Student Perspectives: Franco-Arabic and the Secret History of Writing

The Student Perspectives category collects posts written by current CityLIS students. This post is written by Mahmoud El-Shafey who considers the evolution of spoken and written Arabic. Mahmoud is on Twitter @MahmudElShafey. This post first appeared on Mahmoud’s blog on17/10/20.

One of the best things about the further “reading” on my LIS master’s is that this doesn’t just include dry academic text books and reports, but also news stories, documentaries and even YouTube videos. One excellent resource that students were recommended for our Story of Documents class was Dr. Lydia Wilson’s BBC4 series The Secret History of Writing.

The first episode, in particular, which deals with the Rebus Principle and the birth of alphabets was mind-blowing. I couldn’t have been more surprised to learn that ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics are “sleeping” in the very letters I am typing out now. I’ll never look at the letter A again without thinking of the Egyptian hieroglyph for a bull.

And the same applies to the other language I speak: Arabic. Both Arabic and Latin type have the same origin. In the third episode, Dr. Wilson delves into the rise of Franco-Arabic or Arabic chat (personally, I’ve always heard it called Arabizi). Arabic text written using Latin type, but with a few small addition. For example, ع‎ (ain) becomes a 3 and the ء (hamza or glottal stop) becomes a 2. Is this the future of Arabic?

As a former Arabic translator, I’m not sure how I feel about all this. Arabic is a wonderful but complicated language. I’m not sure if the Latin alphabet is able to encompass its linguistic complexities, even if this is only used for simple communication purposes. Things like how nouns and adjectives are declined according to case, gender, and even number could easily be lost in transcription.

Moreover, there isn’t any one, single Arabic. Arabic is a diglossia, featuring “high” and “low” versions. Franco-Arabic is, so far at least, mostly used for ease of communication. It originated in online chat and today is mostly used for text messaging. But everybody speaks a different version of this “low” form of Arabic. Regional dialects can vary significantly, not just in terms of what words are used, but also how the same words are pronounced.

Simply saying, “How are you?” could vary from “Ezzayak?” (Egyptian), “Kayf al-Hal? (Gulf Arabic), “Ish lawnak?” (Levantine) or Kidera? (Moroccan Arabic). And I’m sure I’m missing a lot of other examples.

In any case, I decided to give Franco-Arabic a whirl, and so the below is my transcription of the beginning of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s famous poem Mural. Immediately, even the title of the poem causes a problem. In Egyptian Arabic, the Arabic that I speak, the ج is pronounced with a hard g sound. But in Gulf or Levantine Arabic, it would be pronounced with a softer j sound. So, is it Gaddariya or Jaddariya? Well, that depends on who is speaking.


Haza huwa ismak
8alit imra2a
W ghabat fi al mumur al lawlabi

Ara al sama2 hunak fi mutanawal al aydi
W yahmaluni ginah hamama bay9a soub
Tafoola ukhra. W lam ahlam b2nee
Kunt ahlam. Kul shay2 waq3. Kunt
A3lam inani alqi b nafsi ganiban
W ateer. Sawf akoon ma sa2seer fi
Alfalak al akheer. W kol shay2 abyad
Albahr alm3laq foq saqf ghamama
Bay9a. W illa shay2 abyad fi
Sama al mutlaq al bayda2. Kunt, w lam
Akun. f2na waheed fi nawahi ha zehe
Alabadiya albayda2. Gi2tu qabeel miy3di
F lam yazhar malak wahid l yaqool li:
(Maza fa3lt, hunak, fi al dunya?)
W lam asm3 hetaf al tayibeen, w la
Aneed al khati2een, ana waheed fi al baya9,
Ana waheed…

And here is the translation:

Mural by Mahmoud Darwish

This is your name /
a woman said
and disappeared in the spiralling corridor
I could see the sky over there within my grasp.
A dove’s white wing carried me toward
another childhood. I wasn’t dreaming
that I was dreaming. Everything was realistic. I knew
I was tossing myself to the side
before I flew. I would become what I want
in the final orbit. Everything was white:
the sea hanging above the roof of a white
cloud was nothingness in the white
sky of the absolute. I was
and I wasn’t. I was alone in the corners of this
eternal whiteness. I came before my time and not
one angel appeared to ask me:
“What did you do, there, in life?”
And I didn’t hear the chants of the virtuous
or the sinners’ moans, I was alone in whiteness,

And so, what have I learned from this little exercise? Transcribing into Franco-Arabic did not come naturally to me, not at all. I had to stop many times and think, should I use a 2 here? Should this d become a 9? I could have transcribed this excerpt into Arabic in half the time, although admittedly, a younger person, who uses Franco-Arabic on a daily basis, might not have faced this obstacle.

I think the biggest thing I have learned is that the Arabic alphabet will survive. We should not fear that Franco-Arabic would or even could replace it. Arabic has proven wonderfully persistent. And yes, there are obvious cultural and religious reasons for this. And yes, this persistence does have its downsides, as with Arabic’s resistance to the moveable type revolution. But ultimately, I think that Arabic, this complicated language with its extra vowels written counter-intuitively from right-to-left, is here to stay.

That’s not to say Franco-Arabic is going anywhere, either. This is clearly not a flash in the pan. It will continue to grow as more and more people use it to chat and WhatsApp and text. And isn’t that – everyday communication – ultimately what language is for?

