Digital social networks as sites of memory: citizen dialogues through photography on Facebook

Adolfo Baltar-Moreno

Digital social networks as sites of memory: citizen dialogues through photography on Facebook

ICONO 14, Revista de comunicación y tecnologías emergentes, vol. 20, no. 2, 2022

Asociación científica ICONO 14

Redes sociales digitales como lugares de memoria: diálogos ciudadanos a través de la fotografía en Facebook

As redes sociais como lugares de memória: diálogos cidadãos através da fotografia no Facebook

Adolfo Baltar-Moreno *

Universidad Tecnológica de Bolívar, Colombia

Received: 31 march 2022

Revised: 15 may 2022

Accepted: 01 november 2022

Published: 20 december 2022

Abstract: This paper addresses the potential of social media as places for citizen dialogue around memory and cultural identity of territories and their inhabitants. From the perspective of cultural anthropology and memory studies, an exploratory study is presented based on the content analysis of two Facebook groups linked to the city of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), accompanied by qualitative interviews with their administrators and with historians of the territory. The results explain some of the factors that contribute to the popularity of these virtual groups, based on the use of vernacular photography, and show how digital social networks have come to complement or replace functions that were once restricted to public and academic institutions, museums and archives. It is concluded that despite their limitations, these groups, born in a specific historical and technological context, constitute important virtual places of memory.

Keywords: Memories; Cultural Identity; Digital Culture; Social Media; Photography; Facebook.

Resumen: El presente trabajo aborda la potencialidad de los social media como lugares de diálogo ciudadano en torno a la memoria y la identidad cultural de los territorios y sus habitantes. Desde la perspectiva de la antropología cultural y los estudios sobre la memoria, se presenta una investigación exploratoria basada en el análisis de contenido de dos grupos de Facebook vinculados a la ciudad de Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), acompañados de entrevistas cualitativas con sus administradores y con historiadores del territorio. Los resultados explican algunos de los factores que contribuyen a la popularidad de estos grupos virtuales, basados en el uso de la fotografía vernácula, y evidencian cómo las redes sociales digitales han llegado a complementar o sustituir funciones que antaño estaban restringidas a las instituciones públicas y académicas, los museos y los archivos. Se concluye que, pese a sus limitaciones, estos grupos, nacidos en un contexto histórico y tecnológico determinado, constituyen importantes lugares virtuales de la memoria.

Palabras clave: Memorias; Identidad Cultural; Cultura Digital; Social Media; Fotografía; Facebook.

Resumo: Este artigo aborda o potencial das mídias sociais como lugares de diálogo cidadão em torno da memória e identidade cultural dos territórios e de seus habitantes. Na perspectiva da antropologia cultural e dos estudos de memória, apresenta-se uma pesquisa exploratória a partir da análise de conteúdo de dois grupos do Facebook vinculados à cidade de Cartagena das Índias (Colômbia), acompanhada de entrevistas qualitativas com seus administradores e com historiadores do território. Os resultados explicam alguns dos fatores que contribuem para a popularização desses grupos virtuais, baseados no uso da fotografia vernacular, e mostram como as redes sociais digitais passaram a complementar ou substituir funções que antes eram restritas a instituições públicas e acadêmicas, museus e arquivos. Conclui-se que, apesar de suas limitações, esses grupos, nascidos em um contexto histórico e tecnológico específico, constituem importantes lugares virtuais de memória.

Palavras-chave: Memórias; Identidade cultural; Cultura Digital; Mídia social; Fotografia; Facebook.

1. Introduction

Social media has transformed in the last two decades the ways of communicating between people and human groups, providing new communicative uses or extending within them others that already existed, giving full meaning to the concept of network society. The emergence of these media has been led by communication platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or YouTube, where users generate their own content and exchange information.

If in the classical conception of cultural industries the then-growing middle classes of capitalist societies were considered their main consumers (Bustamante, 2018), then social media is currently a central product of contemporary mass culture, being the object - thanks to the digital convergence of media or the ease of information management (Pérez Rufí et al., 2015)- both of a massive cultural consumption and of a massive cultural production, where the public participates actively through multiple devices that offer permanent connectivity. These platforms, behind which are the large technology companies, make up an essential part of what Duarte (2011) denominates "Cultural Industries 2.0" and give meaning to the concepts of "network capitalism" (Luna, 2004) and "cultural citizenship" (Miller, 2006).

