Rhetorical Civic Engagements: Highlighting Productive Tensions

On both comment threads, individuals gathered to share their perspectives and beliefs on political and civic issues. Whether questions of women's rights and health issues, the federal budget, or even the purpose of a social media space like Pinterest, commenters and Pinterest users expressed their opinions and ideas, engaging rhetorically as digital citizens. Again, although these conversation threads did not clearly indicate that minds had been changed and opinions shifted (at least, not within the record offered by the comment threads themselves), I suggest that any such rhetorical discussion, negotiation, and meaning making can become, as W. Lance Bennett (2008) pointed out, a form of digital civic engagement. As individuals inhabit and compose within social media spaces, such digital civic engagements illustrate how the compositions and civic engagements that are created and shared within social media spaces are rhetorically significant.

This exchange highlights where and how rhetorical and civic engagement is happening. As Bennett (2008) noted, individuals are generally moving away from the more traditional and government-sponsored forms of civic engagement and are turning, instead, to "forms of shared activity online (from blogging, to conflict and protest behavior in gaming, fan, and entertainment sites) [which] represent forms of civic or media engagement" (para. 3). The civic and rhetorical engagement on Pinterest shows how online civic engagement can take shape within social media spaces. This particular conversation demonstrates civic engagement operating at multiple levels—both as a venue for conversations about national politics as well as local, community politics (that is, what is acceptable and what is not within the shared, Pinterest space). In these examples, the conversations primarily focuses on rhetorical and civic engagement of a more traditional character—discussing and debating national political issues. Secondarily, but equally valuable, the participants in this conversation discuss the purpose and function of the social media space itself, engaging as a community and endeavoring to self-define and set the parameters for how the space should operate. At both levels, rhetorical and civic engagement plays out as a primary concern, and although this rhetorical situation is one that makes the threads of civic engagement in social media spaces particularly clear, as it focuses on political content, these same issues likely are operating in a variety of conversations, perhaps covering any topic. In short, posting a "f*cking recipe" can itself become seen not just as sharing, as if sharing were passive and arhetorical (as Tekobbe [2013] noted), but also as an active form of rhetorical composing and civic engagement.