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Prizes Announcement

We are delighted to announce that the following CityLIS graduates have been awarded prizes for the outstanding quality of work they produced in the field of Library and Information Science.

Bethany Ruth Sherwood has been awarded the Best Student Prize. This prize is awarded annually to the graduating student with the best overall performance on the LIS course. The prize is worth £100.

Alexander Andrew Bell has been awarded the Outstanding Project Prize. The prize is worth £100.

Rachel Anne Cummings has been awarded the RT Bottle Prize for her outstanding dissertation contributing to professional practice. The title of Rachel’s dissertation in ‘Documenting Fashion: The Documentation and Preservation of Fashion Pieces’. 

Finally, Anna Gialdini has been awarded the Catherine Hamilton Prize for the most outstanding Masters dissertation in the broad area of information retrieval or electronic text management. The prize is worth £250 and is administered on City’s behalf by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP).

Congratulations to all of our fantastic alumni!

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Scary Stories on the Web: How does Digital Folklore Trick its Readers?

***Harper Arnold argues that the Creepypasta phenomenon shows how internet narratives blur the line between fiction and reality. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission as part of our CityLIS Writes initiative. Harper is on Twitter @HarperArnold2***


““Darkness after all, is the unseen and therefore the unknown…And what could inspire fear more than the terror of uncertainty?” – Dr. Hill, Until Dawn” – The quote displayed on the Creepypasta Wiki (April 17, 2020)

There’s a multitude of information available on the Internet, and some of it is true, some of it is not, and some of it is partly true and partly not. In this paper, we’ll examine the way authorless narratives can manipulate their readers into believing the unbelievable. By examining how readers trust these narratives, we can also examine how and why certain information is believed or beloved in the digital era. We’ll be examining a very popular type of Internet narrative: Creepypastas, which are original short horror stories posted to forums on the Internet. The term “Creepypasta” comes from the term copypasta, which is a portmanteau of copy and paste (Balanzategui, 2019), and reflects the viral and sharing potential of these horror stories. Although fictional, these stories often purposely blend elements of reality and the uncanny to create a twilight narrative. While often rooted in the real world, or having various aspects that make it appear so, the main plot elements of these stories are almost always completely fictional. Oftentimes the stories are told in a way that preys on the anonymity of the Internet. This is why scholars have dubbed Creepypastas “digital folklore”: “Creepypasta stories deliberately embed such informal circuits of production, consumption, and dissemination into their generic form as a marker of folkloric authenticity. Initially, Creepypasta stories tended to constellate around particular images and consist of anecdotes or rituals with roots in pre-digital urban legends, echoing chain emails and early memes…They now tend to be more complex, often collaboratively authored narratives that resonate with some of the most significant cultural anxieties of the contemporary digital moment (Balanzategui, 2019)”. Creepypastas are also reminiscent of urban legends for the same reason they’re like folklore: the stories are presented in such a way to purposely make the reader unsure about what is true. This type of internet narrative can often subvert every traditional way of valuing information, simply because it’s anonymous roots and various iterations leave it up to the reader to decide what is real and what is not. By examining and deconstructing a particular Creepypasta story, we’ll begin to see how digital folklore purposely tricks its readers. Then we’ll examine the real-life effects of Creepypasta stories, as well as more modern iterations of digital folklore, and finish by discussing how and why these stories are so pervasive and believable.

The story we’ll be examining is titled “Lavender Town Syndrome”, a story whose origins are so murky that there are competing narratives about the first website it was even published on: it might be Pastebin (Hernandez, 2016) or 99chan (Hathaway, 2015). Either way, it’s agreed that the story was published sometime around summer of 2010 and that the author is titled under “anonymous” or “guest”. The basics of the story are constructed around a fictional narrative surrounding the game Pokémon “Red” and “Green”, released in in the mid-90’s. The story, in its most “original” form, is about children who, after playing the game, commit atrocities or kill themselves. This violence is linked to the song used in a section of the game titled “Lavender Town”, which uses tonal beats that only children can hear, and which instructs them to act horrifically. This is how the story gained the title “Lavender Town Syndrome”, even though that’s not the original title of the story (the first being Decoding the mystery of “Lavender Town Syndrome” and the “Lavender Tone” (2010)). The writing of the story is convincingly real, with the narrator acting as a sort of detective or journalist and using reports and interviews to piece together the mystery surrounding Lavender Town. There is a character called Ms. Harue, who is the interviewee, and who has an update dedicated to her at the end of the story stating that she died from Leukemia on “May 3rd, 2001” (Decoding the mystery of “Lavender Town Syndrome” and the “Lavender Tone”, 2010). All of this, of course, is fictional. However, the story itself is not taken to be fictional even within online communities: it’s been called a “conspiracy” in a Black Bag article (Hathaway, 2015), an “urban legend” in a Life Wire article (Oxford, 2019), a “myth” in a Kotaku article (Hernandez, 2016), and a “theory” in a Youtube video published by TheGamerFromMars (and has, as of writing, over 2.3 million views) (2011). Yet, the story, although with murky origins and authorless, is proven to be fictional in basically every account one can find. So why does it persist as something more concrete than just a horror story posted on a forum board?

