FACEBOOK THE NEXT PUBLIC SPHERE?
A DISCOURSE ANALYSIS OF NPRS FACEBOOK PAGE
B.A., University of Colorado Boulder, 2007
A Masters thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Masters of Social Science
by Jaclyn Peach
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Social Sciences
Jaclyn Elyse Peach
Has been approved
Brian L. Ott
Peach, Jaclyn (Masters, Social Sciences)
Facebook the Next Public Sphere?
Thesis Directed by Associate Professor Brian L. Ott
This study utilizes critical discourse analysis to determine whether NPRs Facebook
Page is an online space akin to the traditional offline public sphere. All content on
NPRs Facebook Page will be used for this analysis. The first part of the research
examines the different dynamics of interaction on NPRs Facebook Page. The results
of the exchanges on NPRs Facebook Page are then used to determine if bonding or
bridging social capital are produced. Finally, this research analyzes online behaviors
to determine whether citizens can carry out civic actions while using NPRs Facebook
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
Brian L. Ott
I would like to acknowledge the patience, guidance, and advice given by my
graduate committee Professor Brian Ott, Professor E.J. Yoder, and Professor Lucy
McGuffey. I would also like to thank my parents, Lynn and Tim Peach, for their
continued support and encouragement plus my mothers help in editing numerous
drafts of my thesis. In addition, I would like to thank my friends who remained
supportive even when I was absent. Furthermore, I appreciate the patience, support,
and counseling from my colleagues at Heritage High School, who throughout this
process have heard more than their fair share of my work. Lastly, I would like to
acknowledge my students at Heritage High School who have maintained patience
with me throughout the semester. They probably do not understand how they were
supportive, but their continued respect and patience with me on days that were more
difficult spoke volumes. I simply cannot express how incredibly lucky I am to have
such a wonderfully supportive and encouraging network of people. Without those
listed above, I would not have been able to have gone through this process without
losing my sanity. Thank you all very much.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Object of Study and Research............................8
Historical and Literature Review.......................15
Preview of Chapters....................................30
2. COMMENTS ON NPRS FACEBOOK PAGE...........................31
Description of NPRs Facebook Layout...................34
Reflections of Initiating and Responsive Posts.........65
3. FACEBOOK AND SOCIAL CAPITAL...............................68
Wider Discourse on Social Capital......................69
Honesty, Trust, & Reciprocity.
NPRs Facebook Contributions......................77
NPRs Facebook Members Contributions.............79
Bonding and Bridging Social Capital.....................91
4. CIVIC BEHAVIORS ON NPRS FACEBOOK PAGE.....................97
NPRs Facebook Responsibilities & Contributions.........98
NPRs Facebook Members Responsibilities & Contributions ...100
Immediate Political Activities...................100
Outside Political Activity.......................109
Reflections of Civic Behaviors on NPRs Facebook Page..117
5. CONCLUSIONS AND DISCUSSIONS...............................120
LIST OF FIGURES
2.1 NPRs Facebook Wall...............................................xx
2.2 NPRs Facebook Discussion Board...................................xx
2.3 NPRs Facebook Discussion Posts...................................xx
Facebook the Next Public Sphere?
The internet is, by many accounts, unparalleled in its capacity as a
communication technology to bring people together. Although the internet was not
the cause of recent social disturbances in the Middle East, it certainly assisted in
fostering dissent and mobilizing protestors. The popular social networking site,
Facebook, for instance, was used to promote social change in Egypt, which resulted
in the removal of President Mubarak from office (BBC News, Jan-Feb 2011). Nearly
two decades earlier, though, the internet had already mobilized individuals to fight
injustices as the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s. Belarus was a newly
independent state, free from Soviet rule, yet remained one of the most repressive
nations. In order to peacefully draw attention to the injustices, Belarusians used the
public website, LiveJoumal, to coordinate flashmob protests. The first flashmob
called on citizens to meet in Oktyabrskaya Square to eat ice cream. Since LiveJoumal
is a public medium, the government also knew of this call to action and waited in the
square for the protestors. Individuals in the square who were eating ice cream were
arrested, even children. Spectators documented the incident with cameras and later
uploaded the photos to Flickr, which instantly made the images available to an
international audience. Further protests included reading banned authors books as
well as walking around and smiling at each other. Each time, the harsh reactions of
the government were recorded and transmitted to the rest of the world. Though these
actions did not result in the governments collapse, they did with the gaze of an
international audience prompt the government to treat citizens less harshly (Shirky,
2008, pp. 166-69). Online platforms increasingly allow citizens to easily connect,
collaborate, and highlight the injustices of their government, or any institution,
publically. This form of social action leads society into public discourse, which is
vital for uniting a community and promoting democracy.
Some theorists, however, warn that the internet may isolate, distract, or
marginalize individuals within a society rather than bring people together (Postman,
1992; Sunstein, 2007; Turkle, 2011). In practice, the internet allows individuals to
retreat behind a screen to communicate and research various topics. Historically, both
activities were more social, as communication required face-to-face interaction and
research was traditionally performed in libraries. Although a library may not be
defined as a social location, having to leave an individuals private space for a public
area like a library increases the chances of social interaction. Furthermore, since the
internet provides numerous avenues for pursuing information, individuals can choose
to navigate cyberspace through a singular (ideological) perspective, such as a liberal
or conservative one, if so desired. This behavior never challenges an individuals
perspective and can be detrimental to the creation of a well-informed citizen. In
addition, the technologies of the internet now track an individuals behavior and,
based on those patterns, suggest websites, blogs, products, and the like that would be
of interest to the individual. This online function creates an individual echo chamber
that limits ones scope of knowledge/experiences. Accordingly, these behaviors lead
to increased individualization and marginalization, which is dangerous for democratic
societies (Sunstein, 2007).
Nevertheless, public discourse and the construction of social capital is
fundamental to a healthy democratic nation. Furthermore, for public discourse to be
beneficial, democracies depend upon civic minded citizens to engage in these types of
discussions. In terms of producing civic minded citizens, state governments may be
interested in methods that provid[e] information and educat[e] citizens, [in order to]
develop their sense of political efficacy, cultivate] capacities for deliberation, and
develop civic virtues such as tolerance, trust, respect for others, and reciprocity
(Warren, 2004, pp. 3-4). These characteristics aid in the development of balanced
bonding and bridging social capital within a society, which is integral to healthy
public discourse.1 If the characteristics described by Warren are promoted within a
democratic nation, then citizens may positively respond and contribute to an active
public sphere where healthy public discussion can take place. Although these
characteristics are necessary, they are not entirely sufficient for the realization of
these positive outcomes.
In addition, a public sphere needs to be accessible, wherein all members of a
democratic society have the ability to come together in a central location (Tilly,
2003). This centralized sphere will provide a space for individuals to present varying
opinions and topics, which may ultimately create an inclusive dialogue on current
issues. Sometimes these public discussions are intentional, other times the dialogues
are accidental but, overall, both lead to more aware citizens who can then use this
knowledge in civic behaviors such as voting, debating, and organizing. Areas that are
traditionally reserved for public discourse are associated with public squares, parks,
streets, comers, local shops, coffee shops, and the like (Papacharissi, 2011), and are
now being challenged with the Occupy movement.
Unfortunately, as argued by Wendy Brown (2006), these public areas are
disappearing. Public areas, along with public discourse, have been threatened with the
emergence of two new political theories. One theory, neoconservatism, is based on
traditionalist values that emphasize state-led political initiatives based on religious
morality. Brown argues that this form of rule produces a government that is large and
powerful in conducting the private lives of citizens. Traditional morals and values of
neoconservatives advocate for the continuance of the established church hierarchy
and status quo mentality. This form of government increases the power of
government, as the laws and customs of the country become intertwined with
religious doctrine. Ultimately, this form of government discourages citizens from
engaging in conventional democratic behaviors, as the respected hierarchy is ruling as
religious morality dictates.
Accompanying the emergence of neoconservatism is neoliberalism.
Neoliberalism is a mode of political rationality which emphasizes market driven
ideology and consumerism behavior. This ideology places significant importance on
private spheres and property rights, which undermines the importance of public
spaces for citizens. In essence, the political sphere is commodified with the intended
result of a profit for an individual and not a return for the collective. For example,
neoliberalists promote behaviors that fix solutions through individualized, and market
driven methods which contradict democratic values of public discourse as a means to
an end. Using Browns example, individuals are encouraged to buy
bottled water as a response to contamination of the water table: private
schools, charter schools, and voucher systems as a response to the collapse of
quality public education, anti-theft devices, private security guards, and gated
communities (and nations) as a response to the production of a throwaway
class and intensifying economic inequality, [and the like] (p. 704).
In these cases, collective problems that require discussion and debate to resolve are
reduced to the individual level where citizens purchase goods in order to solve
problems on a minimal scale. Arguably, these solutions are little more than a
temporary relief to a rather large and complex problem that is left unanswered. As a
result, the private sphere is greater in scope and depth, and citizens civically engage
through consumption, not through public discourse.
