Let’s Go, Baby Forklift!: Fandom Governance and the Political Power of Cuteness in China, Social Media + Society
This article describes how the Chinese state borrows from the culture of celebrity fandom to implement a novel strategy of governing that we term “fandom governance.” We illustrate how state-run social media employed fandom governance early in the COVID-19 pandemic when the country was convulsed with anxiety. As the state faced a crisis, state social media responded with a propagandistic display of state efficacy, broadcasting a round-the-clock livestream of a massive emergency hospital construction project. Chinese internet users playfully embellished imagery from the livestream. They unexpectedly transformed the construction vehicles into cute personified memes, with Baby Forklift and Baby Mud Barfer (a cement mixer) among the most popular. In turn, state social media strategically channeled this playful engagement in politically productive directions by resignifying the personified vehicles as celebrity idols. Combining social media studies with cultural and linguistic anthropology, we offer a processual account of the semiotic mediations involved in turning vehicles into memes, memes into idols, and citizens into fans. We show how, by embedding cute memes within modules of fandom management such as celebrity ranking lists, state social media rendered them artificially vulnerable to a fall in status. Fans, in turn, rallied around to “protect” these cute idols with small but significant acts of digital devotion and care, organizing themselves into fan circles and exhorting each other to vote. In elevating the memes to the status of celebrity idols, state social media thereby created a disposable pantheon of virtual avatars for the state, and consolidated state power around citizens’ voluntary response to vulnerability. We analyze fandom governance as a new development in the Chinese state’s long history of governing citizens through the management of emotion.
Viral Visualizations, ACM CHI
Controversial understandings of the coronavirus pandemic have turned data visualizations into a battleground. Defying public health officials, coronavirus skeptics on US social media spent much of 2020 creating data visualizations showing that the government’s pandemic response was excessive and that the crisis was over. This paper investigates how pandemic visualizations circulated on social media, and shows that people who mistrust the scientific establishment often deploy the same rhetorics of data-driven decision-making used by experts, but to advocate for radical policy changes. Using a quantitative analysis of how visualizations spread on Twitter and an ethnographic approach to analyzing conversations about COVID data on Facebook, we document an epistemological gap that leads pro- and anti-mask groups to draw drastically different inferences from similar data. Ultimately, we argue that the deployment of COVID data visualizations reflect a deeper sociopolitical rift regarding the place of science in public life.
Accessible Visualization Design (paper trailer), IEEE VIS
Accessibility – the process of designing for people with disabilities (PWD) — is an important but under-explored challenge in the visualization research community. Without careful attention, and if PWD are not included as equal participants throughout the process, there is a danger of perpetuating a vision-first approach to accessible design that marginalizes the lived experience of disability (e.g., by creating overly simplistic “sensory translations” that map visual to non-visual modalities in a one-to-one fashion). In this paper, we present a set of sociotechnical considerations for research in accessible visualization design, drawing on literature in disability studies, tactile information systems, and participatory methods. We identify that using state-of-the-art technologies may introduce more barriers to access than they remove, and that expectations of research novelty may not produce outcomes well-aligned with the needs of disability communities. Instead, to promote a more inclusive design process, we emphasize the importance of clearly communicating goals, following existing accessibility guidelines, and treating PWD as equal participants who are compensated for their specialized skills. To illustrate how these considerations can be applied in practice, we discuss a case study of an inclusive design workshop held in collaboration with the Perkins School for the Blind.