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Digital technology and voice: How platforms shape institutional processes through visibilization


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Digital technologies, and the affordances they provide, can shape institutional processes in significant ways. In the last decade, social media and other digital platforms have redefined civic engagement by enabling new ways of connecting, collaborating, and mobilizing. In this article, we examine how technological affordances can both enable and hinder institutional processes through visibilization-which we define as the enactment of technological features to foreground and give voice to particular perspectives and discourses while silencing others. We study such dynamics by examining #SchauHin, an activist campaign initiated in Germany to shine a spotlight on experiences of daily racism. Our findings show how actors and counter-actors differentially leveraged the technological features of two digital platforms to shape the campaign. Our study has implications for understanding the role of digital technologies in institutional processes as well as the interplay between affordances and visibility in efforts to deinstitutionalize discriminatory practices and institutions.
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Digital technology and voice:
How platforms shape institutional processes through visibilization
Ali Aslan Gümüsay
University of Hamburg and Humboldt Institute for Internet & Society Berlin
Mia Raynard
WU Vienna University of Economics and Business
Oana Albu
Department of Management, Communication and Society, Copenhagen Business School
Michael Etter
King’s Business School, King’s College London
Department of Management, Communication and Society, Copenhagen Business School
Thomas Roulet
Judge Business School & Girton College, University of Cambridge
Abstract: Digital technologies, and the affordances they provide, can shape institutional
processes in significant ways. In the last decade, social media and other digital platforms
have redefined civic engagement by enabling new ways of connecting, collaborating, and
mobilizing. In this article, we examine how technological affordances can both enable and
hinder institutional processes through visibilizationwhich we define as the enactment of
technological features to foreground and give voice to particular perspectives and discourses
while silencing others. We study such dynamics by examining #SchauHin, an activist
campaign initiated in Germany to shine a spotlight on experiences of daily racism. Our
findings show how actors and counter-actors differentially leveraged the technological
features of two digital platforms to shape the campaign. Our study has implications for
understanding the role of digital technologies in institutional processes as well as the
interplay between affordances and visibility in efforts to deinstitutionalize discriminatory
practices and institutions.
Keywords: Affordances, Digital technology, Institutional theory, Platforms, Social media,
Social movements, Visibility
Accepted Version forthcoming as
Gümüsay, A. A., Raynard, M., Albu, O., Etter, M. Roulet, M. (2022). Digital technology and
voice: How platforms shape institutional processes through visibilization. In Gegenhuber et
al. (eds), Institutional perspectives on digital transformation: Research in the Sociology of
Organizations. Emerald.
In recent years, large protests against ethnic violence have erupted around the
worldparticularly in the United States, where the death of Black Americans including
George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have unleashed a flood of criticism and civil unrest.
Amidst the escalating anger and calls of “No justice, no peace,” social injustice and racial
divisions have taken center stage. What the expansive scope and momentum of movements
such as #BlackLivesMatter have taught us is that digital technologiesand particularly
social mediaare changing the face of politics and activism (Ouellette & Banet-Weiser,
2018). Individuals, organizations, and activist groups are increasingly taking to social media
and other digital platforms to raise awareness of systemic racism and to call for the
deinstitutionalization of this deeply ingrained problem (Gantt Shafer, 2017; Matamoros-
Fernández, 2017).
Digital platforms are online, on-demand systems that have the potential to harness
and create large scalable networks of users and resources (Castells, 1998). By providing
expansive and immediate connectivity (van Dijck, 2013), digital platforms have become
sites of interaction, debate, and conflict that represent a heterogeneity of “norms, values,
expectations, and concerns” (Etter et al., 2018, p. 61). Disparate communitieseach with
their own interests and agendasare able to come together and engage in various forms of
co-creation, ranging from spontaneous (Albu & Etter, 2016) to more orchestrated iterations
(Etter & Vestergaard, 2015; Gegenhuber & Naderer, 2019). Such new ways of connecting,
collaborating, and mobilizing (Dobusch & Schoeneborn, 2015; Vaast & Kaganer, 2013)
have facilitated an aggregation of voices in ways that can significantly shape institutional
processes (Etter et al., 2019; Roulet, 2020; Scheidgen et al., 2021; Wang et al., 2020). As
certain voices are aggregated, they are foregrounded and made visiblewhile others are
pushed to the background, potentially becoming unseen and unvoiced (Hudson et al., 2015).
Thus, the act of making something visible involves an interplay between discursive
openness and discursive closure, because the struggle to promote a particular view of reality
often has the effect of subordinating equally plausible ones (Clemente & Roulet, 2015;
Deetz, 1992; Leonardi & Jackson, 2004).
Our interest in this article is to explore the implications of digital technologies for
voice, visibility, and institutions. Specifically, we aim to understand how technology can
enable and hinder institutional processes through visibilizationwhich we define as the
enactment of technological features to foreground and give voice to particular perspectives,
positions, and discourses while silencing or subordinating others. We do so by examining
the emergence of #SchauHin, a campaign in Germany that sought to bring daily experiences
of systemic racism into the public sphere. Drawing upon multiple data sources and first-
hand accounts from those involved in the campaign, we unpack the various ways in which
users effected visibilization and influenced the development of the campaign and its goal of
contributing to the deinstitutionalization of systemic racism. By showing how users
differentially used and appropriated technological features to open and close discourses, this
study aims to advance research at the intersection of technology and institutional theory in
two ways.
First, it contributes to a relational understanding of technology by emphasizing its
affordances, i.e., “the action possibilities and opportunities that emerge from actors
engaging with technologies” (Faraj & Azad, 2012, p. 238). Digital platforms create
opportunities to mobilize power and collective action, not through their “objective” features
but through their ability to enable expansive, immediate connectivity and the distributed
creation and dissemination of content and knowledge (van Dijck, 2013). In our case,
initiators and supporters of the campaign engaged in a discursive struggle with counter-
actors who sought to disrupt mobilizationwith each side enacting platform properties in
radically different ways. By showing how this struggle played out, our study extends
understandings of “affordances-in-practice” (Costa, 2018) and shows how users “reconcile
their own goals with the materiality of a technology” (Leonardi, 2011, p. 154).
Second, the study sheds further light on how technology can influence institutional
processes (Hinings et al., 2018) by zooming in on a specific affordance of technology:
visibility. Visibility is conceptualized as a “root-affordance” on which other affordances are
built (Treem et al., 2020, p. 45; cf. also Flyverbom et al., 2016). Our case builds on this
conceptualization by examining how platform features are activated by different sets of
actors. Specifically, we show how activation can, on the one hand, generate visibility by
opening up discourses about daily racism; and, on the other, obscure visibility through the
manipulation of content and sowing confusion (Etter & Albu, 2020; Treem et al., 2020). In
addition, we show how digital platforms have their own “enactment” properties—as the
algorithms and hidden information architectures embedded in digital platforms (Hansen &
Flyverbom, 2015) can curate and make some knowledge, behaviors, and preferences visible
and others less so. Thus, visibility, as an affordance, has both relational and strategic
qualities that are enacted in the process of “seeing and being seen” (Brighenti, 2007, p.
325). Our case illuminates these qualities and their implications for enabling or hindering
reflection and the critique of intangible aspects of institutions––in our case, systemic
On a practical level, our article demonstrates how digital technologiesand
platforms in particularhave fundamentally altered civic engagement. Not only do these
platforms have the potential to amplify and silence voices (Clemente & Roulet, 2015; Etter &
Albu, 2020), they can also facilitate or hinder reflection on and action towards taken-for-
granted practices and arrangements.
Institutional Processes, Visibility, and Digital Platforms
It can be argued that the emergence, change, and decline of institutions requires
institutionalized practices and arrangements to be made visible (Clemente & Roulet, 2015;
Washington & Ventresca, 2004). Studies of institutional emergence, for example, have
shown that increasing visibility of the limits or general failings of present institutional
arrangements can lead to a mobilization of power and collective action by “champions of
new practices and forms” (Schneiberg & Lounsbury, 2017, p. 284; see also Hoffman, 1999;
Rodner et al., 2020; Zietsma et al., 2017). As practices become habits and objectively
accepted by the masses, they become visible, and in other terms identifiable (Tolbert &
Zucker, 1999). Such visibility has also been shown to trigger processes of
deinstitutionalizationnotably by prompting reflexivity and (re-)examination of taken-for-
granted arrangements and social practices (Dacin & Dacin, 2008; Maguire & Hardy, 2009;
Seo & Creed, 2002).
