Integrating social media for community empowerment : A study of community reporting in two Greater Manchester urban regeneration areas
Despite an unshakable belief in the UK in the empowering and regenerating potential of ICTs locating the benefits of digital inclusion initiatives for deprived urban communities has remained elusive. Given social media discourses of empowerment and social progress this thesis explores whether and how social media may be associated with a greater potential for community empowerment and regeneration. I specifically focus upon the potential of the relationship between participation in community content creation and sharing, (community generated content), community empowerment and regeneration. The exploration is based on a qualitative case study of a Community Reporter Programme with a social media and empowerment focus being integrated within two urban regeneration areas in Greater Manchester. The study draws primarily on the experiences and insights of community reporter participants. \ud \ud The way in which participation in community generated content becomes meaningful within urban regeneration areas and thus potentially empowering, is found to lie in a complex interweave of individual interpretative framing, aspects of identity beyond the demographic frame and strategies for the domestication of the specific social media practice of community reporting. The study finds that empowerment value attached to participation in community generated content is primarily located at the individual level and psychological and social in nature related to a ‘reconnecting’ and ‘feel good’ factor which appears to have a particular benefit for those who have been at risk of social exclusion. The value at the collective level of empowerment constructed as ‘voice’ is found to be limited and potentially disempowering within a social context of audience inattention and subtle dangers of ‘voice’ exploitation and appropriation. \ud \ud The study highlights fresh perspectives on what ICTs might mean for local communities beyond the established links between online and offline social interaction and social capital frame locating empowerment value specifically in the process of social media focused content production. In line with emergent critiques of participatory culture the study also problematises assumptions of ease of participation and voice attached to social media technologies. While the study supports the emergent view within digital inclusion and community informatics research areas that the empowerment value of ICTs may indeed lie in the arena of content production, the importance of viewing the potential through a critical lens of specific co-creative media practices and shining a light on urban regeneration as a potential arena of disempowerment is identified.
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