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Social Media Research

Communication technology and theory: Research into the interpersonal and social interface

Summary: We tend to view communication using social media, online tools and web sites, IM, chat, SMS, and so literally. Messages have authors, what they seem to be saying is what they in fact mean to say, and so on. The reader is the interpreter of what's communicated. But the medium not only transmits and enables talk by capturing communication on web pages, in chat and IMs, in emails, blog posts, and comments. It also produces the author: as an appearance or effect of the medium. This is enough to go on in most cases, but it does have implications. We do not "exist" online any more than a Second Life avatar exists in the real world. These are media of production. Presence, talk, intent, motive, character, personality.... all these are manufactured by the social media that are their means of production. HCI and human factors research has a deep field of study in social media.

The matter of identity: who's talking?

In face to face situations, we know who's talking as long as we can see. Separated by the medium of technology, however, we can at best recognize, and worst only guess at the identity of our communication partner(s).

  • How does a medium provide information to its users about who's talking?
  • How trustworthy is this information?
  • How does membership in a group offer certain guarantees of authenticity?
  • Is bracketing of the physical self a productive feature of certain kinds of communication?
  • Does it lead to interactions that address and problematize the self, identity, and issues of truthfulness and sincerity?
  • In what cases of communication are there benefits to anonymity, insincerity, playing with identity, use of multiple identities, and so on?
  • What mix of social and technical efforts are involved in securing the privacy of a mediated interaction?
  • How important is group privacy? How do participants secure their interaction, in spite of a medium's ability to propagate interactions beyond their circle?
  • How might privacy and security concerns impact future development and uses of networking technologies?

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