While visibility can enhance the salience of certain practices, voices, and meanings
that are manifested in institutional arrangements (Clemente & Roulet, 2015), it may also
subordinate or divert attention away from others. This subordination of alternative ways of
“doing” or “being” often contributes to processes of institutional maintenance because the
voices of marginalized actors are suppressed or pushed into obscurity (Hudson et al., 2015;
Mair & Martí, 2009). In this way, visibility and obscurity represent two sides of the same
coinwith both shaping institutional processes in significant ways.
Within institutional scholarship, the concept of visibility is often only implicitly
acknowledged in part because institutional arrangements are understood to be supported by
intangible sets of beliefs and values (Thornton & Ocasio, 2008) or by discursive productions
that are not necessarily accessible to or consumable by all parties (Phillips & Oswick, 2012).
Many foundational pillars of institutional arrangements are taken for granted, which makes
their very nature invisible, even for those who enact them. Recently, however, studies have
begun to emphasize visible material manifestations of institutions as “part of the way in
which social processes and organizations are enacted and stabilized” (Monteiro & Nicolini,
2015, p. 61). Practices typically have, for example, a material aspect (Jones et al., 2013) that
makes them visible to others (Boxenbaum et al., 2018) and, further, makes an actor’s
engagement with an institution visible and the monitoring of practice diffusion possible
(Chandler & Hwang, 2015). Another stream of related research has shown how actors make
their beliefs and values seen by voicing them (Cornelissen et al., 2015). Together, these
streams of research suggest that actors’ discursive productions are a reflection of their
interaction with institutions (Meyer et al., 2018; Wang et al., 2020); and that through
reflexive interactions, audiences may become aware of the structures underpinning
institutions (Gray et al., 2015; Raynard et al., 2020).
Whereas the visibility of practices, voices, and meanings has traditionally been
limited by the “spatial and temporal properties of the here and now,” the development of
information technologies has brought “a new form of visibility” (Thompson, 2005, p. 35). By
enabling expansive connectivity, decentralized content creation, and distributed content
aggregation, social media and other digital platforms have opened up opportunities for a
wider range of actors to affect institutional processes (Etter et al., 2018). Marginalized actors,
for example, are able to leverage diverse media to air grievances and raise awareness of
endemic problems and social injustices (Harmon, 2019; Toubiana & Zietsma, 2017). Thus,
whereas visibility and voice had previously been understood as a privilege of the large and
powerfuli.e., those with high status, positions of authority, or control over important and
extensive resources (Deephouse & Carter, 2005; Roulet, 2020), social media has leveled the
playing field to some extent (Etter et al., 2018, 2019; Seidel et al., 2020). In particular, digital
media platforms have provided an influential “podium” for marginalized actors (Wright et
al., 2020), while making large and powerful actors more vulnerable to intensive and
widespread scrutiny (Daudigeos et al., 2020; den Hond & de Bakker, 2007). In this sense,
institutional arrangements may be more easily challenged or maintained, even by marginal
Another important change brought on by social media is that it has increased the
velocity of content dissemination by enhancing the speed and direction of communication
(Castelló et al., 2016; Etter et al., 2019; Wang et al., 2019). Hidden practices and events can
be made public, often instantaneously or with very short time lags (Thompson, 2005). An
illustrative example can be seen in how social media has enabled widespread exposure of
police violence against Black people, thereby generating awareness and triggering collective
mobilization (Ramsden, 2020). The increased velocity of content dissemination has, thus,
helped overcome temporal and spatial distance by enabling direct engagement with
communities who would otherwise have remained difficult to reach through traditional
channels (Breuer et al., 2015; Heavey et al., 2020).
As a result of this change in scope and velocity, social media discourses have become
increasingly intrusive, unwieldly, and hard to control (Altheide, 2013; Wang et al., 2020).
Indeed, the fluid and diffuse nature of social media communities make the control of content
and exposure highly challenging (Etter et al., 2019; Roulet, 2020). As Heavey and colleagues
(2020, p. 1494) point out, “because communication boundaries are porous on social media,
messages targeted at one audience may spillover to others and have a raft of unintended
consequences.” Thus, while digital platforms can help actors open up discourses in ways that
can mobilize collective action and tackle problematic aspects of institutions (Albu & Etter,
2016; Thompson, 2005), they can also lead to discursive closure, both intentionally and
unintentionally (Etter & Albu, 2020).
In the next section, we build upon the above-presented insights on visibility and
institutional processes, situating them within an affordance-based perspective on technology.
We then pull together insights from these different areas of research to develop the concept of
Technological Affordances and Visibilization
The widespread adoption of digital platforms for organizing has raised compelling questions
about the ways in which these technologies affect processes of coordination and collaboration
(Barberá-Tomás et al., 2019; Gegenhuber & Naderer, 2019; Leonardi, 2014; Leonardi &
Vaast, 2017; Madsen, 2016; Seidel et al., 2020; Treem & Leonardi, 2013). The visibility
afforded by digital platforms is commonly assumed to facilitate the transmission of
information. However, recent studies also suggest that such visibility may have negative
implications, as it paradoxically generates closure through information overload (Chen &
Wei, 2019) and algorithmic distortion (Etter & Albu, 2020). It is thus important to elucidate
how visibilization gives voice to particular perspectives, positions, and discourses while
silencing or subordinating others. This is particularly important in order to further unpack the
dark side of, or the negative social consequences associated with, digitalization (Trittin-
Ulbrich et al., 2021).
To gain a richer understanding that takes nuanced forms of visibility into account, we
adopt an affordance perspective that pays particular attention to socio-materiality (Leonardi,
2012). From such a standpoint, it is the interplay or imbrication (Leonardi et al., 2013) of the
separate but interacting actorsbe they social (i.e., users) or material (i.e., digital
platforms)that facilitates the opening and closure of discourses. The material features of
technologies (e.g., deleting, adding, or sharing functions) enable particular ways of creating
and diminishing the visibility of discourses. At the same time, social actors or usershaving
different intentions and capabilitiescan affect visibility in ways that open up or close down
discourses. For example, through their use of these technologies, social actors can coordinate
activities, persuade public opinion, or disturb collective action through negative, anti-social,
thrill-seeking behavior (Cook et al., 2018). Thus, it is the relational interplay between
features and contextual use that gives visibility to voices.
Recently, scholars have highlighted that visibility should also be understood from the
receiver’s perspective, namely for whom content becomes (in-)visible (Treem et al., 2020).
Indeed, some communication is only visible to a small in-group or to actors who inhabit a
semi-public sphere; while being invisible to many others. For social movements and activists,
these questions are important, as content can be targeted at small or even hidden groups for
reasons of coordination (Albu, 2019; Uldam & Kaun, 2018); or it can be targeted at larger
audiences with the aim of mobilization (Bennett & Segerberg, 2012). Again, it is the
interplay between features and contextual use that shapes the different forms of visibility and
Furthermore, scholars have highlighted the mediating role of algorithms as central to
the forms of visibility and opaqueness specific to digital platforms (Milan, 2015). Algorithms
can be understood as “sets of coded instructions” (Dijck & Poell, 2013, p. 5) or “formalized
rules embedded in technological artifacts” (Coretti & Pica, 2018, p. 73) that have an
“entangled, complex, and dynamic agency” (Glaser et al., 2021, p. 2) given the co-
constitution of technological features and social practices. Algorithms impact what becomes
visible as much as what becomes invisible on social media (Hansen & Flyverbom, 2015).
They do so by performing sorting, filtering, and ranking functions (Neumayer & Rossi,
2016, p. 4) that steer attention and interactions (Dijck & Poell, 2013), or over-represent
certain forms of interaction and devalue others (Bucher, 2012; Gillespie, 2014; Rieder, 2012).
