Danah boyd. (2010). "Social Network Sites as Networked Publics: Affordances, Dynamics, and Implications." In Networked Self: Identity, Community, and Culture on Social Network Sites (ed. Zizi Papacharissi), pp. 39-58.

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According to boyd, networked media technologies enable a type of publics that are both virtual technological environments and imagined collectives. As she explains, "networked publics" are "simultaneously (1) the space constructed through networked technologies and (2) the imagined collective that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice."(39) As she explains, "I contend that networked publics are publics that are restructured by networked technologies; they are simultaneously a space and a collection of people."(41)

Thanks to being structured by digital computer technology, "networked publics" have affordances that shape they ways in which users interact, engage, and participate in them. boyd elaborates a conceptualization of networked publics by explaining how their dynamics, properties, and affordances of shape participation and engagement.


Talking about "networking publics" implies that there are multiple publics that allow people to gather for different purposes and practices such as civic actions, cultural and social exchanges, and connecting with strangers. Public is a contested term used across many disciplines.

One approach, from communication and social sciences, understands publics as collection of people who share an identity, a consensus regarding the collective interest, a common understanding of the world, or an imagined community (Anderson, 2006). Publics could be small or big collection of people, group of friends or the members of a nation. "The Public," in singular form, usually refers to a big collection of people, the wide audience of a nation. Similarly, Habermas (1991) public sphere refers to a space accessible to a big group of people.

Other approach, from cultural and media studies, understands publics as audiences that gather around media. In this case, the group of people is bounded by a shared text, a world view or a performance. (Livingstone, 2005) This publics/audiences can be active and productive consumers, and articulate identities in relation to media texts. Publics can also be “arenas for the formation and enactment of social identities” (Fraser, 1992). Identities and interests are formed not only in private space but also in public.

boyd recognizes two major theoretical approaches but doesn't try to resolve the messyness of the term, instead, it argues that she focuses on how networking technologies "extend and complicate publics in all of their forms."(41) According to boyd, it is the structure provided by digital networked technologies what distinguishes networked publics. As she explains, "Networked technologies reorganize how information flows and how people interact with information and each other. In essence, the architecture of networked publics differentiates them from more traditional notions of publics." (41)

Following Lessig (2006), Mitchel (1995),and Negroponte (1995) boyd argues that digital architectures made out of bits are structural forces, that they define the types of interactions that are possible in a space, and shape the way people engage in a particular environment. According to here, bits are the building blocks of networked publics. Media that is made out of bits circulates faster and easily. In the city of bits that Mitchell describes peoples' everyday lives are shaped not only by the physical environment but also by their networks.

According to boyd, "Networked publics are not just publics networked together, but they are publics that have been transformed by networked media, its properties, and its potential. The properties of bits regulate the structure of networked publics, which, in turn, introduces new possible practices and shapes the interactions that take place. These can be seen in the architecture of all networked publics, including social network sites." (42)

Computer-mediated communication allows the creation and maintenance of online communities via forums, boletin boards, blogs, tumblrs. SNSs are a particular category of websites that have the following features:


Features and functionality vary across different social network sites providing different public and private communication channels. In general, they

"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." (42)


Features of Social Network Sites

"Together, profiles, Friends lists, and various public communication channels set the stage for the ways in which social network sites can be understood as publics. In short, social network sites are publics both because of the ways in which they connect people en masse and because of the space they provide for interactions and information. They are networked publics because of the ways in which networked technologies shape and configure them."

According to boyd the most important features that construct SNSs as networked publics are:

  • profiles :

"Profiles both represent the individual and serve as the locus of interaction. Because of the inherent social – and often public or semi-public – nature of profiles, participants actively and consciously craft their profiles to be seen by others. Profile generation is an explicit act of writing oneself into being in a digital environment (boyd, 2006) and participants must determine how they want to present themselves to those who may view their self- representation or those who they wish might. Because of this, issues of fashion and style play a central role in participants’ approach to their profiles." "profiles are a place where people gather to converse and share. Conversations happen on profiles and a person’s profile reflects their engagement with the site. As a result, participants do not have complete control over their self-representation." "Profiles are also a site of control, allowing participants to determine who can see what and how. While social network site profiles can be accessible to anyone – “truly public” – it is common for participants to limit the visibility of their profiles, making them “semi- public.”

  • Friends lists

"participants articulate who they wish to connect with and confirm ties to those who wish to connect with them. Most social network sites require connections to be mutually confirmed before being displayed. Each individual’s Friends list is visible to anyone who has permission to view that person’s profile." "the listing of Friends is both political and social. In choosing who to include as Friends, participants more frequently consider the implications of excluding or explicitly rejecting a person as opposed to the benefits of including them."

