RACING THE PLATFORM/PLATFORMING RACE
Keywords:identity, race, racism, microcelebrity, critical
Race and racism are enduring structural forces that have a hand in virtually every aspect of society; the internet and its vast array of platforms, applications, devices, and cultures are well within their grasp (Nakamura and Chow-White, 2013; Brock, 2020). The papers on this panel trouble, question, and reorient notions of how race comes to matter in our contemporary digital landscape. We build on scholarship that explores how content creators make sense of their relationships to audiences, their contested digital labor, and the centrality of identity to their (im)material work (eg: Baym, 2018; Abidin, 2018; Senft, 2008). Indeed, as critical internet researchers interested in “the lively, animated machines of today’s internet”, we argue that an examination of influencers, microcelebrity, and virality that explicitly attends to race and racism is sorely needed. This panel brings together a diverse group of interdisciplinary (anthropology, sociology, media and communication, game studies, queer studies, and feminist studies) scholars working in the United States and Australia, who engage in empirical and theoretical research on microcelebrity and influencer cultures. The papers in this panel employ a broad range of methods - including qualitative discourse analysis and digital ethnographic research of YouTubers, OnlyFans creators, TikTok users, and Facebook groups - to offer a multifaceted analysis of how race and racism function across social media platforms and within microcelebrity/influencer cultures. The first paper takes the broadest approach in their digital ethnographic work and attempts to flesh out the workings of race, gender, and political economies of influencers on YouTube. Particularly, Paper 1 analyzes the Pokémon GO phenomenon and the influencers who came to fame through building relationships with their fans, discarding conversations of race and racism, and engaging in unequal, gendered forms of private work. Key to its argument is an examination of how particular social locations of race and gender and the neoliberal project of entrepreneurship affect the clout, visibility, and well-being of Pokémon GO influencers. The next three papers focus explicitly on how race operates within microcelebrity and influencer circles as well as the effects that racism has on influencers across various social media platforms. Indeed, Paper 2 examines how race and racism mediate the experiences of gay porn microcelebrities in order to flesh out the differing, racialized relational work that occurs on OnlyFans and within its attendant social media subcultures. Most crucially, it destabilizes the often unnamed ‘white default’ of porn studies, while accounting for how race, racism, and sexuality shape online microcelebrity. Paper 3 studies the TikTok platform to think about how young influencers navigate race and racism and pose social justice stances on a burgeoning and ephemeral platform. In particular, engagement with American racial and cultural politics are explicitly linked to notions of platformed citizenship norms on TikToK. Finally, Paper 4 introduces the term “platformed race” to interrogate how Asianness is commodified, circulated, and microcelebrified within Subtle Asian Things (SAT), a private Facebook group. The paper interrogates how dominant narratives on SAT tend to leverage diasporic Asianess in the generation and circulation of memes, which in turn provoke socio-political debate and incite culturally relevant discourse amongst its distributed global community. To summarize, our analyses explore the intersections of microcelebrity and influencer economies, cultures, and labor demands by looking at how creators and their audiences experience race and racism across several platforms. Our various approaches contribute different examinations of race and racism to existing literature on the everyday experiences and structural hurdles that microcelebrities and influencers must endure in order to sustain their livelihood in a shifting platform(ed) landscape (eg: Abidin, 2018, Baym, 2018, Duffy, 2017). As internet researchers working with qualitative methods, we can never know in advance what contexts might be most meaningful for our work, and so we remain critical of how we make sense of both our own judgements and those of our participants (Markham and Baym, 2009). References Abidin, C. (2018). Internet Celebrity: Understanding Fame Online. United Kingdom: Emerald Publishing. Baym, N. K. (2018). Playing to the crowd: Musicians, audiences, and the intimate work of connection (Vol. 14). NYU Press. Brock Jr, A. (2020). Distributed Blackness: African American Cybercultures (Vol. 9). NYU Press. Duffy, B. (2017). (Not) getting paid to do what you love: Gender, social media, and aspirational work. New Haven; London: Yale University Press. Markham, A. N., & Baym, N. K. (Eds.). (2009). Internet inquiry: Conversations about method. Sage Publications. Nakamura, L., & Chow-White, P. (Eds.). (2013). Race after the Internet. Routledge. Senft, T. M. (2008). Camgirls: Celebrity and community in the age of social networks (Vol. 4). Peter Lang.