Research has shown that algorithms may work against users’ aims of making certain
discourses visible (Poell & van Dijck, 2015) while closing others (Etter & Albu, 2020;
Uldam & Kaun, 2018). Indeed, organizations that run social media platforms are often profit-
oriented and have designed algorithms to provide visibility to certain content with the goal of
increasing user engagement for purposes of data collection and advertising (Gillespie, 2014).
Overall, then, we understand the visibilization process as one accomplished by the
interplay of openness and closure. This emerges from the interaction of specific digital
platform features (e.g., Twitter hashtags powered by algorithms, wiki open pages, etc.) and
human actors’ contextual intentions and use (e.g., the democratic participation and freedom
of speech promoted by activists). Visibilization, in other words, is accomplished by human
and non-human actors (Latour, 1996)including the underlying algorithmic and
informational architectures of digital platforms (e.g., trending hashtags, newsfeeds). This
affordance-based perspective sensitizes scholars to the interplay between the materiality of
technology and users’ varying intentions, the combination of which can enhance or obscure
the visibility of practices, voices, and meanings that underpin institutional arrangements.
Research Context
The features of particular technologies, combined with their contextual use, create diverse
forms of (in-)visibility. To better understand these patterns, we traced the emergence of the
#SchauHin campaign in Germany which sought to raise awareness of systemic racism in
everyday interactions. As the campaign touched upon the highly debated issue of racism in
German society, it attracted the attention of counter-actors, who sought to preempt and hinder
its development. We selected the #SchauHin campaign as a paradigmatic case study
(Flyvbjerg, 2006), which provides a window into understanding technological affordances
and their potential role in institutional processes. The nature and development of the
campaign, in particular, provided an opportunity to examine how digital platforms generate
both visibility and closure for different discourses. We focused on a 16-month period from
September 2013 until December 2014however, we continued to observe the case and
collect data until June 2020. The idea for the campaign was initially discussed on Twitter,
and then moved to Titanpada digital, real-time collaborative text editing and writing
platform that existed from 2010 to 2017. Although Titanpad facilitated a deeper engagement
and development of ideas amongst organizers and supporters, counter-actors soon gained
access and began disrupting development efforts. In response to this disruption, the campaign
moved, again, back to Twitter which, as a micro-blogging and social network platform,
offered a very different set of technological features than Titanpad.
Due to the fact that the campaign moved across different digital platforms, and
because groups of users appropriated the same technological features in divergent ways,
#SchauHin provides an illuminating case in which to study how technology shapes
institutional processes. For our purposes, it is an ideal context for understanding visibilization
and how the appropriation of platform features can create discursive openness and closure.
Data Sources
This study draws on both internal and external data sources of the campaign. We were given
access to #SchauHin organizers internal documents and data files, which included internal
memos, strategy documents, and email exchanges. This data amounted to over 2,000 pages of
visuals and text. We also examined data from the Titanpad platform and took screenshots at
various points in time. Additionally, we examined the #SchauHin and #SchauHin2 Twitter
profiles, manually screening 800 tweets with the hashtag #SchauHin. To supplement this
data, we collected an additional 18 media articles and 14 videos that covered the campaign.
Data Analysis
To understand how the different groups of users utilized technological features to influence
the campaign with its goal of drawing attention to systemic racism, we employed a
qualitative analytic approach (Eisenhardt, 1989; Yin, 1994). As our case could be classified
as a digital social movement, we were initially interested in how the digital nature of the
social movement impacted organizing and mobilization. However, the emergence of counter-
actors that sought to disrupt #SchauHin alerted us to the struggle over visibility; and the
potential role that digital platforms may play in shaping this visibility. As we collected
further data, and as the #SchauHin campaign progressed, we identified commonalities and
differences in how users were enacting various technological features. These patterns
prompted us to reflect upon how the features of Titanpad and Twitter impacted the struggle
over establishing #SchauHin—and, how they affected to the campaign’s broader goal of
raising awareness of systemic racism.
To organize our data and emerging insights, we structured key events along a
chronological timeline. We, then, examined the content generated on Titanpad and Twitter,
mapping it onto the timeline to get a better understanding of how the campaign developed,
and the actors involved. We also drew on internal documents and media reports to help make
sense of the activities and struggles that unfolded.
Once we were confident that we had identified and understood how different platform
features and their enactment enabled or hindered the development of the campaign, we
sought to gain a deeper understanding of how and why. Our coding and discussions
converged upon the importance of visibility, specifically in terms of the perspectives,
opinions, and content that supported the campaign, and those that detracted or diverted
attention away from it. We noted four features, in particular, that actors engaged with to
generate or obscure visibility. These included the adding/editing/deleting of content, the use
of hashtags, the creation of profiles, and the trending topic algorithm. While the nature and
levels of visibility can be somewhat idiosyncratic to the platforms, we focused on broader
indications of visibility such as the volume of interactions, as manifested in discussions,
tweets, likes, profile follows, as well as the trending of messages. We then examined how
visibility shaped discursive openness and closure by foregrounding particular perspectives
and positions, while silencing or subordinating others.
The emergence and development of #SchauHin was marked by an ongoing struggle between
the supporters of the campaign and counter-actors who actively tried to prevent and disrupt
mobilization efforts. Central to this struggle was the visibility of communicated contentan
affordance that was differentially appropriated by users to enable, facilitate, or hinder the
development of the campaign. As supporters tried to generate visibility and open up
discourse around daily racism, counter-actors sought to hinder such efforts by obscuring
content and enacting discursive closure. Below, we begin with a short overview of how the
campaign started. We, then, describe how four digital platform features were differentially
used by each group of actors to accomplish divergent aims. We highlight, in particular, how
the interplay between different technological features and their contextual use shaped the
struggle around visibility and invisibility.
Initiating the Campaign
The idea for the #SchauHin campaign emerged during a conference at the Friedrich Ebert
Foundation in Berlin on September 2, 2013. Activists, bloggers, and journalists came
together to discuss topics such as blogging about sexism and racism, the role of the mass
media, and the differences between the mass media, social media, and the blogosphere. One
central theme that repeatedly emerged was the lack of visibility of stories and experiences
from people confronting racism. One panelist suggested creating a hashtag to start a
conversation and allow people to share their experiences of daily racism:
“Can I make a suggestion first? The issue is racism and sexism. This is actually the
ultimate opportunity, where these different blogospheres on the internet have possibly
just come together, where probably people from both areas and even more are watching
the livestream. Maybe in the livestream you can discuss what kind of hashtag could be
used for everyday racism as a topic. And ‘everyday racism’ is too long, so something
shorter please.”
Panel discussion “Rassismus & Sexismus ab_bloggen” (blog_away racism
and sexism),
Conference participants took up this call and began enlisting people to help find an
appropriate and catchy name for the hashtag, which could be used to draw attention to
systemic racism in day-to-day encounters:
Looking for a hashtag for everyday racism. Got ideas? #abbloggen
(@laprintemps) September 2, 2013
The @kuebra is looking for a Twitter hashtag to flag up everyday racism. Any ideas?
#abbloggen (@LaviniaSt) September 2, 2013
Within four days after the conference, people had tweeted multiple suggestions including
#MeinSchland (MyGermany), #keinRassistaber (notaRacistbut) und #rausschrei (outcry).
Below are a few examples of how people engaged in the call to find a hashtag:
@hanhaiwen @kuebra #meinschland and #rausschrei are the ones I like best.
#keinRassistaber is also good, but a bit too long.
(@Sassyheng) September 6, 2013
The #-everyday racism suggestions included: #allrass #DeinRassismus
#zumausderHautfahren #AFD #keinRassistaber. What do you think of #meinschland?
(@kuebra) 6 Sep 2013
As more and more people began participating in the search for a hashtag, organizers made the
decision to move the conversation to the open platform Titanpad. As a web editor, Titanpad
provided a way to make views and information visible through written exchange. This
effectively enabled more in-depth discussions and engagement. Organizers announced the
switch to Titanpad in a tweet:
The search for a hashtag for everyday racism in Germany continues. Here: Ideas?
