Temporalizing the refraction chamber - tracking drone-related issues on twitter

Participants: Alex Gekker, Aron Sandell, Noa Bengur and Sam Hind

Research Question: What is missing in the mapping of issues in Twitter? How can we build a research timeline for mapping political issues?

Twitter is seen as a diffusion agent in political events and social movements, a proxy for information plurality (Rieder 2012). However, Twitter is mainly about the here and now (the user interface, platform specificity, temporal patterns of use etc.).

Our research question came from an understanding of twitter as a deficient platform for mapping political issues over time - at least for users presented with the traditional 'home' page. So although it is easy to see the 'here and now' it is remarkably difficult to track evolving discourses - thus isolating and decontextualizing current trending topics.

From Diffusion To Refraction

Media diffusion theory sees Twitter as an infrastructure, pipelines for information diffusion (tweets). Twitter is a space between reproduction and mutation. The most successful tweets are most often those that add a 'twist' to the topic and 'spin' it in a certain way, i.e., that 'refract' it." (Rieder 2012:9). Refracting is about medium regeneration or re-articulation: A process for collective re-negotiation.

In order for us to conceptualize the pluralistic performance of issues within the twitter space, we used Bernard Rieder's term 'refraction' that he developed in a recent paper in the DMI reader. His comment that we want to zoom into is that the most successful tweets are those that spin a subject or 'refract' it - tying it into existing and ongoing debates (rather than those that are mere factual reports of proceedings). We will show this later on.

'There is more than one way to imagine a drone'

"Drones as things enter into our world through the ways in which they are talked about, but also the way they are represented, repeated and circulated. They become objects and images through which we think." Elspeth Van Veeren (2013)

Competing and conflicting visions of the drone.

"...technologies are not just for “organising” information, they are also for revealing it, for telling us something new about the world around us, rendering it more clearly." James Bridle (2012), Creator of Dronestagram

Elspeth Van Veeren talks of the shifting imaginaries, meanings and contexts within which drones are placed. They are vehicles for the way we think about different things: military power, technological evolution, notions of liberty and freedom, and visual security. These narratives compete for space, at times coming up against each other. The risk is a conflation of these visions into a totalizing one that erases the temporal nuance of the drone debate.

But if we are to operationalize this debate we need to think carefully about how tools not only organize information as artist James Bridle supposes, but how they help to bring the world into focus. In one of his own projects 'Dronestagram' Bridle repurposed the Instagram app to post unsettling satellite imagery of drone strike sites, to, in a sense, 'make known' an unknown or distanced world - that of drone strike sites most notably in Pakistan and Yemen. Our driving force was to do something similar...

Drone Twitter Space by Month

1. Material object (December)

Drone as (displaced) geopolitical technology. Compare:

rt @ap: breaking: iran state tv claims revolutionary guard has captured another u.s. drone in iranian airspace - 12/4/2012

rt @bbcbreaking: us navy says no american drones missing after iranian reports that one was captured over gulf

"is obama arming iran with high tech us military drones[?]"

2. Hashtag hijacking (December)

Drones, gun control and libertarian politics. Compare:

rt @realalexjones: #guncontrol why doesn't #obama hold press conferences and cry when he murders innocent children with drone strikes? - 12/14/2012

Alex Jones ‏@RealAlexJones 14 Dec #GunControl Obama fakes crying; pure exploitation by the corrupt ruling class that wants to disarm us

3. Twitter meme (February)

Drone as Twitter-meme. Compare:

eight drones a week #replacesongtitlewithdrone

drone go breaking my heart #replacesongtitlewithdrone

if you don't drone me by now #replacesongtitlewithdrone

you can drone your own way replacesongtitlewithdrone

Drone dataset

4. March - Filibuster and #standwithrand

Drones turn the discourse inwards. From a foreign affairs issue to a civil liberties affair.

Courtesy of a 12 hour filibuster by Republican Senator Rand Paul.

Business Review, 2013-4-11: polls show a dramatic turn in public opinion on drones.

From our own analysis we have been unable to prove this ourselves in the Twitter drone space.

Before and after the filibuster


We have been able to witness a temporality in the twitter platform that otherwise would have remained invisible.

Drones continuously being remade and repurposed in the Twitter space.

Differing types of refraction. From platform-based events to material practices.

Refraction is a dynamic process instigated along the twitter timeline.

We would like to thank Wifak, Michael and Richard for helping us along the way. #DroneBreakMyHeart

Topic revision: r1 - 18 Jul 2013, SamHind
This site is powered by FoswikiCopyright © by the contributing authors. All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
Ideas, requests, problems regarding Foswiki? Send feedback