"the majority of participants simply include all who they consider a part of their social world. "

"One way of interpreting the public articulation of connections on social networks is to see it as the articulation of a public. These Friends are the people with whom the participants see themselves connecting en masse. For some participants, it is important to make certain that these individuals are all part of the same social context; for others, mixing different social contexts is acceptable and desirable. How a participant approaches the issue of social contexts shapes who they may or may not include as Friends."

"On social network sites, people’s imagined – or at least intended – audience is the list of Friends that they have chosen to connect with on the site. This is who participants expect to be accessing their content and interacting with them. And these are the people to whom a participant is directing their expressions. By serving as the imagined audience, the list of Friends serves as the intended public. Of course, just because this collection of people is the intended public does not mean that it is the actual public. Yet, the value of imagining the audience or public is to adjust one’s behavior and self-presentation to fit the intended norms of that collective."


  • public commenting tools

"various tools to support public or semi-public interactions between participants. Group features allow participants to gather around shared interests. A more commonly used tool for public encounters are the commenting features that display conversations on a person’s profile (a.k.a. “The Wall” on Facebook and “Comments” on MySpace)."

Comments are visible to anyone who has access to that person’s profile and participants use this space to interact with individuals and cohorts.

"While this typed conversation may appear to have little communicative efficacy, the ritual of checking in is a form of social grooming. Through mundane comments, participants are acknowledging one another in a public setting, similar to the way in which they may greet each other if they were to bump into one another on the street. Comments are not simply a dialogue between two interlocutors, but a performance of social connection before a broader audience."

  • stream-based updates

"features that allow participants to broadcast content to Friends on the sites. MySpace initially did this with a feature called “bulletins” which allowed for blog-esque messages to be distributed. After Facebook implemented “status updates” to encourage the sharing of pithy messages, MySpace introduced a similar feature. All of these features allow individuals to contribute content, which is then broadcast to Friends primarily via a stream of updates from all of their Friends."

"While individual updates are arguably mundane, the running stream of content gives participants a general sense of those around them. In doing so, participants get the sense of the public constructed by those with whom they connect."


Structural Affordances of Networked Publics

According to boyd, networked publics have affordances that differentiate them from other types of publics. Affordances shape publics and how people negotiate them. Digital networked technologies can be used for amplifying, recording, and spreading information and social acts.

"While such affordances do not determine social practice, they can destabilize core assumptions people make when engaging in social life. As such, they can reshape publics both directly and through the practices that people develop to account for the affordances."

"The content of networked publics is made out of bits. Both self-expressions and interactions between people produce bit-based content in networked publics. Because of properties of bits, bits are easier to store, distribute, and search than atoms."


Four affordances emerge from the proprierties of bits, they shape networked publics and people’s participation:

  • persistence: online expressions are automatically recorded and archived.

Technologies for capturing and recording spoken conversations made conversations persistent. Technologies for capturing images create a different essence than what is experienced at the moment. Writing, photorgraphy, video, all kinds of text that is recorded provide persistence. However they also transform the acts they are capturing, and how people communicate and think.

"Internet technologies follow a long line of other innovations in this area. What is captured and recorded are the bytes that are created and exchanged across the network."

"Many systems make bits persistent by default and, thus, the text that one produces becomes persistent."

"The text and the multimedia may be persistent but what sticks around may lose its essence when consumed outside of the context in which it was created. The persistence of conversations in networked publics is ideal for asynchronous conversations, but it also raises new concerns when it can be consumed outside of its original context."

"Networked technology inverted these defaults, making recording a common practice. This is partially due to the architecture of the Internet where dissemination requires copies and records for transmission and processing. Of course, while original records and duplicated records can in theory be deleted (or, technically, overwritten) at any point in the process, the “persistent-by- default, ephemeral-when-necessary” dynamic is relatively pervasive, rendering tracking down and deleting content once it is contributed to networked publics futile."

  • replicability: content made out of bits can be duplicated.

"Technology has introduced a series of tools to help people duplicate text, images, video, and other media. Because bits can be replicated more easily than atoms and because bits are replicated as they are shared across the network, the content produced in networked publics is easily replicable. Copies are inherent to these systems."

"The replicable nature of content in networked publics means that what is replicated may be altered in ways that people do not easily realize."

  • searchability: the potential visibility of content in networked publics is great.