De Pablos Pons (2018) argues that social media that are part of contemporary culture have brought with them new mediations or forms of interaction through the use of different languages, influencing the way we relate to information, cultural products and others. Juárez (2020) affirms that social media have brought with it new cultural forms, such as the culture of participation or participatory culture to which Jenkins (2006) referred to. In this way, contemporary digital culture involves organizations, movements and communities of all kinds, where the voice of users acquires a leading role through the new dimensions that, according to García-Galera et al. (2014), has reached the concept of interaction.

These platforms have emerged as new public spheres where citizen dialog takes place on all kinds of issues, including discussion about the common past. Thus, from various studies (Birkner & Donk, 2018; Cánepa-Koch, 2018; Cieslik-Miskimen & Robinson, 2022; Harp et al., 2018; Merrill & Lindgren, 2020; Mpofu et al., 2022), a powerful potential is attributed to social media to influence our collective memories and eliminate part of the power that, until now, the traditional media and other hegemonic actors had in the elaboration of the stories of the past.

This study explores the potential of social media as virtual spaces to dialog about cultural identity and collective memory, pointing out both their virtues and their limitations. The research focuses on two Facebook groups gathered around the photography of the past of Cartagena de Indias (Colombia).

1.1. The Facebook platform

Facebook is one of the most popular digital social networks in the world. Created in the United States in 2004, it exceeded 2,700 million monthly users in 2020 (Facebook, 2020). It was the digital social network with the highest consumption in Latin America during the period of confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing together 47% of social media users in Colombia (Vega, 2022, April 21).

This platform houses various spaces where users can develop public conversations on different topics, including so-called Facebook groups. Coromina & Padilla-Molina (2018) define these groups as semipublic spaces that promote the creation of communities around common interests and whose members can participate in the narrative published on the timeline, not only with content but also with other actions that feed visibility and dissemination of the platform.

At various latitudes, these groups have gained prominence in issues related to collective memory and cultural identity. For example, Birkner & Donk (2018) evidenced the decisive role of this platform in a citizen conflict related to the renaming of a square in a small German city. Facebook became a counterpublic sphere of debate against traditional media in fostering a new historical consciousness. Mpofu et al. (2022) For their part, observed how the Zimbabwean diaspora spread over various continents (Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania) used Facebook groups to create online communities and maintain contact with their country of origin.

Facebook groups dedicated to the memory of territories through photography have had great popular acceptance. What motivates users to participate in these groups? This question is linked to the central question posed by the Uses and gratifications theory: what does the individual do with the media?

1.2. Memory and cultural identity

The processes of personal and collective memory and its link with the construction of identity have been theorized from various disciplines of the social sciences. Halbwachs (1950, cited in Lifschitz & Arenas Grisales, 2012), differentiated between social memory (oral and produced by social groups) and official memory (textual and produced by power). This author defended the social character of memory: for him, collective memory exists as long as the social group that maintains it continues to exist in time and space (Manero & Soto, 2005). If this group disappears, that memory does too.

Memory is subjective and dynamic, as it is in a permanent process of construction. Ricoeur (2000) defends that collective memory is an anthropological matter, and Correa (2013) asserts that it can only occur between subjects inserted in social networks of specific space-time contexts, since all memories have a social framework and a shared cultural code.

On the other hand, memory has a decisive relationship with the identity of individuals "because it keeps updated the knowledge of what each one is" (Correa, 2013, p. 12). Additionally, with the collective identity that is, according to Castells (1998), "the source of meaning and the experience of a people, whose members share a sense of belonging, harmony and continuity" (p. 25). From this perspective, shared memory is the substrate of the cultural identity of a human group.

Seydel (2014) considers that the term collective memory has been surpassed today by that of cultural memory, which “is not only created based on oral stories and daily interaction, but through the use of various media that allow the storage and dissemination of the versions of the past […]” (p. 187). The studies by Erll (2012) explore precisely how multiple processes of dynamization of cultural memory are triggered in the networked society thanks to the greater accessibility to electronic media.

