Michael Mackert and Marie Guadagno
Advertising as a field and industry often has a contentious relationship with both health communication and public health due to legitimate concerns about how advertising for certain products, such as alcohol and tobacco, could contribute to less-healthy decisions and behaviors. While acknowledging such concerns, advertisers and their approach to solving communication problems could also provide valuable lessons to those working in health communication. Indeed, advertising agencies are designed to develop creative and effective messages that change consumer behavior—and health communication practitioners and scholars aim to change population-level behavior as well. The perspective and approach of the account planner in the advertising agency—a role whose chief responsibility is to bring the consumer perspective into every step of the advertising development process and inspire effective and creative campaigns—would be particularly valuable to those working in health communication. It was account planning work that shifted traditional milk advertising from promoting it as a healthy drink to the iconic “got milk?” campaign, which positioned milk as a complement that makes other food better—an approach that drove positive sales after years of declining milk consumption. Yet many who work in health communication and public health often know little of how advertising agencies work or their internal processes that might be productively adopted. This lack of understanding can also lead to misperceptions of advertisers’ work and intentions. As an example, one might assume dense medical language in prescription drug advertising is intended to add unnecessary complexity to the advertisements and obscure side effects; instead, advertising professionals who work on prescription drug advertising have often been trained on clear communication—but cannot fully utilize that training because of regulations that require medically accurate terminology that might not be comprehensible to most viewers. Improved understanding of how advertisers can act as agents of change, and increased dialogue between the fields of advertising and health communication, could contribute to improved health communication research, practice, and policy.
Ivar John Erdal
Since the mid-1990s, media organizations all over the world have experienced a series of significant changes related to technological developments, from the organizational level down to the single journalist. Ownership in the media sector has developed toward increased concentration, mergers, and cross-media ownership. At the same time, digitization of media production has facilitated changes in both the organization and the everyday practice of journalism. Converged multimedia news organizations have emerged, as companies increasingly implement some form of cross-media cooperation or synergy between previously separate journalists, newsrooms, and departments. These changes have raised a number of questions about the relationship between organizational strategies, new technology, and everyday newsroom practice. In the literature on convergence journalism, these questions have been studied from different perspectives. Adopting a meta-perspective, it is possible to sort the literature into two broad categories. The first group consists of research mainly occupied with convergence in journalism. These are typically studies of organizational changes and changes in professional practice, for example increased cooperation between print and online newsrooms, or the role of online journalism in broadcasting organizations. The second group contains research primarily concerning convergence of journalism. This is mainly studies concerned with changes in journalistic texts. Some examples of this are repurposing television news for online publication, increased use of multimedia, and genre development within online journalism. It has to be noted that the two angles are closely connected and also share an interest in the role of technological development and the relationship between changing technologies, work practices, and journalistic output.
Intermediary liability is at the center of the debate over free expression, free speech, and an open Internet. The underlying policies form network regulation that governs the extent that websites, search engines, and Internet service providers that host user content are legally responsible for what their users post or upload. Levels of intermediary liability are commonly categorized as providing broad immunity, limited liability, or strict liability. In the United States, intermediaries are given broad immunity through Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act. In practice, this means that search engines cannot be held liable for the speech of individuals appearing in search results, or a news site is not responsible for what people are typing in its comment section. Immunity is important to the existence of free expression because it ensures that intermediaries do not have incentives to censor content out of fear of the law. The millions of users continuously generating content through Facebook and YouTube, for instance, would not be able to do so if those intermediaries were fearful of legal consequences due to the actions of any given user.