(@kuebra) September 6, 2013
The move to Titanpad marked the beginning of the planning phase of the campaign, as
organizers sought to generate visibility for it and open up discourse. Once the planning phase
was complete, the organizers launched the campaign by moving to Twitter. Each of these two
platforms provided different technological features, which were differentially used by
supporters and counter-actors. Table 1 provides an overview of the technological features and
summarizes how they were activated to accomplish divergent ends.
=== Please insert Table 1 around here ===
Feature 1: Adding, Editing, and Deleting Content
The Titanpad platform allowed users to add, edit, and delete contenthowever, this feature
could be used for fundamentally different purposes. Whereas organizers and supporters used
it to generate visibility for the campaign and its goal of ending systemic racism, counter-
actors used it to hinder such efforts. Specifically, the adding, editing, and deleting features of
Titanpad were used, on the one hand, to aggregate ideas and voicesgenerating visibility for
the outcomes of such collaborative efforts. Yet, on the other hand, they were also used to
distort and alter content in ways that created confusion and obscured visibility.
Generating visibility and discursive openness. Because the Titanpad link could be shared
openly, it created an opportunity for people to join the conversation. Anyone with the link
could comment, add suggestions, and edit or delete content. With the move to Titanpad, there
were more coordinated efforts to come up with a hashtag. Several additional hashtags were
proposed and discussede.g., #auf180, #SchauHin, #jederfremd, or #rausschrei. After each
proposed hashtag, users were free to add comments and respond to others’ comments. Below
is an example of one such exchange that took place on September 6, 2013:
“auf180+1” is an interesting suggestion, I think! [editorial note: in German “auf180” means that a
person is at 180 (degrees), i.e., boiling, furious.] Short, succinct, symbolizes the anger, the rage
associated with everyday racism. +1! thanks, just occurred to me because I often feel that way about
this topic. Ilikealot!+1 +1 is about the anger you feel? I think that is connected to it, but it shouldn't be
in the foreground. It's more about the injustice that is connected to racism --> injustice? Auf180 shows
a reaction, a feeling this includes the injustice, the grief and all that, but it is the result, not the
cause? Well, it is not absolutely necessary for the hashtag to describe the cause, is it? It is quite
powerful when the hashtag symbolizes: This happens every damn day, this is reality, this makes us sad,
angry and: This is unfair. Schaut hin open your eyes. Apropos: #Schauhin would also be a good
suggestion :) You save two characters with Auf180 to describe the incident compared to Schauhin The
only problem: It doesn’t mention racism but still good, I find it somehow ‘more exciting’ > why are
you at 180? > read on, eye-opener
I would prefer #Schauhin
, because it contains a request to open your eyes. I find that great! +1 even
better if we had something with activity #TuWasDagegen [editorial note: do something about it] is
quite long Schauhin is concise, short and not a direct attack but pointing out. great! +1 oh well, I also
think Schauhin is great! active! challenging! and it makes the problem so clear, because people always
just close their eyes when it comes to everyday racism. and “just open your eyes” is something I often
use in the context of racism/sexism! Yes, SchauHin is actually not that bad. I’m torn between #Auf180
and #SchauHin#Auf180 would mean anger and means that you don’t want to accept it. A little
resistance. A little more aggressive.
#SchauHin I like even better.
- abblocken. inspired by the event “abbloggen,” because the aufschrei hashtag [editorial note:
#outcry, referring to sexism] doesn't mean that it’s about sexism and was quite clear. +1
- Rausschrei - pro: Strong +contra: Too close to Aufschrei /Another thought: The combination of the
R of racism + Aufschrei) is too close to the “raus” (out) in “Ausländer raus” (foreigners out), right, I
did not consciously realize that. scratch scratch
-Maybe search for Reinschrei completely independent of aufschrei? Otherwise the trolls will come
immediately and it will be the same discussion as with other words, wouldn't it be? Trolls will come
anyway, but the connection to aufschrei is not obvious to me, does not have to be here, definitely
attracts them concern is that the hashtag dies right at the beginning (it doesn't last long
enough because of aufschrei. sorry)s
- Diversity perhaps? As a challenge to the understanding of integration as assimilation?
As the above exchange illustrates, there were lively debates about the pros and cons of
different terms and their potential to be adopted by others to generate visibility for the
campaign. After the discussion, the organizers decided to conduct a vote on the hashtag
names proposed. Users were instructed to vote by typing a “+1” after the suggested hashtag
that they liked most. The proposed hashtag #SchauHin received the most votes and was
therefore selected as the name for the campaign. An excerpt from September 6, 2013 shows
the call for votes, and the report of the final results:
Schau hin translates literally to “look there” or more colloquially to “open your eyes”
“Dear all,
Collect hashtag suggestions for everyday racism here, evaluate, and decide quickly :)
If “scratch” is written THREE TIMES after a word, then we drop it.
I’ll copy favorites to the top, less discussed ones to the bottom.
Deadline: 3.45 PM (German time). Otherwise things will get out of hand :) Soo, we have enough suggestions now.
I’ll list the top suggestions (you are welcome to help me) and with a +1 you can mark your agreement (no
comments, the comments can be inserted below):
The voting ends at 3.55 (4 PM is tooo late):
- Abblocken +1+1
- Rausschrei +1
- Auf180 +1+1+1+1+1 +1+1+1+1+1
- AllRass +1+1+1+1
- SchauHin +1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1+1
- Rassismus247+1
- Tagesrassismus+1“
Obscuring content and facilitating discursive closure. When the discussion on Titanpad
moved to the subject of when the hashtag should be launched, trolls gained access and began
hindering coordination by adding off-topic content as well as nonsensical, derogatory or
antagonistic comments (spam). The following is one example of such trolling content
which involved making racist, antisemitic and sexist remarks:
“penis hahan :DDDDDDDDDD
hello where isd the acction against natzis? xDD :DDDDDDDDDDDDD
t. Spurdo Spöhnke
snibeda snab :DDDDDDDD9gag army was here
fug :D:D:D:D:D
What is this about?
Everyday racism is nicecreated by Jews. You have to know!
I have enough books here.
+My name is Renate Kracht-Böning, I was always waiting for Krautchannel, PENIS VAGINAL-STEEP LOL. I am
13 and would like to have intercourse with Overageguys (HOOKERS KIDS KNOWN NOTHING OF MY SEXUAL
Heil Lucke!
NAZIS here!
These trolls were counter-actors, in that they participated by creating confusion and diverting
attention to drown out or silence voices. Such destructive activities were afforded by the open
editing function of the Titanpad platform. The organizers of the campaign tried to manage
trolls by deleting their content, warning users, and re-focusing the discussion. Figure 1
provides a screenshot of such efforts, showing a highlighted section with the comment: “Nazi
propaganda was deleted here (added rounded rectangle 1). However, this was later followed
by additional derogatory and insulting comments.
=== Please insert Figure 1 around here ===
The right side of Figure 1 shows a chat in which organizers and supporters openly discussed
how to manage trolls (added rounded rectangle 2). One user asked whether “Everyone can
delete everything that OTHERS are writing?” (added rounded rectangle 3) and received an
affirmative responsethus illustrating how Titanpad’s features for adding, editing, and
deleting afforded discursive closure and silencing.
In light of the challenges of managing trolls and the difficulty of agreeing upon a
launch date for the hashtag, some users suggested to just go aheadas the timing was not
that important. Organizers agreed with the suggestion and launched the hashtag on Twitter
without waiting for the final results of the vote.
Feature 2: Hashtagging
The Twitter feature of hashtagging enables users to categorize content and conversations
under a linguistic marker. This feature effected visibilization in very different ways. On the
one hand, it was appropriated by supporters to increase the visibility of racist norms, beliefs,
and practiceswhich could now be grouped and amalgamated under the hashtag #SchauHin.
On the other hand, it was appropriated by counter-actors to obscure visibility through the
misappropriation of the hashtag in an attempt to redirect content and silence anti-racist
discourse (i.e., discursive closure).
