The Emancipation of Authorship is the potential given to the majority of citizens to promote (or publish) their ideas far beyond their immediate circle.
Review of: Andrey Miroshnichenko, Human as Media: The Emancipation of Authorship, 2014, by Robert K. Blechman, published in Explorations in Media Ecology, 2017, Volume 17, Issue 3.
If you have ever gathered the courage to venture onto a social media platform, you might have discovered a hellscape of information overload. Twitter encourages adolescent name-calling. Facebook maintains a thin line between “need to know” and TMI. Instagram presents a weight watcher’s fevered nightmare. With the recent revelation that Facebook’s personal profile breaches have been part of its business model, it might seem that the destructive potentials afforded by social media outweigh the opportunities. According to Andrey Miroshnichenko, all of the pluses and minus of the social media revolution are the result of what he calls the “Emancipation of Authorship”, and the potential benefits far outweigh the harm.
The Emancipation of Authorship is the potential given to the majority of citizens to promote (or publish) their ideas far beyond their immediate circle. This change in the producer-consumer paradigm of previous media platforms is the true revolution of social media. Miroshnichenko argues that the existence of this ability is a profound cultural paradigm shift.
Whether via blogs, web sites, tweets, Facebook comments or Tumblr images, in the last 20 years or so more “authors” have appeared than during the previous 6.000 years of literary civilization. A greater proportion of the population is afforded the means to speak out and given the encouragement to do so. Self-publishing is turning into an opportunity previously unknown to most ordinary folks for most of human history.
Despite this progress, Miroshnichenko warns us about the “I publish, therefore I am” side effects of this explosion of authorship. With no formal training, no gatekeepers or editors and often little effort or thought, one is liberated, empowered and rewarded just in getting a response. Any response. Many would-be poets, novelists, political pundits and extemporaneous raconteurs now have the opportunity to reach an audience far beyond family and friends, but do they have the talent, the temperament or the training to do so? How many cat videos do we really need?
Of greater concern, recent political and cultural events have given us a very real picture of the types of threats posed by this explosion of authorship, especially when weaponized by antagonistic entities with an agenda and access to millions of purloined personal profiles. Fake news, deceptive bots, cyber bullies and unfriendly commentators seem to dominate the Internet, moving markets, tilting elections and ruining both public and private careers. Miroshnichenko highlights how social media has played an important role, for better or worse, in political activism and civil involvement, for example in the Arab Spring, the protests in Russia in 2012 and the US presidential elections.
The Viral Editor
According to Miroshnichenko, the Internet provides a self-correcting mechanism, the “Viral Editor”. Compared to TV, the Internet requires, at minimum, a higher level of participation. Authors who persist discover a positive relationship between quality of content and audience response. A huge number of people have access to everyone and everything. Someone will always emerge who is interested enough to investigate an important subject with enthusiasm and deliver the findings back to a social media audience of perhaps two, or maybe two thousand, or more. The average contributor improves his message by subjecting it to judgement by others for the sake of a response. Falsehoods will also emerge, but every example of a lie is an example of its unmasking. The crowd-sourced Viral Editor ensures that the cream rises to the top and that deceptions are ultimately exposed.
The Five Stages of Authorship Emancipation:
1. Primitive Author – The “Cat stage” – We post anything that catches our fancy. It’s a way of dipping our toes into the Internet waters. Then we start to get responses.
2. Popular Authorship – Depending on our personal interests, we search for topics to share and gage our success (and sometimes self-worth) by the number of likes, responses or other interactions.
3. Quasi-professional – Full scale commentary. We begin to take ourselves seriously as authors. Some learn to monetize their commentary, but many do it as a way of exhibiting one’s “status of awareness”.
4. Civil involvement – We become aware of a capacity to influence and to act. We influence broader public opinion and see our own thoughts reflected in the words and actions of others.
5. Volunteer & political activism – The best response from online activity and its resulting political participation actually creates movements, topples governments, brings about increased awareness and real cultural or political change.
Quantity Vs. Quality
The key to understanding Miroshnichenko’s argument is the idea that, compared to historical levels, the sheer QUANTITY of new authors changes the QUALITY of social interaction, including political awareness and participation. Sometimes an individual or group doesn’t progress to a “higher” stage of authorship until outside events force them to. That explains the Parkland Florida students seemingly quick mastery of Stage 5. Not everyone goes through all 5 stages, but the potential remains.
Most of us participating in this ongoing paradigm shift are in the earlier stages of “social media” influence, as formerly mute citizens discover they not only have a voice but also an audience and must puzzle out what to do with it. Though “emancipated,” effective authors do not spring fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. We media investigators must be careful not to judge the Internet’s impacts and potentials through the social and cultural biases of preceding print or broadcast media. Our new “social media” culture must go through an infancy, childhood and adolescence before “Emancipated Authorship” reaches adulthood and we can evaluate the final results.
Also, see the review by Robert K. Logan: Review, Precis and Comments Re Andrey Miroshnichenko’s book Human as Media: The Emancipation of Authorship.