Brenda L. Berkelaar and Millie A. Harrison
Broadly speaking, cybervetting can be described as the acquisition and use of online information to evaluate the suitability of an individual or organization for a particular role. When cybervetting, an information seeker gathers information about an information target from online sources in order to evaluate past behavior, to predict future behavior, or to address some combination thereof. Information targets may be individuals, groups, or organizations. Although often considered in terms of new hires or personnel selection, cybervetting may also include acquiring and using online information in order to evaluate a prospective or current client, employee, employer, romantic partner, roommate, tenant, client, or other relational partner, as well as criminal, civil, or intelligence suspects. Cybervetting takes advantage of information made increasingly available and easily accessible by regular and popular uses and affordances of Internet technologies, in particular social media. Communication scholars have long been interested in the information seeking, impression management, surveillance, and other processes implicated in cybervetting; however, the uses and affordances of new online information technologies offer new dimensions for theory and research as well as ethical and practical concerns for individuals, groups, organizations, and society.
The six-month-long occupation of the historic city center of Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 became one of the first social uprisings to be thoroughly intermeshed with the creation of old and new media. Graffiti, performance protest, and independent radio proliferated and found its way into the many digitally recorded activist videos shown in community centers, on occupied television, distributed on DVD, and streamed on the Internet. Such media activism attests to continuities and discontinuities with what has been known as “New Latin American Cinema,” that is, the militant and social realist films made in analogue formats that were gaining world attention in the 1960s and 1970s. Oaxaca’s media activism also signals links among diverse leftist social movements and community and collaborative video in indigenous languages from throughout Latin America and beyond. Often called “indigenous video,” these works, like the New Latin American Cinema, have also spawned diverse scholarly interpretations. Although the Mexican student brigades and Super 8 video movement are not usually included in the critical scholarship on New Latin American Cinema, they, too, constitute important precursors for Oaxaca’s media activism and for collaborative and community media in the region. How to understand media militancy and anticolonial struggle, in turn, has changed. These changes reflect technological shifts from analogue film to digital video and the growing impact of indigenous social movements on the political left. Audiovisual militancy has shifted from the denunciation of U.S. neoimperialism and a Marxist-Leninist vision of revolution to broader, more open-ended, antiauthoritarian alliances among filmmakers, anarchists, feminists, indigenous organizations, and diverse other social movements that embrace decolonization. In contrast with anticolonial struggles, decolonization does not necessarily seek to oust a colonizing military force but aims to change colonial relations and their postcolonial aftermath under settler colonial conditions through prefigurative politics.
In the European Union, “television-like” is a legal concept, introduced in 2007 as a part of a political compromise over the scope of the new Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD). The European Commission had originally intended to expand the new rules on linear television programming to cover also all new nonlinear audiovisual content services intended for the same audiences online. This approach was objected to by the U.K. government, which saw it as potentially harmful for the growth of the new online media. Although left practically alone in the opposition in the EU decision-making process, the U.K. government managed with the support of the U.K. regulator Ofcom and the U.K. industry alliance to limit the new directive to cover only “television-like” online services. According to AVMSD Recital 24, these services should “compete for the same audience as television broadcasts” while “the concept of ‘programme’ should be interpreted in a dynamic way taking into account developments in television broadcasting.” The vagueness of this concept has left room for very different and even opposing interpretations. A number of national regulatory authorities in Europe as well as the Court of Justice of the European Union argue that parts of some newspaper’s websites can also be classified as video-on-demand services, while Ofcom has systematically excluded all the audiovisual services on the websites of British newspapers from regulation.
Creating a clear definition of “TV-like” content or services is difficult not just because of the vague wording of the EU directive or digital media convergence, but because the whole concept is based on another set of concepts, which definitions are highly dependent on time and context: television, program, and channel as a practice of packaging content into a linear transmission schedule. Early TV was indeed showing radio programming in production, or radio with pictures. From a contemporary perspective, full-length films may seem to be typical content for television, but most of them have originally been made for theatrical distribution. Over the years, audiovisual media formerly known as television has expanded on multiple platforms and its content has also been available in different on demand-type formats for several decades. So depending on your perspective, there is either a plentitude of “TV-like” content services besides the genuine TV or a wide variety of different flavors of television. Currently, it can be argued whether TV is in terminal decline or just integrating with mobile and online media, but it is obvious that any efforts to define “TV-like” content could make sense only as long the traditional, linear type of (broadcast) TV continues to have an important role in our societies and media cultures.
