share information about who and what we are and what we love. When I think about my Facebook presence for me, it’s just a lot of fun swimming around and posting music and quotes and things I think are intellectually stimulating and fun. And at times, I just want to make social critiques about things. But they’re just the beginning of thoughts. And so in a way they’re not fully formed. They’re just experimental for me. Instagram is more about selfies and more about architecture and trying to capture light in a particular way. So it’s a way to kind of teach myself light and the kind of things that sort of intrigue me about photography. So that’s what it is. Twitter, I do so little with Twitter. So little with Twitter. And I have to beef it up because of the business. Because of nomadic arc of this project, I’m seeing more things that I think I’d want people to not just know about us as an entity, but also about the kinds of things we’re interested in. So both my colleague Miranda [inaudible] and I, are both pushing ourselves to do more Twitter in that sense. But the stuff I typically blog about are archives, black LGBTQ life and culture, things that I think are intellectually stimulating. Sometimes I DJ. I call it DJing. [inaudible] just follow the feeling of a particular genre or artist or just thought or sometimes I would try to write a poem with songs. So I was trying to push what I think Facebook could kind of be. And it’s funny that you were having this conversation this weekend but the conversation I was having with myself is I think I just want to get off social media completely. Which I’m sure all of you have thought this before. You just getting exhausted with the amount of–
C.T. WEBB 09:52 So I would like you to get off social media completely after we have like 10,000 podcast [inaudible] or something like that.
S. RODNEY 09:59 This is the thing though. This is the trap, right?
C.T. WEBB 09:59 At that point, you should feel free to exit social media [laughter].
S. RODNEY 10:02 This is the trap. [inaudible], “Where did Steven go. We were going to hire him.” So like, goodness gracious. Are we all just imprisoned by social media now? I mean–
S. FULLWOOD 10:12 Oh, God. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 10:14 So for me, if I’m going to answer the question for myself, I mean, I did not have at all a robust social media presence. Not as some principle. So I always feel the need to qualify things when I seem to take a contrarian stance. I wasn’t not on social media because I had some principle position against it. Just it wasn’t my habit. I had at different moments in my life been sucked in to being on it more and less. But it never stuck in any kind of real way. For probably sort of a variety of reasons constitutionally, probably because I was too busy watching, I don’t know, the latest Marvel Netflix series or something, right? So it’s not high-minded necessarily. When I came back to start to do more social media for The American Age, I did some research. How do you use Twitter? How do you use Facebook? Best practices, things like that. And The American Age presence, which I guess is essentially mine right now, is intentional and curated. And one thing that I have worried about with it and have tried to start to steer away from a little bit is I feel like probably, partially because of the name The American Age– and this is something Seph and I discussed before you and I knew each other, Steven. Something Seph and I discussed when I was going through the process of trying to name it, that The American Age can kind of ring as a conservative name because of the way America is owned by a particular political wing in this country.
S. RODNEY 12:04 Right. Right.
C.T. WEBB 12:05 And so that was a self-conscious choice because I wanted to push back against that. But what I found– I mean, it’s the– I mean, and I really sympathize with Seph because you enter these currents and you just kind of get swept into these currents. And so in spite of my best intentions at a careful curation, it almost felt conservative in some ways. Like the social media presence of The American Age felt– and so I’ve tried to tack left, right, off of that. Because in reality, what I’m arguing for, I think a return to principles will produce a much more radical, liberal, open society. Not a conservative society, but a much more– I mean, when you think about communities that are purely grounded in principle, these are the most radical communities that human beings invent. I mean, I’m talking about sort of like the [inaudible] [scenes?] in [inaudible] and stuff like that. I mean, people that are dedicated to abstract principles of whatever, fill in the blank, tend to produce some remarkably energized communities. And so I’ve worked to try and tack left, I mean, just in that sort of [inaudible] right, left kind of way.
S. FULLWOOD 13:31 Yeah. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 13:32 And because I’ll sit– I don’t do this on Twitter. This is social media. But some crazy thing will happen in the news with the president or the Senate or Mitch McConnell or something like that. And Seph can tell you. Once we’re in a more private setting, I’m full of spit and venom. There is lots of stuff that makes me very, very angry.
S. FULLWOOD 13:56 [crosstalk] so. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 13:56 But I try not to share that part of me on social media because–
S. FULLWOOD 14:02 But why?
C.T. WEBB 14:03 –I don’t think it’s useful.
S. FULLWOOD 14:04 But why? You don’t think it’s useful. I just has a conversation with someone about civility and properness. And while someone’s stamping on your grandmother’s neck, what do you do? And that’s a very, very large thing. But I’m actually thinking about civility.