Although fictional, almost every major plot point of Decoding the mystery of “Lavender Town Syndrome” and the “Lavender Tone” is based on a real life instance. There was indeed a “Lavender Town” level in a Pokémon game, but it wasn’t the “Red” and “Green” version, but rather, the “Red” and “Blue” versions (Strategy Wiki, 2020). Most obviously borrowed from real life, the “Lavender Tone” is music played while in the Lavender Town level, and is considered quite unsettling. The music was written about online even before the story came out, back in 2005, as a prime example of “depressing game music (Hathaway, 2015)”. The music reflects the storyline of Lavender Town, which is a place where Pokémon go to be buried (Hernandez, 2016). This is quite a jarring storyline, and is the first mention in of Pokémon actually being able to die. The level then centers on the player climbing a Tower, in which a crazed spirit is haunting, and also where a bunch of Trainers are mourning their recently deceased Pokémon. And although the “Lavender Tone” has been proven to not actually give kids headaches or drive them to suicide, the weird music coupled with the dark story elements has given a basis to the half-believable story that surrounds it. This use of childhood nostalgia and subsequent trauma is not a new element in Creepypastas: as Jessica Balanzategui writes about another Creeypasta ‘Candle Cove’, which centers on recollection of a children’s television program in the 70’s, “The gradual revelation of the sinister underside to childhood experience exposes the uncanniness inherent in nostalgia, by suggesting that lurking within fondly recalled childhood pasts are technological ghosts in the nursery that only fully reveal themselves to conscious thought in adulthood (2019).” This use of a childhood memory, i.e. playing or remembering Pokémon, is often fodder for these internet-based stories and conspiracies simply because memory is so faulty, and some childhood memories are only understood once adulthood is reached. Who’s to say that the ‘Candle Cove’ television show didn’t exist? Or that one level, ‘Lavender Town’, didn’t cause prolonged traumatic effects in the children who heard its music? This is another reason these stories are digital folklore: they take a commonly held experience and question its validity. These stories also whisper questions to the reader, asking whether they really remember the past like it was. As Balanzategui also points out, the use of analogue technology better enhances the mystique of the Creepypasta, since who still has an original Game Boy laying around with the Pokémon game mentioned in the story to test it out?

In an example of reality is stranger than fiction, another element of the story taken from real-life instances are the harm the game caused kids. However, it was the Pokémon television show, and not the game, that caused health issues:

“On the evening of December 16, 1997, millions of people all over Japan gathered in their homes to watch Pokemon (episode #38). About 20 minutes into the program there was a scene of a rocket explosion that flashed red and blue lights at a rate of about 12 times per second. This explosion scene was mixed with about five seconds of flashing lights from the eyes of “Pikachu,” a popular Pokemon character. Suddenly, viewers started to complain of blurred vision, headaches, dizziness and nausea. Some people even had seizures, convulsions and lost consciousness. A total of 685 children…were taken to hospitals by ambulances. Although many children recovered during the ambulance trip, more than 150 of them were admitted to hospitals (Chudler, 2000).”

The flashing red and blue lights, coupled with the fast speed, triggered kids with photosensitive epilepsy. Interestingly enough, 12,000 kids actually reported the same symptoms, but the majority of those cases have been chocked down to mass hysteria (Rogers, 2017). With just a stretch of imagination it’s easy to see how seizures and headaches caused by an innocent TV show could turn into something far more sinister in its accompanying video games.

There are other misleading elements to the story to make it seem more realistic: the investigative journalist tone, the interviews conducted in Japanese that make it difficult to fact check for those who can’t read Kanji (Hernandez, 2016), and the time gap of the incident happening over 20 years ago leading to many elements being unverifiable. But even though the story has certain believable narrative devices, at the heart of it all, it is just a story. So why do online communities persist in calling labeling it as something more than it really is? As we’ve seen, the story is written is such a way to make it half-believable, including the well known Pokémon franchise games and coupling real-life elements caused by the television show, but there are other reasons horror stories and Creepypastas are so hard to disbelieve.