Courtney Barclay and Kearston Wesner
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Drones armed with cameras have allowed journalists to capture images from new perspectives and in places previously unreachable. Footage of volcanic eruptions, war-torn villages, and nuclear disaster areas have all been made possible with drone technology. However, this same technology presents risks to personal privacy.
Since before Warren and Brandeis penned the oft cited Right to Privacy, newsgatherers have tested the boundaries of society’s notion of privacy. The development of new technologies at the time, such as the snap camera, made photography a faster, more efficient endeavor. Warren and Brandeis recognized that the increased photographic recording of society threatened individual privacy on a scale never before imagined. More than a century later, the use of new technology—drones outfitted with cameras and other imaging devices—has once again ignited debate over how to protect an individual’s privacy while ensuring journalists’ ability to gather news.
The traditional remedy for intrusive journalism has been through tort law, which requires an individual to show that she or he had a reasonable expectation of privacy. By and large, these laws have favored journalists; however, that result is usually based on the fact that the newsgathering activity occurred in a public place rather than any recognition of the importance of newsgathering. State lawmakers have begun to address drone photography with a wide variety of approaches that would move away from this public place exception—from prohibiting photography over private property to prohibiting any photography without someone’s consent, even in a public place.
The press has recognized the cost to individual privacy incurred by use of technologies such as drone photography. Professional codes of ethics instruct journalists to minimize harm to the public, requiring an “overriding” public interest to invade someone’s privacy. The Professional Society of Drone Journalists’ Code of Ethics addresses the additional responsibilities inherent to drone technology. Under this code, journalists should record only public spaces and delete any images of individuals in a private space.
Drone technology represents only one of the latest developments in surveillance used for law enforcement, commercial enterprise, and journalism. However, its growth and the gaps in privacy tort law underscore the importance of strong codes of ethics that serve the interests of both newsgathering and individual privacy.
Pamela J. Shoemaker
One of the oldest social science theories applied to the study of communication, the gatekeeping approach emphasizes the movement of bits of information through channels, with an emphasis on decision points (gates) and decision-makers (gatekeepers). Forces on both sides of a gate can either help or hinder the information’s passage through a channel. The gatekeeping process shapes and produces various images of reality, not only because some bits of information are selected and others rejected, but because communication agents put information together in different ways. In addition, the timing and repetition of information can affect the prominence of events or topics and can influence the probability of future information diffusion.
Gatekeeping was originally modeled as a series of linear processes within the mass media, but in the late 20th century the flow of information through the mass and social media began to interact. Information is now understood to flow among journalists, among social media users, and among agents of both types of media. All such communication agents are gatekeepers. In addition, we can study these networked interconnections as one level of analysis, with the supra-gatekeepers (such as Facebook or Twitter) adding their own gatekeeping processes over and beyond those of their own clients of the mass media.
In addition to looking at various pairwise relationships between gatekeepers, gatekeeping theory should go beyond to instead consider the entire web of gatekeepers as a whole or system. A system is composed of elements (gatekeepers), interactions (relationships among them), and a goal or function. Multiple functions have been proposed by 20th-century scholars (such as socialization, entertainment, or surveillance) for the mass media, but scholars should now consider the function(s) of the gatekeeping system (mass and social media, as well as supra-gatekeepers) as a whole. Although each type of medium can be analyzed as its own system, such analysis would not facilitate new thinking about the various ways in which these partial systems affect one another and how the whole system functions beyond the simple addition of its parts.
