Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Youtube Indians

The other night I finished the paper "Rating the Youtube Indian" by Maria A Kopacz, and Bessie Lee Lawton which explored how viewers responded to Youtube videos posted by Indians and they compare this to viewer perceptions for other kinds of media.  I was interested in this topic, given that my goal here to stimulate online discussion and community across geographic distances and I want to learn about the role emerging forms of media can play in supporting these kinds of conversations.  As with any new to you discipline, the jargon took a bit to get used to, and as with most social sciences papers, I could ask some questions around methodology and sample size, but putting those things aside I thought this was an interesting quick slice of analysis.

As Youtube allows user generated content, Indigenous people can present themselves as they wish.  This contrasts this with mainstream appearances of Indian people which tend occur through a lens of  stereotypes.  The authors wanted to know how the counter stereotypical images from Youtube were received by audiences and whether stereotypical or non-stereotypical depictions improved or decreased audience ratings.

They note that while Indians are 1.5% of the American population, they make up 0.3% of characters in mainstream media and that most of these appearances are as background characters.  They highlight that many of these depictions focus on settler relations, issues on reservations or colorful or "Exotic" festivals.  The sum of which positions the Indian as a historical other.  Where this is not the case, a couple of stereotypes are portrayed, such as the savage, the side kick, the wise Elder, or the ecological warrior.  For women there is a choice of scantily clad, non-speaking, sexually available woman or the princess.

The authors pulled 351videos from Youtube based on criteria including whether an Indian is the central character and if they are portrayed in a modern context.  They coded the videos  for a number of variables such as the cultural diversity (pan- indianess vs specific affiliation), political context, presence of stereotypes and personal attributes.  Overall, they found that while audiences favored videos with stereotypical Indian images such as wise elder and warrior, some of the less stereotypical images were also positively viewed, especially those which identified Indian groups by name, those that raised political issues and those that affirmed discrimination against Indian peoples.

They extrapolate that such videos could "...serve as significant points of vicarious intergroup contact and could be instrumental in improving societal perceptions of Native Americans."  They do note a possible bias in their study, in that the viewers of these videos may have been more likely to be Indian themselves, however the authors suggest that alternative depictions of indigenous peoples are likely to be positively received and that Indians may want to think about how they can strategically use these forms of media to ".. update the Native image in society and empower their own members..."

This is an interesting area for continued work, but these initial finding do suggest that the use of new forms of media can be useful for sharing messages not only within the indigenous community but also as a means to engaging others in order to discuss and debunk stereotypes. Where are you making your voice heard?

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