1.3. Interest in collective memory in Latin America

Latin America has not been alien to the interest of contemporary societies in collective memory. As in other latitudes, the concept and its use in the continent is subject to tensions (Galindo Salazar, 2011).

In the region, a large part of the academic work on memory carried out in the last decade has had to do with traumatic experiences experienced by citizens, as reflected in the Truth Commissions established in several countries (those of Bolivia, Argentina, Mexico or, recently, Colombia are some examples) to clarify violations of human rights (Dobles, 2009).

In Colombia, there have also been various studies on historical and political memory (Betancourt, 2004; Lifschitz & Arenas Grisales, 2012; Rodríguez Pinzón, 2020) and on the relationship of memory with identity (Gómez Montañez & Reyes Albarracín, 2012).

Precisely, and as a result of the internal conflict, the country is prolific in proposing work methodologies around cultural memory with human groups (Baltar-Moreno & López, 2019; Correa, 2013; Domínguez-Acevedo, 2019; Riaño Alcalá et al., 2009).

1.4. Facebook as a place of memory

Nora (1992) developed the concept of "places of memory" (Lieux de mémoire) to refer to the objects (material, geographical or abstract, intellectually constructed) where the collective memories of human groups converge. The collective memory is articulated around these objects so that the group can express and share their affections and emotions. De Almeida & Cardoso (2016) consider archives, cemeteries, monuments, associations, rituals, symbols or slogans, among others, as places of memory. But also social media, such as Facebook. In this sense, Pink et al. (2012), cited in Carrillo-Hidalgo (2016), observed that this platform was transforming the way of understanding the concepts of memory and temporality of images.

In a study on the photographic work carried out between 1875 and 1925 by a German anthropologist around an indigenous community in Peru, Cánepa-Koch (2018) noticed how these images of the past had gained relevance since 2005 through social networks (mainly Facebook). The museum was no longer the main mediator between the photographic object and the public. He also observed how Facebook had become a public arena for the debate on the legitimacy of the cultural identity of this indigenous community.

De Almeida & Cardoso (2016), in another study carried out on local communities on Facebook dedicated to the past of the city of Porto (Portugal), concluded that these communities that interact virtually on Facebook constitute a meeting place for collective memory. They highlighted the growing participation of users, which they attributed to citizen interest in the (re)construction of memories. For the researchers, these groups were helping to reinforce the sense of belonging to a territory, strengthening individual and collective identity.

Caci et al. (2019), in an investigation carried out in Italy among Facebook users, showed that there is a direct relationship between the personal experience that involves using networks as an information storage tool and the individual motivation to share autobiographical memory for the purpose of social bonding. In Ecuador, Carrillo-Hidalgo (2016) considering family photographic albums as places of memory, referred to the mnemonic nature of the family photographic image shared on the platform, reflecting on the ephemeral nature of virtual publications. In his opinion, this use of photography on Facebook represents a change in the archival value of photography.

Finally, De la Ossa (2022) analyzed one of the Facebook groups based on photography about Cartagena de Indias from the perspective of symbolic interactionism. He concluded that this type of virtual community fulfils a social function by enabling users to participate through photography in “dates, places, experiences and situations experienced by citizens, so that they, individually and through interaction that the page fosters, get an idea of what happened at that time” (p. 64).

2. Materials and Methods

An exploratory-descriptive study is presented with the aim of understanding the nature of these virtual memory communities. The research has investigated how interactions around memory and cultural identity develop in Facebook groups from the publication of vernacular photographs by their members.

To achieve this objective, a content analysis has been carried out on a universe of publications made by users in two Facebook groups about Cartagena de Indias: Fotos Antiguas de Cartagena (Old Pictures of Cartagena) (2022) and Historia de Cartagena (History of Cartagena) (2022). The suitability of the choice of this method rests on the benefits attributed to it by Krippendorf (1980), such as being able to work with a large amount of data while avoiding researcher bias as much as possible. Starting from the theoretical perspective of Bardin (1991), who define this method as "the set of communication analysis techniques aimed at obtaining indicators (quantitative or not) by systematic and objective description of the content of the messages" (p. 32), work has been performed with an intentional sample of publications in both virtual groups, taken at different moments in time. The work done by De la Ossa (2022), who took a sample of all the publications made in June 2019 in the group of Fotos Antiguas de Cartagena is used as a starting point. These data have been complemented with the collection of a new sample of publications made in the Historia de Cartagena group throughout February 2022.

