Ai Weiwei and Digital Social Movements

Ai Weiwei and Digital Social Movements

In a blog post titled “Citizen Investigation” on March 20th, 2009, Ai Weiwei wrote:

“To remember the departed, to show concern for life, to take responsibility, and for the potential happiness of the survivors, we are initiating a citizen investigation.”

This was the start of a new social movement in which Ai Weiwei called upon volunteers to uncover the truth behind the lives lost in the devastating Sichuan earthquake of 2008.

“I spend 90 per cent of my energy blogging,” Ai said in an interview before his blog was discontinued. He also admitted to occupying over twelve hours of his day online.

Since the deletion of his blog by the Chinese government, Ai Weiwei  turned to Twitter to continue his online activism and of course, continues to use his art to convey profound messages on the state of China today.

Translation: In this country, tyranny deprives not only ordinary people of their rights to life, but also their rights to express their opinions, including the right to question, the right to inquire and the right to know. All the efforts to acquire the rights have been destroyed by the authorities at all costs. People who died of tyranny had no place to be buried.

Have a listen to my podcast below, which goes into detail about Ai Weiwei’s “Citizen Investigation” campaign:

Oriental’s Dreams by Deimos
(CC- BY – NC 2.0)


AI, W. & AMBROZY, L. 2011. Ai Weiwei’s Blog: Writings, Interviews, and Digital Rants, 2006-2009, MIT Press. pp. xvii – xxvii.

CARTY, V. 2015. Social movements and new technology, Westview Press. pp. 1-16

SULLIVAN, J. 2012. A tale of two microblogs in China. Media, Culture & Society, Volume 34, pp. 773-783.

TILLY, C. 2010. Regimes and repertoires, University of Chicago Press. pp. 183-185.

WEAVER, M. 2008. Police break up protest by parents of China earthquake victims [Online].…ed=networkfront [Accessed 26/04/2016]

WONG, E. 2008. China Presses Hush Money Grieving Parents [Online].…24quake.html?_r=1 [Accessed 25/04/2016]



The title sounds rather narcissistic, wouldn’t you say? Well, that would be due to this blog post being all about me and how I portray myself online. My digital journey began way back in 2007 when my family finally agreed to leap into the 21st century and connect to broadband Internet. I won’t bore you with my (embarrassing, cringeworthy, twelvie) tales from MSN and MySpace, but I think it’s safe to say that up until about a year ago I put very little thought into the construction of my online identity.

A horrible selfie from 2007. I rocked those braces, though.

It is argued that ‘identity’ is best described as an ‘emotionally-charged description of ourselves’ – not one ‘fixed’ persona. Identity is merely an essence of the self, which is expressed through representations recognisable by ourselves and others (Barker and Galasinski, 2001). On social media for instance, we are allowing our audience to catch a glimpse of a certain representation of ourselves; the “I” of reference is constructed and situated, and not identical with its flesh-and-blood maker (Smith and Watson, 2014). What we’re seeing is a fragment of our beliefs, attitudes, tastes and lifestyles neatly packaged to appear more attractive/professional/exciting or whatever the affordance of the platform may be.

What online social network sites allow the user to do are often called a technology’s ‘affordances’. The construction of our online identities is partly based upon the intended use of the platform or the limitations of the site’s functionality.  Collectively, they are connected to a desire to produce (Burnett and Marshall, 2003), as they have simplified the process of constructing a website and ensuring that the website or profile is able to garner an audience, one of the factors which makes social media so appealing.

Of course, the site’s anticipated use can evolve over time, too. For instance, Facebook’s original purpose was to communicate amongst university peers. Facebook has captured a very large number of users, and has pervaded the culture from its origins in university life to now encompassing a comprehensive connection to all demographic groups (Marshall, 2010).

Now, I think it is very safe to say, that Facebook is the social network for “socialising” online (not to mention a multi-billion-dollar company).

A photo of me taking a photo for social media. Photo courtesy of: Kristen Settinelli Photography

There are so many facets of my online life, it’s difficult to keep up sometimes. Each social media platform I use reveals varying degrees of my virtual identity(/ies) as well as a tiny snapshot of my ‘real’ life. From my personal Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts, to my professional LinkedIn and About.Me profiles, my life on social media can, at times, resemble a metaphorical rollercoaster.

I use Facebook to communicate with my friends and family who are predominantly present in my ‘real’ life. It is largely the best platform to communicate on a more personal level with those nearest and dearest to me. Although, if I want a job at the end of my degree, I should probably consider withdrawing from pointless heated debates across popular news threads.


An infographic about my findings on the ‘You Are What You Like’ psychometric test.

Snapchat is probably my most used channel after Facebook. Although I’m not always active on the platform, I find myself constantly checking the latest additions to the ‘My Story’ feed to keep up to date with my friends. I also host La Trobe University’s Snapchat account and have become somewhat of a celebrity around campus with students asking me “Are you the girl from Snapchat?”