Creepypastas have a history of subverting traditional ways of valuing information, especially since their anonymity makes for easier collaboration, and by inserting half-truths (as seen in the Lavender Town Syndrome) as a way to play with believability. As Balanzategui has stated, Creepypastas had their origin in simple images usually echoing chain emails or early memes, an example being ‘Smile Dog’ [2008] which was a ‘cursed image’ that readers were encouraged to circulate to avoid the curse (2019). Although chain emails and texts may have little bearing on a person’s day-to-day life, these are prime examples of how stories begin to take root in a non-traditional narrative form, i.e., an often work-related communication chain such as an email, or personal communication chains such as a text message. These non-traditional ways of communicating information can be misleading at best and tragic at worst: in 2014, two 12-year-old girls, Anissa and Morgan, lured their friend, Payton, into the woods near their Wisconsin homes and stabbed her 19 times in the hopes of appeasing Slender Man, another Creepypasta character. Payton survived, and although the other two girls have since been committed to staying in a mental health facilities, and they clearly weren’t in their right mind, they both strongly believed that Slender Man wanted them to kill their friend (Janes, 2019). Morgan and Anissa later reported that, after the stabbing, they ran off into the woods to try to meet Slender Man and find his ‘mansion’. It’s easy to dismiss this case as an extension of deteriorating mental health in these two tweens (Morgan was later diagnosed with schizophrenia (Janes, 2019)), but it points to an interesting, and perhaps problematic, way of story dissemination. As discussed before, stories like Lavender Town are often purposely acting like the narratives are real, but the format of Creepypastas are often framed like they’re literally real. Many read like a Reddit post or like a Yahoo Answers question, with some tagging ‘based on a true story’ (which is always, conveniently, unverifiable). Even looking in the comments section of the Creepypasta Wiki there are always users questioning how true certain Creepypasta stories are (Creepypasta Wiki, 2020), and many of these comments are certainly written by children. There is rarely any disclaimer on the Creepypasta Wiki that states everything is fictional, and this became a point of contention in the moral dilemma following the Slender Man stabbing attack: “…in response to the extensive public outcry, the Creepypasta Wiki (2017)…released a statement on its homepage declaring in capitals that “ALL WORKS PRESENTED ON THIS WIKI…ARE FICTIONAL STORIES AND CHARACTERS (Plunkett, 2014) (as cited by Balanzategui, 2019).” The statement went further on to read, “Of course, only a small minority of people (mostly newcomers) on the wiki (and the Internet) truly believe what they read here. And for most people, they will not attempt replicate atrocities presented in some of the literature on the wiki (as cited by Plunkett, 2014)”. The Creepypasta Wiki is right in the sense that they are a literature site, but they are not correct in thinking that digital folklore (especially without warnings) isn’t convincing enough for children and the uninitiated to believe. Also, this statement is no longer on the homepage, and the current statement can be found at the start of this paper.

Moreover, with a lack of authorship comes lack of responsibility. Even the Slender Man story has an “author” of sorts: Eric Knudsen (alias “Victor Surge”), who posted a photo of Slender Man on a “Create Paranormal Images” thread on website Something Awful (Mar, 2019). However, the difference between authorship in analogue documents and the infosphere becomes self-evident, as Knudsen, who does technically own the rights to Slender Man, wasn’t actually much involved with spreading the tale. It was other artists, writers, screenwriters, video game developers, and fans, which really spread the legend. Creepypastas almost always tend to be collaborative, with some stories being controversial in origin (i.e., multiple people have claimed be the originators of the monster ‘Jeff the Killer’ (Creepypasta Wiki, 2020). This makes it very difficult for any one story to be attributed to an author, and often lessens the ‘authenticity’ of the story if it can be traced to a singular source. For this reason, lack of authorship and collaborative endeavors are often the norm of digital folklore, and this is why they can be believed easier than a novel or article.

Creepypastas are also evolving into narratives that aren’t even intended to be Creepypastas. For example, one of the most famous, and maybe the first, Twitter thread that turned into a horror story was the ‘Dear David’ thread posted by writer Adam Ellis. The thread consisted of Ellis tweeting about a ghost boy named David who was haunting him. The interesting thing about this thread is that Ellis still maintains it was completely real, even with the nearly unbelievable “photos” he caught of David. Ellis archived this entire thread on Wakelet to make for easy reading (Ellis, 2018), and, after selling the movie rights, has since stopped giving regular updates to the Dear David story (Fishbein, 2018). Although Ellis maintains the veracity of his story, the narrative has switched and commentators are now taking the whole thread to just be a fictional story (Fishbein, 2018). This is one story that went from the “potentially real” realm to a place where others thought it was at least a hoax, if not an outright lie to gain followers (Ellis gained around one million followers after his Dear David story gained traction (Fishbein, 2018)). If it was just a story, Ellis was exploiting the vulnerability of believable Twitter users who took his story at face value, and in the process demonstrating how easy and beneficial it can be to make a story seem real, even if it has every element that should detract believers.
So how are Creepypasta stories valued by their readers? The real conclusion is that it depends on who’s reading. Especially as stories become more ambiguous and anonymous on the Internet, and sources all across the board become less trusted, these stories are giving the reader more power to believe or disbelieve them. Creepypasta authors, and other forum board members, don’t usually take any responsibility for the effects of their stories, and the Creepypasta Wiki seems to rarely make a concerted effort to warn young readers from believing in these fictional stories. By looking at Internet horror stories and digital folklore, we can begin to see how much people put their trust into online discourses written by strangers. Trusting internet information blindly is becoming the norm, with Kalev Leetaru writing for Forbes, “Instead of browsing a small carefully curated set of high quality informational streams, our online citizenry are thrown into an ocean of almost limitless low-quality information, forced to expend considerable effort to forage for the rare bit of insight (2019).” Although fictional narratives published on the Internet wouldn’t traditionally be discussed in a digital literacy conversation, as we’ve seen before with the Adam Ellis Twitter thread, there are times when even the most unbelievable information is asked to be believed. Especially as a collaborative endeavor, and an oft-anonymous endeavor, these types of digital folklore create a world of information with no attempt to clarify the truth. These types of narratives obscure their sources and origins, and displace the decision-making from the originator to the reader. Who’s to say what’s real and what’s not? Well, in the digital age, it’s all left up to who’s reading.


Balanzategui, J. (2019) ‘Creepypasta, ‘Candle Cove’, and the digital gothic’, Journal of Visual Culture, 18(2), pp. 187-208.