An even more disturbing trend in society is that, as more emphasis is placed
on private goods/property and consuming, society is experiencing greater inequalities.
Although some advocates for neoliberalism would argue that inequality results from
hard work and determination of a few, inequality, which is exacerbated by the
commodification of education, politics, and the like, conflicts with the ideals of a
truly democratic society. Democratic values are based on the assumption that citizens
are in some sense equal. When there is great inequality, those that do not have the
advantages or privileges are implicitly discouraged from engaging in the political
realm, which is not democratic (Tilly, 37). In turn, political inequality is aggrandized
as those who have political power develop legislative policies that continue to protect
the few (Tilly, 37). Despite all of this, perhaps new technologies and the internet can
help counterbalance material inequalities. This being said, not all individuals within
society have access to internet; but with seventy-five percent of people in the United
States having access, perhaps it is the best equalizer we have today (Internet World
Since a large portion of the population has access to the internet, this
communication platform undoubtedly contributes to the confusion between a public
and private sphere as individuals use the internet in private spaces, but participate
within public realms through the internet (Papacharissi, 2010). Additionally, most
free websites are also adorned with advertisements encouraging citizens to consume,
which promulgates neoliberal ideologies. Regardless, the internet is increasingly
becoming the tool of choice for communication between individuals. As offline
spaces once used for public discourse disappear, perhaps the private use of internet
allows citizens to find a new space for civic engagement. If this public space is
discovered on the internet, it must promote the democratic values described by
Warren so that social capital and civic behaviors can be exhibited online.
With the advent of Web 2.0 (2002) capabilities, internet activities shifted to
include more participation and expressive involvement of online users through
platforms such as blogging, opinion polls, Wikipedia, and the like. Web 2.0 witnessed
an increased interest in the use of social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook
(Wu Song, 2010), which allowed individuals to simultaneously be directly connected
with one or numerous others (DiMaggio et al., 2001), irrespective of time or place. As
technologies that facilitate internet use become increasingly portable, socialization
processes performed through SNSs are also becoming more mobile and ubiquitous.
Even though these forums are not concrete spaces, perhaps they provide an area for
individuals to engage in traditional forms of public discourse, create cohesion, and
employ civic behaviors such as engaging in public discourse and being responsive to
Social networking sites are one of numerous interactive tools on the internet
that use computer-mediate communication (CMC) among members. All SNSs have
three features in common: (1) Members can create a public or semi-public profile
within a contained system wherein members must voluntarily sign-up to become part
of the SNS; (2) members profiles include a list of other users who have established
connections among them; and (3) members have the ability to follow, participate in,
and view all connections made with themselves or between other members (boyd &
Ellison, 2001, p. 211). Although there are various SNSs to choose from, such as
Linkedln, ASmallWorld, MySpace, and the like, Facebook has been selected as the
object of this study, as it is currently the most popular SNS.
Object of Study and Research Questions
Today, Facebook is second only to Google as the most heavily trafficked
website in the world (Farley, 2011). Accordingly, Facebook has been ingrained into
individuals consciousness as it has grown into one of the most popular vehicles for
daily interactions among individuals. Media stations constantly refer viewers to their
Facebook Page to find further information or participate in discussions. People use
Facebook as a platform to maintain connections with friends or to learn more about
new acquaintances (Walker et al., 2009). The HTC cellphone (Feb 2011) was the first
to include a Facebook button, among other essential buttons, for easy uploading to the
Facebook website. Terms such as Facebook Me have become a norm when
meeting new acquaintances. Most large media organizations and individual celebrities
use Facebook as a means of communicating with followers and fans. As of March
2011, two-thirds of the individuals who use the internet in the United States also had
an activated Facebook account. Furthermore, with the rapid rise and the increased
attention given to Facebook, a major motion picture was produced around the
controversial invention of the site (The Social Network, 2010). As a response, many
scholars have conducted research on the harms and benefits of social networking
sites, in general.
Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in 2004, initially created the site as
a communication tool for the exclusive use of Harvard students. The original site
quickly became popular and, in response and over time, various other groups were
granted access to Facebook. Today, any individual over the age of 13 can legally
create a Facebook account and as a result, Facebook hosts over 800 million active
users worldwide (350 million of which are mobile users). Of these users, the average
member has 130 friends and is connected to 80 different communities, groups, or
events and around 250 million photos are uploaded daily. As a whole, users spend
over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. Furthermore, 2.5 million external
websites are connected with Facebook itself through links (http://www.facebook.com/
press/info.php?factsheet, 2011). Based on these figures alone, it is apparent that many
individuals and communities are connected to each other through this respective
medium. As more individuals are expected to connect with others through Facebook,
other institutions such as media producers, schools, and governments need to take
into consideration how Facebook might have a social impact on their organizations.
These institutions may need to meet their audiences within this centrally located
community and learn about the new dynamics of an online society.
The most basic feature of Facebook is the profile where members establish an
identity that is used to navigate the Facebook community. On the profile, members
can post pictures and personal data such as contact information, work information,
interests, and a free response section where individuals may write miscellaneous
information they might want other members to know (Facebook 2011). Members on
Facebook also have the ability to experiment with alternative identities online, known
as identity tourism (Martin & Nakayama, 2010, 26). The anonymity involved with
internet use allows people to project identities that are either intriguing or have
always been existent but remained repressed. Although the internet allows more
freedom in experimenting with identities than face-to-face interactions do, the online
identity is also a collaborative project among online users. One member does not have
complete control of their online identity. Friends co-create this online identity by
uploading photos and tagging the individuals within them, as well as writing
comments on other users Wall.4 By doing so, Friends of a Facebook member are
actively participating in the construction of an online identity by placing individuals
within a specific context online. Although the member who owns the profile has the
ability to remove any photo tags/comments, others will continue to contribute to the
construction of a dynamic, online identity (Tufecki, 2008). Perhaps this type of
collaboration unintentionally creates more intense connections among individuals,
which can lead to greater democratic participation.
Furthermore, Facebook members also have the option to participate in
specifically designated online communities by joining Pages. The two different types
of Pages within Facebook are a Community Page and an Official Page, both of which
involve a Profile Page identical in layout to individual members profiles. Community
Pages allow individuals who have common interests or experiences to connect with
each other, and the Page displays a Wikipedia entry describing the specific
interest/experience. Official pages, by contrast, are produced by public figures,
businesses, brands, celebrities, or organizations as a medium through which
information can be efficiently distributed to followers or fans. Another major
difference between a Community and an Official Page is their Walls. Although the
Wall is almost non-existent within Community Pages, the Wall within Official Pages
provides a space for members to engage in conversation. Official pages are public and
are generally accessible to all internet users, but only members have the ability to
participate in discussions (Facebook.com, 2011). All of the features of SNSs provide
users with a sense of connection within an online community (boyd, 2011, p. 45). In
combination, all of the tools provided within Facebook could potentially provide a
space for individuals to congregate around shared interests, goals, beliefs, and the like
to exhibit civic behaviors and produce social capital.
One such Facebook Page that provides all the aforementioned affordances is
the National Public Radio (NPR) Facebook Page. The NPR Facebook Page was
originally created in 2008 by a college student, but was promptly transferred into the
control of the official NPR Company. NPRs Facebook Page mission is
to create a more informed public one challenged and invigorated by
a deeper understanding and appreciation of events, ideas, and cultures.
To accomplish [NPRs] mission, [they] produce, acquire, and
distribute programming that meets the highest standards of public
service in journalism and cultural expression' [and they] represent
members in matters of mutual interest (Facebook.com/NPR,
For the purposes of this study, I have selected the NPR Facebook Page as my primary
object of study in the hopes of determining if it provides a space for citizens to exhibit
civic behaviors and produces social capital.
Although the NPR Facebook Page was not created until 2008, The National
Public Radio station has existed since 1970, three years after the announcement of the
Public Broadcasting Act by President Johnson. The idea behind the Public
Broadcasting Act was to establish government-supported (though mostly publically
funded) organizations to compete with mainstream media outlets that received
funding from advertisers. Media that received advertising or private funding was
feared to dominate users intake with an emphasis on consumption, and public
broadcasting was supported in order to counterbalance this phenomena. As part of the
Public Broadcasting Act agreement, those organizations that received government
funding were required to maintain balanced perspectives on all issues reported. These
organizations also had to refrain from emphasizing any one private advertiser
As a result, the purpose for the creation of National Public Radio was to cater
to a general, broad, and diverse audience which is distinctly not-for-profit. The vision
was to provide information on a broad range of topics, from varying perspectives, in
order to cultivate a society that was well informed. Through this style of
informational broadcasting, NPR hoped to create more civic-minded individuals who
made decisions based on rational thought and deliberation. Since NPRs creation, the
radio station has continually battled against television to attract audience members,
but has maintained a relatively constant number of listeners (Mitchell, 2005). Today,
NPR extends its services to 26 million individuals a week who either listen to
programs on the radio or seek its content through multimedia avenues (NPR.org).