Promoting O-Week on Snapchat. Another of my online personae. Photography: T. Matliovski

Of course, there is a time to be social and a time to be professional. My LinkedIn and About.Me profiles serve this purpose—and in very different ways. LinkedIn is essentially the social network for professionals and budding professionals alike, whether you are a recruiter, job seeker or scoping out new leads. While About.Me is a springboard, which launches the viewer into my broader online world and encourages further exploration of my virtual profiles.

On LinkedIn, the aim of the game is professional networking and resume building. Since realising its potential, I reinvigorated my LinkedIn profile in 2015, which has attracted the eye of several recruiters interested in landing me a job in the digital media field. Gareth Wright, director of communication recruitment company, The Little Black Book Agency told The Drum that it’s essential to “make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and informative; recruiters, both agency and client, will inevitably search for this, so it should be as pristine as your CV.”

Originally, I think I misused About.Me and adopted the “carefree Facebook” approach and wrote my bio as though I was writing to a friend. Thankfully, my media teacher advised that while this approach isn’t detrimental to your online persona, it doesn’t increase your chances of an employer connecting with you. Therefore, I felt it was necessary to re-construct my identity on About.Me and tailored my profile to suit a different audience.

In between the personal and professional, you can find me on Twitter, the micro-blogging platform demanding an insight into our thoughts succinctly expressed in 140 characters or less. The content I post here ranges from Tweets relevant to my studies or future career to my love/hate relationship with My Kitchen Rules.

The platform that easily gives me the most joy is my dog’s Instagram account. Nothing in the world has ever filled me with as much joy as her, so I decided to make a social account for her, so others could enjoy her cute antics as much as I do. We try to upload once a day and use the maximum amount of hashtags (thirty) per post to increase visibility. It’s funny how much planning and thought went into launching her Instagram when I don’t do nearly the same for my own accounts. In fact, I’ve almost completely ditched my personal Instagram account to pursue hers “full time”.

An influential factor in how I use social media is my training in its professional use. I’ve learned, as William Deresiewicz observed, “The self today is an entrepreneurial self, a self-that’s packaged to be sold.” As depressing as that sounds, it’s true for young professionals in today’s digital world. I hope to achieve a career in digital content creation and to do that I’ll need to maintain a killer online presence.

Word count: 1008

My Broader Online Activity and Engagement 

I’ve really impressed myself with the level of activity and engagement I’ve participated in this trimester. I have completed other online subjects before but never felt enthused enough to bother with the ‘engagement’ criteria of the unit.

This time, engaging online was a really pleasurable experience and other students in the unit actually want to talk and interact with each other, instead of feeling like a contest (despite being gamified!).

I’ve been inspired to create this blog, documenting my studies, I’ve thought deeply about concepts of identity and I even got to talk about feminism with ALC203 tutor, Emma Whatman.


BARKER, C. & GALASINSKI, D. 2001. Cultural Studies and Discourse Analysis: A Dialogue on Language and Identity, SAGE Publications. pp. 70-78

BURNETT, R. & MARSHALL, P. D. 2003. Web theory: An introduction, Psychology Press. pp. 70-78

MARSHALL, P. D. 2010. The promotion and presentation of the self: celebrity as marker of presentational media. Celebrity studies, Vol. 1, pp. 35-48.

SMITH, S. & WATSON, J. 2014. Virtually me: A toolbox about online self-presentation. Identity technologies: Constructing the self online, pp. 70-95.

(Featured image: geralt, CC0 1.0)


Disclaimer: No, that is not a spelling error in the title. 

As mentioned in the previous post, this 2.0 approach, as Claudia Grinnell writes in her article titled ‘From Consumer to Prosumer to Produser: Who Keeps Shifting My Paradigm? (We Do!)’,

blurs the line between producer and consumer and has shifted attention from access to information toward access to people. New kinds of online resources – such as social networking sites, blogs, wikis, and virtual communities – allow people with common interests to meet, share ideas, and collaborate in innovative ways.

(Grinnell 2009, p. 597)

Produsage refers to the type of user-led content creation that takes place in a variety of online environments such as Wikipedia, open source software, and the blogosphere (Bruns, 2007). The concept blurs the boundaries between passive consumption and active production. According to Snurblog, the distinction between producers and consumers or users of content has faded, as users also play the role of producers whether they are aware of this role or not. The hybrid term produser refers to an individual who is engaged in the activity of produsage.

Isn’t that exciting?! Producing content is a real passion of mine, so I’m excited to get stuck into this part of the unit where the making aspect comes into play.

Getting practical by being active

My tutor mentioned that his cousin, a successful digital manager for a major marketing company, firmly believes that it is essential for students to be active on Twitter and LinkedIn right from the get-go.

This allows for a lot of professional networking – for instance your virtual CV would be easily discoverable online by potential employers and could open up the way for new job opportunities.

According to SEO Daily Dose, microblogging platforms (including Twitter) have the following benefits:

  • Stay in touch with your connections.
  • Keep up to date with entertainment, news, etc.
  • Have useful discussion on selected topics.
  • Easy access to experts.

Business people can use this for the following

  • Sell / market products
  • To get user / customer feedback
  • As a live support tool
  • Increase brand awareness

Here are some of my own tips, created with Canva:

Twitter Tips