The units of analysis have been the publications or posts with photographs and the comments made to them by the users. The inclusion criteria used by De la Ossa (2022) have been followed, so the publications with the highest number of comments were considered, and those that included videos, news and other elements were discarded. To collect these units, a content analysis sheet was made with the following variables (Table 1):

Table 1
Observation variables of the analysis sheet

Observation variables of the analysis sheet

Source: Created by author.

This sheet has yielded quantitative information to make basic descriptive inferences. To choose the categories that would be the object of analysis, they were initially reviewed from those elaborated by De la Ossa (2022) to later, based on the main themes that emerged in the sample, construct some categories of their own. These have been used to capture and qualitatively analyze the publications that, in both groups, generated more than 20 comments. The analysis was carried out following the procedures of the narrative investigation (Silva-Batatina, 2017).

Table 2
Categories of analysis prepared ad hoc and their definition

Categories of analysis prepared ad hoc and their definition

Source: Created by author.

Finally, to triangulate the information, in March 2022, three in-depth interviews were conducted with actors in the territory related to Facebook groups and the history of the city: (1) John Capella, administrator of the group Fotos Antiguas de Cartagena; (2) Orlando Deavila, historian and professor at the Universidad de Cartagena (University of Cartagena) and founder of the Historia de Cartagena group; and (3) Lorena Guerrero, historian and professor at the Universidad Tecnológica de Bolívar (Technological University of Bolívar).

3. Results

The Facebook platform allows access to basic information about the groups (Table 3). From it, we can affirm that, at the time of the observation (February-March 2022), both groups were active, had a considerable number of members and showed a high number of monthly publications.

Table 3
Basic information of the groups analyzed in March 2022
Basic information of the groups analyzed in March 2022

Source: Created by authors from data taken on March 27, 2022 from Fotos Antiguas de Cartagena (2022) and Historia de Cartagena (2022).

As a general sample, a total of 302 publications were collected in the selected months, of which 240 correspond to the group Fotos Antiguas de Cartagena (79%) and 62 to the group Historia de Cartagena (21%). In the first group, 66 different people published during the month analyzed. Of these, seven (11%) made more than 10 publications. In the second, 23 different people published, of which only one user (representing 4%) made more than 10 posts.

The main themes of the posts published in both groups have to do with architecture (19%), images of citizenship (19%), scenes of leisure and free time in the city (14%) and the fashion of the time (12%).

For the qualitative analysis, the publications of the sample that have obtained 20 or more comments have been selected, finding a total of 63 posts. Of them, in the sample of the Fotos Antiguas de Cartagena group, we found 59, compared to 4 of the Historia de Cartagena group.

As seen in Figure 1, posts related to images of citizenship and architectural motifs obtain a higher number of comments, followed by those related to leisure, fashion and means of transport. In a smaller proportion, we find popular characters, cultural events, monuments, landscapes and civil rituals.

Themes of the publications that have obtained the highest number of comments
Figure 1
Themes of the publications that have obtained the highest number of comments

Source: Created by author.

3.1. The usefulness of memory groups on Facebook

For John Capella (J. Capella, personal interview, March 7, 2022), the group shows the sentimental and historical value of photography, since “it helps to bring the history of a territory closer to many people who, before the social networks, did not have access to this type of graphic material”. Orlando Deavila (O. Deavila, personal interview, March 4, 2022) affirms that these groups serve to disseminate historical knowledge, a necessary fact in a context in which “the formation of the history of Cartagena and Colombia in the schools is quite precarious”.

These groups are performing a function that was once more linked to museums, archives and academic institutions. According to Capella, they constitute a kind of “popular photo library” that does not discriminate against anyone and that has an inclusive component that characterizes them. He gives the example of the Historical Photo Library of Cartagena de Indias (Fototeca Histórica de Cartagena de Indias), a foundation that currently guards an academic institution, but which in Capella's opinion is “alien” or “out of reach of the people of Cartagena.” This informant considers that this type of group takes from history the "elitism of the academic", bringing it closer to the people and thereby achieving that "it can be told by its true protagonists."