C.T. WEBB 14:19 I can give you– yeah. I can give you a specific answer to that. So this is why. Because in a public fight, I am fighting for the people that are in-between and on the fence and are ill-informed. And the way that you conduct yourself– it’s the Jackie Robinson syndrome, right? I mean, why did Jackie– I mean, he was already way better than anyone else playing baseball, why did he need to be like the ultimate boy scout? Because who he was playing for was not just the black community. It was all of those potentially, potentially sympathetic whites that could read something else in him. Could connect to a kind of humanity in him. And so that’s why– no, no. If he was actually– like if I was on stage with someone like that or in a private conversation, no you don’t hold back. Because you are in a fight at that point. But I feel like, in that public forum, you conduct yourself with decorum because you’re trying to grab the other– you need sympathizers to move the dial in a democracy.
S. FULLWOOD 15:33 But being on the stage though, your example–
C.T. WEBB 15:36 Yeah. [crosstalk].
S. FULLWOOD 15:36 –it is public. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 15:38 That’s true. No, it’s a fair point. It’s a fair point.
S. FULLWOOD 15:39 Yeah. So–
C.T. WEBB 15:40 After I said it, I was like, “That’s probably not true.” So yeah, yeah. That’s a fair point. It’s a fair point. So–
S. RODNEY 15:46 So can I just interject with how I think that this line of argument or this line of thinking around public versus private behavior works with me, particularly on Twitter. I think, and you all know this about me well now, that because I grew up in a very Christian, deeply Christian, household, I still retain some of the, sort of, remnants of a sense– remnants of that kind of upbringing, one of the remnants being a profound sense of guilt and of needing to behave in public in a particular way. How this works with me in terms of my Twitter presence is that for pretty much every tweet that I’ve ever sent out or every retweet that I’ve sent out– retweets are not originally penned by me, but they’re penned by somebody else. But I agree with the sentiment I send it on. I think to myself, if someone finds this in a few years and they confront me with it publicly, will I be able to say, “Yes. I agree with that. Yes. I stand behind that.”
S. RODNEY 17:12 There are a couple of tweets that are on the border and I actually am thinking of them now. Like there was one where– God, it pains me to say this. Our president sent out some nonsense. There’s been a steady stream of nonsense. But this particular tweet– and it wasn’t even this particular tweet that annoyed me. But he sent out something. And I responded something like, “You are so egregious that what I feel is that not only that you must die, but that your kind must die out in order for our republic to be saved.” And I do stand by that. I do think it was overly harsh. I do think that– I mean, that’s the kind of thing that I would have trouble defending. But in a principled way, I do actually think that there are people in our culture who make it very very difficult for us to live with integrity or in peace, or in any sort of– or even we treat each other as adults. And I do believe that about him. But at the same time, I struggle with this notion of being the Jackie Robinson of taking the “high road”. Of conducting myself with a certain kind of, I guess, propriety. I struggle.
S. FULLWOOD 18:55 I love you both and I just want to say these are artificial standards. Even the one that we’ve made up for ourselves. Because I think of what the background is. Meaning, the point of reference. So just something you said, Seph, about struggling with it. I like the idea of you being okay with whatever you said at any time in your life because you’re allowed to change your mind and evolve and do all kinds of things. One says one thing and then they’re not–
C.T. WEBB 19:25 That’s a [crosstalk]. That’s a good [crosstalk].
S. FULLWOOD 19:25 –allowed to change or think differently. And Travis, I love that you expanded my sensibility about who you’re fighting for because it gave me some sensibility outside of myself and outside of a particular community to say, “Okay. Well, this is what I’m doing. I’m not just doing this for myself. I’m doing this–” Because I’m thinking that the work that I’m deliberately doing in terms of building our archives and helping people get their stuff to archives and help people build their own archive is very personal and very political to me. But I also feel like when I go to events and someone’s on stage and I get on the mic and I’m– I feel like I need to express the rage and the anger– I mean, rage is anger. The discontent that I feel. Because I feel like that’s useful to those very people that you’re talking about us to Travis. I think they’re important as well to see someone speak in that manner.
C.T. WEBB 20:22 Yeah. Yeah. It’s funny. Before you got to that last point I was thinking that– sort of in the sort of the Buddhist skillful means kind of way. Like the house is on fire, how do you get the people out of the house, right? And so that approach of actually giving– and we don’t often talk about race in explicit terms like this but that rage on me I don’t feel like would wear very well, and I feel is a, even when genuinely felt, a kind of appropriation that is just not very useful. Now, I’m not saying that there can’t be white people that feel just as indignant that human beings have enslaved, and most recently enslaved, Africans and East Asians in this country. I absolutely believe that that can be felt deeply by anyone of any skin color. But how that reads in the public space is different based on how you look and where you come from. And so I feel like in what you just said, needing to articulate, provide a conduit for that outrage and to say that you’re– the pain that you feel and the disregard that you feel is valid and you have every right to your anger. I am convinced by what you just said. I could see that being a potent and positive force. I am not convinced that that is the best way for people that are not of color to approach these issues. And I think I would be less effective– though we’re on a very small stage. I feel like I would be less effective at moving people if I approached it in a similar fashion.
