Tumblr: The New Platform for Debate

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:

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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/.


Does it matter who owns the media?

The media is such a significant part of our lives. Everyday we consume various types of media- newspapers, magazines, television, social media and many more. The media content we consume influences our beliefs, values and actions. But have you ever stopped to think who owns the media content that you absorb everyday? Does it matter who owns the media?

Diversity of media ownership is declining globally. This is apparent in Australia, where media ownership is extremely concentrated. Australia’s largest media sources are owned by the following:

  • Channel 7 is owned by Kerry Stokes
  • Bruce Gordon controls WIN TV, Australia’s regional TV network reaching over 5 million Australians daily
  • Channel 9 is owned by CVC Asia Pacific- a private equity firm who also holds interest in NBN, Sky News, Ticketek and Ninemsn
  • Gina Rinehart is Fairfax Australia’s largest shareholder at 19%.
  • News Limited, owned by Rupert Murdoch, is Australia’s largest media company (Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun, The Australian, news.com.au, NewsLifeMedia magazines)
  • Foxtel is owned by Telstra and James Packer through Consolidated Media (Kerry Stokes has a key stake in the business)

So many media companies with very few owners! But what does this mean for us?

Such concentration of media ownership evokes fear among the public; with the public’s predominant concern regarding diversity of views. Some fear that the limited range of owners will restrict the diversity of views portrayed on current issues. There are also concerns that media owners will push their views upon consumers through their publications. This issue has been raised regarding Gina Rinehart. Some stress that she will use her influence to sway editorial policy at notable publications such as the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and various online sources.

Additionally, the concentration of media ownership prevents the media from fulfilling its role as a source of information and public forum. In order to successfully impart information, the media must provide various viewpoints and act as a forum for public deliberation. The media’s role as a forum allows the expression and representation of all political perspectives and provides access for those who wish to address the public. These forums enable citizens to express their opinions, hear new ideas and potentially be persuaded by other views. Having such limited ownership of media outlets impedes the representation of a diverse range of views. Hence, media should not be controlled by “special interest groups” (Malcolm Fraser).

In order to ensure that media ownership does not completely fall into the hands of very few people, The Australian Press Council (APC) was established. This regulatory body implemented the “2 out of 3 rule” to encourage diversity and prevent the concentration of the ownership of media outlets. This rule allows media companies to possess no more than 2 broadcasting licenses within a certain region. For example, Fairfax cannot acquire a commercial television license in Sydney or Melbourne as they already possess radio and newspaper licenses in these areas. However, due to the everchanging media landscape, these regulations are bound to change in the future.

To what extent does the media impact on your daily life? Do you think it matters who owns the media? Are regulatory bodies the solution to the problem? Let me know in the comments!


Department of Communications 2014, Media Control and Ownership Policy Background Paper, no. 3, DOC, Canberra, http://www.presscouncil.org.au/uploads/52321/ufiles/Control_Background_Paper_Australian_Government_Department_of_Communications.pdf p 18.

Goncalves, R 2013, ‘Factbox: Who Owns What in the Australian Media?’, SBS News, 3rd September 2013, viewed 7th April 2015, http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2012/06/22/factbox-who-owns-what-australian-media.

Heffernan, M 2014, ‘Australia’s Media Ownership Rules Ripe For Change As Govcernment Report Calls for Rethink’, Sydney Morning Herald, 11th June 2014, viewed 7th April, http://www.smh.com.au/business/media-and-marketing/australias-media-ownership-rules-ripe-for-change-as-government-report-calls-for-rethink-20140611-39xeg.html.

Rowbottom, J 2010, Extreme Speech and the Democratic Functions of the Mass Media, in I. Hare and J. Weinstein (ed) Extreme Speech and Democracy, New York: Oxford University Press.

Josef Trappel and Tanja Maniglio, “On media monitoring – the media for democracy monitor (MDM),” Communications: The European Journal of Communication Research, 34 (2009): 169-201.

Show, Don’t Tell: The Power of Pictures

Every person reads images differently. You might say the image of a white lily flower is beautiful; whereas I know it is a symbol of death. Why is this? The answer- semiotics– “the science of signs”. Semiotics involves two concepts: denotations– image content/what can be seen, and connotations– what the image suggests. Although the content of an image remains the same, people’s backgrounds, experiences and values influence their interpretation of an image. In other words, the connotations of an image will vary.