NPRs average audience member is 45 years old with a median income of $53,593.
When NPRs demographics are compared with national averages, more than half of
the NPR audience members hold at least a Bachelors degree, read books for
pleasure, and voted in federal, state, or local elections (NPR.org from MRI
Doublebase).5 Furthermore, those that receive information from public affairs
associations have been proven to be more than just politically active within their
immediate community. These audiences tend to volunteer more, attend town hall
meetings, participate in community activities, and the like (Putnam, 243).
In the last two years, NPR put extensive efforts into establishing multimedia
platforms to connect with existing members, as well as to extend its base audience.
One of those mediums was a Facebook Page (NPR.org, 2011). As of May 2011,
NPRs Facebook Page has more than 1.7 million members and provides the following
tools as a means of communication between the organization and followers: Wall,
Discussions, a listing of and hyperlinks to NPR Shows, NPR Gifts, Events, Photos,
and Questions. All of these social tools are used to help implement NPRs mission
statement. In this study, I undertake a discourse analysis of NPRs Facebook Page, in
general, between the months of August and November of 2011, and specifically
address the following research questions:
RQ1: What are the primary types of communicative behaviors exhibited by
visitors to NPR's Facebook Page? What general communicative modes are
reflected in those behaviors?
RQ2: How, if at all, does the NPR Facebook Page promote group
cohesiveness through bonding and/or bridging social capital?
RQ3: How, if at all, does the NPR Facebook Page invite netizens to exercise
In 2011, the US congress voted on whether to publicly defund NPR. With more
spaces becoming increasingly private, though, forums such as NPR are needed to
counteract commodification of the public sphere in order to maintain a vibrant civic
dialogue among citizens. Since the practice of public funding is believed to keep NPR
fair and balanced, this research aims to determine if NPRs Facebook Page provides a
space akin to those of the idealized public parks, street comers, or coffee shops that
foster public discourse and strengthen democratic ideals.
Historical and Literature Review
The configuration of the internet has challenged traditional social structures
and lifestyles. Customarily, society was divided among social classes with certain
groups receiving specific privileges. According to medium theorists, though, as new
technologies have been created and implemented, society has engaged in a cyclical
dialogue with the tools that challenged existing human institutions, such as
hierarchies which gave specific privileges to particular segments of society. Every
new technology does not have an overwhelming transformational effect on society.
Instead, it is only the technologies that become completely incorporated into societys
general use that produce social changes (Shirky, 2008, p. 106), such as Facebook and
its extensive use within society.
The worlds ancient civilizations were oral societies. Over time, writing
tablets were invented, but their production was time consuming and expensive.
Consequently, societies were limited in their ability to permanently record vast
amounts of information. In order to pass on information, society entrusted most
information to the memory of a few. However, these individuals belonged to an elite
group who had surplus time and finances, which allowed a select few to devote their
energies to memorization practices. As a result, information was restricted to a small,
privileged social class, which aided in maintaining the established social hierarchy.
As society progressed and inexpensive paper precursors were invented, the
importance of recording as much information as possible increased, slightly shifting
the control of information. Memorization was no longer needed to store information
and knowledge began to slowly spread to other social groups, even though it
remained among the elite classes. Although not all social groups had access to
information, this shift is important in that information was more accessible to a larger
proportion of society (Carr, 2010, pp. 58-64).
The printing press was the next great technological invention, and it greatly
reduced both the financial and time constraints of producing manuscripts as well as
making information more widely available. The spread of information through all
spheres of society was an important step toward democratizing society. The shift was
slow and gradual, rather than rapid and immediate. With the printing press,
individuals had greater accessibility to information, but the information was of no use
to individuals who could not read. As such, information was still largely limited to an
aristocratic (if expanding) social class (Carr, 2010, p. 201). As use of the printing
press increased, society became ever more literate, though the dispersal of
information was still connected to antiquated modes of transportation and, thus, quite
slow. News did not reach some areas for weeks or even months. The invention of the
telegraph and telephone hastened the process of delivering information (Shirky, 2008,
pp. 105-6), followed by an increasing rate of inventing more advanced technologies.
Although the advantages of these technologies is evident, some theorists argue that
these new technologies permeated society at such a rapid rate that society never
contemplated the negative consequences of these technologies (Gitlin, 2001).Today,
society is experiencing yet another dialectic with a characteristically decentralized,
dynamic, and interactive technology the internet (Ott & Mack, 2010, p. 277). In
many respects, the internet challenges traditional social structures, as it is the greatest
democratization of information society has ever experienced. Anyone who has access
to the internet now also has access to all the information uploaded to the web,
challenging a social hierarchy based on privileges of education and knowledge. At the
same time, more individuals who may not be experts in specific fields also have the
ability to publish information. These practices allow for a wide variety of voices to be
heard, but the quality of information is challenged.
Online communication also employs different characteristics than other
communication technologies, changing the way in which society interacts. Social
networking sites are primarily structured around a text-based form of interaction,
which eliminates the use of non-verbal cues utilized during face-to-face
conversations. Each participant of a conversation uses non-verbal cues to help
comprehend what another is trying to convey. These cues are numerous in practice
and include tone, posture, facial expressions, eye contact, and the like (Leathers &
Eaves, 2007). According to Leather and Eaves, about 70% of conversations are
understood through the use of these non-verbal cues. When individuals move to
online communication, these cues are eliminated. Eliminating non-verbal cues
complicates conversations as participants try to understand the various dimensions of
a statement by only using a text. Misunderstandings, confusion, or anger may result
as individuals interpret the same statement differently. In addition, individuals
experience a level of anonymity, which allows them to disassociate themselves with
their actions. Therefore, the elimination of non-verbal cues and anonymity has a great
potential of negatively affecting the construction of social capital and civic behaviors
Furthermore, as communication technologies continued to develop, familiar
social constructs, such as community, evolved as well. Communities are groups of
individuals who share common interests/goals/friends/and the like, but, historically,
they have been bounded by geography limited by proximity to others.
Advancements of communication technologies have steadily dismantled these
limitations, allowing individuals to form communities across great distances. In the
age of the internet, communities extend across all sorts of geographic boundaries,
uniting people in disparate places around the globe. Since communities are more
complex and dynamic today, the characteristics of a community are also fluid and
ephemeral. While communities are still organized around common interests, the
decreasing importance of geographic location has broadened the meaning and
understanding of community to allow both offline (immediate) communities and
online (virtual) communities (Wilson & Peterson, 2001, pp. 455-56).
In all communities, whether they exist in physical space or cyberspace,
members interact with each other and, as a result, produce social capital. Social
capital is the total accumulation of skills, intelligences, talents, and the like that exist
within and between communities or networks; it is created through the collective
sharing of members experiences, relationships, and histories (Cummings et al., 2006,
p. 575). As Robert Putnam (2000) explains, social capital has two primary
dimensions: bonding (or exclusive) capital and bridging (or inclusive) capital (p. 22).
Bonding capital is established through close relationships among individuals who
share similar interests. These types of connections are more exclusive and are formed
between family members, close friends, or established organizations (Shirky, 2008, p.
222). Due to the exclusive nature of bonding capital, members have the ability to
provide emotional support for one another through reaffirmation. Furthermore, since
bonding capital attracts homogenous groups, the group can more easily develop
common goals and purposes as these groups have established norms, reciprocity,
trust, and solidarity. Since bonding capital provides members with a sense of
belonging and acceptance, members will accept these terms (Ellison et al., 2011).
Facebook developed general rules for social conduct on its website, but each specific
Page does not explicitly ask members to follow any set norms or rules
(Facebook.com, 2011). Consequently, the unique dimensions of bonding capital may
vary considerably from one Facebook Page to another.
A second dimension of social capital is bridging capital, which is recognized
as connections among members from different communities. These connections are
typically acquaintances and are characteristically more inclusive. Since bridging
capital is established between heterogeneous individuals, the relationship is
frequently unstable (Shirky, 2008, p. 222). Bridging capital, though, is imperative for
democratic societies because it integrates heterogeneous groups who engage in public
discourse using varying perspectives on one issue. In theory, increased contact among
heterogeneous groups increases the potential of debate and, thus, the ability to reach
truths based on varying perspectives (Sunstein, 2007). Since 500 million individuals
are also Facebook members, Facebook provides a large forum through which
numerous heterogeneous individuals may come into contact.
As more individuals participate within online communities, citizens of
democratic societies should actively regulate a personal balance between the creation
of both bonding and bridging capital. If bonding capital is emphasized over bridging
capital, groups are in danger of producing an echo chamber. Echo chambers are
established by individuals that surround themselves with like-minded people who
continually reinforce their existing ideologies. Furthermore, the homogeneity of
online content can lead to extremism since the counter perspective is rarely
addressed. Individuals who exclusively engage in seeking homogenous online
communication or activity, and are rarely exposed and/or challenged by opposing
perspectives, are alienated from society as a whole. In addition, when exposed to
opposition, these individuals will acknowledge it with irreverence, qualifying it as
absurd (Sunstein, 2007). This fragmentation of society erodes democratic ideals,
since democracy is founded on the basis of discussion and debate of various opinions
within public forums. The internet has provided individuals with more control over
personal creation of bonding and bridging capital, but, as Sunsteins research
demonstrates, online behaviors and technological suggestions leads users to favor
bonding capital over bridging capital.
