Michelle Ferrier presents at Duke’s Black Thought 2.0

Associate Professor of Communications Michelle Ferrier discussed moving beyond content creation in the development of underrepresented voices online at the Black Thought 2.0 conference on April 6-7 at Duke University. Her thoughts for taking on the digital system are “think tiny.”

“Tiny actions can fracture the seeming monolithic face of mainstream media,” said Ferrier. Think of the online pushback on issues like Trayvon Martin and Troy Davis.

Black Thought 2.0 focused on the roles of digital technology and social media in furthering the mission of Black Studies. The conference explored how scholars are using technologies to further their research, doing collaborative forms of scholarship and activism and reaching broader audiences.

Ferrier was an invited panelists in the session “The Chocolate Supa Highway: Precursors to Black Social Media.” She was joined by scholars Abdul Alkalimat of the University of Illinois; Lynne D. Johnson, director of strategy and engagement at Whisprgroup; and moderator Lee D. Baker, dean of academic affairs at the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke University.

Ferrier has been a pioneer in new media from pre-World Wide Web days and built the first online communities for K-12 educators and nonprofit professionals. While the title of the session suggested a historical perspective, panelists looked to the future of creating digital personas online and surveillance technologies.

Ferrier said netizens need to learn how to operate at the code and conduit layers of technology.

“So much of our focus is on content creation and creating voice, and that’s important,” Ferrier said. “However, we need to turn our attention to the code and conduit layers – understanding the language and the technologies that carry that content.”

Ferrier said that netizens risk losing voice when they do not act in creating policy or in building the technologies themselves.

“When someone else controls your content and makes money off of what you create, you’re giving yourself away piece by piece,” she said.

Ferrier said operating in the digital realm calls for a new set of digital sensibilities and sensitivities to the nuances of the tools at hand.

“We have to understand how the different technologies function and engage people where they are. The ultimate goal is not to drive traffic back to some main web site, but to ‘own’ the conversation space on multiple platforms.”