Brenda L. Berkelaar and Millie A. Harrison
Information visibility refers to the degree to which information is available and accessible. Availability focuses on whether people could acquire particular information if they wanted. Accessibility focuses on the effort needed to acquire available information. In scholarly, industry, and popular press, people often conflate information visibility with transparency, yet transparency is generally a valued or ideological concept, whereas visibility is an empirical concept. Growing interest in studying and managing information visibility corresponds with the rapid growth in the use of digital, networked technologies. Yet, interest in information visibility existed prior to the introduction of networked information and communication technologies. Research has historically focused on information visibility as a form of social control and as a tool to increase individual, organizational, and social control and coordination. As a research area, information visibility ties to classic communication and interdisciplinary concerns, as well as core concerns of contemporary society including privacy, surveillance, transparency, accountability, democracy, secrecy, coordination, control, and efficiency. An emerging research area with deep historical roots, information visibility offers a promising avenue for future research.
Internet neutrality—usually net(work) neutrality—encompasses the idea that all data packets that circulate on the Internet should be treated equally, without discriminating between users, types of content, platforms, sites, applications, equipment, or modes of communication. The debate about this normative principle revolves around the Internet as a set of distribution channels and how and by whom these channels can be used to control communication. The controversy was spurred by advancements in technology, the increased usage of bandwidth-intensive services, and changing economic interests of Internet service providers. Internet service providers are not only important technical but also central economic actors in the management of the Internet’s architecture. They seek to increase revenue, to recover sizable infrastructure upgrades, and expand their business model. This has consequences for the net neutrality principle, for individual users and corporate content providers. In the case of Internet service providers becoming content providers themselves, net neutrality proponents fear that providers may exclude competitor content, distribute it poorly and more slowly, and require competitors to pay for using high-speed networks. Net neutrality is not only a debate on infrastructure business models that is carried out in economic expert circles. On the contrary, and despite its technical character, it has become an issue in the public debate and an issue that is framed not only in economic but also in political and social terms. The main dividing line in the debate is whether net neutrality regulation is necessary or not and what scope net neutrality obligations should have. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States passed new net neutrality rules in 2015 and strengthened its legal underpinning regarding the regulation of Internet service providers (ISPs). With the Telecoms Single Market Regulation, for the first time there will be a European Union–wide legislation for net neutrality, but not recent dilution of requirements. From a communication studies perspective, Internet neutrality is an issue because it relates to a number of topics addressed in communication research, including communication rights, diversity of media ownership, media distribution, user control, and consumer protection. The connection between legal and economic bodies of research, dominating net neutrality literature, and communication studies is largely underexplored. The study of net neutrality would benefit from such a linkage.
Yvonnes Chen and Joseph Erba
Media literacy describes the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and produce media messages. As media messages can influence audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward various topics, such as attitudes toward others and risky behaviors, media literacy can counter potential negative media effects, a crucial task in today’s oversaturated media environment. Media literacy in the context of health promotion is addressed by analyzing the characteristics of 54 media literacy programs conducted in the United States and abroad that have successfully influenced audiences’ attitudes and behaviors toward six health topics: prevention of alcohol use, prevention of tobacco use, eating disorders and body image, sex education, nutrition education, and violent behavior. Because media literacy can change how audiences perceive the media industry and critique media messages, it could also reduce the potential harmful effects media can have on audiences’ health decision-making process.
The majority of the interventions have focused on youth, likely because children’s and adolescents’ lack of cognitive sophistication may make them more vulnerable to potentially harmful media effects. The design of these health-related media literacy programs varied. Many studies’ interventions consisted of a one-course lesson, while others were multi-month, multi-lesson interventions. The majority of these programs’ content was developed and administered by a team of researchers affiliated with local universities and schools, and was focused on three main areas: reduction of media consumption, media analysis and evaluations, and media production and activism. Media literacy study designs almost always included a control group that did not take part in the intervention to confirm that potential changes in health and risk attitudes and behaviors among participants could be attributed to the intervention. Most programs were also designed to include at least one pre-intervention test and one post-intervention test, with the latter usually administered immediately following the intervention. Demographic variables, such as gender, age or grade level, and prior behavior pertaining to the health topic under study, were found to affect participants’ responses to media literacy interventions.