Generating visibility and discursive openness. The hashtag #SchauHin was publicized on
Twitter in early September 2013, along with a call for people to share their experiences of
racism in their daily lives:
And the hashtag for (or rather against) everyday racism saw the light of day at 3.55 PM:
#SchauHin. -
(@kuebra) September 6, 2013
The hashtag was immediately picked up, as users began to share their experiences of micro-
racism in day-to-day encounters. Table 2 provides examples of some of the experiences that
were shared in the tweets. Users tweeted about a variety of personal experiencesbe they in
the workplace, schools, or universities, or during encounters with strangers, government
agencies, or real estate agentsmaking visible the systemic nature of these various acts. By
providing an umbrella term and a way to bring together and amalgamate content, the hashtag
opened the discourse and provided supporters an opportunity to amplify the visibility of daily
=== Please insert Table 2 around here ===
Obscuring content and facilitating discursive closure. Similar to what happened on
Titanpad, counter-actors engaged in disruptive efforts to hinder the campaign and its goal of
drawing attention to systemic racism. Counter-actors misappropriated the hashtag, using it in
association with racist tweets and content. In the organizers’ internal documents and in media
reports, these were referred to as attempts to “hijack the hashtag” (e.g., Meissner, 2014). For
instance, in a news article about far-right extremism and social media, Nasman (2015) notes:
Well, it seems far-right groups have begun hijacking hashtags and overwhelming the
discussion with far-right views. Take the anti-racism hashtag #schauhin, for example.”
Oftentimes, the subversive nature of counter-actors’ tweets were not immediately obvious.
For example, they were often ambiguous or phrased in a similar style as the tweets from
#SchauHin supporterspointing out, for example, seemingly negative experiences, personal
restrictions, and changes that the tweets’ authors opposed:
“I’m not allowed to see the hair of the headscarf girls. #schauhin”;
“I can’t get my kebab with pork. #schauhin”;
“Haribo is now also available in Halal! #schauhin”;
“I feel marginalized as an NPD voter. #schauhin.”
By tweeting content that was irrelevant, belittling, and antagonistic to the overarching
purpose of the campaign, counter-actors distracted and diverted attention away from the
“relevant” and focal content of the campaign. In this way, trolls and their counter-efforts
sought to obscure and thus close down anti-racist discourse.
Feature 3: Creating a Profile
Generating visibility and discursive openness. When Twitter users create a profile, they
create a kind of business card, brand, or biography of who they are and what is important to
them. The organizers of the #SchauHin campaign created a profile for the movement to
explain what the campaign was about, what its goals were, and how people could get
involved and engaged. Using the same Twitter profile name and handle as the hashtag
#SchauHin, organizers sought to create a “go-to” profile page to further increase visibility
The NPD is an extreme far-right party in Germany
and recognition for the campaign. Figure 2 shows the Twitter profile picture, which
prominently features the hashtag.
=== Please insert Figure 2 around here ===
The profile page was used to tweet, retweet, like, and respond to other tweets with the
hashtag #SchauHinthereby generating and amplifying visibility for the campaign. As
people began following the new profile page to stay informed, the profile page provided a
way to focus attention and amalgamate a wider range of content relevant to the goal of
ending systemic racism. It also provided a link to the #SchauHin website. In this way, the
profile page contributed to opening discourse about daily racism.
Obscuring content and facilitating discursive closure. Counter-actors tried to disrupt the
campaign through the creation of profile pages that were similar in name and visual design.
One profile, for instance, just added a 2 to the end of the account handle, calling itself
@SchauHin2. It used the same logo and a similar color palette as @SchauHin. Figure 3
provides a screenshot of the profile page, where the text in the added rounded rectangle
reads: Join in: Use the hashtag #SchauHin for all national tweets against a foreign
takeover. Let's create solidarity and unity!”
Importantly, while a Twitter handle must be unique, a Twitter name does not have to be. So,
while the Twitter profile itself is @SchauHin2, the account’s owners call themselves
SchauHin. Again, there is a conflation: the two profiles advocate effectively opposite views
while having the same name and looking very similar. Hence, counter-actors used the feature
of creating a profile to divert attention away and obscure the original #SchauHin campaign.
As Figure 3 shows, the SchauHin2 Twitter profile gathered a fair amount of attention and
involvementwith over 150 followers, and more than 1200 (re-)tweets with over 6000 likes.
=== Please insert Figure 3 around here ===
Due to these profiles and tweets by counter-actors, the #SchauHin organizers were aware of
the need to clearly communicate the meaning of the hashtag and reinforce the goal of the
campaign. In an interview, one of the organizers of the #SchauHin campaign explained how
the emergence of these fake profiles highlighted the significance of the campaign:
“The Twitter accounts existed very early on at the beginning of the hashtag (...) And
as I said, the racist tweets underscore the point of #SchauHin. How else can this ugly
face of our society be demonstrated so clearly? And the zeal of the racists says a lot
about these people: They want to prevent a debate on racism at all costs and focus on
their own agenda. I think these desperate attempts only show the relevance of this
debate. So: No, the campaign has not been subverted and it is not a turning point
these tweets are nothing new. The point of #SchauHin is well known. These tweets only
make this debate more important."
Initiator of #SchauHin in an interview with Focus Online (Rohler 2014)
Feature 4: Trending
Trending is an automated Twitter feature supported by underlying algorithms that draw
attention to topics deemed “hot” or that are generating “buzz” within a certain timeframe. It
is determined by a combination of three criteria: popularity, novelty, and timeliness. By
automatically identifying and flagging trending hashtags, Twitter foregrounds these hashtags
and increases their visibilitywhile indirectly backgrounding others. As occurred in the case
of hashtags and profile pages, the trending feature impacted visibilization in very different
ways, leading to both discursive openness and closure.
Generating visibility and discursive openness. When the organizers launched the campaign,
they encouraged supporters to start tweeting under the hashtagas a way to generate a large
number of tweets in a short period of time. #Schauhin became a trending topic in Germany
on the day of its initiation and remained on the list for three days. Figure 4 shows a
screenshot of the Twitter trends for Germany. In other words, the Twitter algorithm identified
it as one of the most used and discussed hashtags on Twitter in Germany.
=== Please insert Figure 4 around here ===
As a trending topic, #SchauHin attracted the attention of several print media outlets in
Germany, such as Süddeutsche Zeitung, Tagesspiegel, and Stern. Several articles noted the
quantity of tweets in a very short timeframe and used this to deduce its significance (e.g.,
Adeoso, 2013). According to some, the trending of the hashtag provided clear indications of
the existence of systemic racism. Visibility was therefore increased to audiences outside
Twitter. As one user noted: How can you say that there is no #racism in Germany: the
hashtag #schauhin has only existed for 8 hours and already it is the second most frequent
tweet” — (@petrasorge) September 6, 2013. The trending topic feature on Twitter thus
helped amplify the visibility of the campaign and its goal of contributing to end systemic
Obscuring content and facilitating discursive closure. Counter-actors’ efforts to obscure the
campaign by appropriating the #SchauHin hashtag had the unintended effect of adding to the
overall number of tweets that fed into Twitter’s trending algorithm. In other words, fake
profiles and the content generated by trolls contributed (albeit largely unintentionally) to
enhancing the visibility of the #SchauHin campaign. As noted above (see Figure 4), the
@SchauHin2 profile tweeted or retweeted over 1200 times and liked tweets over 6000 times
in the first year. Thus, on one level, counter-actors’ disruptive efforts generated discursive
closure (i.e., they diverted attention, created confusion, and drowned out anti-racist
discourse). Yet, on another level, they unintentionally amplified visibility because the attempt
to “hijack” the original #SchauHin hashtag paradoxically contributed to making it a trending
topic on Twitter in Germany.