Additionally, internet technologies are increasingly influencing users
behavior by directing users to specific areas of interest. These avenues of specific
content are created as a users past behavior of internet activity is recorded by
technology. Based on these activities, the internet will then suggest further
readings/research that will support these interests. As a result, it may be harder for
individuals to seek out bridging capital (Sunstein, 2007). Although it is not the
responsibility of the government to enforce balanced bonding and bridging capital, if
citizens are not able to, or voluntarily opt out of this behavior, perhaps it is in the best
interest of a democratic society if a government did provide a public space to
facilitate this process. This is the justification of publically funding organizations
such as NPR. Central to this study, then, is understanding whether or not the
combination of NPR, Web 2.0, and SNSs provide a space for individuals to balance
bonding and bridging social capital.
The initial motivation for joining a SNS may not be a distinctly civic minded
behavior. One study found that individuals utilize social networking sites in order to
maintain connections, reconnect with past friends, or to connect/obtain information
about new acquaintances. Thus, most relationships that exist online begin from a
previous offline interaction. Joining an SNS is utilized in order to maintain and
strengthen offline relationships (Alimohammad, 2010). Another study found that the
desire to join online communities is due to human nature. Naturally, individuals
socialize in order to belong to communities, providing them with a sense of
acceptance and security (Baltaretu & Balaban, 2010). More interestingly, Tufecki
(2008) conducted a study specifically analyzing the difference between users and
non-users. For this study, a distinction between expressive and instrumental uses of
the internet was made. Expressive internet use is characterized through social and
communicative purposes such as e-mailing, instant messaging, reading blogs, and the
like. Conversely, instrumental internet use involves information gathering or
economic transactions and is distinctly non-social, such as conducting research
online, online banking, researching politics, searching for a job, and the like (Tufecki,
2008, pp. 547-48, 550). Tufecki was primarily interested in the expressive means of
internet use and what she termed as gossiping. Although many define gossiping as a
lower form of communication, Tufecki argues that gossiping is a form of social
grooming that aids in society forging bonds, affirming relationships, displaying
bonds, and asserting and learning about hierarchies and alliances (p. 546), all of
which are positive behaviors for democracies and the production of citizenship.
The research found that non-users of social networking sites used the internet
for more instrumental reasons and did not understand using the internet for
entertainment and enjoyment. In addition, non-users were not interested in knowing
more about people they knew in the past or learning more about people that they
casually met, and indicated this activity as petty gossip. Non-users also were
primarily concerned with violations of privacy and were disinterested in broadcasting
their identities online. Other comments included: America is so self-obsessed,
people are fishing for affirmation, and non-users could not understand engaging in
an activity that did not have a specified goal (p. 559). Interestingly, throughout the
year and a half the research took place, the percentage of non-users decreased from
17.1 to 12.5 percent. The study found that there was no significant difference between
user and non-users in number of close or very close offline friends, but those that
used SNSs reported being in touch with more friends on a weekly basis than non-
users. So, if individuals have the capability to forge and maintain relationships among
numerous people, does that also increase social capital and opportunities to engage in
David Jacobson (2007) examined how computer mediated communication
through the form of instant messaging was interpreted among various degrees of
relationships. The four degrees of relationships (Clark 1992) are based on offline
interaction and included (1) strangers: individuals who have no established
connection; (2) acquaintances: individuals who have limited connections with others;
(3) friends: individuals who interact expansively; and (4) intimates: individuals who
interacted expansively and also shared a considerable amount of private information.
The study concluded that the offline relationships helped to provide contextualization
of a computer-generated text. The more interaction one had with others with whom
they communicated online, the more information one used to comprehend the stand
alone instant message. As can be expected, those who were strangers or
acquaintances could not comprehend the message and ignored it, knowing that they
were not the intended audience of the message. Consequently, the discussions online
acted as a continuation of conversation among friends who knew each other well
offline. Nevertheless, as online communities increase membership numbers, it also
increases the opportunity for strangers to engage in conversation. In addition, the
internet provides a space for anonymity, allowing strangers to converse online
without being concerned with social etiquette that is used in real space (Papacharissi,
2010). Therefore, as strangers interact more often online, the instances for
miscommunication also increase. Online misunderstandings have the potential of
creating tension and, if severe enough, isolation between individuals within real
A content analysis of network sites by Homing (2007) examined whether
community network sites (CN) have the capability of fostering social capital and
democratic values. Homing was concerned with the disappearing public spaces that
the government traditionally reserved for citizens to use for public discourse. As new
communication technologies advanced, Homing examined whether the new public
space on the internet, or community networks, provided people with the same space
to continue discussion of civic, social, and educational goals of a community (p.
418). Previous research found that early CNs were not as effective at producing social
capital, due to the lack of a unified identity, a defined purpose, or providing relevant
information for members. Recent research finds that more CNs are working towards
developing social capital, but are not as effective at promoting strong democracies
since they lack the capacities to develop well informed discussions (Homing 2007).
These findings are positive in regards to the development of CNs. Facebook is
probably not considered a CN, since it is internationally recognized, is not exclusively
a local website, and does not explicitly promote democracies. Regardless, Facebook
does provide a space for millions of individuals to congregate, which could
potentially lead to the creation and social capital and enactment of civic behaviors.
In the US presidential campaign in 2008, president-elect Barack Obama was
the first politician to truly utilize social media to his advantage. A study analyzed
both President Obama and opponent John McCains Facebook Pages for positive and
negative discourses. The study argued that profanity and excessive use of negative
language led to diminishing returns of democratic values. The study concluded that
there was an increased use of profanity and negative connotations within McCains
Facebook Page in comparison to Obamas Facebook Page. As a result, the study
suggests that Obamas use of positive campaigning might have contributed to his
success (Woolley et al., 2010). Even though the study found that excessive use of
profanity and negative references was detrimental to democratic ideals, Papacharissi
(2004) argues for the opposite and warns against too much politeness.
Although there is benefit in carrying out polite discussions, Papacharissi
argues that if individuals are too concerned with this element, it limits the
opportunities for robust disputes which are important for healthy democracy to
thrive. With increased anonymity online, Papacharissi posits that sense of security
and distance between discussants increases the chance for intense arguments and,
thus, benefits democratic societies. There is a fine line between a heated discussion
and excessive flaming. Flaming is defined as often offensive, nonsensical. ..
passionate online response to another, which could have adverse side effects for a
healthy democracy, as it leads to alienation and fragmentation (p. 269). Although,
some scholars are concerned with the level of flaming online, Papacharissi found that
flaming was not experienced at the high rate as previously thought. Still, the websites
chosen for Papacharissis study were politically driven and were chosen for this
specific characteristic. This explicit nature of the chosen websites could have
attracted individuals who followed traditional roles of civility, which reduced
flaming. In regards to NPRs Facebook Page, no explicit norms are stated as to how
to conduct discussions within the given space. Nevertheless, perhaps the norms are
already acknowledged by users of NPRs various programs as they are predominantly
interested and familiar with norms in the political realm. Therefore, the norms for
NPR may not need to be explicitly stated as they are already known.
In this study, I undertake a critical discourse analysis (CDA) of NPRs
Facebook Page to determine if this Page can create a community that facilitates civic
action. Critical discourse analysis closely examines dialogue between
individuals/groups to determine what discursive patterns emerge. Dialogues are
naturally multidimensional and dynamic, but regardless of topic, interactions can
ultimately lead to increasing collective knowledge. Furthermore, by studying the
discussion, representations of how things are and have been, as well as.. .how things
might or could or should be (Fairclough, 2001, p 3) can be ascertained through
CDA. Since any given discussion is uniquely diverse, CDA allows for
interdisciplinary approaches of study that attempt to show systematic links between
text, discourse practices, and sociocultural practices (Fairclough, 1995, pp. 16-17)
within a given context. By critically analyzing the discussions between individuals
and groups, I aim to explicate what individuals within NPRs Facebook Page are
implicitly doing and saying through patterns that emerge within the discussion
threads (Ahmadvand, 2008, pp. 3-4). Furthermore, discourses that are absent from
NPRs Facebook Page will also be taken into consideration to determine what was
absent from the discussion, as well as determine why there were omissions, and what
alternatives could have been provided within the discussion (Fairclough, 1995, p. 18).