Chudler, E. H. (2000) Pokemon on the Brain. Available at: (Accessed 10 March 2020).

Creepypasta Wiki (2020) Creepypasta Wiki Home. Available at: (Accessed 17 April 2020).

Decoding the mystery of “Lavender Town Syndrome” and the “Lavender Tone” (2010) Available at: (Accessed 28 March 2020).

Ellis, D. (2018) Dear David. Available at: (Accessed 19 April 2020).

Fishbein, R. (2018) How Did “Dear David” End? The Movie About Adam Ellis’s Infamous Ghost Boy Has A Lot Of Questions To Answer. Available at: (Accessed 19 April 2020).

Hathaway, J. (2015) Lavender Town: The Bizarre Pokémon Child-Suicide Conspiracy Theory. Available at: (Accessed 6 April 2020).

Hernandez, P. (2016) Pokémon’s Creepy Lavender Town Myth, Explained. Available at: (Accessed 20 March 2020).

Janes, D. (2019) The Complete Timeline and True Story Behind the Slender Man Stabbing. Available at: (Accessed 19 April 2020).

Leetaru, K. (2019) Why Do We Believe What We Read On The Internet? Available at: (Accessed 27 April 2020).

Mar, A. (2017) Into the woods: how online urban legend Slender Man inspired children to kill. Available at: (Accessed: 19 April 2020).

Oxford, N. (2019) What’s Pokémon’s Lavender Town Syndrome? Available at: (Accessed 6 April 2020).

Plunkett, L. (2014) Creepypasta Wiki issues statement saying Slender Man isn’t real. Available at: (Accessed 4 May 2020).

Pokémon Red and Blue/Lavender Town (2020) Available at:émon_Red_and_Blue/Lavender_Town (Accessed 21 April 2020).

Rogers, K. (2017) Did ‘Pokemon’ Actually Give Kids Seizures In the 90s?. Available at: (Accessed 12 April 2020).

TheGamerFromMars (2011) The Lavender Town Theory. 12 October. Available at: (Accessed 6 April 2020).

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Modern forms of publishing include writing blogs and posting diverse content on social media. In this context, how do library and/or information services relate to questions of identity in the twenty-first century?

***Elle Moyse considers how Web 2.0 reconfigures our sense of identity when it is presented as media. These ideas are discussed with reference to online journalism, blogging and social media. Elle is on Twitter @ElleMoyse. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission as part of our CityLIS Writes initiative***


The publishing world has been shaken with the arrival of Web 2.0 platforms that allow the role of the consumer and producer to combine into one. To elaborate on exactly what Web 2.0 is Bawden and Robinson (2008:7) define the innovation of Web 2.0 as the emergence of websites such as blogs, wikis and social networks, which facilitate shared information, creation, and community. In this sphere, quality, valued content is being produced that often rivals traditional published media. In fact, many information consumers rely on web platforms alone for their retrieval of news and political content. In this context, questions of identity are prevalent, both because of the manner in which we shape our identities via our consumption of media, and the way in which we choose to present our identities in the online sphere. Navigating and making sense of the information within these types of texts requires Library and Information professionals to rethink our current ideas around information and media literacy to include how to evaluate and make sense of these new forms of published works.

In this essay, I will be examining how Library and Information services contribute to questions of identity that arise with the arrival of modern forms of publishing within the Web 2.0 landscape. In this, I will focus on new-media journalism disseminated via blogging platforms, as well as the spread of news and political content via social media. First, I will examine how the ‘online self’ is formed through our obsession with social media and social networking platforms. I will look at how identity can be performed and managed in the online, and how this contributes to a lack of clarity and authenticity in the infosphere. In this, the de-individualization of the author in the online sphere, as well as anonymity, will be examined. Finally, I will investigate how these questions of identity that arise in the online contribute to a need for Library and Information services to develop a new kind of digital and media literacy that enables information users to assess information holistically, with these modern forms of publishing in mind.

Social Media, Social Networks and the Self
Social media is an overarching figure in the modern landscape, not only does it permeate the lives of those who engage in it, it is for many of us – particularly millennials (Talib, 2018:55) our main source through which we consume media content. In fact, social media is so integral to the way in which we live our lives and shape our identities that the
majority of young people admit to checking their phone within minutes of waking up each day (Greenwood et al., 2016). Whilst we live our offline lives separately, it is greatly influenced by our online experiences. In the infosphere we are producing and consuming micro-narratives which represent an externalised stream of consciousness, changing and developing our social selves and how we interact with society (Floridi, 2014:62). Web 2.0 platforms allow users and consumers a newfound freedom to play and experiment with identity – in maintaining an online presence, one can choose exactly how much and how little they reveal. Those who produce and consume content, whether the content is a personal Twitter feed or a reputable journalistic blog, navigate a sphere in which identity and communities are negotiated, managed, and performed (Vallor, 2012). In this, a new ethical space is opened up and questions of authenticity and reliability are all the more pressing.

