Over the years, tumblr has emerged as a prominent social media site. Unlike Facebook and Twitter where people [mostly] communicate with others they know, tumblr users connect based on similar interests. Everyone uses the site for different purposes. I have been a tumblr user for around 3 years now. I enjoy reblogging pictures of my favourite bands, television shows and actors, and posting random thoughts. Others may use the site to promote their photography, poetry or fan fiction; to express their thoughts/feelings or to partake in debate about current issues.
Since its creation in 2007, tumblr has evolved, becoming a platform for debate in the public sphere. According to Habermas, the public sphere requires discourse and quality for debate, quantity of participation, opportunity and capacity to deliberate in public spaces. Forums and social media sites such as tumblr and twitter provide unlimited opportunities for quality debate in the public sphere. Anyone can participate in debates on tumblr. Click reblog, add your text and enter- its that simple!
In fact, tumblr has become a source of activism. The company’s internal data revealed that 64% of tumblr users care about social issues and use the site to look into them. Philip Howard of the University of Washington notes that “once you connect to other people who feel strongly about race or crime or gay marriage, you stay engaged on that one issue area.” As a tumblr user, I have noticed many of the people who I follow become activists and engage in debate regarding issues such as sexism, sexuality, gay marriage and racism. Activism is fuelled when significant events occur, such as the shooting of Mike Brown. This event sparked activism regarding racism, particularly in America, and led to the emergence of the “black lives matter” tag. Such activism is driven by photos/footage that are not portrayed by mainstream media sources. The ability to spread messages quickly on tumblr allows these images to go “viral”, creating awareness of the issue. Here are some text posts:
The Occupy Wall Street debate in 2011 sparked activism and debate on tumblr. The blog “We Are the 99 Percent” was created to tell first person stories of hardship and unemployment. For example, one post stated: “my mom worked on Wall Street for almost 30 years. In 2008, when the market crashed, the company she worked for shut down. The CEOs were taken care of, but all the loyal workers were left with nothing. My mom still hasn’t found work. I am the 99 percent”. Jesse Emspak notes that the site was a critical force behind the Occupy Wall Street protests, increasing the number of demonstrations from dozens to thousands.
As the site gained more attention, a conservative competitor site was set up. This site, “We Are the 53%” claimed to represent the 53% of Americans who pay federal income tax. The first post stated: “I work 3 jobs. I have a house I can’t sell. My family insurance costs are outrageous…shut it up you whiners. I am the 53% subsidizing you so you can hang out on Wall Street and complain.” However, they could not compete with their predecessor. These sites are prime examples of tumblr being utilised as a platform for debate and activism in the public sphere. Anyone can reblog these posts, express their opinion freely and engage in quality debate.
Fellow tumblr users: do you engage in debate on tumblr? What issues appear on your dashboard? Is tumblr a good forum for debate in the public sphere?
Jurgen Habermas: The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
Safaronova, V 2014, ‘Millennials and the Age of Tumblr’, The New York Times, 19th December 2014, viewed 9th April 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/style/millennials-and-the-age-of-tumblr-activism.html?_r=0.
Sutter, J 2011, ‘Tumblr Becomes Platform for Occupy Wall Street Debate’, CNN, 12th October 2011, viewed 9th April 2015, http://edition.cnn.com/2011/10/12/tech/web/tumblr-occupy-wall-street/.