How has reblogging and reblogging culture on sites like Tumblr and Twitter complicated the notion of authorship?

  • Blog Reblog Interview with Max Marshall

    by Patrick Sutton — Old Dominion University view

    This month I sat down with Max Marshall to talk about Reblogging culture for the Media Commons Front Page Survey. Max is one of the curators of the Blog Reblog photo exhibit that has already been shown in New York and Austin, and he is currently working on arranging another showing in Canada.

    Our conversation focused on the exhibit, reblogging culture, and the use of sites like Tumblr for sharing content online.

    Also be sure to check out Max at his website and his co-curator Paul Paper at

    Watch the interview and let us know what you think!

  • Trading Control for Community

    by Patrick Sutton — Old Dominion University view

    My interview with Max Marshall two weeks ago left me thinking about some of the things he had said about using sites like Tumblr as blogging platforms. I was surprised to hear him say that he wasn’t a fan of using Tumblr himself and preferred to use his own dedicated blog for his curated photo posts. The issue came from presentation style and the amount of control users can have on how their posts are viewed through Tumblr, and that left me to consider how much capacity authors have to control the context in which their content is viewed when using a platform like Tumblr where reblogging is a key aspect of how the site works. On Tumblr, blogging has taken the shape of both posting words as well as sharing images and videos. Additionally, a large part of what makes the site so popular is the ability to reblog or repost content from other people’s Tumblr blogs onto users' own Tumblr.

    Tumblr has become a popular social networking platform in large part thanks to the ease of which users are able to post and share the things they are interested in. It also makes it very easy for users to find others with similar interests to build a community on the site with thanks to the the use of Hashtags, category tags for posts, to allow users to search for others posting similar content onto the site. 

    An important aspect of community building on Tumblr is the ability of users in the group to repost each other’s content on their blogs. This is used not only as a way of sharing, but also commenting on each other’s content. When a user reblogs something from someone else’s blog, he or she is able to add additional material to that content in the form of his or her own thoughts or ideas about what has been posted. For most in the community, this is how they let each other know what they enjoy or are interested in, but the social aspects can hinder a user’s ability to closely manage his or her content in the way he or she wants to manage it.

    While there might be a desire from some users to engage with the platform while still exerting a level of control over how their content is viewed on social blogging platforms like Tumblr or Twitter, these platforms have developed in such a way that the users need to buy into the system in order to participate and engage with other users. As a result of that buy-in, users are giving up a level of control of the context in which their media are viewed and it is up to the author to decide whether the community is worth giving up a certain level of control over their content. 

    This issue of context is one that I think deserves to be examined further and I hope to do so in the future. What other aspects of these platforms do you think need to be considered when looking at the trade off at stake on these platforms?

  • When a Machine Curates: Algorithmic Rhetoric, Agency, and Authorial Control

    Maury Elizabeth Brown's picture
    by Maury Elizabeth B... — Germanna Community College 5 Comments view

    Photographer Max Marshall discusses the changing nature of authorship and ownership in a networked world where others copy, paste, change, link, attribute, or misattribute, someone else’s work. Rather than “wasting time” seeking out those who misattribute or don’t give credit, Marshall instead suggests fostering and extending a community ethos of sharing, acknowledging others, and trust. With the loss of one’s individual authority, one gains serendipitous juxtapositions and interesting pingbacks created by the collective curatorship of the blogosphere, with the ultimate result of more people experiencing one’s art.

    A community of faculty and staff working together at a college or university using a networked data tracking system that repeats, recontextualizes, and reinscribes content generated by its respective users can be compared to Marshall’s notion of allowing one’s content to end up in interesting, unforeseen places.  In response to demands from accrediting bodies, boards, and political funding bodies who desire data to “prove” the effectiveness of education and the value of a degree, these new student tracking systems are being implemented at colleges and universities to measure the institution's attempts to ensure a student's success. These systems allow/require faculty to raise “flags” chosen from a prescriptive list of common academic difficulties and to narrate details of specific concerns about the student. The flag triggers an institutional response in the form of multiple communications with the student, his/her advisor, the counseling center, success coaches, and the office of academic research. The flag and its contents are tracked by the system, which accumulates data about the student, the faculty member raising the flag, and the responses taken by others who intervene to assist the student.

