Facebook and the discursive construction of the social network

Tagg, Caroline and Seargeant, Philip (2015). Facebook and the discursive construction of the social network. In: Georgakopoulou, Alexandra and Spilioti, Tereza eds. The Routledge Handbook of Language and Digital Communication. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 339–353.

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This chapter examines what is sociolinguistically interesting about Facebook as a medium of communication. Facebook has emerged as one of the most popular and successful social network sites in the world since its founding in 2004. It functions by offering two core elements: opportunities for people to make social connections; and possibilities for them to manage and exercise self-presentation. In other words, the fundamental social dynamics at the core of the use of Facebook are the building and maintenance of networked relationships, and the expression of identity. Both of these are achieved via discourse – via the marshalling and manipulation of language and other semiotic means – and both are also key concerns of sociolinguistic enquiry.

Communication via Facebook occurs in an online context which differs in various respects from offline communication and from the interactional dynamics that sociolinguistics has traditionally focused upon, however. Some of the features which characterise this new context are: the way that interactions have the potential to operate on a global scale with ease and lack of expense; the way they can reach a potentially very large and indiscriminate audience, resulting in the dissolution of a clear boundary between private communication and public broadcast; and the way that utterances lose a sense of the ephemeral in a medium where they can be saved, copied, recopied and forwarded without effort. The result of this changed interactional environment is that new conventions and strategies of communication are emerging, particularly around negotiating the implications of talking in a ‘semi-public’ space. This chapter will explore the communicative dynamics that have been developed by users of Facebook; it will look at the language-related practices that have evolved around the affordances that the site offers; and will consider the profound implications that communication via Facebook is having for patterns of social organisation and acts of identity in the twenty-first century.

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