In these 54 studies, a number of key media literacy components were clearly absent from the field. First, adults—especially those from historically underserved communities—were noticeably missing from these interventions. Second, media literacy interventions were often designed with a top-down approach, with little to no involvement from or collaboration with members of the target population. Third, the creation of counter media messages tailored to individuals’ needs and circumstances was rarely the focus of these interventions. Finally, these studies paid little attention to evaluating the development, process, and outcomes of media literacy interventions with participants’ sociodemographic characteristics in mind. Based on these findings, it is recommended that health-related media literacy programs fully engage community members at all steps, including in the critical analysis of current media messages and the production and dissemination of counter media messages. Health-related media literacy programs should also impart participants and community members with tools to advocate for their own causes and health behaviors.
Media technologies are at the heart of media studies in communication and critical cultural studies. They have been studied in too many ways to count and from a wide variety of perspectives. Yet fundamental questions about media technologies—their nature, their scope, their power, and their place within larger social, historical, and cultural processes—are often approached by communication and critical cultural scholars only indirectly. A survey of 20th- and 21st-century approaches to media technologies shows communication and critical cultural scholars working from, for, or against “deterministic” accounts of the relationship between media technologies and social life through “social constructivist” understandings to “networked” accounts where media technologies are seen embedding and embedded within socio-material structures, practices, and processes. Recent work on algorithms, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and platforms, together with their manifestations in the products and services of monopolistic corporations like Facebook and Google, has led to new concerns about the totalizing power of digital media over culture and society.
Jessica Fitts Willoughby
People who communicate health and risk information are often trying to determine new and innovative ways to reach members of their target audience. Because of the nearly ubiquitous use of mobile phones among individuals in the United States and the continued proliferation of such devices around the world, communicators have turned to mobile as a possible channel for disseminating health information. Mobile health, often referred to as mHealth, uses mobile and portable devices to communicate information about health and to monitor health issues. Cell phones are one primary form of mHealth, with the use of cell phone features such as text messaging and mobile applications (apps) often used as a way to provide health information and motivation to target audience members. Text messaging, or short message service (SMS), is a convenient form for conveying health information, as most cell phone owners regularly send and receive text messages. mHealth offers benefits over other channels for communicating health information, such as convenience, portability, interactivity, and the ability to personalize or tailor messages. Additionally, mHealth has been found to be effective at changing attitudes and behaviors related to health. Research has found mobile to be a tool useful for promoting healthy attitudes and behaviors related to a number of topic areas, from increased sexual health to decreased alcohol consumption. Literature from health communication and research into mHealth can provide guidance for health communicators looking to develop an effective mHealth intervention or program, but possible concerns related to the use of mobile need to be considered, such as concerns about data security and participant privacy.
Ran Wei and Larry Zhiming Xu
The ongoing revolution in information and communication technologies (ICTs) has fundamentally transformed the landscape of democracy and the way people engage in politics. From the configuration of media systems to the decision-making of the voting public, the changes have permeated through almost every level of society, affecting political institutions, political actors, citizen groups, and mass media. For each aspect, a synopsis of classical and emergent political communication theories, contemporary and contentious political issues, and cutting-edge research adds to the discussion of new media. The discussion is unfolded with an account of research of new media effects on politics in international setting and cross-cultural contexts with insights of how Western theories and research apply (or fail to) in international contexts.
Political economy approaches examine the power relations that comprise the production, distribution, and exchange of resources. They are distinguished from economics by a deeper concern for history, the social totality, moral philosophy, and praxis. Numerous schools of thought mark the political economy approach including early conservative, communitarian, and Marxian perspectives. Today, neoconservative, institutional, neo-Marxian, feminist, environmental, and social movement based approaches offer a wide variety of political economies. Communication scholars have drawn on political economy approaches to carry out research on media technologies, including broadcasting, telecommunications, and computer communication. In doing so they have developed distinctive geographic perspectives covering North America, Europe, and the less developed world.
Political economy approaches are built on specific philosophical assumptions including a range of epistemologies that, on one end of a continuum, accept the reality of both concepts and observations and, at the other, claim that all explanations can be reduced to one essential cause, such as the economy or culture. Political economy approaches also range from perspectives that emphasize social change, social processes, and social relations to those that focus on social structures and institutions.
