What is Lost in Organizational Media Refusal?

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The practices of individual media refusal and digital detoxing have gained a large amount of scholarly attention in recent years. The purpose of this paper is to take this discussion from the level of the individual to the level of organizations. What happens when organizations (such as corporations, NGO’s and public institutions) refuse the use of specific social media – especially when these social media are internal, and thus might have a profound effect on the communicative practices, and even the shaping of the organization as a whole? Research on practices such as media refusal (Portwood-Stacer 2013) or digital detoxing (Hesselberth 2017) has had a largely individualized focus. The organizations or organized movements that do appear in the current research are usually formed with a stated purpose of facilitating practices of digital disconnection (e.g. Lovink & Rossiter 2018). This leaves a specific research lacuna which this paper intends to fill. In this new approach, organizations are both seen as individual agents interacting with technology platform providers at the moment of refusal, while at the same time being composed of a myriad of members who may have their own, conflicted feelings about the refusal. Specifically, the paper will interrogate a selection of organizations which have refused or have the use of Workplace from Facebook, an enterprise social media platform (Leonardi et al 2013). Workplace is developed by the company behind that other, more popular social media platform, which has been the subject of much public and scholarly criticism and backlash lately (Karppi 2018; Vaidhyanathan 2018; Zuboff 2019). Even so, the social medium Facebook in and of itself also represents a recognizable and easy-to-access range of communicative genres in everyday life (Lomborg 2014). While the revolutionary communicative and organizational potentials of social media and platforms like Facebook tend to be overstated or at the very least not an inevitable outcome, we still recognize them as an important and particular way of shaping everyday life. The key distinguishing feature of digital platforms is their ability to shape and afford certain conversations, either via design, moderation or otherwise (Burgess & Baym 2020; Gillespie 2010). Communicative practices and genres have been known to structure and influence organizational life (e.g. Yates & Orlikowski 2007). At the same time, a general trend towards transparency, informality and de-hierarchization is sought by many organizations (Turco 2016; Flyverbom 2019). As the implementation of enterprise social media are often seen as a solution intertwined with both these tendencies, I find the “loss” entwined with a disconnection from these social media worth exploring. Whereas previous studies have only speculated about the demise of Big Tech platforms (e.g. Ohman & Aggarwal 2019), this study will represent a small-scale instantiation of this in a delineated environment. While economic, legal and technical factors play into the managerial decision to disconnect from this platform, these cannot be viewed in isolation from the communicative practices that are imagined to be lost. The paper will interrogate this tension through document analysis and interview studies with key personnel in the affected organizations. This is in an effort to both uncover both the processes that led to the disconnection – as well as what is imagined to be ”lost” in the process. The paper posits that the loss of (or disconnection from) Workplace from Facebook – a platform comparable in functionality and design to the regular Facebook – represents a loss of (potential) communicative practices, and even imagined opportunities for organizational transformations. References Burgess, J., & Baym, N. K. (2020). Twitter: a biography. New York University Press. Flyverbom, M. (2019). The Digital Prism. Cambridge University Press. Gillespie, T. (2010). The politics of ‘platforms.’ New Media & Society, 12(3), 347–364. Hesselberth, P. (2018). Discourses on disconnectivity and the right to disconnect. New Media & Society, 20(5), 1994–2010. Karppi, T. (2018). Disconnect: Facebook’s affective bonds. University of Minnesota Press. Lomborg, S. (2014). Social media, social genres: Making sense of the ordinary. Routledge. Lovink, G., & Rossiter, N. (2018). Organization after social media. Minor Compositions. Ohman, C., & Aggarwal, N. (2019). What if Facebook Goes Down? Ethical and Legal Considerations for the Demise of Big Tech Platforms. Ethical and Legal Considerations for the Demise of Big Tech Platforms (November 27, 2019). Portwood-Stacer, L. (2013). Media refusal and conspicuous non-consumption: The performative and political dimensions of Facebook abstention. New Media & Society, 15(7), 1041–1057. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444812465139 Turco, C. J. (2016). The conversational firm: Rethinking bureaucracy in the age of social media. Columbia University Press. Vaidhyanathan, S. (2018). Antisocial media: How Facebook disconnects us and undermines democracy. Oxford University Press. Yates, J., & Orlikowski, W. (2007). The PowerPoint presentation and its corollaries: How genres shape communicative action in organizations. Communicative Practices in Workplaces and the Professions: Cultural Perspectives on the Regulation of Discourse and Organizations, 1, 67–92. Zuboff, S. (2019). The age of surveillance capitalism: the fight for the future at the new frontier of power. Profile Books.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2021
EventUnrelating: Infrastructures, imaginaries and politics of disconnection - Hamburg, Germany
Duration: 2 Jun 20214 Jun 2021


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