Panelists discuss the effects of digital media on queer men of color

Rund Khayyat

The Internet and social media allow queer men of color to comfortably navigate through relationships and communities, but it can construct a false sense of reality, according to UT alumnus and author Shaka McGlotten.

McGlotten discussed his book, “Virtual Intimacies: Media, Affect, and Queer Sociality,” during a round table of panelists Wednesday. Many queer men of color navigate social worlds in which the boundaries between real and virtual worlds have been disconnected, McGlotten said.

“The fluidity of the virtual world and the possibilities it offers, such as the suspension of typical social rules, are not real,” McGlotten said.

It is easier for members of the LGBT community to express passions and desires online, whereas in real life they feel social pressure, media studies assistant instructor Alexander Cho said.

Cho said online spaces can be anonymous and more safe.

“This is why people don’t do this stuff on Facebook,” Cho said. “Facebook has become so much like real life — there is no way to be anonymous, and all your social connections are real.” 

Although many members of the queer community, regardless of race, feel more comfortable searching for relationships online, there are still certain dangers, according to McGlotteen. Many spaces — such as hate-based or criminal groups — would not exist if it were not for the virtual world, English associate professor Neville Hoad said.

“The virtual world makes it hard to stop these groups,” Hoad said. “If you shut them down, they just come back under a different name.”

According to Cho, the digital world is an echo chamber, which is a situation in which information or ideas are reinforced by the media and different views are censored. This echo chamber makes the term “public” unclear, Cho said. 

“The word public has been so fraught with race and class divisions throughout history; it’s hard for me to even use it as a tool, and yet we always evoke it,” Cho said. 

The topic of the conversation was important to make cultural and political sense of the current rise of virtual influence, said Patrick Jagoda, English assistant professor at The University of Chicago.

“We’re in a historical period in which online identity and the status of public life is being negotiated at a rapid pace,” Jagoda said in an email. “Technologies enable and limit our ways of thinking, speaking, feeling, and being together.”