    Once a flag is raised, the automated system sends an email to the student – attributed to and ostensibly from the faculty member who raised the flag – without human intervention. That is, the system is designed to immediately reblog the information submitted by the faculty member by copying it and pasting it into a new context: that of the canned concerned email to the student.  At the very bottom of this email is the text that the faculty member added to the flag. The bulk of the email, however, is generic text procedurally written by the system from the perspective and point of view of the faculty member. The program uses algorithmic logic to construct the email from a bank of phrases as well as specific student-related information pulled from the flag, such as the student’s name, ID number, and course name. For example, the email to the student states, "I want you to be successful in every course you take" and "I am very concerned about your success in (Insert course name here).” In this case, the reposting by the software has attributed words to someone who did not author them, and distributed the message to a variety of audiences. Faculty members often remain unaware that their comments about the student have been repurposed into an email and archived in the system in this format. All this reposting of data creates an archived virtual identity of the student as “someone who struggles.” While the college’s motivation for using such a system was partially based on caring and concern (as well as accountability demands by accrediting bodies), the reposting and archiving of confidential student information (such as their reasons for missing class or their likelihood of failure) creates a traceable, identifiable, and potentially public reinscription of the student.

    Unlike Marshall’s community of trust and acknowledgement, there is no human curator who makes aesthetic judgments about the value of the content or its applicability in a new context. The machine does not contemplate or judge the merits of the flag or comments and subsequently determine an appropriate action to take, if any. It is an automatic switch that takes predictable, unconsidered actions that apply to all inputs of a specific type. Professor A remarkably says the same words as Professor B in the machine-driven text sent to the student. Advisors and counselors receive emails about students they have never met – emails with personally identifying information and narrated details offered by a student to one person, now shared with all others tagged by the system.  While the tracking system itself is protected by a secured sign-on, these emails generated by the program are one click away from being forwarded to an outside party, thereby opening the professor and student to additional audiences and inscriptions. Clearly one must trust one’s colleagues to hope that such violations of FERPA  do not occur, but the fact that actions are taken by the uncritical software without the knowledge of student or professor raises concerns about the viability of a community of trust when governed by algorithmic rhetoric programmed by an external corporation who profits from the program’s installation and use.

  • Remixing the Concept of Author, or Not

    Rochelle (Shelley) Rodrigo's picture
    by Rochelle (Shelley... — University of Arizona 4 Comments view
    This survey question appears to presuppose that “the notion of authorship” might have been stable to begin with. The author has been dead for a long time, or at least since Barthes said so in 1967. Post-modern theories of authorship suggest that meaning is derived from a variety of locations, including, but not limited to, the author, the reader/consumer, and the context. 
    This question specifically asks us to consider reblogging, or copying/remixing within a digital culture, as something that complicates the notion of authorship. Again, we know that copying and remixing something is not new with the introduction of digital communication technologies. Fan fiction writers have been copying characters and environments of their favorite fictional worlds, and then remixing the “canonical” works of those fictional worlds for many years. The introduction of the Xerox machine introduced an easier and more affordable method for helping share their remixed works. Based on this ramble, a part of this question becomes: is reblogging, which I am interpreting as the intentionally copying of a text (alphabetic, image, video, etc.) from one context to another, a form of remixing or is it just copying? As a rhetorician who grew up reading po-mo theories of authorship, I am going to make the argument that it can never just be copying; the new publication context always presents a new rhetorical situation. 

    Let’s take this discussion, temporarily, out of the world of reblogging and put it into the world of teaching. Both new and experienced teachers not only “borrow” one another’s instructional ideas, but, more often than not, also explicitly copy and reuse one another’s instructional materials. Why write an assignment prompt for an activity you like when you can just copy, paste, and go with someone else’s assignment prompt? However, as many experienced teachers know, just copying the assignment prompt usually doesn’t work. The assignment developed out of a specific course context, with a specific instructor, who has previous experiences and specific knowledge that informs her pedagogy. Even when taken out of context, the copied assignment prompt carries some of that historical, dare I say ideological, baggage to the new context. 
    In the examples discussed thus far for this survey question, the reblogging has emerged when individuals find content and then push/publish it to another context. I think this reblogging fits pretty nicely into the already messy po-mo understanding of authorship. However, what about if the reblogged content is machine generated? Individuals can use RSS or Atom feeds to subscribe to content and then have software automagically publish it elsewhere; folks can even use Google Alerts to convert the results of a Google search into a syndicated feed that can then be automatically published elsewhere. If the machine does the copying and publishing, is there still an author there? Or is the human agent that makes up part of what is considered the author just pushed further into the background of the production process? Someone still had to select what RSS feeds to subscribe to, what outlets to publish to, etc.  
    I’ll answer this survey question with a definitive, No, I don’t think reblogging culture has further complicated notions of authorship. Instead, reblogging culture just provides another object of study to use when testing and teasing out the already complex network of theories about who and what is an author. 
    Please note, I did not take the time to ramble on about plagiarism, attribution, copyright, etc. Actually leaving some type of official authorial signature is another related, yet different, conversation. 
    Image Citations
    Meme constructed at imgflip.
    rssfeed Creative Commons licensed image posted at Flickr by Francesco Pozzi
  • Laminated Identity: Author(iz)ed Sharing on Facebook