This is corroborated by Deavila, who welcomes the implication of a heterogeneity of users participating in these groups without being motivated by academic or museum purposes due to the inclusive and participatory nature of the platform: "They are no longer photographs of patrician families of the city posing," but the image of a bar in any neighborhood, which generates a more intimate connection with an average person. Facebook has created a suitable space for this”.

Thus, it is the photographs that show ordinary inhabitants, which come mostly from family photographic albums - which are initially shared, described and commented on by their relatives when they are published - that generate the greatest number of dialogs between users in both groups. Members encourage each other to share their family images and the contexts associated with them. An example of this is an image published by Pinzón (2019), a user who identifies himself as a great-grandson of a machinist on the old Cartagena-Calamar train who died while trying to avoid an accident and was named a hero by the mayor's office (Figure 2). The user tells the story of the death of his ancestor in his post and is congratulated for it by other members.

A user tells the story of a shared photo
Figure 2
A user tells the story of a shared photo

Source: Screenshot of the post published by Pinzón (2019) in the group of Fotos Antiguas de Cartagena (2022).

Historian Lorena Guerrero (L. Guerrero, personal interview, March 3, 2022) considers that this type of initiative shows citizen interest in history, believing that it should also be adopted by academia and museums “to reach other audiences for whom academic activity is not so attractive in principle”.

3.2. Groups, memory and cultural identity

Capella considers that everyone's memories are important "to recreate the history of our city and increase our sense of belonging to it", as well as highlighting "the idiosyncrasy of Cartagena." Deavila maintains that they allow a way to continue to maintain the link with the city and the culture of origin of its members and considers that this type of group builds what he calls “city memory”, “something useful because truly, until a few years ago, we had nothing”. However, he affirms that it will be necessary to wait to see with greater perspective if they truly contribute to generating a true sense of cultural identity.

For Guerrero, these groups are part of an important cultural and technological change that affects the way of understanding the past, in which social networks play a crucial role, since these initiatives value and recognize the existence of multiple memories and identities "that contribute to what we are as a city and as a culture ”, staging a different kind of discourse about the past.

The identity of a community is reflected in aspects such as customs and habits, civic and religious traditions, gastronomic culture or leisure spending. The images published by the users in the groups give a good account of this. Fashion is also an element closely related to the cultural identity of a territory over time. In one of the photographs showing a clothing store (Suárez, 2019), a user refers (Figure 3) to the male fashion that prevailed in the 1950s in the city, explaining the places where certain types of shirts, pants, shoes and socks were sold or the products that men used to comb their hair.

A user remembers where men's fashion was attended
Figure 3
A user remembers where men's fashion was attended

Source: Screenshot of comments arising from the post by Suárez (2019) in the group of Fotos Antiguas de Cartagena (2022).

The reflection of cultural identity in collective memory also has to do with the disappeared architectures and urban spaces. One of the posts that elicited the most comments (219) shows an image from 2005 of some kiosks located on a pier (Cabrera, 2019). From the image, users evoke traditions, gastronomic uses and customs linked to leisure time (Figure 4). A user relates these kiosks, now disappeared, with the cultural idiosyncrasy of Cartagena. Others, with the loss of the city for the original inhabitants.

Narration accompanying an image of now-absent kiosks
Figure 4
Narration accompanying an image of now-absent kiosks

Source: Screenshot of a comment arising from the post by Cabrera (2019) in the group of Fotos Antiguas de Cartagena (2022).

Finally, the languages and the proper ways of relating to a community are also defining aspects of its cultural identity. On Facebook, there is a permanent interaction between users through written language, where expressions, idioms and words specific to the community are constantly used.

3.3. The contribution to the history of the territory

Capella considers that the group has become a means of consultation for research, with various historians of the city participating in it. This is reaffirmed by Deavila, one of those local historians for whom, beyond photography, the groups provide valuable documentary resources. He claims to use them for his studies, for example, asking questions and solving doubts based on the responses of the members. "This is especially interesting in regard to dealing with recent history."

In the sample, we find several examples. In the group of Fotos Antiguas de Cartagena, Miller (2019) shows an image from the 1970s with a monument dedicated to a Virgin on a sector of the wall. The disappearance of the statue provokes laments and discussions about the places that the monuments should occupy. Another user tells how the monument got there, and a third recalls that in their childhood, they bathed and fished in that place.

