Responding (or not) on Facebook: A sociolinguistic study of Liking, Commenting, and other reactions to posts
West, Laura E.
Although social-networking sites have become increasingly dialogic – with automated response buttons and spaces for comments available under almost every bit of content – the audience patterns and hearership norms that have developed alongside this evolution have not been widely studied. While this investigation provides a linguistic analysis of audience behaviors on Facebook, the findings are of relevance to discourse in the context of many social-networking sites. This is because of the uniformity of basic responsive options across such sites: an automatic "like"-like feature, a space to Comment, or the option to express a reaction outside of the responsive space designated by the platform. I combine ethnographic methods of data collection with the goals and analytical units of interactional sociolinguistics and conversation analysis to illuminate the influences on members' choices between such options. The three analytical chapters of the current examination focuses on the three basic responsive choices in turn: Like, Comment, and what I term a "non-response" – the practice of reacting to a post outside of the responsive space created beneath it.All of the chapters involve an interpretation of specific responsive choices in relation to what was notably not chosen. Such an analytical consideration is based on Linde's (2009) concept of "noisy silences" and Trester's (2013) adaptation of the term to encompass other types of silences that she calls "noisy nots." My analyses provide a broad appreciation of the Facebook interactive context and an in-depth understanding of how audience members react to posts through the expression and negotiation of participation frameworks, the use of byplay, and the management of epistemic rights, each of which is partially accomplished by drawing on what is noticeably left unsaid within a Facebook exchange. Crucially, I analyze how the mechanics of conversation function in spite of the complication a networked private (Marwick & boyd 2014) audience context potentially presents to interactive goals, and I demonstrate the innovative discursive practices that have arisen to support social interaction. I detail the many off-screen influences on members' online interactional decisions, such as media ideologies and personal relationships, as well as the platform-specific affordances and challenges that support and problematize Facebook social interaction.This investigation contributes to computer-mediated communication research and sociolinguistic literature by using established units of discursive analysis such as adjacency pairs (Schegloff & Sacks 1973), intertextual ties (Hamilton 1996), first and second assessment positions (Heritage & Raymond 2005) and constructed dialogue (Tannen 1989) to identify some of the audience norms of Facebook. I hold that Facebook's size and influence make it a particularly important site for sociolinguistic discovery, and that its foundational role in social media allows the insights from this study to be widely-relevant. I share in Tannen and Trester's (2013: ix) conviction that social media "provide a new means of understanding who we are and how we connect through language."
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