In his book Media Discourse (1995), Fairclough makes a list of characteristics
that a discourse analyst should take into account when examining any given
text/discourse. Faircloughs list includes analysis of:
1. The wider discourse and indicating areas of variability, instability, and
2. Details in the discourse including language use, texture, and visual
3. Patterns in production and consumption of text,
4. Relations of power and ideologies, specifically of the distributing media,
5. The dynamics within a given discourse, in terms of different genres and
6. The relationships and identities developed through interactions,
7. Grammar and macrostructural schematics.
8. The dynamic, dialectical relationship between discourse and
(Fairclough, 1995, pp. 31-33).
In regards to the larger discourse on social behaviors, this research will utilize the
conclusions of Robert Putnams statistical analysis of the development of social
capital and civic behavior within the 20th century. Putnams research provides
numerical evidence for the decline in social interaction and involvement, describing
the environment within which modem citizens participate. In terms of the NPR
Facebook Page, the discourse present on the page, as well as the graphics, pictures,
and company information will be used to provide a detailed description of the NPR
Facebook Page itself.
Research question one will analyze what modes of interactions are developed
within the NPR Facebook Page. Furthermore, research question one will analyze
patterns of production and consumption of information and if power relations exist
within the discourse. Specifically, this question will examine whether members post
information as a source for other members or if NPR is the only actor providing
information for its members. To expand on the modes of interaction, the second
research question will examine whether honesty, trust, and reciprocity are formed
through these interactions. Additionally, once these three characteristics are
examined, the research will examine whether one form of capital production is
overrepresented or if bonding and bridging capital are equal. Finally, the third
research question will investigate whether the NPR Facebook Page provides a space
for society to engage political behaviors such as participating in political discussions.
Preview of Chapters
This thesis is divided into five chapters. The first chapter has presented a brief
introduction to the elements used for this study including the internet, Facebook,
NPR, and medium theory. The following three chapters will be organized around the
animating research questions. The second chapter analyzes the dynamics of
interaction within NPRs Facebook Page in terms of comments and responses.
Chapter three examines whether bonding or bridging capital is developed within
NPRs Facebook Page by analyzing trust, honesty, and reciprocity. Furthermore, if
either/both forms of social capital are developed, additional discussion will determine
if one type of capital is favored over the other or if they are balanced within the
Facebook page. Chapter four will explore whether or not members of NPRs
Facebook Page are able to exercise civic behaviors and explain how these behaviors
are enacted. Finally, chapter five summarizes and synthesizes the findings, as well as
suggests limitations and avenues for future research.
MODES OF COMMUNICATION
ON NPRS FACEBOOK PAGE
Interacting face-to-face provides participants with social cues that aid
individuals to maintain productive discussion. These cues determine when to be
silent, when to talk, when another is offended, when to elaborate on a particular
idea/topic, and the like. However, face-to-face communication limits the scope of
interaction to physical locality for each individual. The internet widens an
individuals access to disparate people to include in conversations, but essentially
eliminates social cues that participants utilize to engage in insightful conversations.
This chapter will analyze what patterns of communication are evident in NPRs
Facebook Page to determine what norms are employed in dialogues.
NPRs news provides members with background knowledge on a plethora of
diverse topics which are posted daily, and sometimes hourly, on NPRs Facebook
Wall, which provides an opportunity for members to engage in a conversation with
each other. Each posting by NPR includes the subject matters title (which is linked to
a complete article on NPRs parent website), a brief summary of the content, and is
followed by a space that displays how many individuals Liked the article, shared the
article, commented on the article, as well as a comment box which allows users to
share personal comments. These characteristics alone have the potential to generate a
more informed population who directly engage with each other. In order to decipher
whether this transpires on NPRs Facebook Page, this chapter is used to investigate
the communication behaviors of visitors and seeks to identify dominant
communicative patterns and trends.
NPRs postings range from political cartoons, interest pieces, political stories,
to entertainment articles, and more recently, include questions posed by NPR directly,
seeking input from its members. Although the selections of articles cover a wide
range of topics, interestingly, the articles posted on the Facebook Page are only a
fraction of those posted on NPRs parent website. This research acknowledges this
differentiation, but does not fully analyze the differences or examine the purpose of
the particular posts on Facebook and why others are omitted. This difference could be
the topic for further research in cross comparing the different platforms and why
stories are and are not included on the NPR Facebook Page. Regardless, individuals
who have internet access also have access to NPRs Facebook Page and can view all
stories and comments posted online. However, contributing to a discussion thread is
an exclusive privilege of Facebook members. In addition, another social affordance
for users is a Discussion tab, where members can individually post any topic that they
wish to discuss with other members.
This chapter undertakes a discourse analysis of both the Wall and the
Discussion forum on NPRs Facebook Page. To begin, I offer a brief description of
the design and layout of these two formats. Second, I conduct an analysis of the
specific communicative practices demonstrated by visitors to the site. This analysis is
divided into two subsections: (a) initiating posts and (b) responsive posts. In my
analysis of initiating posts (i.e., isolated statements that do not engage others
comments), I found three primary types of communicative behavior: opinion
expression, information giving, and information seeking. With regard to my analysis
of responsive posts (i.e., statements that specifically engage others comments), I
found two primary types of communicative behavior: opinion affirming and opinion
challenging. The following outline briefly charts the various types of posts on NPRs
I. Types of Posts
1. Opinion expressing
2. Information giving personal anecdotes, links to other sites, and
3. Information seeking
1. Opinion affirming
2. Opinion challenging
The types of posts identified above are classified according to purpose, i.e., by what
general communicative function they perform. In addition to these patterns, I also
observed several specific communicative modes, i.e., how a statement is executed.
The communication modes included repetition, flaming, and trolling. Although this is
not a comprehensive list of communicative modes, these three modes stood out as
particularly pervasive and, thus, salient. As I discuss, different communicative types
tended to reflect different communicative modes. I conclude the chapter by reflecting
on my findings regarding initiating and responsive posts.
Description of NPRs Facebook Layout
In terms of NPRs Wall, any internet user can access the information posted
on the Wall, but only Facebook members have the ability, and are encouraged, to post
a comment about a story. They are prompted with a text box just below the title of the
article. No posts within the thread are displayed in this initial box, so users who desire
to read the entirety of a thread created by previous members first must expand the
comments section by clicking on the view all comments link. The comments are
organized in descending chronological order, and are timestamped to demonstrate the
flow of conversation. The fifty newest posts in the thread are displayed first, with the
oldest of the fifty posts first and the newest post at the bottom. To read the latest post
and insert a comment, a user now must scroll to the bottom of the thread. With each
consecutive click of the view previous comments link, older posts, in increments of
fifty, appear in addition to those already accessed. The Page automatically reloads
chronologically, placing the oldest posts at the beginning of the thread. For stories
that exceed 50 comments, NPR does not include a link that might allow users to
access all comments simultaneously with a singular click.
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Figure 2.1: NPR's Facebook Wall. All personal indicators of individuals on Facebook have been removed from
the above image, but no other manipulations have been made.
In general, accessing and reading older posts is not difficult or time
consuming for articles that have fewer than 300 comments. For posts that are longer
than 300 comments, as a user continues to click on the view previous comments
link, the NPRs Facebook Page responds more slowly and frequently freezes before
the compilation of all desired posts is reached. On occasion, when the entire thread is
accessed, successfully reading the transcript is hindered, due to the Page temporarily
freezing when the user attempts to scroll through the passages. These initial
complications can frustrate readers and dissuade them from reading an entire thread,
which is not beneficial for a thorough and well versed conversation. Nevertheless,
each individual posting within a thread of comments generates a unique community.
Each micro-community is ephemeral, because it is spontaneous, transpiring
momentarily in context to a particular story/posting. A similar topic might be the
central subject matter of a later story, but the individuals that participate in
discussions are irregular, with the exception of a few. This means each new
discussion is detached from the proceeding thread and does not elaborate on previous
The Discussion forums layout is similar to that of the Wall space, but
members of Facebook have more control. Any member can create a thread revolving
around an individually chosen topic. Other members are then able to comment on the
initial post. The layout is slightly different, though. The initial post is displayed first
and is ordered chronologically in descending order. A user only needs to select the
topic and they will be directed to a page that begins with the oldest posts at the
beginning. To add a comment, one needs to first go to the end of the comments.
Although a user can click on the last page, this layout encourages a user to first read
the posts and then comment, whereas the Wall has the opposite conditions. The first
of the two following images is a screen capture of the Discussion page on NPRs
Facebook Page. The second image shows an example of an actual thread of a
Figure 1.2: NPR's Facebook Discussion Board. All personal indicators of individuals on Facebook have been
removed from the above image, but no other manipulations have been made.
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Figure 2.3: NPR's Facebook Discussion Posts. All personal indicators of individuals on Facebook have been
removed from the above image, but no other manipulations have been made.
Initiating Posts within NPRs Facebook Page
Opinion expressing is the dominant form of commenting within NPRs
Facebook community. Most users simply state their opinion on a given topic.