Another example is the images of the sociocultural meeting places that have already disappeared. For example, cinemas and theaters were one of the most popular social and popular meeting points between the 1920s and the 1980s. A black and white publication (Romero, 2019) shows two cinemas-theaters in Cartagena that have now disappeared, the Rialta and Padilla theaters on Calle Larga. The members of the group share nostalgic memories (Figure 5) that go from the dances and films of the Mexican actor Cantinflas to the sale of peanuts.

Figure 5

Figure 5

Memories evoked from the images of the Rialta and Padilla theaters

Source: Screenshot of comments arising from the post by Romero (2019) in the group of Fotos Antiguas de Cartagena (2022).

Photographs of popular characters from the territory also produce a great deal of comments. One from 1974 (Páez, 2019) of the historic boxer “Kid Pambelé”, uploaded by a user who knew him as a neighbor and who narrates a series of personal anecdotes (Figure 6), generates 247 comments. The story of this user is matched with other anecdotes lived by other members with this popular character.

Memories of Kid Pambelé, a popular boxer in the region during the 1970s
Figure 6
Memories of Kid Pambelé, a popular boxer in the region during the 1970s

Source: Capture from post by Páez (2019) in the group of Fotos Antiguas de Cartagena (2022).

Guerrero believes that "we need to bring history closer to the people." This historian believes that these groups break with a unique vision of the past: “one thing that happened in this city is that history was written from a single line, and of course, how do you make someone feel part of something, if they do not feel represented in those stories?

3.4. Success factors and limitations of virtual memory pools

The people interviewed note some elements that they associate with the popularity of the groups. Thus, in Capella's discourse, we can locate the very nature of the interaction based on the enthusiasm and motivation of the members, “which has allowed not only the inhabitants of the city but also people who are in other cities and countries” to decide to share their family photos.

Another factor has to do with limiting potential conflicts, focusing the dialog on the history of Cartagena based on graphic images and photographs. "The members know that they will find themes common to all, but with a wide cultural spectrum", without deviating from the initial objectives of the group. There is therefore a constant search to maintain an inclusive group.

For Guerrero, the attraction of these groups lies in the fact that they collect other voices, which contributes to building a more inclusive and plural type of photographic memory, “where both the photos of the club and those of the popular market fit, and show us other nuances of the city that sometimes does not appear anywhere […] That makes people feel part of a common history”.

Deavila highlights the value of the intergenerational encounter that occurs in groups and points to a historical coincidence, with Facebook being one of the first social media platforms. Many of the users (unlike other networks such as Instagram that have younger audiences) were born from the second half of the 20th century, they have been in some way pioneers in the world of digital social networks thanks to Facebook and, because of their age, they necessarily have a greater memory field.

Capella and Guerrero coincide in pointing out as another element of success the fact that the groups have not only been limited to social networks but also that events and discussions (face-to-face and virtual) on the history of the city have been organized through them, which have strengthened them.

The people interviewed also point out some of their limitations. One of them has to do with the ephemerality of virtuality. That is why Deavila considers it important to “transcend” the groups and complement them with “more solid memory projects, which undoubtedly require resources”.

Capella wants to see there more an advantage than a disadvantage, since it is an open archive without access restrictions that, in his opinion, should be used by government and academic entities, “adapting to new realities and taking advantage of this historical and academic vein that the networks offer”.

Deavila points out as another limitation, from the historical and investigative point of view, the lack of reliable references of many of the published photographs. Guerrero considers instead that this may respond more to the needs of academics and that perhaps cataloging is not a priority of the network society, in which information is transported quickly.

4. Discussion

This exploration shows how one of the many uses of social media is to serve as places of memory in the sense constructed by Nora (1992). Tightly linked to the daily experience of users thanks to digital technology, this instrumental purpose exemplifies how in the network society “participatory and connected logics, where citizens become network users who participate in equal conditions from their mobile devices" are constructed (García-Ruiz & Pérez-Escoda, 2020, p. 2).

