Social network sites: New arenas for the construction of identities ‘Social media’ and ‘Web 2.0’ refer to a combination of economic, social and technological trends that laid the foundation for the next generation of the Internet in late 2004 — a more mature, distinctive medium marked by collaboration and participation, openness, and network effects (Musser et al. 2007). Nowadays, both terms are employed interchangeably to refer to any website or web-based application that enables speedy creation and distribution, creative commons and collaboration, and new forms of sociality, facilitating interaction,
generated/contributed content (Marwick 2010; Wesch 2007). Incorporating technologies like email, instant messaging, blog and wall posts, picture-sharing, music-sharing, VoIP, popular Web 2.0 sites include blogging platforms (Blogger, WordPress), microblogging applications (Twitter), social network sites (Facebook, MySpace, Google+, LinkedIn, academia.edu), photography and art sharing sites (Flickr, Photobucket, DeviantArt), video-sharing sites (YouTube, Vimeo), music and audio sharing (Last.fm, Spotify), mobile software (Foursquare), collaborative projects (Wikipedia), news aggregators (Digg), peer e-commerce (Etsy), virtual worlds (Second Life, World of Warcraft), livecasting (Skype) etc. Social network sites,1 also called online social networking sites (OSNs) (Back et al. 2010), online social networks (Heer and boyd 2005), simply social networks or, in a narrower sense, personal interactive homepages (PIHs) (Davis 2010), have been defined as web-based services which allow individuals to create a 1
For a debate on whether the term ‘social network sites’ is preferred to ‘social networking sites’, see boyd and Ellison (2007) and Beer (2008). Here, I deploy ‘social network’ to characterize the particular sites seeing ‘social networking’ as the activity of participating in such sites.
public or semi-public profile within a circumscribed system; articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, the so-called ‘friendship’; and view and browse not only their list of connections but also those made by others within the system (boyd and Ellison 2007: 211).2 This profile contains a bricolage of personal biographical information, in both textual and visual forms, which is presented via a template structure (Davis 2010: 1105). It should be mentioned here that in the majority of social media platforms users are invited to launch profiles with brief résumés adding contacts with similar tastes. SNSs, and Facebook more precisely, deal in the main with physical friendships and acquaintances that are initiated offline and then transferred to the virtual scenario. Against this backdrop, web 2.0 self-presentations are variable, based on the technological affordances and the immediacy of social context (cf. Marwick and boyd 2011). SNSs are accessible anytime from virtually everywhere (home, office, on the road) via any possible device (PC, notebook, netbook, mobile phone, tablet). What emerges of such a 24/7 sociability is a hybridized, networked self which, enabled by the affordances of SNSs, constantly seeks opportunities for expression and connection (Papacharissi and Yuan 2011: 99-100). These opportunities, as it will be demonstrated in the data analysis sections, can be materialized: (a) visually (the user as a social actor in the sense of “look at me and see how I am”), by dint of publishing photos and videos with comments (profile owner’s and friends’) on the SNSs wall; (b) enumeratively (the user as
For a thorough account on SNSs history, uses and scholarship, consult Thelwall (2009b).
provider of hobbies and cultural preferences); and (c) narratively (the user selfdescribes via status updates) (cf. Zhao et al. 2008: 1824-1825). Previous work on language and social network sites Since their advent in mid-2000s, SNSs, being the crossroads of new and old media, have been continually reshaping and expanding not only our social networks but also the communicative practices we use to sustain them, constituting a fresh and challenging context for research (Ellison et al. 2010: 141). Thus far the bulk of scholarship on social networking platforms comes from the disciplines of media (e.g. boyd 2007; Doutsou forthcoming; Papacharissi 2009) and cultural studies (e.g. Burgess and Green 2009), anthropology (e.g. Wesch 2009), information science (e.g. Wilkinson and Thelwall 2010), sociology (e.g. Grasmuck et al. 2009; Tufekci 2008) and psychology (e.g. Back et al. 2010). As far as linguistics and SNSs are concerned, there are interesting nascent studies, yet in a continually evolving digital society more intensive work is needed if we wish to fully capture the nuances of social networking communication and their impact on human linguistic behavior. To start with, Carroll (2008) and Das (2010), being sociolinguistically-driven, have explored the robustness of Puerto Rican Spanish and Bengali in the topologies of MySpace and Orkut respectively. Minority languages have been in the spotlight too, with Honeycutt and Cunliffe (2010) studying the use of Welsh in Facebook. Lenihan (2011) is interested in how the Facebook â€˜translationsâ€™ application can be used as a mechanism for bottom-up language policy. Androutsopoulos (2009; 2011) has looked at instances of multimodality, intertextuality and heteroglossia in
YouTube comments and MySpace profiles, embarking on his discourse-centred online ethnography, which I dissect in the next sections. Informed by corpus linguistics approaches, Thelwall (2008; 2009a) has analyzed swearing and ‘typographic slang’ in MySpace. Page (2010; forthcoming) applies narrative and stylistics tools to the study of Facebook status updates and Twitter hashtags. Identity construction has been addressed from a critical discourse analytical perspective in culture- and language-specific SNSs, the Danish Arto (Larsen 2007) and the Greek Pathfinder (Georgalou 2010). Kushin and Kitchener (2009), on the other hand, have employed computer-mediated discourse analysis to explore political discourse in Facebook. Lee (2009; 2011) specializes in the relationship between conventional literacy and new literacies on Facebook, having also dealt with glocal identities through multilingual writing practices on Flickr (Lee and Barton 2011). Lastly, the transformation of language learning due to web 2.0 technologies has constituted the core in Harrison and Thomas’s (2009) ethnography of Livemocha, an SNS which encourages collaboration among foreign language learners around the world.