Although many users expressed similar views and perspectives on the immediate
topic, most posts were disassociated from each other, as the number of similar
opinions posted increased with little to no reference to other posts. The following
posts are from the Mosaic Fossil Could be Bridge From Apes To Humans article
(NPR Facebook Page, September 8, 2011). All user names have been omitted and
replaced with a letter to maintain privacy of the individual Facebook member. In
addition, letter A in excerpt one does not mean that it is the same user in excerpt two.
Furthermore, extraneous posts from the original thread are not included in the excerpt
to allow for easy reading.
A: I dislike the term "missing link" because it implies that there is one
intermediate step between man and ape, when there are many... and
we've already found a lot. In this context it's fine, but I dislike when
anti-evolutionists use it as ammo, claiming we still haven't found that
missing link... getting off my soapbox now.
September 8 at 4:02pm & 28 people
B: This is a frustratingly BADLY written headline. It perpetuates the
preposterous notion that there's some big "missing link." Evolutionary
changes are a continuum, and we have lots of samples along the
continuum for any given species. Any space between any two samples
could be claimed to be a "missing link," but it's a hyperbolic and
misleading claim. Shame on you, NPR. I expect better scientific
literacy from you than this... unless it's reporting from Barbara Bradley
Hagerty, at least. :)
September 8 at 4:03pm fc 18 people
C: One more misconception that this enforced is that humans evolved
from apes in the modem sense. We did not evolve from modem apes,
we and modem apes evolved from a common ape like ancestor. That,
by the way, is what's missing. Fossils that appear to be somewhere
between humans and apes are the transitional species between us and
the common ancestor. Now if they found the common ancestor of
humans and apes, that would be a super exciting discovery.
September 8 at 4:07pm & 9 people
D: There is no "missing link". Humans were created, just as apes were
created...and giraffes, whales, birds, and the like Why haven't any
other creatures become intelligent beings over time??
September 8 at 4:09pm & 3 people
E: There is no missing link
September 8 at 4:11pm
F: I really wish journalists would stop reporting every human ancestor
as the "link between humans and apes." Humans didn't "evolve from
apes." Humans and extant species of apes have a common ancestor
that was neither a hominid nor an ape, but was more ape-like than
human-like, and all of the hominid fossils we find are branches from
various places on that tree. Scientists have known this for a very, very
long time, but journalists still seem to get their knowledge of how
evolution works from cartoons and bumper stickers. I know this
concept is nuanced and complicated and doesn't sound as exciting as
"OMG! WE FOUND THE MISSING LINK! AGAIN!" but I do wish
that at least NPR would do better.
September 8 at 4:12pm & 14 people
G: Humans didn't evolve from apes. We share a common ancestor,
hense the "missing link." Stupid bible thumpers doubt evolution but
accept a man built a boat the held two of every species.
September 8 at 4:26pm & 8 people
All of the above posts discuss the theory that no missing link exists, but
none of these users address other posts that state similar claims. Some of the posts are
made within minutes of each other, which could indicate that the composition of one
was in progress while another one was posted. In addition, numerous other posts were
added in between these posts which have been omitted for ease of reading the
repetition. Both of these complications make it difficult for individuals to have a
conversation, since it allows users to all speak at the same time. During offline
conversations, discussions would not experience this phenomenon since one
individual talks while another waits. After the first individual has finished another
will inteiject. If they all try to speak at the same time, as they do on Facebook,
nothing would be accomplished.
Users who make a similar comment as a previous one, which are posted
minutes apart, had the possibility of reading the previous posts, but demonstrated that
they had chosen not to by stating the same opinion. If users had read the previous
comments, perhaps an in-depth dialogue concerning the theory that no missing link
exists could be generated from individuals who are aware of this theory. This
discussion could help generate bonding capital, as it brings together people who are
familiar with this theory at the same time as creating bridging capital, by informing
others who are unaware of the idea or argue another theory. Furthermore, the number
of Likes (which is shown below each post after the timestamp) demonstrates that
those users who Liked the post perhaps have not seen the proceeding posts and are
only acknowledging the immediate post.
This pattern is present in most threads of the Wall space. Below is another
example for a less controversial topic about an article discussing the purpose of a
toilet paper end being folded into a V (September 8, 2011).
A: I don't think this is news.
September 8 at 8:26am & 16 people
B: Oh come on, NPR. Surely there is something more news worthy.
September 8 at 8:27am & 5 people
C: blurring the line between NPR and The Onion once again.... :)
September 8 at 8:27am & 13 people
D: About as newsworthy as a crop circle sighting.
September 8 at 8:29am & 2 people
E: who cares? Why does NPR waste time and money on this crap? no
wonder it lost funding.
September 8 at 8:30am & 2 people
H: Urn, really, NPR?
September 8 at 8:31am & 1 person
I: This is an article from The Onion, right?
September 8 at 8:3lam & 4 people
J: Are you fucking kidding me? This is as bad as celebrity news...
September 8 at 8:32am & 1 person
K: More hard-hitting reporting from NPR. Jesus. Freaking. Christ.
September 8 at 8:54am & 4 people
Again, there are several people making similar statements, but little interaction or
discussion between them.
For both the Wall and the Discussion board, posts that expressed an opinion
by use of flaming/sarcasm are high in numbers. As stated previously, flaming is
defined as an offensive, nonsensical.. passionate online response (Papacharissi,
2004, pg. 269). Sarcasm is combined with flaming since sarcasm is, at times, used to
offend. The following posts are from the NPR Wall and pertain to the article Final
Smash for Americas Giant Particle Collider (September 6, 2011):
A: At least we still make fake vomit and horrid pop stars.
September 6 at 11:52am & 18 people
B: There's still real science going on in the US? I thought the religious
right had banned all that blasphemy by now. Glad to see not
everything scientific's been moved over seas. Ah well, at least the US
will have the best trained McDonalds workers in the 21st century...
September 6 at 11:52am to 30 people
C: The way things are going, Congress is going to divert this money,
and NASA, and NOAA funding to the Creation Museum/Theme Park.
September 6 at 11:58am to 4 people
D: what do you want from a third world country?
September 6 at 11:59am to 9 people
E: Will it microwave a hot pocket?
September 6 at 12:06pm to l person
F: Derp derp, who needs science? Those commie EU world gubmint
foreigners can have their so-called "hadrons." I mean really, are those
even mentioned in the bible? [Derp: internet slang meaning a
response to a stupid comment]
September 6 at 12:08pm to 4 people
G: The U.S. has lost. Thanks everyone for not taking math and science
seriously. Good job.
September 6 at 12:12pm to 1 person
H: We're also not funding the Hubble's replacement. But we can
manage tax cuts for the wealthiest, i mean, "job creators"..
September 6 at 12:26pm to 4 people
I: We can't afford science like this or the Space Program, we have to
give everyone food stamps instead!
September 6 at 12:30pm
J: Well I recon we need to stop all this govmnt spendin and greed and
focus on what our foundin fathers intended....go west! thar's gold in
them dam hills!
September 6 at 12:28pm to l person
About half of the above comments focus on the Republican Party, portraying them as
ignorant. The fake vomit, hot pocket, third world, and food stamp comments
use sarcasm which is directed at society as a whole. Either way, these comments are
expressing individual opinions with sarcasm and, at times, offensive language.
Articles that focused more on individuals or particular political parties experienced
increased levels of flaming and sarcasm. The following posts are from the article
Glenn Beck To Launch Childrens TV Show (NPR Facebook, September 30,
A: Early indoctrination. His views will put early child education
behind a 1000 years! ARGH.
September 30 at 3:53pm
B: THIS character should not be allowed within 100 miles of any
child much less teach anything to any one, sicko
September 30 at 3:55pm
C: This is exactly what kids today need ... A crazy hate-monger with
a closed mind speaking directly to them. Maybe a good segment idea
for the show would be Big Bird dubbed with a Hitler speech.
September 30 at 3:55pm & 4 people
D: A hateful idiot teaching children... Wow, so now America is openly
advocating idiocy and racism.... WAY TO GO!!!!
September 30 at 3:57pm & 1 person
E: His show is already a children's show
September 30 at 3:58pm & 4 people
F: Renaming the show to "Derping with Glenn" would also be
September 30 at 3:58pm
G: Brought to you by the letter, uhhh, what are letters?
September 30 at 3:58pm & 3 people
H: Even a toddler could tell you he's full of shit
September 30 at 3:59pm & 3 people
I: Isn't that child abuse?
September 30 & 1 person
J: I hope all the Muppets kidnap him, turn him over to Bob the
builder, who makes him cement boots, and then turns him over to live
September 30 & 3 people
K: OH S! Just die already!
L: hitler did something like that too.
M: Sounds like a resurrection of the Hitler Youth
September 30 & 3 people
Many of the posts referring to Glenn Beck are not too flattering and some allude to
Adolf Hitler as a comparison. Few individuals use actual facts to back up their claims
and this attitude is continuously repeated throughout the entire thread. There were
only two comments that supported Glen Beck in the first 300 posts. These posts also
do not contain any evidence in support of their claims.
