Tweet Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

Not that I have a strong affinity for hockey, but it just so happens that I found this particular article “The Social Media Effect,” written by Craig Custance, to be very interesting. The article addresses the power that social media has on sports, and in particular with regards to the NHL specifically. The article explains that a 21-year-old freelance editor from Finland, Janne Makkonen, posted an “eight minute video on YouTube in hopes that his passionate plea towards NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman would help the NHL to avoid a lockout. Makkonen, as well as other fans, have been turning to social media to voice their opinions on the NHL lockout situation, and are able to be heard by higher authorities. “Through Twitter, YouTube and the traditional interviews on radio and in print that have inevitably followed, he has become the face of a million frustrated hockey fans” (Custance). This article is very relevant to the discussions and articles in class because it touches on many of Nancy Baym’s key concepts and ideas. I found a lot of parallels between the NHL article and Boyd and Ellison’s “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship” as well.  Boyd and Ellison explain that SNS’s are ‘networked publics’ that support sociability, just as unmediated public spaces do” (Boyd, 221). With regards to the NFL lockout debate, Makkonen and other hockey fans are using Twitter, YouTube and Facebook as public forums for their personal opinions, and social media have become a threat to the National Hockey League, as well as to the commissioners. These social media networks serve as a platform for people to make a change, and to inspire others to make a change, just as Makkonen is doing.

Both society and technology help to shape and give rise to new media, and this idea concurs with Baym’s definition of social shaping of technology. Baym explains that “the consequences of technology arise from a mix of “affordances” – the social capabilities technological qualities enable –and the unexpected and emergent ways that people make use of these affordances” (Baym, 44). Makkoon uses social media technologies to reach NHL officials and fellow fans, and technology sees that society also needs these social media networks to connect and unite with people from all over the world. Makkoon, and other hockey fans are using social media to not only express their opinions, but to give a voice to the people who are unable to do so, and who happen to be NFL hockey players in this case. Twitter and YouTube in this particular article by Custance, are the tools for spreading information, but the fans are the initiators and the ones who are the brains behind the operation. The people are the ones that give rise and meaning to new technologies and social media sites, and Baym’s discourse of social shaping helps to justify this idea.

Before launching his video on YouTube, Makkonen had approximately 500 followers, and just one week later, that number of followers nearly quadrupled. Makkonen has become the face of hockey fans around the world, and he has become a social media celebrity, bringing fans together to stand up against a higher structure. This story may not seem very unique, because these days people are constantly using Twitter and other sites to voice their opinions; but what makes this NHL lockout story interesting is the fact that fans are not only being the voice for themselves, but are being the voice and figure of the players as well. The players are choosing not to directly Tweet their thoughts on the situation because they feel that their opinions could be taken out of context, or be found as distasteful to owners and fans; they feel that they can end up doing more damage to the situation, but are glad that the fans can be their voice. One player on the Red Wings, Danny Cleary, says “I can get in trouble on Twitter. My opinion would be too strong…the public opinion is for sure on the players’ side. Now through Twitter and other streams of media, they can see our side. The league says one thing and now we can dispute it openly an in a forum” (Custance). This is a unique approach to how social media is working, because in a society where athletes and celebrities reign supreme, and are very vocal in the public, the hockey players are in a way forced to remain silent due to their uneasy situation, allowing fans to take the reins and be vocal.

In addition, when analyzing Baym’s seven key terms in the context of the Custance article, both readings show the importance of reach in a social network setting. Baym writes that “one single keystroke can send a message to thousands of people” (10). All it takes is one tweet, one YouTube video, and one person to truly have an effect on a mass audience. This empowerment that social media is inscribing in fans directly correlates with the “Anthropological Introduction to YouTube” video because the video describes how social media platforms exude a sense of empowerment to people, making them feel like a community that has a say in a situation, and has the power to make a difference.

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