Political economy approaches tend to concentrate on three processes that make up the main starting points for political economy research on media technologies. Commodification is the process of transforming things valued for their use into marketable products that are valued for what they can bring in exchange. This can be seen, for example, in the process of turning a story that friends tell one another into a film or a book to be sold in the marketplace. Spatialization is the process of overcoming the constraints of geographical space with media and technologies. For example, social media surmounts distance by bringing images of world events to every part of the globe and companies use media technologies, now often comprised of cloud computing, big data analytics, the Internet of Things, and telecommunications networks, to build global supply chains. Finally, structuration is the process of creating social relations, mainly those organized around social class, gender, and race. With respect to social class, political economy approaches describe how access to the mass media and new communication technologies is influenced by inequalities in income and wealth, which enable some to afford access and others to be left out. Political economy approaches are evolving in response to challenges from cultural studies approaches. Political economies of media technologies are now placing greater emphasis on international communication, on communication history, on standpoints of resistance, on new media technologies, and on new media activism.
Henry A. Giroux
Education in society occurs across both formal and informal spheres of communication exchange. It extends from schools to diverse cultural apparatuses such as the mainstream media, alternative screen cultures, the Internet, and other spaces actively involved in the construction of knowledge, values, modes of identification, and agency itself. The modern era is shaped by a public pedagogy rooted in neoliberal capitalism that embraces consumer culture as the primary mechanism through which to express personal agency and identity. Produced and circulated through a depoliticizing machinery of fear and consumption, the cultural focus on the pursuit of individual desires rather than public responsibilities has led to a loss of public memory, democratic dissent, and political identity. As the public sphere collapses into the realm of the private, the bonds of mutual dependence have been shredded along with the public spheres that make such bonds possible. Freedom is reduced to a private matter divorced from the obligations of social life and politics only lives in the immediate. The personal has become the only sphere of politics that remains.
The rise of the selfie as a mode of public discourse and self-display demands critical scrutiny in terms of how it is symptomatic of the widespread shift toward market-driven values and a surveillance culture, increasingly facilitated by ubiquitous, commercial forms of digital technology and social media. Far from harmless, the unexamined “selfie” can be viewed as an example of how predatory technology-based capitalism socializes people in a way that encourages not only narcissism and anti-social indifference, but active participation in a larger authoritarian culture defined by a rejection of social bonds and cruelty toward others. As with other forms of cultural and self-expression, the selfie—when placed in alternative, collective frameworks—can also become a tool for engaging in struggles over meaning. Possibilities for social change that effectively challenges growing inequality, atomization, and injustice under neoliberalism can only emerge from the creation of new, broad-ranging sites of pedagogy capable of building new political communities and drawing attention to anti-democratic structures throughout the broader society.
S. Anne Moorhead
Social media used for communication purposes within healthcare contexts is increasing and becoming more acceptable. The users of social media for healthcare communication include members of the general public, patients, health professionals, and health organizations. The uses of social media for healthcare communication are various and include providing health information on a range of conditions; providing answers to medical questions; facilitating dialogue between patients and between patients and health professionals; collecting data on patient experiences and opinions used for health intervention, health promotion, and health education; reducing stigma; and providing online consultations. With emerging advances over time, including new platforms and purposes, these uses will change and expand, increasing usability and thus providing more opportunities to use social media in connection to healthcare in the future. However, both patients and health professionals may require training to fully maximize the uses of using social media in healthcare.
Social media has numerous benefits for healthcare communication, including increased interactions with others; more available, shared, and tailored information; increased accessibility and widening access; and increased peer/social/emotional support. While there may be further benefits of using social media in healthcare, there are many limitations of social media for healthcare communication as well. The main reported limitations include a lack of reliability; quality concerns; and lack of confidentiality and privacy. From the available evidence, it is clear that maintaining patient privacy as well as the security and integrity of information shared are concerns when using social media.