The Discussion board has an increased occurrence of flaming. This may be
due to the initial post, which are frequently opinions, and how individuals interpret
the comment. Although there is evidence of more interaction in the Discussion forum,
few individuals engage and when they do, the conversation tends to spiral into
flaming. The following is an example from the Discussion board with the topic of
White Liberals and 9/11 (September 2011):
A: White Liberals:
-have expressed more hatred toward GW Bush than they ever have
toward bin Laden;
-loathe WalMart and Exxon more than al-Qaeda;
-are outraged more at the Tea Party than at Islamic fundamentalism.
White Liberals are insane and/or stupid and/or mentally deficient.
C: Coo coo..
D: Wow you are the mentally deficient one Jack and it is so sadly
OBVIOUS how quick you are to soak up the B.S hype and lies and
spin of the FAR right media. Liberals dont like Bush because he led us
into a war WAR based on lies and fear.would think that should
anger ANY true American as it is against what we as a nation believe
in. Funny tho the FAR right STILL isn't even willing to admit that
the previous admin, even did that.
That being said and true? I have listened to your OPINIONATED
spin Doctors for a long time now. Even BEFORE Obama was in office
they were saying they wanted him to fail. How American is that?
LMAO he didn't even DO anything to earn their hatred and anger and
insanity but there it was and has been since BEFORE he took office.
And you sit there and parrot their lies, spin, distortion and hatred so
Um A? the crap you are listening to for information is OPINIONS
and the rantings of lunatics. Ever wonder why they never change their
format? It is always the same day after day after day SLAM And rant
and bitch and LIE about the other side" and about" liberals" and
Ever wonder why Rush doesn't have opposing calls on his show? lol
because he is yellow and too afraid to be called out and busted for his
lies and spin. And his station doesn't want him busted either -1 mean
how good would THAT be for ratings if Rush was continuously busted
for lies and the B.S he spouts daily ? He isn't a journalist, he isn't
reporting facts or news just opinions. Which is why he isn't held
accountable for what he says. Its funny how the only ones who don't
REALIZE he is just an ENTERTAINER are those that are easily
fooled and so readily become their parrots. You parrot the lies too
easily A and it's kind of embarrasing.
A: D -1 don't need to listen to any entertainer, broadcaster, or pundit to
know that my three points are valid.
These are not things "rush" told me they are things I know to be
true, by LISTENING to Liberals, and reading what they WRITE.
I have listened to Rush over the years (OK, not REGULARLY, but I
keep up), and I have heard him take PLENTY of "opposing" calls. The
problem with his opposition is that they really don't have anything new
to share (they all seem to be stuck in 1968).
Once in a while he gets a good "Liberal" caller, and has a good
exchange with them. They get on well, it's civil, and friendly.
Alas, most "Liberals" who call into his show talk about the same old
same (m)old... capitalism is evil, Marx's ideas would work if the right
people were in charge, the rich have to "pay their fair share," America
is a dump, Europe is wonderful, and the like and the like
On the war thing:
Doubtless you have heard the saying "In war, truth is the first
If you are right about Bush lying, then you must hold Clinton to the
The Balkans War, for instance: We were told over and over how
bad the Serbs were, that they were committing "genocide" and other
atrocities. This was largely the justification for our involvement.
The truth is that yes, the Serbs were pretty bad. But so were all the
other factions. They were all engaging in "ethnic cleansing" and such.
It just so happened that the Serbs had gained the upper hand, so it was
easy to portray them as "Huns" (ala the Germans in WWI).
The tragic part of that is that when we left Kosovo, we also left the
Serbs there vulnerable to attacks, violence, and atrocities, which were
all duly carried out after our guys left.
C: A, you still haven't presented any relevant evidence to your
statements. Keep talking about willy nilly stuff. Maybe someday you
might find something relevant. Hey? Have you priced the tea in china
lately? LOL. You extremists amaze me.
This conversation continues with the same individuals exchanging posts. There are
only 2 additional users that post 3 other posts in the total of 44 posts. As the
conversation proceeds, both sides become more hostile and defensive. The
conversation is never resolved and the users never come to any conclusion, other than
the other side being misinformed. In conclusion, the majority of the posts on both the
Wall and Discussion board are repetitions or include flaming/sarcasm.
Comments that include information giving are dominated by personal
information or anecdotes rather than factual information. The following are posts
from the article, Why Skipping Salt is So Hard To Do (September 23, 2011):
A: I like salt. I eat salt. I don't seek it out and I don't avoid it. Mercury
on the other hand..
B: I've been enjoying eating crackers and other snack foods again with
low(er) sodium options. Just for the heck of it, I went cold turkey on
the salt shaker in my late teens/early 20s, and I can't stand all the salt
that gets loaded into stuff now.
C: I counted five different containers of salt on my kitchen counter last
nite: Kosher salt, fine sea salt, coarse sea salt, gardner's salt (herbal
infused), fisherman salt (seasoned). That's in addition to the regular
salt, truffle salt and smoked salt I keep in the spice cabinet...
D: I HATE salt, and I take an iodine supplement because of it. You
don't need salt to get iodine.
E: our income was cut in half last year, we still owe for my mothers
funeral expenses, we eat a lot of bean soups with onions, carrots, and
the like it's cheaper than processed foods and better for you. but i will
tell you fruit out here is sooooooo expensive, i feel wealthy when i can
buy the cheapest fruit in season.
F: My system doesn't absorb minerals properly, so I end up having to
take in about 3x as much salt per day as the average person just to
keep my blood pressure up. I guess it's a good thing it's one of my
Posts that included factual information or links to further readings were rare and so
the following examples are from a collection of articles and posts not from any one
A: I'd recommend reading ch.l of Lewis Mumford's Technics and
Civilization, which includes "The Monastery and the Clock"
B: Right now, they argue, the government needs to arrest Americas
dangerous economic slide.
In fact, their prescriptions are more aggressive than any the White
House has proposed or appears to be contemplating for President
Obamas planned speech in September. Among them: direct federal
hiring to reduce unemployment and increase lagging demand.
Mr. Gross, a billionaire acclaimed for his early warnings that the
dot-com and subprime mortgage bubbles would burst, said,
Capitalism in its raw form cant pull us out of this hole.
Sarkozy's austerity package consists largely of closing tax
loopholes and scraping deductions for the country's largest companies.
But it also includes a euro200 million tax hike on the country's
wealthiest taxpayers via a 3 percent "exceptional contribution" on
incomes over euro500,000.
C: Pretty much Toons on Target! Here's a take from the tell-it-like-it-
is column by Uri Avnery: Abu Mazen's Gamble
4M01A114 JO 1-6FG6 JGEN2G25 SFRF54KSMDI9K7
E: the point of that professional suckage, called LHC ,being? Please
elaborate. Meanwhile (to name a few) here's some medical discoveries
were made by the American Space program (yeah...that one was
worthy wasn't it? ("well...now that you mention...) DIGITAL
IMAGING BREAST BIOPSY SYSTEM The LORAD Stereo Guide
Breast Biopsy system incorporates advanced Charge Coupled Devices
(CCDs) as part of a digital camera system. The resulting device images
breast tissue more clearly and efficiently. Known as stereotactic large-
core needle biopsy, this nonsurgical system developed with Space
Telescope Technology is less traumatic and greatly reduces the pain,
scarring, radiation exposure, time, and money associated with surgical
BREAST CANCER DETECTION A solar cell sensor is
positioned directly beneath x-ray film, and determines exactly when
film has received sufficient radiation and has been exposed to
optimum density. Associated electronic equipment then sends a signal
to cut off the x-ray source. Reduction of mammography x-ray
exposure reduces radiation hazard and doubles the number of patient
exams per machine...
The above posts provide information that is relevant to the topic or directs users to
another source that would further understanding of a given topic. Generally, these
posts are lengthier and provide a large amount of context for other users. As
previously stated, though, posts that contain information or links to further reading
are less frequent than posts that contain personal information or typically any other
A third aspect to information sharing is that members of Facebook have the
ability to share the link to any story on NPR. To do so, members can embed the link
in their own personal Wall, a Friends Wall, or a Groups Wall so that others may be
able to read the chosen story. The number of shares is displayed just below the stories
and is relatively high in numbers. The number of shares ranges from as low at 38 and
up to as high as 7,961. Although there may not be many people sharing or posting
external information within the Wall thread, there are numerous others who are
sharing the story with friends and family. However, if these numbers are compared to
the 2,070,700 members of NPRs Facebook Page, the number of individuals who are
engaging in this activity, at most equaling 0.3% still remains relatively small.
Information seeking was the least exhibited pattern within any thread of
NPRs Wall. This section was from individuals who desired to obtain more
information on the topic and asked a question directly related to the story/article. The
following examples are from a Double Take Toon: Two Nations, Indivisible?
article about Israel and Palestine (September 24, 2011)
A: would cost a couple of billion dollars and where the hell does the
U.S. plan on getting the money to fund it?