The semiotics of advertisements are extremely powerful. Take US clothing label American Apparel for example. Some may view their print advertisements with absolutely no thought. To these people, the ad is a person wearing American Apparel clothing. However, to the analytical mind, these advertisements are graphic representations of models; showcasing one item of American Apparel. In other words, “sex sells” seems to work for American Apparel. Such advertisements have been extremely controversial in the media; several being banned in the UK.

Let’s take a look at a few:

1. Now Opennow-open

The denotations of this image are quite simple. Pretty girl laying on a bed wearing an American Apparel body suit. When we look deeper into this image, we realise the connotations. The model’s body language in conjunction with the caption “Now Open” imply sexually suggestive connotations. This is an extremely common theme among American Apparel advertisements.



So much is wrong with this advertisement! Let’s start with the denotations. The model (Lauren) is pictured wearing nothing but American Apparel socks- the intended product of the advertisement. The advertisement features 3 close up shots of Lauren’s face, and captions attempting to emphasise how much Lauren loves her socks.  Very straightforward.

But what does it mean?

Let’s dig a little deeper into the connotations. Lauren is depicted wearing only socks and underwear. The 3 photos on the left hand side were taken from above, and feature sexually suggestive expressions. Additionally, Lauren’s direct eye contact with the camera makes it seem as if the viewer is looking at her through her partner’s eyes. The caption in the bottom right corner features her name, weight and occupation, and encourages the viewer to “look her up on Google.” Consequently, the model becomes the product, not the socks. Furthermore, her bio caption resembles a dating site profile, positioning her as a product. The irony here? Lauren Phoenix is actually a porn star.

Once again, the idea that sex sells comes into play. American Apparel have several print advertisements based around this idea. The idea must work for them if they have no variety in their campaigns! Can images such as these be interpreted differently? Possibly, but you would have to be quite oblivious to miss these connotations.

These are my interpretations of the above images. Knowledge of body language and experience in analysing similar advertisements assisted me in interpreting these images. Your analysis may differ to mine. What do these images tell you? How do you read similar images? Let me know in the comments!

I’m All About That Bass, AND Treble

“Love your body.”

As much as we want to, the media makes it extremely difficult for us to treat our bodies like temples. Many adolescents struggle with the issue of body image due to the constant pressure placed upon them by the media- magazines, television shows, movies and social media. Think back to the last time you went to the supermarket. While you were queueing up, you probably flicked through a trashy magazine or two; bombarded by covers of celebrities in bikinis and comments on their weight loss or gain. The headline was probably something like this:

kk mag cover

Pictured: Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian

And if you were like me, after seeing that cover, you would have compared yourself to With such pressure to be thin, it’s not surprising that so many adolescents develop eating disorders. 35% of females and 28% males aged 18-24 in Australia are not satisfied with their appearance. Furthermore, a study undertaken at Sydney University (2007) revealed that 1 in 5 teenage girls starved themselves or regurgitated their food to control their weight. This is so completely wrong- nobody has the right to dictate one’s beauty by putting them on a scale.

However, the media’s attitude towards body image and what is considered attractive appears to be changing. Recently, several prominent figures in Hollywood and media industries have jumped on board to praise curvy women. This is an extremely controversial topic in my family- my sister and I argue for hours on end! Yes, promoting curves is a good thing! But what I cannot stand is the way people go about doing so. You must have heard Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” at least once. Not only does she stereotype those with a thin frame, she refers to them as “skinny bitches”. Lovely. Way to make a fellow gal feel great about herself. To make matters worse, Trainor contributes to adolescent girls’ concerns regarding body image by implying that boys don’t like girls with no “junk” in the right places. She’s just as bad as the media- manipulating adolescent girls into thinking boys won’t like them if they’re a certain weight. Nobody has the right to determine this.

Why does the media do this? A specific body type should not be demeaned only to glorify another. This goes both ways. Body image will continue to be a problem unless the media promote good health and positive body image and encourage self confidence. You don’t have to be thin to be healthy! Everyone’s body is unique and functions in a specific way. Dolly Magazine has been an advocate for healthy body image for years, using readers of all shapes and sizes as models. If other magazines and media outlets mimicked this, adolescent girls wouldn’t feel the need to constantly compare their bodies to others.

Hopefully the media will embrace bass AND treble to create beautiful music!


  • Image taken from http://magazines.famousfix.com/tpx_25540291/famous-magazine-australia-10-june-2013
  • Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV) , Key Research and Statistics. Accessed 14th March 2015.