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Article

Aubrey Bloomfield and Sean Jacobs

The Internet and social media increasingly are becoming sources about the African past and present in ways that will influence to some extent how history will be learnt and the form that methods of historical research will take. Social media have increasingly dislodged print journalism as “the first rough draft of history” and tended to democratize and hasten information sharing and communication. Historians are working through difficult debates about the Internet as a source archive, the usability of websites, and related matters. The debate over online resources and their use in historical and other studies on one level remains unresolved. Nevertheless, online sources add another rich layer to narratives, stories, and perspectives that are already being recorded or told, and in this regard they will add to the storehouse of empirical data to be crunched by future historians.

Article

While initial research on climate change communication focused on traditional media, such as news coverage of climate change and pro-environmental campaigns, scholars are increasingly focusing on the role of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Sina Weibo. Social media platforms provide a space for three important domains of climate change communication: information, discussion, and mobilization. First, social media platforms have been used by scientists, activists, journalists, and ordinary people to share and receive reports about climate change. Policymakers and academics also use social media for climate change research. Second, social media platforms provide users with a space to discuss climate change issues. Scientists and journalists use social media to interact with the public, who also use social media to criticize policies, as well as media coverage. Finally, social media platforms have been used to coordinate rescue and relief operations in the aftermath of climate change–related disasters, as well as to organize movements and campaigns about climate change. However, most research about climate change communication in social media spaces are based on quantitative analysis of tweets from Western countries. While this body of work has been illuminating, our understanding of social media’s increasingly important role in climate change communication will benefit from a more holistic research approach that explores social media use in climate change communication across a variety of platforms, cultures, and media systems.

Article

Researchers across varied disciplines have begun to explore social media as a new delta of communication; however, few are taking a hard look at social media as it relates to crime. Sites such as Twitter and Facebook increasingly are being used by law enforcement as tools for engaging in criminal investigation, improving public relations, and increasing public awareness. Similarly, persons engaging in crime increasingly employ such sites in novel and unique ways to network, exchange information, and execute and record criminal activities. A survey of research in fields ranging from computer science to sociology to communications demonstrates that both quantitative and qualitative research on and about social media have the capacity greatly to advance contemporary understanding of social organization and protest, crime and criminal behavior, and law and social control. For example, Facebook and Twitter have become key sources for gaining insights into criminal behaviors, such as gang activity, as well as on-the-ground data regarding significant events, such as the Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, the Black Lives matter movements, and elections of public figures. Other applications, such as Snapchat and Kik, provide the opportunity for immediate transmission of content and a new source of evidence to be used in criminal prosecutions. Studying social media from a criminal justice perspective, however, is a complex endeavor. While the Internet offers seemingly limitless opportunities for social organizing and networked engagement, the forum bears as much capacity for exclusion as it does for liberation. The growth of new social ills or crimes, such as “doxing,” “phishing,” and “revenge pornography,” for example, highlight that the confluence of immediacy of communication, perceived anonymity, and lack of moderation often renders the online environment threatening for perceived outsiders, particularly young women. On the other hand, as incidents, such as online threats against gamer Zoe Quinn and blogger Anita Sarkeesian, have come to light, online content is increasingly monitored, regulated, and controlled by its corporate ownership, who generally reveal little about how information is sorted, prioritized, and disseminated. As a researcher, one must be mindful that data, particularly qualitative data, collected from social media sites may not be random, representative, or generalizable. In addition, attendant to studying the Internet are unique ethical and privacy concerns not present in non-virtual fora. Many describe the Internet as a public sphere, and law enforcement often treats the online environment as a location in which Fourth Amendment privacy protections can be less rigorously observed. For researchers, however, it is essential to carefully consider whether the study of online discourse is archival or is human subjects research, and in the case of the latter, whether and how consent might be obtained. It is also important that researchers are attentive to the particular characteristics of the online site or sites they choose to examine, as the mission, rules, and practices of each site vary dramatically.

Article

Trevor Rubenzer

Social media refer to websites and other Internet applications that enable users to create and share content with other users, as well as to react to such content in various ways. As social media have become more accessible, in terms of both Internet access and ease of use, it has become one means by which people, nonstate actors, and governments can share their foreign policy priorities in an effort to receive feedback, engage in diplomacy, educate people, and attempt to influence foreign policy outcomes. Foreign policy practitioners and scholars have rushed to describe and begin to analyze the ways in which social media has become part of the foreign policy process. The social and political upheaval associated with the Arab Spring, some of which has been traced to both foreign and domestic use of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, created a greater sense of urgency among those who seek a greater understanding of the impact of social media on foreign policy. Thematically, much of the academic work concerning social media and foreign policy is conducted as part of the broader public diplomacy literature. Public diplomacy, which relates to efforts by international actors to engage with foreign publics in the pursuit of policy goals, can be advanced along a number of paths. However, given their accessibility, low cost, and ease of use, social media has become a critical tool for a wide variety of international actors running the gamut from governments to portions of civil society to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq Syria (ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIS based in part on the group’s territorial claims). Social media and foreign policy work can also be found in the political communication literature, in working papers and articles generated by foreign policy think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations, and in academic journals dedicated to area studies that often concentrate on specific episodes of social media used to influence foreign policy. Theoretical development in the area of social media and foreign policy is fragmented across disciplines and approaches. Network theories focus on interactions between parts of a network (in this case a social network); network analysis methods are sometimes employed as part of this theoretical framework. Other theories in this area focus on traditional problems associated with collective action and how these problems can be overcome by removing barriers to communication and lowering the cost of some types of political action. Different theoretical perspectives are often accompanied by different empirical results. Results vary from findings of a profound impact of social media on foreign policy outcomes to skepticism of the role played by social media in the face of other, potentially confounding, factors.