S. FULLWOOD 22:27 The only thing I would say in response to that is everybody needs to breathe and everybody needs to be themselves. All of us need to come across the water as we are. And I think that that’s part– part of what you’re saying, I think, is quite beautiful and thoughtful and tentative. And so–
C.T. WEBB 22:47 Yeah. That’s fair. Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.
S. FULLWOOD 22:48 Do you know?
C.T. WEBB 22:49 Yeah.
S. FULLWOOD 22:49 But I think all of us need to come across the water as we are. And that’s why I think there’s such a pushback from the right. Because I think that there’s the impression if not the actual move ahead socially that people are getting too– diverse people are getting too far ahead. And I hate using diverse. I need better language. And that something’s being lost. And I do think some things are being lost. I think white supremacy is taking a hit and it’s winging back. But I feel like I can’t give into too much of what they say we should do to achieve anything that looks like freedom. So I’m always [inaudible] of that. And trying to be mindful of that.
S. FULLWOOD 23:31 And I just want to say one more thing before I finish that I’m reading Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by the wonderful Imani Perry. And in the book, Lorraine Hansberry is discussing Cuba. And this is in the– you know. And she goes, “Well, I think my government is wrong. I would like to see them turn back our ships from the Caribbean. The Cuban people, to my mind, and I can only speak for myself, have chosen their destiny. And I cannot believe that it is the place of the descendants of those who do no [inaudible] monarchists of the 18th century for permission to make the US a republic to interfere with the 20th century choice of another sovereign people. Thinking about what freedom means and how it shapes–” She’s got me thinking about some of these things in different ways and so she spoke her mind. And we see through her archive at the [inaudible] Center the law and [inaudible] papers, we see the inner turmoil she had thinking about the very issues that we’re talking about now. How do we say these things? And she was definitely involved in the civil rights movement and raised money and wrote about it and attended a meeting with Robert Kennedy that went awry. And you knew that there was this frustration with, “Why are we acting as if we’re special Negroes here when there are people dying everywhere for the kind of freedom that we’re only sort of partially talking about in this meeting?” If that makes any sense, but.
C.T. WEBB 25:02 It makes a lot of sense. I was going to give Seph an opportunity to– we’re coming up on time, so I was just going to– Seph has to run and write an article for NBC, so [laughter].
S. RODNEY 25:13 Right. Right. Right. I feel in a [inaudible] way deflated by this conversation. Not because anything that’s been said here is somehow negative or bad. It’s that I’m realizing as we speak that– what this conversation has made me realize is that I carry around a lot of reflexive sort of– the word isn’t guilt because guilt is a response. But more a kind of– yes. A kind of self-censoring mechanism. What I’m realizing now is that it’s not self-censoring in a really useful way for me. I think I need to come from a place– because I am very aware that I do not want to treat people with contempt. I don’t want to act from a place of contempt. I do want to act from a place of clarity and a place of meaningful intent to create situations that are the kinds of– that allow for the kinds of communities I want to live in. So I’m realizing as I listen to both of you now that maybe the way I’ve been approaching the ways I talk about politics on Twitter, and even on Facebook, are a little bit too– they’re too bound up in that self-censorship reflex. There needs to be some– I need to come at this from a slightly different angle. And I’m not sure how to do it yet. And I need to do more thinking on this. But, yeah. Maybe deflated isn’t the right way to describe my sense of myself at this moment. Maybe it’s more, “Oh, I’ve hit a wall and I need to find a way over or through it.”
C.T. WEBB 27:15 One thing I just toss in to make a more principle point about being careful as Steven characterized it, is if I’m careful and we create a public sphere in which people are careful, I would say it’s sort of analogous to kind of herd immunity with a vaccination. So if I’m careful and I’m considerate, I can live in a public space where someone reacts with anger, and I can hear that and I can give them the space to do that. Because I believe that that is not the space that that person is always operating from and that they need to express something. Whereas if I am always reacting emotionally, I close that– or society as a culture, if we’re letting everyone’s emotions just fly, then it’s more difficult, I would suggest, to create an open space where you can and feel those things. That’s my suggestion.
S. RODNEY 28:27 Right. So you’re saying that one should, on one hand, allow people the space to be angry, despairing, whatever it is.