As patients and members of the general public use social media widely, some may expect it in healthcare, thus it important for health professionals and organizations to manage expectations of social media in healthcare communication. This results in challenges ranging from encouraging staff to use social media to dealing with user problems and complaints. It is recommended that organizations embrace social media but have a specific purpose for each activity and platform while continually monitoring traffic. Regardless of the nature or size of the healthcare organization, it is time to adopt appropriate guidelines for the use of the social media in healthcare communication to address the challenges and the growing expectations of using social media, especially within healthcare contexts. The key message is that social media has the potential to supplement and complement but not replace other methods to improve communication and interaction among members of the general public, patients, health professionals, and healthcare organizations.
Jingsi Christina Wu and Kara S. Alaimo
In August 2016, on the heels of the summer heat surrounding the Olympics, a major celebrity family scandal gripped mainland China. The nation watched closely as a well-known actor struggled through revelations about his wife’s scandalous infidelities, her disgraceful possession over their family properties, and most dramatically, her unilateral decision to flee to America with their two children—all while their divorce unfolded in front of the nation’s gaze. Not a political affair, this scandal was able to attract as much publicity as the Chinese people were thirsty for. Sina Weibo (Microblogging) became one of the biggest winners of this storm, as its NASDAQ stock price rose 7.05% the day after the actor made his announcement on Sina Weibo about his plan to divorce, and Sina Weibo’s market value broke through 10 billion U.S. dollars for the first time (according to Sohu Business in 2016). Within 14 hours of that announcement, the actor’s original Sina Weibo post had been forwarded 520,000 times and commented on 1,240,000 times (according to Sohu Business in 2016). Like all other major news events, many of which are often more politically sensitive and civically relevant, ordinary citizens in mainland China have grown used to looking to their social media sites for information and guidance. As of December 2015, mainland China’s social media population reached 530 million, amounting to 77% of its total Internet users (according to CINNIC in 2016). A Western media invention, social media platforms have largely permeated the lives of regular Chinese users, although not without “Chinese characteristics.” This article reviews an important body of literature that takes keen interest in the civic implications of mainland China’s social media sites, which render themselves more relevant than ever in everyday life as well as amid high-profile public events.
Following in the footsteps of many influential foreign Internet sites, including Google and the New York Times, such leading social media entities as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have all been blocked by the Great Firewall of China, officially known as the Golden Shield Project. This exclusive characteristic, along with other unique Chinese phenomena, has given rise to a separate social media universe that China calls its own. This article draws connections among explorations about the civic significance of China’s social media landscape for the world’s largest Internet population (according to CNNIC in 2008). While unique Chinese conditions do not necessarily disconnect China’s users from universal features of social media use, this article focuses specifically on works that examine how local social media platforms have shaped civic engagement in mainland China’s restrictive political environment.
Like the spread of Internet technology to modern China, recent developments in social media have invited competing narratives about their democratic implications, which often echo Western academia’s evaluative position taking between utopian and pessimistic narratives of digital technology’s social impact. The former state that Chinese citizens have availed themselves of the unprecedented opportunities afforded by social media to keep governmental actions in check, whereas the latter voice the concern that social media simply provide new and more ready channels for governmental monitoring and manipulating of public opinion.
In 2010, Deng and Jing suggested that although the concept of civil society originated in the West, we need to understand it as historically, culturally, and socially specific. The Chinese civil society, according to the two scholars, is both separate from and interdependent with the state. Its origin stemmed from China’s state-guided transition from a planned economy to marketization, leading China’s civil society to be more dependent on state policies, while the Western civil society gains more independence from private capital. Deng and Jing note that theories of state-society relations have primarily positioned the two as confrontational entities and instead propose a “Positive Interaction Theory (BIT)” for the case of China. Under this notion, the state allows for the civil society’s independent operation and protects it with laws and abstract legislation. While there is great diversity within the civil society and often conflicts of interest, the state should interfere and mediate in legal and economic terms, when members of the civil society fail to reconcile on contractual grounds.