    Daniel Hocutt's picture
    by Daniel Hocutt — Old Dominion University 2 Comments view

    When the University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies Facebook page shares a post, only a few of the page’s followers know the identity of the person who author(iz)ed the repost. It’s me. I compose each post and repost, curating content and identity from among the multitude of resources available to me. Or, perhaps more accurately, available to the school. Because as the professional communicator tasked with posting and reposting on behalf of the school, my personal, academic, and professional identities, while ever present and certainly influencing the others, take a back seat to my institutional identity as constructed within the social media platform.

    Facebook header screen capture. (Re)posting, commenting and liking on Facebook as “University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies”: no longer Daniel Hocutt (although I could change identities if I wanted to).

    The institutional identity is one that is constructed by the institution itself, by the social media platform, and by the posts and reposts that appear on the page and on followers’ feeds. As an open page, it’s also partially inscribed by Posts to Page, posts that others write “to” the page, contributing to the page’s content and to the followers’ feeds. They do so as themselves, so their Facebook identities (however they inscribe them) also contribute to the school’s identity on Facebook.

    Shared link screen capture. How Facebook defines the link shared by the School of Professional & Continuing Studies: “Posted by Daniel Hocutt” — but “Only people who manage this Page can see who posted.”

    Sharing a post on the school’s Facebook page requires negotiating multiply-layered identities. I’ll list three here, but there are certainly others.

    1. The identity of the original poster. Generally related to the identity of the school as an institution (rather than as a social media user). To what extent does the original poster’s identity reflect some aspect of the school’s identity? Often that question is answered by the subject of the post or the poster’s relationship to the institution — alumna/us, student, professor, administrator, manager, or friend of the institution.
    2. The identity of the institutional social media account. The institution develops, over time, an identity on each social media platform. Ours seeks the narrow line between irreverent and professional, between academic and promotional. Reposts should match or complement that identity to fulfill audience expectation. Without consistency, the institutional identity loses shape, runs counter to follower expectations, and loses efficacy.
    3. The identity of the institution’s post curator. This is the professional, an individual who also has a personal Facebook account and identity, following Facebook’s terms of service. While the institutional identity on social media largely accounts for the institutional identity of the poster, personal and professional identities bleed into the institutional identity.

    Facebook shared Instagram image screen capture. When the School of Professional & Continuing Studies identity shares from a third party (in this case, Instagram), identities continue to splinter. Instagram Connect does not specify that the Instagram account sharing the image is the School’s institutional account that I also manage. Here, the Facebook institutional identity masks the Instagram institutional identity.

    It’s possible that a post to be shared might reflect the school’s institutional or social media identity but run counter to the poster’s professional, academic, or personal ethics or values. Which identity should override others in such situations?

    In my case, the institutional identity takes precedence, a conscious decision I’ve made that subsumes my personal, academic, and professional identities to the institutional identity. While Slack, Miller & Doak (1993) might contest my willingness to subsume an authorial identity to the institution, I respond that sharing posts on Facebook is an articulated process that requires continual assessment of power differentials among competing identities in a laminated juggling act.


    Slack, J. D., Miller, D. J., and Doak, J. (1993). The technical communicator as author: Meaning, power, authority. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 7(1), 12-36.


    Screen captures of University of Richmond School of Professional & Continuing Studies Facebook page. Use author(iz)ed by the institutional identity embodied in Daniel Hocutt.