Is there a Need for Clear Definitions of Social Media for Interdisciplinary Research?

In the first class of TECH621, we attempted to define what a social networking site (SNS) entails. After taking a look at the readings, I feel like no one really has a concrete definition. The definition that Boyd and Ellison (2007) mention is the one I agree with most:

We define Social Network sites as web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The

Among the readings, there seem to be similar qualities for definitions of social media, but no universal definition. That can be a serious problem when the social sciences attempt to evaluate the issues of SNS in their fields.

Let’s use political science as an example. There’s been some work, but not an exhaustive amount of work done to look at SNS. Much of the articles I have read from the journals, the articles tend to conclude in a very similar light: SNS has some effect, but it’s hard to tell what effect. Most of them even stop at the idea of the Internet. However, I think a larger part of the problem is that there is a need for a clear definition of social media.

In political science there is a possible need to differentiate social media and Internet use. Because of this there may be somewhat of a reluctance to study SNS in many parts of the political science discipline. The journal articles tend to regard SNS as the same concept as “the Internet”, which is a plausible argument. From their standpoint, much of the Internet uses some semblance of social media. You can recommend Washington Post articles on Facebook, Tweet about a recent C-SPAN video, or even submit blog posts from The Monkey Cage to Reddit.

In political science research, however, definitions can be framed in many different contexts. For example, the definition of democracy differs among the authors of the literature. It sometimes creates hindrances to research, but it also can help illustrate points that are missed by other authors. I think in the case of a definition for social media, there is a need for a rigid definition to start with so that interdisciplinary research can be accomplished and further the study of SNS and other Internet utilities.

Boyd, Danah M. and Nicole B. Ellison. 2007. Social Networking Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13 (1), article 11.


About Mike Brownstein

I'm a Political Science MA student, and taking Tech 621 at Purdue University
This entry was posted in Commentary, Personal Reflections, Questions and Fears and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Is there a Need for Clear Definitions of Social Media for Interdisciplinary Research?

  1. genxrecon says:

    This blog really speaks to the value of O’Reilly’s article “What is Web 2.0”. As a GenX’er unfamiliar with where social media fell in the space of the Internet, this article really helps to create a mental map of the landscape (where SM resides now), the boundaries (how SM bumps up against the “traditional” web world in both similarities and differences), the undiscovered horizon of future SM uses (how the SM users will innovate the future), and the culture of Web 2.0 embedded in the people traverse across & call home to the SM space.

    Perhaps the issue of social media in the political realm is not so much a lack of an absolute definition, but rather the absence of a relative positioning that is defined by both what SM is (and is not), as well as its presence among (or absence from)other web based media, applications, etc. I am reading some interesting (but oh so hard to read) work by Gieryn (1999) that speaks to this notion of providing clarity for something by cartographic representation. You may find the link to this high level overview some value for consideration, if for no other reason than to make your brain itch a bit more!…

    • mbrownst says:

      That is definitely an interesting point with Gieryn (1999). I definitely agree that everything is definitely worth the research (definitions or not) in SM because it is what is being used. Even if SM were to end tomorrow, I still think that there is a definite need to study what we have because it has changed the way we interact in person. Also when politicians are using SM and SNS in their campaigns, there’s definitely a change in communication style.

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