At the beginning of June, 2019, No Space For Hate (NSFH)—an advocacy group devoted to countering fascism and white supremacy in the farmers’ market and the surrounding community—released a report revealing troubling connections of alleged perpetrators of hate crimes to Sarah Dye—a regular vendor at the market for Schooner Creek Farms. Dye was identified in legal testimony as an associate of Nolan Brewer, “a man who pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime charge for bringing homemade napalm and homemade bombs to a synagogue in Carmel, Indiana with the intent to burn it down.” This prompted the formation of the Facebook group for NSFH and subsequent flyering at the market to spread information about the aforementioned ties. On July 29, the mayor of Bloomington announced the suspension of the farmers' market for the following two weekends. The justification he provided in his public announcement was “concern for public safety” with the admission that the reasoning included “escalating tension and conduct surrounding the presence of a vendor alleged to have ties to white nationalist causes and groups.”
This project intends to present a case study that contextualizes the potential for engagements of public education and advocacy through the medium of Facebook. While previous studies have explored digital fora in more systematic ways (Kling, R., McKim, G., & King, A. 2003; Hara, N. & Sanfilippo, M. R. 2016), my analysis was developed through a more ethnographic approach to public advocacy aimed at social movements and their digital presence.
Though this data is certainly constrained by limitations of my perspective, the ethnographic approach of attending these gatherings allowed me to employ a method of grounded theory—an inductive approach of gathering data to form conclusions by employing the method of “participant observation” over time . I use these methodologies to identify social media engagement within the broader context of the controversy. Distinguishing commonalities among the quantifiable discourse provides insights into how the controversy was perceived through, between, and among actors who contribute seemingly common understanding and yet continued to employ techniques of knowledge revision through deliberation.
My initial plan was to collect discourse from the group posts in a systematic manner and then apply a sentiment analysis using the coding methods from the aforementioned studies. However, my process was derailed at several intervals by Facebook’s increased limitation to data collection. Regardless of my acquisition of administrative permissions from the group’s moderators, the data collection tools that had been developed before the beginning of the academic year became obsolete by the end of the semester as Facebook increased their site restrictions. Nonetheless, I was able to view the site in a manner that was more reflective of public engagement, and thus my intended project outcome of testing a use case for the methods I initially outlined was fruitful in revealing the needs of cumulative revision in conducting social media research. Hereafter, I provide one sample thread to demonstrate the utility of including social media content in the understanding of public advocacy.
Retrieved from No Space For Hate Bloomington, Facebook.com March 23, 2020
The thread highlighted above displays a report by NSFH concerning the physical distribution of recruitment flyers for a local group affiliated with the Klu Klux Klan. Advocating an on-the-ground recording and reporting of instances of flyer distribution, this post demonstrates the functions of the group to first raise awareness of community activity that constitutes a threat to particular demographics, and a call to action in terms of voluntary reporting of instances of occurrence. While other posts link to media reports about white supremacy and issues contextualizing the threatening behavior present in the controversies surrounding the Bloomington Community Farmers' Market, posts like this demonstrate that social media can be used to gather information and raise awareness while also providing a space to discuss the content asynchronously and deliberate about subsequent actions.
In this thread in particular, the Facebook page for the Office of the Mayor provided contact information and instructions for reporting suspicious behavior to the city police. This action by representatives of local government officials demonstrates that advocacy groups can be used not only for the organizers of the groups themselves: they can also provide fora for coalition building and citizen sensing. While group pages may often advocate for directive action, they can also organize and host efforts for solidarity and deliberation among the community—which can, in turn, connect with coordinated social movements and efforts of governing bodies to regulate behavior that the community identifies and flags as harmful to the safety of the community.
While it should be noted that not all social media advocacy is transparent or altruistic in the attention it generates, my project suggests potential for Facebook groups to cultivate a broader community discussion by serving as a site for heightened awareness and discussion. As I observed in this case study, the advocacy group developed a public presence in gradual public actions, but their Facebook page also gradually developed a presence for the public--including attempted detractors and public dissent. While the conclusion of this project is far from determinate, it serves as a model for future projects focusing on ethnographic methods for conducting research on public advocacy. Grounded theory researchers interested in projects of this nature should review the projects and methods present in this study and contact me for further inquiry.
Hara, N. & Sanfilippo, M. R. (2016). Co-constructing controversy: Content analysis of collaborative knowledge negotiation in online communities. Information, Communication & Society, 19(11), 1587-1604. doi: 10.1080/1369118X.2016.1142595
Kling, R., McKim, G., & King, A. (2003). A bit more to IT: Scholarly communication forums as socio-technical interaction networks. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 54(1), 47-67.
No Space For Hate. nospace4hate.btown-in.org. August 1, 2019