The idea of identity being a performance in the infosphere is an important one, especially when it comes to answering the ethical dilemmas at the heart of Library and Information studies – such as accessing information and sensemaking. Floridi (2014:73) refers to the “digital gaze” to emphasise the concept of identities online being managed and performed. Through the digital gaze, the self gazes upon itself through the proxy of the digital medium, which in turn provides only a partial and specific reflection. The danger of the digital gaze is that it imposes external and alien rules onto the construction of one’s own identity (Floridi, 2014:74). In the online world, we can choose to construct our identities from the bottom up, and in the offline world our identities are strongly tied to those we create and live out online. Online content producers negotiate these boundaries with each upload, controlling their disclosure and participation in the infosphere (Greenland, 2013:221). The media that we choose to consume online can have a significant effect on our offline identities, including our citizenship and participation behaviour (Pan et al., 2017). Therefore, what we choose to consume is incredibly significant. More traditional forms of publishing often undergo thorough research and editing before the information reaches the public. In the online world, anyone can produce, and anyone can consume. That is not to say that traditional media forms are inherently reliable or authentic, however, it is significant to note the difference in production. Digital identity is intimately linked with media literacy in this context (Lange, 2014:216), if the internet is a stage and we are the performers – how do we know what is real?

Consumption, Production, and Authorship in the Digital Age
Not only has the adoption of Web 2.0 platforms allowed information citizens to create virtual lives that run parallel with their offline identities (Gunter, 2008:197), identity is deindividualized in the infosphere and we often view ourselves and our social network contacts as representatives of a group rather than their own unique persons (Parnell, 2008:46). This is an especially interesting idea when it comes to digital authorship. It is incredibly common to consume the majority, if not all, of one’s news and political content from blogs and social media sources. In this context, the identity of the author is often anonymised or deindividualized due to the way in which information is spread and filtered through sources before it meets each recipient. In 1969 Foucault (1998) was beginning to voice ideas around authorship and deindividualization, predicting that the author function would soon disappear. In the digital age, specifically within the context of blogs and social media publishing, the idea of the ‘author’ is well on its way out. This, of course, has consequences for the way information is disseminated and received, for if no one is responsible, no one can be held accountable.

Social media and blogging platforms are an innovation in modern publishing as they have combined the role of information producers and consumers into one – often referred to as a ‘prosumer’ (Vanwynsberghe et al., 2015; Gunter, 2008). The way in which we interact with social media by delivering and receiving information in this manner has become so intuitive and integral to our daily lives that for many of us reading blogs and social media websites has replaced more traditional forms of published media. Initially blogging platforms or social media websites like YouTube, reached smaller, more niche audiences – content that was posted on these kinds of websites tended to be more personal and produced with a small community of consumers in mind. Now, however, these platforms pose significant threat to ‘traditional media’, with many journalistic blogs and vlogs becoming established news sources (Gunter, 2008:205). Examples of this include ‘The Huffington Post’ and ‘Techcrunch’, which both began as blogs (Aldred et al., 2008).
These modern innovations in publishing are especially interesting as they are de-institutionalised, and the flow and distribution of information is not controlled by media companies (Vanwynsberghe et al., 2015:283). When it comes to receiving news and political data via these mediums, this lack of outside control can be both a positive and a negative. Without outside influence, particularly outside influence that facilitates media texts to exist through money gained from advertisers, broadcasting institutions or publishing agencies, information can be given more freely and with less barriers. However, in the infosphere anyone can be a content producer. Information can be posted straight from the mind of the producer, with no editing or review process in-between, and misinformation spreads like wildfire. Hirst (2019) warns that the “fake news” phenomena is heavily linked to the collapse of the old news media paradigm. Levels of trust in traditional media are falling, which in turn may contribute to the over-reliance on web platforms as a news source. This ideological shift contributes significantly to the spread of “fake news” (Himma-Kadakas, 2017). As a society, we have reason to doubt the authenticity or ‘truthfulness’ of news distributed via traditional forms of publishing. For example, Matis & Danzig’s (2015) research of ‘The Daily Mail’ tabloid articles found several instances of false statistics used to present xenophobic ideals (e.g. “600,000 unemployed migrants living in Britain”). Even the BBC, which is publicly funded and supposedly ‘neutral’, has been involved in supposed media ‘cover-ups’, such as the rumoured cover-up of television presenter Jimmy Savile’s sex offences and child abuse (Whittam Smith, 2012). However, the growing lack of faith we, as a society, have in traditional media, coupled with the implementation of social media as an integral part of our identities and daily routines, means that we may become reliant on sources that are even less trustworthy.

Anonymity and Sensemaking in the Infosphere
Bawden and Robinson (2008:7) refer to the loss of identity and use of anonymity in Web 2.0 platforms as a specific concern to the field of Library and Information Science. The lack of identity inherent in these modern forms of publishing is a considerable threat to the authority of recorded information and validity can be incredibly difficult to access. The ambiguity associated with the online self fits within a complex of debates about the nature of authenticity, trust and reputation that are integral to the discussion of anonymity and pseudonimity in the infosphere. All online identities are to be treated with distrust and need verification (Degroot, 2011), however, at the same time the reliance on text-alone interaction in the infosphere leads to increased self-disclosure and therefore allows for trust to be built amongst online producers and consumers (Page, 2014:47). Underpinning questions of authorship and anonymity in modern publishing forms, is a need for a new kind of digital and media literacy that encompasses and addresses the aforementioned concerns. This is especially relevant as young people, and a growing number of older people, are now displaying a normative use of Web 2.0 technologies in their information gathering habits (Gunter, 2008:205). This manner in which we exist and co-exist in and amongst the infosphere presents the field of Library and Information science with new and confounding questions around digital and media literacy. Subliminal and docile acceptance of media impact turns information consumers into “prisoners” (McLuhan, 1964:6), therefore the ability to question and access information is key. In the context of blogging and social media platforms, identity is blurred and unreliable or dishonest content is easily amplified and spread.