Summary: The Struggle for Visibility
Both Titanpad and Twitter were used to plan and execute the #SchauHin campaign. On both
platforms, counter-actors that opposed the goal and efforts of drawing attention to everyday
acts of racism tried to disrupt #SchauHin. On Titanpad, counter-actors and trolls were very
effective in hindering coordination and planning. As soon as they gained access to the open
platform, they were free to delete and edit relevant content, as well as add irrelevant,
derogatory or antagonistic content. Moreover, they could do this whilst remaining fairly
anonymous. Such counter-efforts took on a different form on Twitter because of its different
features. While counter-actors and trolls were also free to add content, Twitter’s features did
not allow them to delete or edit content other than their own. In addition, Twitter allows for a
clear attribution of content to specific accounts or Twitter handles. Despite this attribution,
however, counter-actors have identified creative ways to mask it such as, in our case,
creating profiles that mirrored the actual #SchauHin account or posting tweets that mimicked
aspects of the campaign’s content and styles of argumentation. As our case showed, the
struggle between organizers/supporters and counter-actors played out quite differently on
Titanpad and Twitter. These differences were, in large part, due to variations in the
affordances provided by each platform.
In the following months, the discursive struggle between supporters and counter-actors
continued. As counter-actors ramped up their efforts to close and silence anti-racist discourse,
#SchauHin organizers planned and then executed a campaign to “reclaim the hashtag”—
encouraging Twitter users to again tweet more about their experiences of daily racism (cf.
Figure 5). Thus, the struggle for visibility continued.
=== Please insert Figure 5 around here ===
Social media and other digital platforms have fundamentally transformed ways of
connecting, collaborating, and mobilizing (Dobusch & Schoeneborn, 2015; Etter & Albu,
2020; Vaast & Kaganer, 2013). They have become sites of interaction, debate, and conflict
allowing individual voices to be aggregated in ways that can simultaneously generate
discursive openness and closure. In this article, we sought to understand how digital
technologyand platforms in particularcan enable and hinder institutional processes
through what we refer to as visibilization, i.e., the enactment of technological features to
foreground particular perspectives, positions, and discourses and give voice to them, while
silencing or subordinating others.
By adopting an affordance-based lens to the #SchauHin movement, we were able to
identify how the contextual use of platform features by human actors impacted the visibility
of discourses that sought to draw attention to and counter systemic racism. By examining the
struggle between supporters and counter-actors, we highlighted the different implications of
the affordance of visibility. We showed how a particular technological feature can be
interpreted and used in radically different ways to make content more or less visible. The
tweeting feature on Twitter, for example, can be assigned very different meanings and
opportunities for action. In our case, supporters of #SchauHin used this feature to generate
visibility and discursive openness, whereas counter-actors used the same feature to obscure
visibility and fuel discursive closure (Deetz, 1992; Leonardi & Jackson, 2004).
Our empirical case was one of discursive struggle between groups of actors with opposing
interests and agendas. One group sought to use the digital platforms to mobilize action
against everyday acts of racism by making deeply ingrained practices and behaviors visible.
Their efforts, however, were met with resistance from counter-actors, who used the same
platforms to divert and hinder mobilizatione.g., by creating content that was off-topic,
antagonistic, derogatory, or confusing. By analyzing how actors differentially enacted a
variety of technological features, we captured the nuanced ways in which platforms can be
strategically used to formulate, disseminate, or obscure contentmaking visible or invisible
the meanings, practices, and structures that underpin institutional arrangements.
Our study contributes to research at the intersection of technology and institutional
theory in two ways. First, we contribute to understandings of how technological affordances
influence discursive struggles. Concretely, we showed how digital platforms have opened up
opportunities and ways for a wide range of actors to gain voicenotably, through enabling
an aggregation of individual voices that might otherwise have been marginalized or silenced
by more powerful actors. Second, we further our understandings of how technology can
enable or hinder institutional processes through the process of visibilization.
Platform Features, Visibility, and Institutional Processes
We contribute to a relational understanding of technological affordancesparticularly
focusing on the affordance of visibility and its implications for institutional processes. As
digital platforms have become “essential infrastructures” for collaborating and organizing
(Bohn et al., 2020; see also Friederici et al., 2020; Logue & Grimes, 2021), they are
important in the toolkit of institutional entrepreneurs and those who seek to mobilize power
or resources to shape institutions (Maguire et al., 2004). Using the #SchauHin case, we
illustrate how platform usersby strategically selecting what they showed and how they
showed itwere able to instrumentally influence mobilization and the aggregation of voice
(Clemente & Roulet, 2015; Etter & Vestergaard, 2015).
Different features of platforms can significantly impact institutional arrangements. In
this way, insights from our study speak to recent calls to examine and theorize the interplay
between technology and (de-)institutionalization (Logue & Grimes, 2021; Rijmenam &
Logue, 2020). Our findings illustrate how this interplay is not only shaped by technological
affordances, but also by unintended consequences that may be rooted in platform features. In
our case, counter-actors sought to impede the #SchauHin campaign and its goal of
deinstitutionalizing racism. The technological feature of hash-tagging affords various actors
with contradicting interests to foreground their interpretation and suppress that of others of a
particular issue of contestation (e.g., daily racism). Our analysis has shown how this process
is enacted in a complex and dynamic socio-material process, whereby the visibilization and
obscuring of content contributes to (de-)institutionalizing processes. In our case, however, the
efforts to enact technological features to divert attention and sow confusion through counter-
activists had partially the opposite effect. Specifically, their addition of content (despite being
racist, antisemitic and sexist, nonsensical, etc.) paradoxically increased the visibility of the
campaign and supported its efforts towards deinstitutionalization by contributing to the
overall number of tweets with the #SchauHin hashtag. This phenomenon resonates with
research at the intersection of institutional theory and paradox studies (Gümüsay et al., 2020;
Smith & Tracey, 2016), showing how technological affordances can generate paradoxical
outcomes depending on actors attempts to effect institutions. Relatedly, there is a possible
socio-technical paradox that may be explored at the intersection of the open culture sought by
activists and the discursive closure sought by destructive trolls. Certain platform features may
encourage open organizing (Dobusch & Schoeneborn, 2015), which is the very factor that
attracts practices that effectively hijack such openness.
Digital platform features offer actors a wide variety of opportunities that may have
important implications for maintaining or disrupting institutional arrangements (Logue &
Grimes, 2021). For example, hashtagging on Twitter provides a way to categorize and
amalgamate content in ways that amplify visibility and voice. It enables individuals or
marginalized actors to raise awareness of endemic problems and collectively mobilize against
highly institutionalized practices and beliefs. However, hashtags may be vulnerable to being
hijacked” by counter-actors who seek to disrupt mobilization efforts (Albu & Etter, 2016)
and maintain institutional arrangements. An understanding that technological features are not
objective things-in-themselves but rather things for us to use’ may enable scholars to
appreciate how potential struggles play out through the way technological features are
enacted. A natural corollary of this is that platforms cannot be examined in isolation from the
way that actors mobilize them.
Thus, an important implication is that social media and other digital platforms are
reshaping power dynamics in significant waysnot only by giving voice to peripheral actors,
but also by making the practices and actions of powerful actors subject to widespread
scrutiny (Etter & Vestergaard, 2015; Gillespie, 2010, 2018). Power and institutions have been
a central and recurring theme in institutional research (Lawrence & Buchanan, 2017) and we
can expect social media to play an important role in altering power relationships between
individuals, groups, and organizations (Etter et al., 2019). Future research could further
unpack how digital platforms might affect institutional processes differently compared to
mobilization and coordination efforts that take place physically or face-to-face i.e., where
connectivity and interaction are more limited by temporal and spatial constraints. In addition,
future research could examine further the entanglement of digital and analog domains around
institutions (Gümüsay & Smets, 2020).
Visibility struggles and technological affordances
Our case showed how the interplay between material features and contextual use by
supporters and counter-actors influenced the visibility of content in ways that generated both
discursive openness and closure. On the Titanpad platform, for example, actors could add and
delete specific content to open up or close down discourse by aligning or misaligning it with
a particular perspective, position, or stance. On Twitter, supporters of #SchauHin generated
and amalgamated content to fuel discursive openness; while counter-actors generated
opposing or confusing content to generate discursive closure. In this way, platforms
constitute social spaces where actors might engage in a struggle around meaning-making
(Albu & Etter, 2016; Etter & Albu, 2020).