Article

Social media are increasingly ubiquitous communicative channels, used to create and maintain groups. Bearing several commonalities with computer-mediated communication more broadly, social media afford users opportunities to present both their social and personal identities, often concurrently, which can respectively activate intergroup and interpersonal communicative processes. Moreover, social media provide groups and their members some unique properties and opportunities for communication, which can both build and blur boundaries among groups. Thus, as individuals increasingly interact via services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, QQ, and other social media channels, it is important to consider the recursive relationships and effects among intergroup communication and the use of these tools: What about social media may affect the nature of group communication, and what about groups may affect how members use social media channels? Exploring the processes and effects of activated social identities, this chapter explores the potential for social media to both silo and span disparate groups, and for group communication within social media to spill over into other channels, including offline.

Article

Ana Deumert

The concept of Africa requires reflection: what does it mean to study a social phenomenon “in Africa”? Technology use in Africa is complex and diverse, showing various degrees of access across the continent (and in the Diaspora, and digital social inequalities—which are part and parcel of the political economy of communication—shape digital engagement. The rise of mobile phones, in particular, has enabled the emergence of technologically mediated literacies, text-messaging among them. Text-messaging is defined not only by a particular mode of communication (typically written on mobile phones, visual, digital), but it also favors particular topics (intimate, relational, sociable, ludic) and ways of writing (short, non-standard texts that are creative as well as multilingual). The genre of text-messaging thus includes not only short message service (SMS) and (mobile) instant-messaging (which one might call prototypical one-to-one text messages), but also Twitter, an application that, like texting, favors brevity of expression and allows for one-to-many conversations. Access to Twitter is still limited for many Africans, but as ownership of smartphones is growing, so is Twitter use, and the African “Twittersphere” is emerging as an important pan-African space. At times, discussions are very local (as on Ghanaian Twitter), at other times regional (East African Twitter) or global (African Twitter and Black Twitter); all these are emic, folksonomic terms, assigned and discussed by users. Although former colonial languages, especially English, dominate in many prototypical text messages and on Twitter, the genre also provides important opportunities for writing in African languages. The choices made in the digital space echo the well-known debate between Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: the Africanization of the former colonial languages versus writing in African languages. In addition, digital writers engage in multilingual writing, combining diverse languages in one text, and thus offer new ways of writing locally as well as shaping a digitally-mediated pan-African voice that draws on global strategies as well as local meaning.

Article

Byabazaire Yusuf, Lynne M. Walters, and Abdul Halim Mohamed

Social media platforms have emerged as a powerful communication strategy for school leaders, whether within a school or in the community as a whole. The potential for the heads of school to improve leadership connectedness and efficiency lies in the proper selection and use of available social media tools. This would consolidate their position and influence in a 21st-century learning environment. Social media tools provide efficient means for school leaders to mobilize and to build consensus on important matters among their subordinates or stakeholders before arriving at a final decision. They also can use social media tools to shape a vision of academic success for students, motivate academic staff in carrying out their duties in a diligent manner, and build support for their efforts by communicating directly with parents and the community. By spearheading the use of social media strategies, school leaders can inspire teachers to embark on a pedagogical shift by putting real-world tools in the hands of students. This would allow students to consume information, as well as to create artifacts of learning to demonstrate conceptual mastery. Students would become more motivated through active engagement and achievement by focusing on improving essential skills, such as collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and global connectedness. Allowing for distant access, social media also enhance the management zone and extend learning beyond classrooms and schedules. Because social media resources are varied and evolving, school leaders can establish an empowered and dynamic learning community of educators in which skills, knowledge, and thinking would be shared among them through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). Leaders also could form their own Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) to meet the diverse learning needs of their schools, acquire and share resources, access knowledge, receive feedback, connect with both educational experts and practitioners, and discuss proven strategies to address teaching, learning, and leadership concerns. Furthermore, a school leader can create specific social media channels to collectively engage teachers, heads of departments, coordinators and community leaders. This would enhance the sharing of instructional ideas and strategies, policy issues, and positive aspects of school culture that promote community pride. In this way, a school would not only provide a healthy environment for sharing ideas and collaboration, but would improve the teaching and learning process and attract the enthusiastic participation of stakeholders in school affairs. Lastly, school leaders can employ social media platforms to engage the outside community in an appropriate manner to improve their institutional image and relationships with others. Thus, a vibrant social media strategy would provide an efficient means to manage content and communicate the most accurate, timely, and relevant information, based on appropriate levels of transparency. It would also provide a means of interaction between the school leaders and community stakeholders, enabling them to keep these community stakeholders updated on either the current or most important aspects or events within the schools, hence promoting community participations in school affairs.