Library and Information Services and Critical Digital Media Literacy
Information spreads fast in the infosphere, anyone can produce as well as consume, and there is often no editorial control. This means that modern forms of publishing, such as social media and blogs, can be difficult to navigate and make sense of. As we live in a neoliberal society in which individual agency is prioritised, the onus is on members of the public to interpret the information they consume (Boyd, 2018). Digital literacy is increasingly discussed, and governments are becoming aware that digital confidence and skills are necessary to benefit their citizens and contribute to society (Fraser & Reedy, 2018:155). Librarians are also increasingly responsible for enabling their patrons to use resources such as social media and blogging platforms (Callahan, 1991). However, there is not just one type of ‘digital literacy’ – to navigate the complex of information we now find ourselves wading through, we must not only learn how to navigate systems, but also how to question and be critical of these systems. In the world of online alternative forms of publishing, a combination of digital literacy and media literacy may be necessary. It is likely that many users will gain experience navigating digital systems outside of a library setting, and for those who cannot, access is readily available in the majority of public libraries (Thorne-Wallington, 2013:54). However, libraries could play a more significant role in developing critical media literacies to enable information citizens to avoid falling into the trap of “fake news” that has become such a phenomenon in online journalism. Bawden and Robinson (2008:9) call for a deeper understanding of human interaction behaviour in order to develop a critical digital literacy that addresses issues such as anonymity and sensemaking. In order to teach users how to question and be critical of information, we first require a more rounded idea of how users interact with these systems.

When it comes to navigating modern forms of publishing, the library and information field must prioritise the sociocultural and analytic aspect of studying and accessing media (Lankshear and Knobel, 2008). A critical digital media literacy is necessary in navigating information presented in blogs and social media. This encourages users to not only question the information they are presented with, but the context in which the digital communication is taking place (Talib, 2018:58). In this, the medium in which the message is being translated through must be considered, as well as questions of authorship, ideology, power, political economy, production, and reception (Funk et al., 2015:3). In decoding the context of an information resource, we can gain greater understanding of the beliefs and biases behind the text and the inherent semiotics of the types of content used to create the message (Kellner, 1998). Boyd (2014) emphasises the importance of building empathy in attempting to make sense of digital information. This means that developing an understanding of why certain individuals and groups may express certain beliefs and ideas, even if these ideas may not align with the user’s own. The extension of empathy onto a critical digital media literacy teaches consumers to analyse contradictions in text, rather than getting stuck in the intention behind the production of said text – which may be less relevant. In actively participating in a knowledge society, learning these critical digital media skills is necessary to make sense of information and access the honesty and validity of information resources. This is especially significant in the post-2016 era of ‘fake news’.

In the modern age, identity is formed through the online via our formative experiences with social media and blogging platforms. These identities can be negotiated as the digital gaze allows us to construct our identities online from the bottom-up. In the infosphere, identity can also be performed and managed. Therefore, navigating modern forms of publishing within this sphere can be difficult as all is not what it seems – authenticity and truthfulness can be difficult to discern. The use of blogging platforms and social media websites to disseminate and receive information, especially news and political information, presents the field of library and information science with new and unique challenges in discerning authenticity, credibility, and authorship. The deindividualization of the author in these modern publishing forms has implications for the way in which information is both interpreted and disseminated. These modern platforms allow online publishers to remain anonymous, therefore they cannot always be held accountable for the content of what they publish.

Information citizens are already beginning to question the old news media paradigm and rely less on traditional forms of media. Traditional media outlets have a chequered history, however, these outlets have somewhat of an ethical responsibility to tell the truth, whereas the internet is the Wild West. In the infosphere, ‘fake news’ spreads significantly faster, and the anonymity inherent in these platforms means that nobody is held accountable for disseminating inaccurate information. An over-reliance on resources in which information may not be edited or fact-checked can be dangerous, therefore the fact that many people rely on Web 2.0 platforms exclusively for receiving their news and political content is worrying. The ambiguity of the online self and a societal reliance on social media platforms calls for a digital literacy in which these issues are addressed, and users can be assisted in navigating these modern forms of publishing. Digital identity and media literacy are inherently linked in the infosphere and our identities are closely tied to the information we consume and produce online. However, because identity in the online can so easily be performed, negotiated and managed, we must develop strategies in order to make sense of and evaluate information. In this, a combination of digital and media literacy is necessary. The development of a holistic critical digital media literacy will give web users the tools to evaluate sources and decode the context and intent behind the message. Consumers and producers of web media content need also be aware of the bias’s built within the medium of the message, as well as the message itself. The extension of empathy onto a framework like this, also encourages digital consumers to access contradictions, rather than focussing on the intention of the author. In a world in which published works on social media and blogging platforms hold as much weight as traditional media texts, Library and Information services must intervene and equip information users with the skills needed to decode and evaluate these texts.

