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Digital Media

Transformations in Human Communication

Edited By Paul Messaris and Lee Humphreys

The age of digital media has given rise to a new social world. It is a world in which the transmission of information from the few to the many is steadily being supplanted by the multi-directional flow of facts, lies, and ideas. It is a world in which hundreds of millions of people are voluntarily depositing large amounts of personal details in publicly accessible databases. It is a world in which interpersonal relationships are increasingly being conducted in the virtual sphere. Above all, this is a world that seems to be veering off in unpredictable ways from the trends of the immediate past. This book is a probing examination of that world, and of the changes that it has ushered into our lives.

In more than thirty essays by a wide range of scholars, this must-have second edition examines the impact of digital media in six areas – information, persuasion, community, gender and sexuality, surveillance and privacy, and cross-cultural communication – and offers an invaluable guide for students and scholars alike. With one exception, all essays are completely new or revised for this volume.

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Chapter 34: Platforms Intervene (Tarleton Gillespie)


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Platforms Intervene

Tarleton Gillespie

Platforms matter. This is now, I think, becoming a settled fact in social media research. Their technical design, economic imperatives, regulatory frameworks, and public character have distinct consequences for what users are able to do, and in fact do (Baym & boyd, 2012; Beer, 2009; Beer & Burrows, 2007; Braun, 2015; Burgess & Green, 2009; Clark et al., 2014; Gehl, 2014; Gerlitz & Helmond, 2013; Gillespie, 2010; Grimmelmann, 2015; Langlois, 2013; Langlois, Elmer, McKelvey, & Devereaux, 2009; McVeigh-Schultz & Baym, 2015; Postigo, 2016; Sandvig, 2015; Sharma, 2013; Snickars & Vonderau, 2009; Taylor, 2004; Tushnet, 2008; Vaidhyanathan, 2012; Van Dijck, 2013; Vonderau, 2014; Weltevrede, Helmond, & Gerlitz, 2014). For some reason, it remains common in some fields to study social dynamics that take place on platforms while ignoring the platforms themselves—treating them as simply there, irrelevant, or designed in the only way imaginable. At this point, that’s like studying human social dynamics inside amusement parks, without so much as a gesture toward how the parks are designed, arranged, and run. We should no longer be studying, say, political engagement online, without explicitly examining how social media platforms structure the possibilities for political engagement online, and how the dynamics of political engagement often align, and sometimes push back against, these structurings. Platforms are intended to shape social activity, and they could be designed differently than they are.

So platforms matter, but that’s not the...

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