Under BIT as an ideal type, Deng and Jing asserted that the state should not intervene in the civil society’s political rights, and the latter should reserve the freedom to organize their political voices and push for democratization. The closer state-society relation can be to this ideal, the more robust a civil society will be. Once China’s civil society establishes its independence and autonomy, the scholars suggest, it will then participate in China’s politics and provide effective checks and balances on state decision making. However, these two stages are not neatly separate from each other. As can be seen in the cases reviewed in this article, the Chinese civil society in its current state is not a unitary and static entity. While limited in sensitive political and religious domains, it has achieved a strong voice in other social issues and positive interaction with the state at times.
This investigation into a burgeoning literature on social media in mainland China finds that although the Chinese people’s use of social media does not strike one as immediately liberating in terms of new political freedom, it bears the potential of creating a civil society that may be particularly meaningful for the idiosyncratic political environment of China. In other words, there may be a lot left to desire, but researchers can look more closely into the various ways in which users in China actively, and often creatively, organize their voices and actions via new social media outlets. In the absence of a democracy, a civil society continues to emerge.
John D. H. Downing
Social movements are the matrix of many forms and formats (technologies, genres) of media that contest dominant power. Such media are in many ways the lifeblood of such movements. Media activism denotes collective communication practices that challenge the status quo, including established media. Frequently, such media are underfunded or unfunded and have a much shorter life cycle than capitalist, state, or religiously funded media. They are a “tribe” within a much larger continent of nanomedia (also called alternative media and citizens’ media). Their functions may spill over at times within the operation of established media, especially in times of social turbulence and crisis.
The “dominant power” in question may be quite variously perceived. Extreme-right populist movements, as in several European countries, may define the political establishment as having betrayed the supposed racial purity of the nation, or in the case of India’s Islamophobic Hindutva movement, as having traduced the nation’s religious purity. Labor movements may attack capital, feminist movements, or patriarchal and sexist structures. Sometimes these movements may be local, or regional; other times, they are transnational.
The impact of these media is still a matter of considerable debate. Often, the debate begins from a false premise—namely, the frequently small size and/or duration of many social movement media projects. Yet women’s right to vote and the abolition of slavery in the Americas were not won overnight, and neither was the dismantling of South Africa’s racist apartheid system. The Hindutva movement goes back over a century. We should not hold social movement media to a higher standard of impact, any more than we should ascribe instantaneous power to established media.
Social movements wax and wane, and so do their media projects. But the persistence of some such media activism between the peaks of movement activism is generally essential to the regeneration of social movements.
Susan J. Drucker and Gary Gumpert
Cities themselves function as media of communication. They are places where messages are created, carried, and exchanged by structures, infrastructures, and people. Urbanity is an age-old phenomenon undergoing radical transformation as developing means of communication redefine traditional notions of place and space. Urban communication meshes population density, technology and social interaction. Urban communication, like urban studies, is an interdisciplinary field that provides a fresh perspective from which to view the city and its transformation. The communication lens offers valuable perspectives and methodologies for the examination of urban and suburban life. It conceptualizes the city as a complex environment of interpersonal interaction, a landscape of spaces and places that shape human behavior, and an intricate technological environment.
The development of urban communication research and activities is traceable from the early works a diverse group of urbanists to more current research programs conducted by communication scholars. Urban communication foregrounds communication in the study of the urban landscape. The unique patterns and needs of urban dwellers and communities are examined in an age where cities are layered with media technologies. An increasing number of technologies enable information from the digital world to be layered onto the physical world through augmented realities, thereby altering the person–environment relationship by creating spaces in which users interact with their physical surroundings through digital media. The future of cities is increasingly influenced by media technology. Cities are global, connected, inclusive, livable, green, sustainable, mega, and smart. Cities have been identified as communicative cities. There are many ways of looking at communication and cities and the history and broad parameters of the growing area of urban communication.