Aldred, J. Astell, A., Behr, R., Cochrane, L., Hind, J., Pickard, A., Potter, L. Wignall, A. & Wiseman, E. (2008) ‘The world’s 50 most powerful blogs.’ The Observer, March 2008. Viewed 14th April 2020. <>
Bawden, D. & Robinson, L. (2008) ‘The dark side of information: Overload, anxiety and other paradoxes and pathologies.’ Journal of Information Science, 35(2), pp. 180-191.
Boyd, D. (2018) ‘You think you want media literacy… Do you?’ [Blog] Points: Data & Society. March 2018. Viewed 15th April 2020. <>
Callahan, D.R. (1991) ‘The librarian as change agent in the diffusion of technological innovation.’ Electronic Library¸9(1), pp. 13-15.
Degroot, J. (2011) ‘Truth in urban legends? Using to teach source evaluation.’ Communication Teacher, 25(2), pp. 86-89.
Floridi, L. (2014) The 4th Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Foucault, M. (1998) ‘What is an author?’ In Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology, ed. J. D. Faubion. From Essential Works of Foucault, 1954-1984, ed. P. Rabinbow. New York: The New Press.
Fraser, J. & Reedy, K. (2018) ‘Digital citizens and workers.’ In Digital Literacy Unpacked, edited by K. Reedy & J. Parker. London: Facet Publishing.
Funk, S., Kellner, D. & Share, J. (2015) ‘Critical media literacy as transformative pedagogy.’ In Handbook of Research on Media Literacy in the Digital Age, edited by M. Yildiz & J. Keengwe. Hershey: IGI Global.
Greenland, K. (2013) ‘Negotiating self-presentation, identity, ethics, readership and privacy in the LIS blogosphere: A review of the literature.’ Australian Academic and Research Libraries, 44(4), pp. 217-225.
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Greenwood, S., Perrin, R. & Duggan, M. (2016) ‘Social media update 2016.’ Pew Research Center, November 2016. Viewed 12th April 2020. <>
Gunter, B. (2008) ‘Trends in digital information consumption and the future.’ In Digital Consumers: Reshaping the Information Profession, edited by D. Nicholas & I. Rowlands. London: Facet Publishing.
Himma-Kadakas, M. (2017) ‘Alternative facts and fake news entering journalistic content production cycle.’ Cosmopolitan Civil Societies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 9(2), pp. 26-41.
Hirst, M. (2019) Navigating Social Journalism: A Handbook for Media Literacy and Citizen Journalism. New York: Routledge.
Kellner, D. (1998) ‘Multiple literacies and critical pedagogy in a multicultural society.’ Educational Theory, 48(1), pp. 103-122.
Lange, P.G. (2014) Kids on YouTube: Technical Identities and Digital Literacies. California: Left Coast Press, Inc.
Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (2008) Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies and Practices. New York: Peter Lang.
Matis, A. & Danzig, J. (2015) ‘Newspaper lies can cost lives.’ [Blog] JonDanzig. September 2015. Viewed 14th April 2020. <>
McLuhan, M. (1964) Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Canada: McGraw-Hill Education.
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Pan, Z., Lu, Y., Wang, B. & Chau, P.Y.K. (2017) ‘Who do you think you are? Common and differential effects of social self-identity on social media usage.’ Journal of Management Information Systems, 34(1)
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Parnell, M. (2008) ‘Pernicious virtual communities: Identity, polarisation and the Web 2.0.’ Ethics and Information Technology, 10(1), pp. 41-56.
Talib, S. (2018) ‘Social media pedagogy: Applying an interdisciplinary approach to teach multimodal critical digital literacy.’ E-Learning and Digital Media, 15(2), pp. 55-66.
Thorne-Wallington, E. (2013) ‘Social contexts of new media literacy: Mapping libraries.’ Information Technology and Libraries, 32(4), pp. 53-65.
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Vanwynsberghe, H., Vanderlinde, R., Georges, A. & Verdegem, P. (2015) ‘The librarian 2.0: Identifying a typology of librarians’ social media literacy.’ Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 47(4), pp. 283-293.
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Suggested summer reading for returning PT students

For CityLIS part-time students who will be returning in September 2020 for their second year of study, here are some suggestions for summer reading. This is not required, but may be helpful for those who wish to do some preparation for the term 1 modules INM341 Information Management and Policy and INM356 Research Methods and Communication) and for initial thoughts on the dissertation. All are available as e-books in the university library

Chapter 12 (Information management and policy), in Introduction to Information Science, Bawden and Robinson, Facet, 2012
Records, information and data: exploring the role of record-keeping in an information culture, Yeo, Facet, 2018
Practical knowledge and information management, Schopflin and Walsh, Facet, 2018
Management basics for information professionals (4th edition), Evans, Alire and Layzell Ward, Facet, 2020

Chapter 14 (Information science research, what and how), in Introduction to Information Science, Bawden and Robinson, Facet, 2012
Research methods in information (2nd edition), Pickard, Facet, 2020
Research methods in library and information science (6th edition), Connaway and Radford, Libraries Unlimited, 2017

Succeeding with your master’s dissertation: a step-by-step handbook (4th edition), Biggam, Open University Press, 2017

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