Virtual memory groups on Facebook exemplify what Bolter & Grusin, (2000) call "remediation." There is an "obligatory dialog" between traditional media (such as photography or video) and the digital medium. The digital medium - in this case Facebook - does not replace but rather modifies the original context of use of the traditional medium, which is adapted to new uses through a collective process.

In the groups, there is a permanent process of dialog around memory. Halbwachs (1950, cited in De Almeida & Cardoso, 2016), affirmed that collective memory will always be a phenomenon of social construction that needs an affective community (group), a time and a space. This is the case in the sample analyzed, where individual memories of past events are enriched by intersecting with those of other users. Each virtual community that meets and dialogs in this way constitutes what Nora (1992, cited in Seydel, 2014), called a lieu de mémoire: a memory environment, a virtual object shared by the members of a community of remembrance (a collectivity of memory).

The groups analyzed have become participatory meeting places where not only the center but also the peripheral spaces are visible in a democratizing exercise in which an intergenerational dialog is also built. The continuity of the group rests on the fact that it is constantly nourishing itself with images contributed by its participants and the exchange of stories around this material. They also allow a break with possible exclusive views of the past for which the "official" institutions of memory are sometimes criticized (Puello-Sarabia, 2008). The contents produced in these groups on the memory of the city are far removed, by their very participatory nature, from any hegemonic vision of the past that may be established by dominant groups or cultural elites. Cánepa-Koch (2018) points out that the published images are subjected to multiple online discussions, without a single text or caption serving as an anchor that gives a single interpretation. When there is horizontal participation in the reconstruction of the memory of the territory, the hegemony of the story of the past is broken, which becomes everyone's, since multiple memories, voices and identities are represented in them.

Cultural identity is represented both in the contents of the photographs shared by group participants and their descriptions and in the comments of the other members, as well as in the language used in the comments by the users: an identity element in which all kinds of idioms and expressions typical of the community are displayed.

The citizen dialogs generated in these virtual places of memory complement or even supplement a function that was previously reserved for public and academic institutions. In this respect, Chartier (2007, cited by De Almeida & Cardoso, 2016), considers that currently, with the democratization of the materialization of memory, the historian has lost the monopoly of representations of the past.

The virtual groups of memory rely essentially on vernacular photography, which comes from family photographic albums and archives. Their proliferation cannot be separated from the historical context in which they are born: the transition from analog photography to digital imagery and the proliferation and accessibility of devices that allow digitizing, editing and sharing images, along with the emergence of social media. Added to them is the growing sociological and political interest in collective memory.

These groups have become open and participatory virtual photographic archives, but they are fragile and potentially ephemeral and can disappear at any time if the platforms that support them disappear. In addition, its academic use as an archive requires caution due to the mostly anonymous nature of its documentary sources. The subjective nature of memory makes it manipulable. For this reason, some of the people interviewed propose to complement its use with other more rigorous memory projects.

Coromina & Padilla-Molina (2018) highlight how these virtual groups are generators of a huge amount of data, which makes their analysis difficult. Other researchers, without ignoring these weaknesses, propose how the wealth and quantity of information stored in social networks can be taken advantage of through the careful use of digital analysis methods provided by software tools such as Netvizz, NVivo or Gephi (Cobos & Nunes de Sousa, 2021). In fact, some big data researchers -Mayer-Schönberger & Cukier (2013, cited in Cobos & Nunes de Sousa, 2021, p. 4) - raise the need to adapt the scientific paradigm used thus far to analyze massive data "accepting the imprecision of the available methodologies".

In conclusion, these virtual groups, the product of a specific time and of a specific type of society (the network society), are so successful because they come to fulfill a social and cultural function: that of promoting and making participatory citizen dialog around a central element of collectivities and human groups, as is collective memory.


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Author notes

* Associate Professor of the Social Communication Program

Additional information

Translation to English : Elsevier Translation Services

To cite this article : Baltar-Moreno, Adolfo. (2022). Digital social networks as sites of memory: citizen dialogues through photography on Facebook. ICONO 14. Scientific Journal of Communication and Emerging Technologies, 20(2).

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ISO 690-2
ICONO 14, Revista de comunicación y tecnologías emergentes

ISSN: 1697-8293

Vol. 20

Num. 2

Año. 2022

Digital social networks as sites of memory: citizen dialogues through photography on Facebook

Adolfo Baltar-Moreno 1