In the case of the most volatile and provocative Facebook groups often people who oppose the group will join it in order to engage in argument or discussion. The two groups chosen for this study involved a number of these such exchanges, making them a virtual battle grounds for the Chief debate.
After some significant multi-stage coding of both of the selected Facebook groups consistent trends began to emerge in the data. Unfortunately since only two groups were analyzed the findings here must be considered only preliminary and may not (probably do not) accurately represent the feelings of the masses, but instead a particularly passionate group of people on either extreme of the spectrum. “Don’t like the Chief? Go Somewhere Else… Fuckin Idiots” was a much larger group with around 800 members, whereas “Pro-Chief people wouldn’t know racism if it bit them on the A$$” hovered around 80 at the time of observation. The content on group walls and forum postings provided sufficient material for the analysis. Though topics varied consistently several became reoccurring conceptual themes (in no special order of importance):
- What is referred to here as homage – occurrences of reference to the Chief as a figure of honor, loyalty, respect or courage, typically in a pro-chief valorized fashion.
- Validity – instances where topics tackled issues of truth, right and wrong, validity of measure, reliability, and the divide between the sides necessitating a winner or answer.
- Hostility – signified by variance in the responses from the average tone many topics themselves were actually on retribution, hostility, abuse, threats, and the hurtful nature of both exchanges between respondents and the role of the Chief.
- Rights – including discussion of the rights over imagery and portrayal, freedom of speech, the jurisdiction of authorities such as the NCAA, religious freedom, and when jokes and fun have gone too far.
- Power – which could include racism, dehumanization, mockery, and privilege of groups and individuals.
- History – which often came in the form of tradition, calling out to the historically documented memory of the Native American experience or on the opposite end, the way the Chief might help people to learn about and remember Native Americans.
- University Representation – just who or what should represent the university – symbols, mascots, school pride, majorities, minorities and questions of group identity.
- Meta-dialogue – several times posts were created depicting or interpreting the discussions being made, with special attention given to attitudes and behaviors as well as open or close-mindedness.
Obviously just the introductory findings communicate a rather complicated and multifaceted debate. Several of these areas were often found together and in some cases may be somewhat arbitrarily separated. They do, however, stand as a testament to the full range of issues that ought to be addressed by researchers considering the Chief in relation to student concerns and campus climate. What’s more is that nearly all of these topics are potentially politically and emotionally charged – these aren’t kids trying to solve math problems or insisting Oregon Trail was the best game ever. They’re grappling with intense issues and in many cases need to be educated in both the arguments they’re making and also become conscious of the process of communication they’re taking part in, which leads to the next level of analysis.
As a researcher new to the method of qualitative content analysis and conducting observations without a previously established and tested formalized system of measure it’s hard to say assessment of tone could be anything but subjective. Regardless, based upon the ideas gathered from other studies and the psychological based measurements employed by John Gottman featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (2007) the following qualifications for conversant tone were drafted:
- Anger/bullying – which could include disgust or blatant criticism with a connotation that would make it seem insulting.
- Condescension – similar to anger at times but not always, the key point being a sort of criticism that places the accusing party on a higher, superior level than the criticized. Perhaps the hardest to qualify by technical means or single signifying words, it was teased out through certain combinations of topics and tone and formations of sentences.
- Sarcasm – also comparable to condescension but without the required difference in relative ranking, sarcasm typically involves a sort of lying or deception poised in an insulting manner.
- Gratitude/praise – overt and sincere reception and acceptance of a group or individuals.
- Open-minded – as difficult to detect as condescension this tag was scribed for participants whom seem genuinely interested in alternative perspectives and didn’t wish to appear all-knowing or arrogant. It can often be denoted by the use of ‘I’ statements and mindful open-ended questions. Modesty was key in qualifying these statements.
- Thoughtfulness – both in general consideration and criticism or dialectic, marked most by an intellectual and inquiring tone, not seeking dominance or victory but instead conveyance and interpretation of ideas. Paraphrasing and clarification would most often fall under this category.
- Diminishing/downplay – a defensive mechanism or active strategy, sometimes covert and often evident through the use of adaptable words this tone assignment was a common sight amongst more educated individuals seeking to establish dominance through subtler means.
Readers will be quick to notice the many tones that would normally indicate a negative communication process – and they’re right, most of the exchanges going on between members in the groups were hostile and argumentative. On rare occasions excepts could be found, but much akin to the quiet professor in a room full of loud arguing lawyers those employing dialogue and questioning techniques seemed to be listened to less on the whole.
Though originally targeted for identity and social capital analysis neither group on its own revealed anything remarkable enough to build themes or a major typology. Group members placed a great deal of emphasis on personal racial identity and ethnic heritage when determining legitimacy in regards to racism and discrimination and more often than not it seemed to be the object of prejudice or serve as special qualification of legitimacy amongst participants. Though the research suggests colorblind overtones to the pro-chief group there wasn’t enough reoccurring material to allege this claim. Social capital, on the other hand, was most notably of the networked capital type in both of the groups examined. Occasional advertisements for organizational movements populated the walls and message boards as well as news updates related to pertinent Chief issues. It is unknown as to how much administrators orchestrated leadership in the groups or disseminated information to members. Mostly the groups seemed more bent on doing battle and making outlandish statements, and finding allies and alike thinkers at the same time. Rather, the Facebook coverage seems to evidence a level of pre-established community commitment and networked social capital between members. It is unclear as to how much it may have extended or enhanced these connections but certainly suggests to a certain extent the availability and utilization of such ties. The fact that so many pro-chief groups are linked together by the related groups area implicitly propounds a rather massive and connected web of supporters and latent weak ties, despite the lack of explicit talk about such avenues for mobilization among participants. In the end these two Facebook groups appear to be a terrain best suited to solidifying community commitment through argument and opposition.