Tweet Carefully, Museums: A Case Study of the #decolonizeourmuseums Protest
Tweet Carefully, Museums presents an in-depth case study of audiences and a museum using social media in the current Web 2.0 age. It explores online protest and controversy over an event held at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA) in 2015. This dissertation addresses a current gap in the literature centred on public use of social media as a platform to engage in museum-centred debate and discussion. At the moment, literature discussing new technologies in museums focuses heavily on an institution-to-audiences model. While this is indeed useful information, there is another aspect of digital media that has been largely neglected. In their case study, Gronemann et al. observed that overall, museums distanced themselves from discursive co-construction in their Facebook posts. The lack of engagement with audience can have adverse effects as social media grows in its popularity to mobilise the public in the name of social justice. “Western” museums, many of which have a history of fostering colonial narratives, can also be perceived as authoritative institutions. Museums need to engage more conscientiously with their online audiences. Unconsidered or insensitive engagement over social media may have adverse effects on institutions. Kimono Wednesdays was an event where the public was invited to try on kimono in Gallery 255 at the MFA. The MFA advertised the event on a few social media platforms. On Facebook, the advertisement drew the harshest criticisms from a section of the Asian-American community. The sensational attention on Facebook grew quickly into physical protest inside Gallery 255. This case study analyses a sample of the dialogic posts, comments, and replies left on Facebook during the protests. It also analyses a symposium organised by the MFA, Kimono Wednesdays: A Conversation, where a panel made up of academics, museum staff, and a protester discussed the various concepts and perceptions of the museum’s controversial advertising and event. This case study demonstrates that social media is a double-edged sword for museums, as it is a useful tool, but presents uncomfortable challenges. The key findings from this study show how content on the internet can be misinterpreted and how implicit bias can occur from any institution. As museums embrace Web 2.0 applications, they too must become more aware of their online presence and set in place methods of dialogic co-construction so as to better understand and communicate with the diversifying cultures that surround them.