08. November 2022

Mediated Sites of Contention – Twitter and Collective Memory

Mostafa Amini & Dr. Anwar Ouassini

The multi-layered and diverse discourse on social media platforms like Twitter has produced new questions in the realm of historical inquiry. Aside from allowing greater reach in discussion and the presentation of ideas in the form of a compressed text, it also serves as “mediated sites of contention” (MSC) (Ouassini & Amini, 2018). Twitter users' interaction serves as a virtual “site,” memorializing events and mobilizing meaning, memory, and popular imagination. The following research maintains that the vast and diverse units of discourse on Twitter contribute toward a collective consciousness that takes on the role of a captured historical memory. This, in turn, can dictate and shape society's direction and retroactively sustain and create new and imagined myths about history and place. In exploring the tweet as a public “mediated site of contention,” we discuss our concept (MSC) through contemporary social media-based case studies and within a larger framework of new and dynamic methodological approaches at the intersection of social media, collective memory, and history. More specifically, we utilize natural language processing techniques and deep learning algorithms for text analysis, text-on-text impact, and temporal correlation within Twitter to understand the construction of tweets.

Our findings provide three key insights:

First, we find evidence of an artificial genealogy of thought. By analyzing temporal response chains, we find that the content of earlier tweets impact the discourse of later tweets, across and within threads. In this way, they form a genealogy of thought that exists within a vacuum, where reality has less impact. The “artificial” discourse on Twitter is a self-perpetuating form of knowledge production.

Next, we find Twitter as providing a stage in which facts are negotiated. Among the various tweet classifications derived through our implementation of clustering algorithms, we see that several discourse categories contain dynamics in which both current and historical facts are negotiated. Such a finding drives the theoretical underpinnings of “mediated sites of contention”.

Lastly, we discuss the presence of a rapidly evolving collective consciousness. We discuss how the discourse on Twitter is a medium by which collective consciousness is not only formed, but also rapidly manipulated and changed.

Ouassini, A., & Amini, M. (2018). The Pershing Myth: Trump, Islamophobic Tweets, And The Construction Of Public Memory. Journal of Social Science Research, 12(1), 2499-2504.

Mostafa Amini, M.A. is a data scientist and researcher at Harvard Medical School and a graduate student at the Harvard Divinity School. His research lies at the intersection of computational methods and applications that span multiple knowledge domains, including religion, law, race, and medicine. He focuses on the dynamics underlying collective systems, the perpetuation of knowledge, and the nature of knowing. He is interested in the results of such abstractions, such as the output of societal custom and culture, the subsequent perception of innovation and technology, the connection between epistemology and social institutions, and the role of speech and text in informing such dynamics.

Anwar Ouassini PhD is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Delaware State University. His research interests include historical sociology, sociology of religion, collective memory, and comparative criminal justice systems. He is currently working on several projects exploring the intersection of race, memory, and religious identities in the Arab World, the relationship between civil society, social media, and democratic development in West Africa, and Criminal Justice Reform in the Maghreb.