css.php

5 Steps for Counter-Storytelling Using Storify

Storify is an online tool which can be used to compose digital counter-stories to challenge racism, sexism, classism and promote social justice.

Why is Storify one of the best online tools for counter-storytelling?  Part of the reason is that it’s built into the software

“Our goal is to amplify the voices that matter by enabling our users to make sense of what people are reporting on social networks, to find meaning and provide context.”

However, it’s important to keep in mind that Storify is only a tool. This means the critical job for academic and digital activists is to (1) research and identify the online voices that need to be heard and (2) provide the meaning and context to those voices.

What is counter-storytelling?

Counter story-telling stems from critical race theory, which began around the mid-1970s.  Solorzano & Yosso (2002) define counter-storytelling as “a method of telling the stories of those people whose experiences are not often told” (p. 26).  So, counter-stories can be used to expose, analyze, as well as challenge deeply-entrenched narratives and characterizations of racial privilege, sex, etc.  In this sense, counter-stories can help promote social justice by putting a human face to the experiences of often-marginalized groups.  This promote their sense of social, political and cultural cohesion and teaches others about their social realities.

storytelling (cc: Flickr)

With that been said, counter-stories don’t always need to be created in direct response to majoritarian stories.  In fact, some scholars warn that “by responding only to a standard story, we let it dominate the discourse” (Ikemoto, 1997; Delgado, 1989). Therefore, the simple sharing of views and experiences of someone outside of dominant culture can be enough to create a new narrative (Williams, 2004).

When gathering individual stories to form a counter-story, scholars suggest the importance of maintaining theoretical and cultural sensitivity (Solorzano and Yosso, 2002; Strauss and Corbin, 1990; Bernal, 1998).  Theoretical sensitivity refers to the special insight and capacity of the researcher to interpret and give meaning to data (Strauss and Corbin, 1990). Cultural sensitivity (Bernal, 1998) refers to the capacity of individuals as members of socio historical communities to accurately read and interpret the meaning of informants (Strauss and Corbin, 1990).

An example of counter-storytelling includes Josh Stearn’s Storify tracking of reporter arrests at Occupy demonstrations. Stearn’s effort was named the Best Storify of 2012, and it has the kind of written narrative and contextualization that brings depth and structure to his topics.

Another example is from The Gates Foundation which produced an exemplary Storify called, “Voices of Change: A trip through Dharavi” that incorporates video, images, and short and insightful narrative to walk the reader through the life and people in one of the largest slums in the world.

And, the Storify of The Gay Girl In Damascus That Wasn’ttells the compelling story of “Amina Abdallah Arraf,” a the supposed Syrian-American woman involved in the Arab uprisings who it was later revealed was actually a man living in the UK.

5 Steps for Counter-Storytelling Using Storify

1. Draft story first – then search and aggregate online media content.

Before you start aggregating the online content, make sure you outline your story.  This extra step will add depth to your work and provide much needed context for readers of your Storify.  A common way to begin developing a counter-story is by finding sources of data, existing literature on topics, or from your personal experiences.  Storify allows you to write an opening paragraph and narrative transitions between the social media elements you pull in, so you can then begin crafting an outline of your story in this manner.  More here on how to craft a counter-story.

 2.    Make sure you have accounts for all the major social networks.

In order to make it easy to drag and add content from an array of social media sites, make sure you have accounts for all the major social networks.  The popular ones are Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.  However, two other good social media sites I like to use: Soundcloud and RSS feeds.  Soundcloud is especially useful for counter-story telling as you can incorporate short interviews, songs, narration, etc. to showcase first-person narratives in the community.   

social networks

(cc: Flickr)

3. Use hashtags and keywords to find story content.

Hashtags and keywords are the easiest way to find relevant social media content.  Make sure to check out current hashtags on Twitter so that you can pull in content linked to current tags. If your counter-story features a specific geographical location, use Trendsmap to locate the most popular trends and hashtags for that area.  Trendsmap can also help you find interesting and relevant local news.  Lastly, remember you can search for multiple hashtags and pull that content into the same story.

If you would like to use your counter-story to promote mobilization around a certain issue, consider creating your own hashtag and then asking individuals from the group you are showcasing to share stories online via that hashtag.  Your job then is to collect these stories on Storify and share them with the world!

4.   Quote direct sources and add first-person accounts.

One of Storify’s strengths is its ability to portray online conversations as they unfold, instead of confining them to a static report or document.  Therefore, be selective about the voices you highlight.  Reach out to the people whose social media voice you are featuring and let them know you are using their content.  Overall, you will find most people are enthusiastic and supportive.   Also, studies have found that if you quote influential people on Twitter they will retweet you!

5.    Embed an interactive map to engage your readers

In social media lingo, interactivity = increased engagement.  Therefore, rather than limiting your counter-story to a series of updates and pictures, consider adding some interactive elements of social media.  One of the most common is an interactive map that readers can click through to find any relevant points of interests, local community news, or any other useful information related to your counter-story.  For instructions on how to create an interactive map for Storify, click here.