An October 26 article on Forbes.com called “Hashtags and Harassment: Is Participatory Culture in Trouble?” tackles the hot-button challenge facing analysts of participatory culture this year: What happens when these opportunities are used to spread vitriol against individuals instead of merely content without consent?
Henry Jenkins and his team do not address this issue in “Spreadable Media.” But Jenkins DID address it in a white paper published in 2005 called “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” He proposed teaching young users how to participate in ways the mainstream considers appropriate: “A central goal of this report is to shift the focus of the conversation about the digital divide from questions of digital access to those of opportunities to participate and to develop the cultural competencies and social skills need for full involvement.” (4) Of course, as we’ve seen since then, cultural competencies and social skills are not needed for full involvement. In fact, the circumvention of boundaries is a central tenet of spreadable culture. A cat can look at a king, and the proverbial unemployed guy in his mom’s basement can debate a nationally known female journalist on terms not constrained by class or education … or decency.
The last sentence of “Spreadable Media” anticipates forging a media environment that is “more inclusive, more dynamic, and more participatory than ever before.” (305) By definition, it will include more people who for whatever reason are poorly socialized by mainstream standards. Some of them will be racist, homophobic or sexist.