"Librarians and other information specialists have long developed techniques to make accessing information easier and more effective. Metadata schemes and other strategies for organizing content have been central to these efforts. Yet, the introduction of search engines has radically reworked the ways in which information can be accessed. Search has become a commonplace activity among Internet users." "Search makes finding people in networked publics possible and, as GPS-enabled mobile devices are deployed, we will see such practices be part of other aspects of everyday life."

  • scalability: content in networked publics can be accessed through search.

"Technology enables broader distribution, either by enhancing who can access the real-time event or widening access to reproductions of the moment."

"The Internet introduced new possibilities for distribution; blogging alone allowed for the rise of grassroots journalism (Gillmor, 2004) and a channel for anyone to espouse opinions (Rettberg, 2008)."

"The Internet may enable many to broadcast content and create publics, but it does not guarantee an audience. What scales in networked publics may not be what everyone wishes to scale. Furthermore, while a niche group may achieve visibility that resembles “micro-celebrity” (Senft, 2008), only a small fraction receives mass attention while many more receive very small, localized attention. Scalability in networked publics is about the possibility of tremendous visibility, not the guarantee of it."

What kind of content does scale in networked publics?

"The property of scalability does not necessarily scale what individuals want to have scaled or what they think should be scaled, but what the collective chooses to amplify."


Central Dynamics in Networked Publics

Networked publics affordances allow new social dynamics and create challenges. They require people to manage invisible audiences, collapsed contexts, and a blurring between the public and private.

boyd agrees with Joshua Meyrowitz (1985) in that the properties of media influence people behavior and change the social environment. She explains the argument of Meyrowiz:

"broadcast media’s ability to rework scale reconfigured publics, altered the roles that people play in society, complicated the boundaries between public and private, collapsed distinct social contexts, and ruptured the salience of physical place in circumscribing publics."

"many of the dynamics that play out in networked publics are an amplification of those Meyrowitz astutely recognized resulting from broadcast media."

"While such dynamics have long been part of some people’s lives, they take on a new salience in networked publics because of their broad reach and their pervasiveness in everyday life."

  • Invisible audiences: not all audiences are visible when a person is contributing online, nor are they necessarily co-present.

"In theory, people can access content that is persistent, replicable, scalable, and searchable across broad swaths of space and time. Lurkers who share the same space but are not visible are one potential audience. But so are those who go back to read archives or who are searching for content on a particular topic."

"Knowing one’s audience matters when trying to determine what is socially appropriate to say or what will be understood by those listening. In other words, audience is critical to context. Without information about audience, it is often difficult to determine how to behave, let alone to make adjustments based on assessing reactions. To accommodate this, participants in networked publics often turn to imagined audience to assess whether or not they believe their behavior is socially appropriate, interesting, or relevant."


  • Collapsed contexts: the lack of spatial, social, and temporal boundaries makes it difficult to maintain distinct social contexts.

"Even when one knows one’s audience, it can be challenging to contend with groups of people who reflect different social contexts and have different expectations as to what’s appropriate. For some, the collapsing of contexts in broadcast media made expressing oneself challenging."

"Networked publics force everyday people to contend with environments in which contexts are regularly colliding. Even when the immediate audience might be understood, the potential audience can be far greater and from different contexts. Maintaining distinct contexts online is particularly tricky because of the persistent, replicable, searchable, and scalable nature of networked acts."

"Bilingual speakers choose different languages depending on context, and speakers explain concepts or describe events differently when talking to different audiences based on their assessment of the audience’s knowledge. An alternative way to mark context is as that which provides the audience with a better understanding of the performer’s biases and assumptions."

"Collapsing of contexts did take place before the rise of broadcast media but often in more controlled settings. For example, events like weddings, in which context collisions are common, are frequently scripted to make everyone comfortable. Unexpected collisions, like running into one’s boss while out with friends, can create awkwardness, but since both parties are typically aware of the collision, it can often be easy to make quick adjustments to one’s behavior to address the awkward situation. In networked publics, contexts often collide such that the performer is unaware of audiences from different contexts, magnifying the awkwardness and making adjustments impossible."

  • The blurring of public and private: without control over context, public and private become meaningless binaries, are scaled in new ways, and are difficult to maintain as distinct.

Networked media blurs public and private in complicated ways. Broadcast media also did it. The spot light brings private life into public.

Privacy and publicity are shaped.

"as networked publics enable social interactions at all levels, the effects of these dynamics are felt at much broader levels than those felt by broadcast media and the introduction of other forms of media to publics."

"They alter practices that are meant for broad visibility and they complicate—and often make public—interactions that were never intended to be truly public. "

"As networked publics brought the dynamics of broadcast media to everyday people, participants have turned their social curiosity towards those who are more socially local (Solove, 2007)."