C.T. WEBB 28:36 Absolutely. Yeah.
S. RODNEY 28:37 Sure. But at the same time, for yourself, recognize that what?
C.T. WEBB 28:43 There has to be a critical mass of people that are careful. There has to be a critical mass of people that are considerate. And there has to be a critical mass of people that are– and I’ll use Steven’s, I think not inaccurate, but slightly more critical label for that which is restraint. Right? So I’m okay with the level of restraint in a complex cultural sphere. Because I want to give people– I want people to be able to stand up in a public sphere and be really pissed off about fill in the blank because they probably have a reason they’re really pissed off about fill in the blank. And I don’t mean that in a — I mean, there’s no way that in a complex society this large that we’re not trampling on people. There’s just no way. That is the price that we pay. And here is the thing. Other people are paying the price, right? I don’t have to pay the– no police officer is going to break into my home and shoot me because I’m smoking marijuana in my apartment, right?
S. FULLWOOD 29:53 I was waiting for you just to make a comment about that again or something similar. All of us are in danger, Travis. Not just black men, just black people. You are too. Once anyone’s liberties are compromised, your liberty is compromised.
C.T. WEBB 30:07 Fair enough. Fair enough. That’s true. I know.
S. RODNEY 30:09 Actually, I was thinking just that Steven. I was thinking, yeah, but what if you’re in the car with me and I’m smoking up. And a cop comes by and I reach for my wallet to show him my ID and he shoots me and shoots you. So I mean–
C.T. WEBB 30:24 Yeah. Yeah. That’s true.
S. RODNEY 30:24 –everybody’s in danger. I think when–
C.T. WEBB 30:27 Yeah. You’re right.
S. RODNEY 30:28 When we don’t act on principle. Go ahead, Steven. I’m sorry.
S. FULLWOOD 30:34 I’m sorry, but I appreciate, Travis, how you delineate the struggles of just the regular black person versus a regular white person. I appreciate you delineating that. But I also definitely want to bring in this idea that no one’s safe here. Not even the rich. Not even people who think– and this is the– not the conundrum, but this is the weirdness of people thinking they’re safe. It’s the weirdness. It’s really weird. The board I mentioned earlier though was too tentative. I think– did I say careful? Because I thought–
C.T. WEBB 31:08 You may have said– tentative actually sounds right.
S. RODNEY 31:10 Actually it depends on the idea [crosstalk].
S. FULLWOOD 31:11 Tentative is a little more where I was going because it gives you space to attempt and to not be– like you said, to be always explosive which to be honest, when you said that I was like, I get it. There were times when you can get angry and it’s okay if other people are angry too or frustrated. These are times when there’s no script. I’d appreciate the falling back of it so that other people can such and such. But when is your time?
C.T. WEBB 31:47 Yeah. Well, you can ask my wife. I mean, I’m pretty hot-blooded. I mean, there is pretty– I mean, I definitely– it’s important that I am tentative in the public space, so. It just sounded like a confession for domestic violence and not– that’s not what I’m saying [laughter]. I’m just saying that emotionally, I do feel things pretty powerfully and that can come out in ways–
S. RODNEY 32:11 Right. But you mostly just allow yourself to do that in private within the family setting.
C.T. WEBB 32:16 Yes. That’s right.
S. RODNEY 32:16 Yeah. And I guess what I’m realizing now too is that in a public setting where the set up is that I’m acting as a particular kind of academic or considered voice. Like when I make an appearance for Hyperallergic or when I show up to talk about my museum research. I am much more nuanced and much more careful and considerate. And I actually would tend to want to temp down rising temperatures in the room. But I think when I am– at certain points during the day, of course, as Steven has pointed out, I am different people at different points during the day. But at certain points, I am definitely someone who is really angry. And I do need to allow myself to be that. I really do.
C.T. WEBB 33:13 I would actually like to keep talking but I know Seph, you have to get an article in, so.
S. RODNEY 33:18 Yeah. Yeah.
C.T. WEBB 33:19 And then, next week, we will be talking about horror films. Yes [laughter]. Probably we’ll pick some of our favorites and maybe just have some general stuff to say about horror films, obviously, in honor of Halloween, so. This was Steven’s idea which I thought was a great one.
S. FULLWOOD 33:35 Boo [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 33:35 Gentlemen, thanks very much for the conversation.
S. FULLWOOD 33:39 All right. Thank you.
S. RODNEY 33:39 Bye-bye. Take care.
C.T. WEBB 33:41 Join us next week. [music]


First referenced at 23:31

Imani Perry

Imani Perry is the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, where she is also affiliated with the Programs in Gender and Sexuality Studies and Law and Public Affairs.


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