The Social Media Reader

Edited by Michael Mandiberg
New York: New York University Press, 2012
288 pages / $24.00 paper; ISBN: 978-0-8147-6406-0 / $75.00 cloth; ISBN: 978-0-8147-6405-3
Review by Dawn Opel, Arizona State University


Part II offers two essays that look at the connection between social media and the sociality of its users.


In "Participating in the Always-On Lifestyle," danah boyd (2012) discussed what it means to be "online" and how that particular expression is not synonymous with "always-on." As boyd wrote:

I'm where these concepts break down. It's no longer about on or off really. It's about being in a world where being networked to people and information wherever and whenever you need it is just assumed. I may not be always-on the Internet as we think of it colloquially, but I am always connected to the network. And that's what it means to be always-on. (p. 71–72)
She debunked the concept that always-on people are "digital natives," but instead, "the networks of always-on-ers are defined more by values and lifestyle than generation" (p. 72). Further, this is not about technology or tools, but about "creating networks and layering information on top" (p. 73). Part of the always-on lifestyle that is discussed is its publicness. boyd called this a "strange and powerful aspect of this new world" because while it initially seems as though people are writing publicly to everyone, "realistically, the world at large is not reading the details of their lives. Instead, they are taking advantages of the affordances of these technologies to connect with others in a way that they feel is appropriate" (p. 75). Again, boyd showed us that the always-on lifestyle is not characterized by excess, as is often believed, but that "always-on-ers" instead attempt to achieve balance and negotiate the technological world that is available to them (p. 74). As she concluded, "[b]eing always-on and living a public life through social media may complicate our lives in new ways, but participating can also enrich the tapestry of life" (p. 76). As with many essays in the book, boyd's essay strives to provide a more rich and nuanced account of a term so critical to understanding contemporary social media.

Journalism, Web 2.0, and the New Audience

In his essay "From Indymedia to Demand Media: Journalism's Visions of Its Audience and the Horizons of Democracy," C.W. Anderson (2012) argued that the "simple dichotomy between audience ignorance and audience responsiveness obscures as much as it reveals and that multiple, complex, and contradictory visions of the news audience are buried within popular understandings of the relationship between journalism and Web 2.0" (p. 77). Anderson traced notions of the audience through three distinct journalistic movements: public journalism, Indymedia, and Demand Media. The first, public journalism, was a reform movement aimed at U.S. journalistic professionals between the late 1980s and the beginning of the twenty-first century (p. 81–82). This movement involved experiments aimed at re-invisioning journalists as "democratic actors," for example, "sponsoring deliberative forums to help highlight issues that local communities thought worthy of news coverage and sponsoring special election initiatives designed to transcend horse-race political reporting" (p. 82). The second movement, Indymedia, emerged with the Internet, and "argued for a deprofessionalized vision of citizen journalism in which people would be their own reporters" (p. 83). The third, Demand Media, arose from the ability of the Internet to collect data around what the audience seeks to read. Demand Media, Anderson argued, "is powered by algorithmic intelligence, and the key practitioners of this new, algorithm-based technique of 'deciding what's news' include communications companies like Demand Media, Seed, and Associated Content" (p. 84).

Anderson focused on how each model discussed above conceives of a journalism–audience relationship. He offered three concepts for evaluation of this relationship, asking how each model "thinks about the relationship between the news audience and journalistic institutions; thinks about the relationship of the audience to itself; and thinks about the relationship between the audience and political institutions" (p. 85). With these concepts, Anderson traced public journalism as "deliberative, agenda setting"; Indymedia as "participatory, agenda setting"; and algorithmic journalism as "nonparticipatory; agenda setting" (p. 86). Anderson concluded his analysis by arguing for more serious study of algorithmic journalism, which could have dramatic implications for the relationship between journalism in democracy, a relationship which, as he posited, may not exist at all (p. 92). His conclusion cast a cautionary, negative light on the future of journalism powered by formulas and quantifiable data, a far different tone than that exhibited by boyd earlier in this section of the book.

While boyd's essay is a must-read for anyone interested in Internet Studies, and Anderson's essay provides an excellent discussion of how the Web has shaped and will continue to shape the future of journalism, understanding what it means to be social on the Internet requires more than this section provides. Particularly, issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality and identity in social media spaces (which have been investigated by online scholars such as Lisa Nakamura) seem oddly missing from the "Sociality" section.