Yet, at the same time, platforms themselves have agency with regard to what they
make visible or invisible (Leonardi, 2012). Although users actively appropriate and adapt
platform technologies for their particular interests and agendas, the properties and
architectures of these platforms also shape content and usage (Costa, 2018). They may even
do so in ways that implicitly support practices like trolling and harassment (Massanari, 2017).
Twitter and Facebook, for example, have been criticized for fueling ideological polarization
(Dylko et al., 2017), disinformation (Tucker et al., 2018), and filter bubbles or echo chambers
(Pariser, 2011) that decrease the likelihood of encountering ideologically cross-cutting
content. In response to such criticisms, there have been attempts to alter certain aspects or
features of digital platforms. An illustrative example would be Twitter’s move to flag tweets
with warnings and public interest noticesmost notably, flagging several of former US
President Donald Trump’s tweets for “glorifying violence.By flagging a tweet, Twitter
requires users to take an extra step of clicking a “view” button to access the tweet. Moreover,
users are restricted from directly retweeting or “liking” the tweet. This move by Twitter has
generated intense debate and mixed responses especially in Silicon Valley. Whereas some in
the tech industry praised this feature, others cautioned that such interventions move digital
platforms into the sphere of political activism and influence. Thus, despite some platforms’
claims of being apolitical, they are rarely ever neutral (Costa, 2018; Gümüsay & Reinecke,
2021)as their features are often based on opaque algorithmic systems of content
moderation and user governance designed to orchestrate relationships in favor of advertisers
or competent manipulators (Gillespie, 2010, 2018).
Digital platforms provide infrastructures for expansive and immediate connectivity. They
have become arenas of interaction that facilitate, regulate, and shape communication between
ever-shifting coalitions that form and dissolve around each issue (van Dijck, 2013). Using the
case of #SchauHin, we have shown how technologyand digital platforms in particular
can influence discursive struggles and contestation around highly institutionalized practices,
beliefs, and behaviors. Our study thus joins the call for a better appreciation of how digital
technology interacts with institutions and how it can fundamentally transform ways of
mobilizing to effect change (Hinings et al., 2018). It does so by underscoring the importance
of and the struggle around generating visibility; and by disentangling how actors’ contextual
intentions and use of digital technological features enable or undermine processes of
We are grateful to the editorial team of this special volume, in particular Thomas
Gegenhuber, and our two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments. We would also
like to express our appreciation to #SchauHin for offering us data access. Finally, we would
like to thank the Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society for open access funding support.
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Table 1: Technological features, practices and implications for visibility
Technological features that
impact visibilization process
Counter-actor practices
Adding, editing, and deleting
Generating visibility by creating
content, sharing ideas, and
coordinating activity. For
example, voting, posting,
Obscuring and distorting visibility by
spamming or adding off-topic content,
posting derogatory or antagonistic
comments, deleting previously
established content. For example, sexist
and racist slurs.
Hashtagging (user-driven)
Generating and amplifying
visibility by structuring and
collating content to facilitate
search function and content
dissemination. For example,
using a hashtag and creating a
hashtag campaign.
Obscuring visibility by hijacking the
hashtag to create confusion and
misinformation. For example, using the
hashtag in association with different
(typically vague or opposing) content.
Creating a profile (user-driven)
Generating and focusing
visibility by creating a go-to
place to post and find
information (profile owner or
administrators control the
Obscuring and diverting visibility by
creating a similar profile in terms of style
and name to divert attention away from
original content
Trending (algorithm-driven)
Generating, amplifying and
focusing visibility (intentional
by encouraging more Tweets)
Aimed at obscuring content, yet
amplifying and focusing visibility
(unintentionalby tweeting to divert
Table 2: Selection of #SchauHin tweets
Job: I call and give my name. Sorry, job’s gone, they say. German friend calls, job’s still
available, interview too. #SchauHin
(@AliCologne) September 6, 2013
#schauhin, if at a job interview the topic is honor killings and forced marriage and not your
(@NeseTuefekciler) September 6, 2013
When the official at the asylum office (!) calls Afghan refugees “Taliban rabble.” #SchauHin
(@Emran_Feroz) September 6, 2013
Girlfriend (Italian citizen born in GER) at a public agency: Employee speaks to her: CAN.....
YOU.....UNDERSTAND.....ME..? #SchauHin
(@somlu1968) September 6, 2013
Police racial
The constant police checks at Munich Central Station, with no grounds for suspicion. Never
German looking men #schauhin
(@NiceBastard) September 6, 2013
“You could be an illegal,” a policeman said to me for the 10th time on the train.
#racialprofiling #SchauHin
(@Emran_Feroz) September 6, 2013
Schools and
A teacher told a classmate of Turkish descent who was chatting in class: “You are a guest in
this country, so behave yourself.” #SchauHin
(@Janine_Wissler) September 6, 2013
Winter. A friend wants to borrow my gloves for a short time. Teacher: No, she needs them
herself, it's colder here than in Africa” #schauhin
(@Nisalahe) September 6, 2013
When the media features people saying that the racist murders are the fault of the migrants
themselves. #SchauHin
(@Ademzca38875303) September 6, 2013
When a friend on FB shares an NPD poster and defends herself by saying that she is against
racists, but the “content” is right #SchauHin
(@Elifelee) September 6, 2013
A friend of mine didn’t get an appointment to view an apartment until he gave “Becker”
(name of the girlfriend) on the phone #schauhin
(@vierzueinser) September 6, 2013
When the landlord rejects an American because he would never be able to get along in her
house as a “black.” #SchauHin
(@_Serapis_) September 6, 2013
12-year-old me on my bike: “ring ring.” Pedestrian turns around and back again. And says
loudly: - For something like this I will not step aside #schauhin
(@me_l) September 6, 2013
Sentences that start with “I have nothing against you but...” #schauhin
(@ftmrtgrl) September 6, 2013
Figure 1: Titanpad screenshot (rectangles added)
Figure 2: Twitter profile picture
Figure 3: SchauHin2 Twitter profile screenshot (rectangle added)
Figure 4: #SchauHin as trending topic on Twitter
Figure 5: #SchauHin profile
... i.e. a "jolt" (Gersick, 1991;Meyer, 1982;Romanelli & Tushman, 1994). Large scale crises such as 9/11 (Michaelson & Tosti-Kharras, 2020) or Chernobyl (Beck, 1987) can be seen as critical events that trigger dramatic and visible changes across multiple levels, whether individual, organizational or systemic. ...
... While early management work largely presented disruption as a singular and episodic shock (Gersick, 1991;Romanelli & Tushman, 1994), other large-scale discontinuities reveal the limitations to this ontology (Meyer et al., 2005). For instance, the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be characterized as one disruptive event but rather as a series of cascading and intermittent disruptive events, ranging from the discovery of the coronavirus in late 2019 to multiple subsequent variants and resurgences. ...
... Importantly for our purposes of rethinking disruption, EST scholars argue that events can be spatially or temporally connected to form "event chains" (Morgeson et al., 2015). This notion allows us to depart from traditional conceptual premises on disruption stemming from radical rupture (Gersick, 1991;Romanelli & Tushman, 1994) and instead apprehend disruption as the product of a set of interrelated events (Clemente et al., 2017;Bothello & Salles-Djelic, 2018). This reconceptualization thus aligns EST with work on institutional change and social movements: for instance, Bothello and Salles-Djelic (2018) reveal how the emergence and evolution of modern environmentalism was driven by a series of incremental yet cumulatively consequential occurrences. ...
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Disruptions such as COVID-19-and the subsequent flux they wreak on organizations and society-have become commonplace. In order to advance our understanding of (and adaptation to) future discontinuities and crises, we argue that we require a reconceptualization of how disruption occurs. To do so, we draw on Event Systems Theory (EST): in contrast to previous work viewing disruption as the outcome of a singular event, we focus on how disruption can occur from an event chain, i.e., a set of events that are temporally and causally connected. We abductively shape our conceptual arguments by drawing on narratives of past pandemics, reviewing two historical and two fictional texts that (re)create the experiences of those living through the Black Death and subsequent outbreaks of the bubonic plague. Rather than focusing on events themselves, we identify how certain characteristics among events in a chain lead to four micro-level experiences: stagnation, disorientation, polarization and repudiation. We then proceed to examine how these micro-level reactions culminate into macro-level transformations of economic, political and cultural norms. Our event-system perspective on disruption and crises thereby generates insight, not only into understanding the (post-)pandemic world, but also into responses to future discontinuities.
