Accepted paper:

Why is poverty so abstract on social media?


Razvan Nicolescu (Imperial College London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses how the clash between the visibility of social media and the sensitiveness of economic shortages in South Italy lead to a strange impersonalization of poverty and inequality.

Paper long abstract:

We start off by looking at the striking uniformity in using social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, in a middle-sized town in the southernmost region of Apulia. This is true especially for teenagers and young adults. In particular, young people coming from impoverished economic backgrounds use social media in a way that aims at levelling off the social differences with their peers. This is related to their constant endeavour to strive out of poverty. The paper then shows how people struggling with economic difficulties almost never refer to poverty and different everyday injustices on public social media. Rather, it is the relatively better-off people, with higher cultural capital, who mention these sensitive issues. However, they do so in an indirect way. Poverty and inequality are usually presented as distant and impersonal, without any explicit reference to the local community: they could be located in different remote parts of the world, in particular places in Italy, tolerated by distant politicians, or driven by high-level economic mechanisms. Finally, the paper suggests that social media use in South Italy is a result of the continuous clash between, on the one hand, the creativity and openness of social media itself, and, on the other hand, the continued power of local normativity. It is particularly difficult to contradict, even online, the order and predictability of local social life, especially as it has a strong emphasis on the performative. In this setting, there is really no place for tangible poverty and inequality to be displayed.

panel P26
Social media and inequality