"I argue that privacy is simply in a state of transition as people try to make sense of how to negotiate the structural transformations resulting from networked media."

"Social network sites disrupt the social dynamics of privacy (Grimmelmann, 2009). Most importantly, they challenge people’s sense of control."

"just because people are adopting tools that radically reshape their relationship to privacy does not mean they are interested in giving up their privacy."

"Defining and controlling boundaries around public and private can be quite difficult in a networked society, particularly when someone is motivated to publicize something that is seemingly private or when technology complicates people’s ability to control access and visibility. What remains an open question is how people can regain a sense of control in a networked society."

"I believe that we need to examine people’s strategies for negotiating control in the face of structural conditions that complicate privacy and rethink our binary conceptions of public and private. While public and private are certainly in flux, it is unlikely that privacy will simply be disregarded."


Transformation of Publics

Affordances of digital networked media, and of networked publics, as well as the dynamics that emerge from them, are transforming publics.

"The changes brought on by networked technologies are more pervasive than those by earlier media. Because content and expressions contributed to networked publics is persistent and replicable by default, the possibility of acts being scaled, searchable, and thus viewed is heightened."

Attention economy. Attention is a limited resource. "In networked publics, attention becomes a commodity. There are those who try to manipulate the potential scalability of these environments to reach wide audiences, including politicians and pundits. There are also those who become the object of widespread curiosity and are propelled into the spotlight by the interwoven network. There are also the countless who are not seeking nor gaining widespread attention. Yet, in an environment where following the content of one’s friends involves the same technologies as observing the follies of a celebrity, individuals find themselves embedded in the attention economy, as consumers and producers."

In networked publics, altering, modifying, remixing, and appropriating content is easy and common. It is in the nature of digital media and bits. Distinctions between consumers and producers blur as cultural texts are modified, reappropriated, recontextualized. In networked publics, content is copied, reproduced, and altered in various ways.

"Persistence and replicability also complicate notions of “authenticity,” as acts and information are not located in a particular space or time and, because of the nature of bits, it is easy to alter content, making it more challenging to assess its origins and legitimacy."

"How people alter content in networked publics varies. Alterations can be functional (e.g., altering code to make it work in a new environment), aesthetic (e.g., altering images to remove red eye), political (e.g., modifying famous photos to make political statements [Jenkins, 2006]), or deceptive (e.g., altering text to make it appear as though something was said that was not)."

"This magnifies questions of what is original, what is a copy, and when does it matter?"

Networked publics support the gathering of much larger groups synchronously and asynchronously. One-to-many and manty-to-many interactions are easier in networked publics. anyone has the potential of being a media outlet and scaleting content. Although people can contribute more to publics, they don't necessarily increase their ability to achieve an audience. The democratic potential of networked publics is limited by the social structure and stratification in the off-line world.

"Unfortunately, networked publics appear to reproduce many of the biases that exist in other publics—social inequalities, including social stratification around race, gender, sexuality, and age, are reproduced online (Chen and Wellman, 2005; Hargittai, 2008). Political divisions are also reproduced (Adamic and Glance, 2005) such that even when content scales in visibility, it may not cross sociopolitical divisions."

"Although networked publics support mass dissemination, the dynamics of “media contagion” (Marlow, 2005) show that what spreads depends on the social structure underlying the networked publics. In other words, scalability is dependent on more than just the properties of bits."


"While marking networked publics as a distinct genre of publics is discursively relevant at this moment, it is also important to acknowledge that the affordances of networked publics will increasingly shape publics more broadly. As social network sites and other genres of social media become increasingly widespread, the distinctions between networked publics and publics will become increasingly blurry. Thus, the dynamics mapped out here will not simply be constrained to the domain of the digital world, but will be part of everyday life."

"properties of bits, the affordances of networked publics, and the resultant dynamics."


"participants are implicitly and explicitly contending with these affordances and dynamics as a central part of their participation. "


"teens can and do develop strategies for managing the social complexities of these environments. In some ways, teens are more prepared to embrace networked publics because many are coming of age in a time when networked affordances are a given. Adults, on the other hand, often find the shifts brought on by networked publics to be confusing and discomforting because they are more acutely aware of the ways in which their experiences with public life are changing. Yet, even they are adjusting to these changes and developing their own approaches to reconfiguring the technology to meet their needs."


"taking the structural elements of networked publics into account when analyzing what unfolds can provide a valuable interpretive framework. Architecture shapes and is shaped by practice in mediated environments just as in physical spaces."