... Increasingly, firms and their leaders use social media to convey information and influence and align stakeholders with the corporate mission through online "evangelization" [7]. Social media users can bring attention to certain topics through a process described as "visibilization" [8]. While traditional media were long thought to be the preferred means of influencing stakeholder perceptions and sentiments in bulk [9], social media allows a firm or its CEO to directly engage with stakeholders, including supporters of the firm. ...
... We gathered these mechanisms under the umbrella of visibilization, the process by which fanbot-generated CCP increased the visibility of certain entrepreneurial narratives and, thereby, altered Twitter users' impressions of Tesla. Visibilization describes the process by which certain tweets-Fanbot tweets containing content that supports Tesla's various entrepreneurial narratives-would attract attention and, thereby, be more visible to human users on the platform [8]. Social psychology suggests three possible mechanisms by which visibilization may operate in the context of CCP: repetition, recency, and availability. ...
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This paper reports the discovery of a series of computational social media accounts (Fanbots) on Twitter that may have played a critical role in sustaining the entrepreneurial narratives of Tesla, the electric-vehicle maker. From 2010 to 2020—a period of trial, error, and eventual success for Tesla—these computational agents generated pro-firm tweets (Corporate Computational Propaganda, CCP), accounting for more than 10% of the total Twitter activity that included the cashtag, $TSLA, and 23% of activity that included the hashtag, #TSLA. Though similar to programmed social media content in the political sphere, the activities of these accounts predate the existence of political computational propaganda associated with foreign support for, for instance, Brexit in the United Kingdom (2016) and Donald Trump in the United States (2016). The paper (a) characterizes the extent of Fanbot content in two large Tesla tweet corpora, (b) identifies possible motivations for the creation of these accounts in relation to the firm’s entrepreneurial narratives, and (c) explores possible mechanisms by which the Fanbots might have acted. Although we are unable to directly observe the source or stated purpose of these accounts, based upon the timing of Fanbot creation and other indirect indicators, we infer that these accounts and the social media activity they generated were intended to influence social perception of Tesla. The conclusion assesses the generalizability of a Fanbot-based strategy, highlighting contextual limitations, while also pointing to ways that firms may already be using CCP to manage social approval in emerging-industry contexts.
... On the other end of the methodological spectrum, new forms of media offer opportunities for research. Qualitative researchers have already started drawing from those sources (Frandsen and Morsing 2021;Gümüsay et al. 2022; see also Piazza and Augustine, this issue). While social media has been brought into reputation research (Etter, Ravasi, and Colleoni 2019), there is great potential in considering it for stigma research, especially because of the decentralized nature of interactions, and the potential richness and diversity of voices that can be captured on those platforms. ...
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Since its introduction as a concept, organizational stigma has become central to explaining how organizations or industries become tainted, and how they overcome and manage such taint. In this introduction to the Special Issue on organizational stigma, we start by exploring the origins of the concept, providing basic definitions and reviewing the existing research on stigmatization, stigma transfer and experienced stigma. The papers in this issue flesh out our understanding of what causes organizational stigma and its implications at different levels. The remainder of this introduction takes stock of this recent work to explore future research opportunities around the micro‐ and macro‐foundations of organizational stigma, the links with scandals, controversies and other negative social evaluations and research methods. As the concept of organizational stigma reaches a new stage, we argue that its explanatory power can be harnessed to explore new and increasingly relevant phenomena and contexts.
... Bien souvent l'accroche prend la forme d'une citation en lien avec le papier et qui formule un de ses arguments clefs (voir par exemple Roulet et Bothello, 2021 citant Pascal Lamy ; et dans notre article de 2022, Albert Camus, un auteur directement mobilisé dans leur étude). Mais cette citation peut aussi venir des données elle mêmes, par exemple un des participants ou protagonistes de l'étude (voir par exempleGümüsay, et al., 2021). L'objectif de ces citations est de donner la teneur générale du papier, et de donner envie de le lire en éveillant la curiosité. ...
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Algorithms are ubiquitous in modern organizations. Typically, researchers have viewed algorithms as self-contained computational tools that either magnify organizational capabilities or generate unintended negative consequences. To overcome this limited understanding of algorithms as stable entities, we propose two moves. The first entails building on a performative perspective to theorize algorithms as entangled, relational, emergent, and nested assemblages that use theories-and the sociomaterial networks they invoke-to automate decisions, enact roles and expertise, and perform calculations. The second move entails building on our dynamic perspective on algorithms to theorize how algorithms evolve as they move across contexts and over time. To this end, we introduce a biographical perspective on algorithms which traces their evolution by focusing on key "biographical moments." We conclude by discussing how our performativity-inspired biographical perspective on algorithms can help management and organization scholars better understand organizational decision-making, the spread of technologies and their logics, and the dynamics of practices and routines. 3
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It is widely established that social media afford social movement (SM) organizations new ways of organizing. Critical studies point out, however, that social media use may also trigger negative repercussions due to the commercial interests that are designed into these technologies. Yet empirical evidence about these matters is scarce. In this article, we investigate how social media algorithms influence activists’ actualization of collective affordances. Empirically, we build on an ethnographic study of two SM organizations based in Tunisia. The contributions of this paper are twofold. Firstly, we provide a theoretical framework that specifies how algorithms condition the actualization of three collective affordances (interlinking, assembling, augmenting). Specifically, we show how these affordances are supported by algorithmic facilitation, that is, operations pertaining to the sorting of interactions and actors, the filtering of information, and the ranking and aggregation of content. Secondly, we extend the understanding of how social media platforms’ profit-orientation undermines collective action. Namely, we identify how algorithms introduce constraints for organizing processes, manifested as algorithmic distortion, that is, information overload, opacity, and disinformation. We conclude by discussing the detrimental implications of social media algorithms for organizing and civic engagement, as activists are often unaware of the interests of social media-owning corporations.
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Artificial intelligence is a central technology underpinning the fourth industrial revolution, driving dramatic changes in contemporary cyber-physical systems and challenging existing ways of theorizing organizations and management. AI agency and the rise of the artificially intelligent agent is both fundamentally different and yet increasingly similar to human agency in terms of intentionality and reflexivity. As 'Child AI' emerges-AI that is created by other AI-the early human design and interaction becomes increasingly distant and removed. These developments, while seemingly futuristic, changes the human-technology interface through which we organise. In this essay we explore understandings of AI agency, capability and governance, and present implications for organizational theorising in sociomateriality, actor-network theory, institutional theory and the behavioral theory of the firm. We contribute to a growing and reflexive research agenda that can accommodate and regenerate theorizing around this significant technological advancement. 2
During the current COVID-19 crisis, we can see that we increasingly depend on digital platforms to satisfy our basic needs. Platforms like Google, Facebook, Uber, and Amazon are not only providing central communication channels, server capacity, and information but also offer mobility infrastructure, deliver food, and supply vital medicines. Platforms become essential infrastructures and key players in our society. They are both systemically relevant and too big to fail.
This article argues that a distinctive aspect of computer-mediated communication (CMC) is the way it can make communication visible to others in ways that were previously impractical. We propose a theory of communication visibility that recognizes its multidimensional nature: resulting from activities that make communication visible, efforts by actors to see communication, and a sociomaterial context that influences possibilities for visibility. The different dimensions of communication visibility are explored as they relate to possibilities for action with CMC, and the ability of third-parties to view communication between others. Centering communication visibility in the study of CMC compels scholars to ask new questions regarding the interdependence of active, strategic efforts to make communication more or less visible to others, and the ways in which communication is assessed by observers. To facilitate ongoing research we offer an agenda for incorporating communication visibility into the study of contemporary and future forms of CMC.