An idealized image of a backchannel imagines it as “augmenting” a primary channel in ways that do not mock, reject or impolitely critique what is happening on the main stage. This, of course, is not how backchannels tend to work in practice, and in fact, one of the perceived benefits of backchannel mechanisms is their ability to reveal and amplify concerns that might otherwise be muted or silent among the community using these channels. For example, one of the earliest reports on the impact of a digital backchannel I’ve found (via Wikipedia’s article on backchannels) describes a particular backchannel mechanism (liveblogging! remember liveblogging?) as “high-tech heckling.” Specifically, at a March 2002 PC Forum meeting, two journalists liveblogging an interview with Qwest Telecommunications CEO Joe Nacchio contextualized their coverage of Nacchio’s complaints about a lack of capital with information (received via email from readers of the liveblogs) about Nacchio’s recent stock sales, painting the CEO in an unflattering light with an immediacy that transformed the interview’s networked audience at PC Forum into a visibly “hostile” one after it read the blog. The language used to describe the implementation of backchannels in this article is at times condescending (the references to “heckling” and the presence of a “peanut gallery”) but it is also optimistic regarding their impact (“It should also raise the quality of the questions, allowing the shy to express themselves clearly, the slow to upload a coherent comment with one click and the self-promoters and hand-wavers to expose themselves”).
the heartbreak n00b
The weekend of August 19-21 was pretty busy for professional wrestling fans. WWE set up shop at the Barclays Center for not one, but two major shows: NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II, a showcase for its “minor league” developmental brand, and SummerSlam, one of the main roster’s biggest events of the year. There was a ton of exciting in-ring action: the “Glorious” debut of Bobby Roode, Charlotte’s reclaiming of the WWE Women’s Championship from “The Boss” Sasha Banks, “The Phenomenal One” A.J. Styles beating up John Cena, the brutal and bloody (and, it turns out, completely staged, though some wrestlers were as fooled as fans were) outcome of a showdown between “The Viper” Randy Orton’s head and the meat-tenderizing hands of The Beast Incarnate, Brock Lesnar. But outside the ring, another story began circulating online: Twitter accounts @deathtoallmarks (DTAM), @SenorLariato, and @WrestlinGifs, three of online wrestling fandom’s main sources for “live GIFs” (fan-created GIFs of wrestling-related content that appeared online during live telecasts), had been suspended.
After moving operations over to a secondary account on Monday, Lariato noted that Twitter’s decision was made in response to DMCA complaints about several SummerSlam GIFs. Lariato said that Friend MTS, a UK-based “global provider of platform, channel, and content protection services,” was the apparent source of the objections (WWE initially denied making the complaints to at least one journalist, but wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer claims the company is behind the suspensions and that they were motivated by SummerSlam content). Several wrestlers tweeted about the removal of these prominent wrestling GIF-providers, including WWE Superstars Xavier Woods and Big E, former WWE superstar (and current TNA megastar) Matt Hardy, and Bullet Club tag team sensation The Young Bucks. Echoing many fans, Matt Jackson of The Bucks argued that the act of “live-GIF’ing” is not just an essential component of online wrestling fandom, but also a key tool of “any [form of] entertainment” invested in social media engagement.