Mediating the Social: The Excesses o f Racial Representation within (Trans)formative Digital Space

Dorothy R. Santos – University of California, Santa Cruz

Platform: Journal of Media and Communication

Volume 9.1, Visuality: Truth and Politics (2022): pp.73 – 79


In this essay, I explore what Gray (2015) calls “the excesses of representation” that reproduce race and gender across proliferating digital platforms. I traverse the digital in tracking and tracing viral inequality, data surveillance, and moderation. Does the term “social media,” as a redundant term, accurately describe the processes of algorithmic amplification by which representational excesses get diffused and made legible? That is to say, do “social media” constitute formative spaces that produce social affect, or do they constitute transparent spaces that mediate affect? This entails addressing how digital socialization of amplified racial and gendered performances occupies a different ethical ground than the ostensibly neutral ethics that mediatization might claim. The claim of media neutrality therefore makes room for the “excessive” reproduction of “objective” racial and gendered caste categories that allow for possible objections to taking responsibility for the global restructuring of social affect. This article addresses these questions, with a particular focus on how and why large social media companies claim the social as platforms not as publishers while denying their de facto identities as Fifth Estate media institutions subsuming and eclipsing Fourth Estate Power. I situate engagement with Herman Gray and Sarah T. Roberts’s texts to interrogate ideas of transparency, moderation, and digital subjectivity, and their much-deserved denouements, to examine whether the mediated spaces of social media constitute transparent, objective sites for communicating social affect, or in fact actively produce reproduce social affect. Ultimately, I argue that the excesses of representation show the latter to be true: social media are not transparent spaces, but actively reproduce social affect. Despite premature declarations heralding their respective epochal demises, history, race, and truth remain contested sites of durable significance.


Media, social media, digital culture

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