B: Is anyone else completely depressed by the stream of American
scientific achievements that have become museum pieces. Decades
ago, the US used to lead the world in science and technology and now,
we don't have a manned space program, we're shuttering our high-
energy physics facilities, and our atmospheric monitoring satellites
will be crashing back to earth soon. It's little wonder that our future is
bleak. We're not investing in our education, our research, our science
programs. Isn't there anyone willing to make the connection between
investments in education/research and our future prosperity?
C: I know the Jews and Muslims have been fighting for that land for
centuries. But, before the Christians were also fighting with the
Muslims for that land. Does anybody know what happened that made
the Christians stop fighting for that land? Could either the Jews or the
Muslims take the same path? And, if the Palestinians eventually win,
is the land important enough that the Shiites and Sunnis will start
fighting each other over it?
D: Has anyone asked President Obama what he thinks of Patrick
Chappatte?! @!!!! [artist of political cartoon]
E: @F I helped pick the Obama-as-Blofeld cartoon, I don't see it as
anti-semitic. It's always possible that I missed an element that you
picked up on. Can you explain the basis for your comment?
G @E: I still think Obama should have been the cat...
E @H Can you explain why you believe both toons present a
The above comments are only a fraction of the actual number of posts, but represent
the larger number of examples within a post directly asking a question to the
story/article provided by NPR. Some can be interpreted as rhetorical, but without
actually having a face-to-face conversation with the individual, one might not know if
that person was using sarcasm or not. This is something that does not translate well
over the internet and can be misunderstood. Furthermore, none of these questions
were answered or addressed within the rest of the thread. One of NPRs workers,
User E, did attempt to ask members about their opinions. User G did respond to User
E, but that was not the individual who made the initial post. The users that were
directly addressed by User E did not respond.
It was during the Double Take Toons thread that a noticeable amount of
individuals began addressing NPR and its lack of coverage on the Occupy Wall Street
Event (September 2011). As new threads were read, an increasing amount of
individuals began to post more on this fact. It was at this point that the research
acknowledged a difference in story postings between NPRs Facebook and parent
website. On the parent website, there were stories covering Occupy Wall Street, but
were not posted on Facebook. These posts by users were not answered by NPR and
the posts became increasingly angry and frustrated. It does demonstrate that
individuals were relying on the Facebook feed for news and were not visiting NPRs
Responsive Posts within NPRs Facebook Page
Responses within NPRs Facebook Page are considered comments that
directly referenced another post. The majority of responses came from Liking a post.
Users who engaged in responding by adding a new post most directly referenced
another user by typing plus the name of the user they wished to address before
their comment. Others simply addressed members by name, similar to a letter
heading. Collectively, responses fell into three different categories: opinion affirming,
opinion challenging, and elaboration seeking.
Opinion affirming was most acknowledged by Liking a post. Likes ranged
from one up to forty-two. The posts that received high numbers of Likes tended to be
at the beginning of every post. As the thread continued, Likes were still given, but the
number per comment decreased. Posts that received the most Likes were either
humorous or contained flaming while others were logical and well thought out. The
following are a collection of posts that received a high number of Likes, which
contained humor or flaming:
A: it's the opposite...Odrama is Nethanyau's puppet...America has
become the Zionist's whore....
September 24 at 5:19am Like fc 8 people [Israeli-Palestinian
B: don't tell Rick Perry
September 8 at 3:59pm 42 people [Missing Link Article]
C: DO, DO TELL RICK PERRY!
September 8 at 4:00pm L 27 people [Missing Link Article]
D: I'm not going to be watching that racist.
August 25 at 11:34am fc 5 people [A1 Sharpton]
E: I don't care what color you are, what God you pray to or who you
choose to love, when you're an asshat, you're an asshat and this man is
August 25 at 11:35am &13 people [A1 Sharpton]
F: The fact that they say people want blowhards over actually
journalists shows how out of touch the mainstream media is.
August 25 at 11:38am & 6 people [A1 Shaprton]
G: Hope you guys enjoy a friendly Ramadan joke!:)
There were two white Christian men, Adam and Jack, whose
plane crashed into a desert. Luckily they survived unharmed. As they
traveled through the hot desert looking for food and water, they gave
up and sat down, thinking of what to do.
As the dust in the air settled, they suddenly could view a mosque
ahead. They became very hopeful. But then Adam said "Muslims are
there. They might help us if we say we are muslim."
Then Jack said "No way, I won't say I'm muslim, I'm gonna be
So Adam and Jack went to the Mosque ahead and were greeted
by an Arab muslim, who asked what their names were.
Adam thought of a muslim name and said, 'My name is
And Jack said 'My name is Jack'.
The arab man said 'Hello Jack.' And told these other men to take
Jack and give him food and drink.
Then he turned to Adam and said, 'Hello Muhammed. Ramadan
August 29 at 3:20pm & 30 people
H: Not with quotes like this: "And and and given the fact that that.,
you... you may... yeah, it was a company you say acting as a
person...yeah, have you... didn't gand the likeha, that... may well be...
you'd take it up with... with him... uh... but there's actually... given the
fact that he said, 'oh, it's me,' I don't think there was, if you will, no
harm no foul. Yeah... yeah."
August 28 at 1:25pm & 5 people [Mitt Romney as CEO
I: If I could wear magic underpants I would. But at least they accept
science and good common sense unlike the Talibaptist Dominionists
(Perry and Bachmann).
August 28 at 1:37pm 4= 4 people [Mitt Romney as CEO
J: None of the Republicans have a chance in hell, and thank God for
that. They're all completely batshit insane.
August 28 at 1:47pm & 8 people [Mitt Romney as CEO
K: who cares. After the teahdists put the final nail in this big coffin by
electing a total ass clown to replace the articulate black guy that they
hate, we won't have any educated folks left to run such an operation.
This country is already dumb as dog shit, we deserve to become a 3rd
world country, thriving on fried butter and violent racism, cute.
September 4 at 12:41pm & 4 people
The above posts received high number of Likes reflecting that several viewers agreed
with the stated opinion. The majority of them either directly insult an opposing
viewpoint or use sarcasm as a means to portray the opposite side as irrelevant.
Several of the posts use foul language as a mechanism for expressing an opinion,
which demonstrates intense emotion behind the words. One does use a joke that
seems to bridge together two groups, not exclusively making fun of either side in
particular. Although the number of Likes is a sign of solidarity, it is a form of
solidarity of which Sunstein warns polarization through extreme comments.
Furthermore, the posting online allows users a moment of reflection before
immediately responding, which demonstrates that the users are purposively choosing
their words, which tends to frustrate and end conversations instead of contributing
and prolonging a civil conversation. Again, most of these opinions are expressed with
little reference to fact or other posts.
The following posts are ones that received several Likes but did not use
flaming or humor to state their opinion.
A: How can we be advocate for peace between the two when we
always seem to lean to one side, Israel.
September 24 at 5:17am &13 people [Israeli/Palestinian Conflict
B: I dislike the term "missing link" because it implies that there is one
intermediate step between man and ape, when there are many... and
we've already found a lot. In this context it's fine, but I dislike when
anti-evolutionists use it as ammo, claiming we still haven't found that
missing link... getting off my soapbox now.
September 8 at 4:02pm & 28 people [Missing Link Article]
C: Oh lord, leave the man alone, let him do the job first!!!
August 25 at 11:34am & 4 people [A1 Sharpton]
D: Rev. A1 is not very good at this. He can barely read a teleprompter.
His hour on MSNBC is an uncomfortable one (for the viewer), at best.
He's an engaging guy, and and electrifying public speaker. But this is
not a good venue for him.
August 25 at 11:34am & 5 people [A1 Sharpton]
E: I love the stories about grandparents in both sides of the interview.
Really touching and how lovely to wake up to the sound of your
grandfather reciting holy passages. I can just imagine my grandfather
reciting scripture like that what a beautiful memory that would be.
August 29 at 3:07pm & 14 people [Reflections of Ramadan
F: I'm not muslim, I'm Christian, but I do admire people who are able
to follow Ramadan, it's really hard!!!!
August 29 at 3:11pm & 8 people [Reflections of Ramadan
G: Romney had a shot before the CEO governors in places like
Michigan and Wisconsin started seriously pissing off the populace.
He's got himself an uphill battle to be heard in the states where there
are those touting their CEO status and then stripping the working poor
of support systems.
August 28 at 1:25pm to 10 people [Mitt Romney as CEO
H: I hope women take over, I think a matriarchal system might be
better than whatever we have right now. But what do I know?
September 26 Like to 13 people [Are Men Finished Article]
Finding posts that omitted flaming or humor of one form or another was more
difficult. Some of the above posts include humor/flaming, and others remain more
neutral. Other posts exhibit a sense of compassion for an alternative perspective
before/afiter stating their own opinion. These types of comments are better at bridging
diverse groups together, and are more preferable to the ones that use flaming/humor.
These posts have the potential to spark a debate/discussion without use of emotion or
derogatory words. Comments that display these characteristics and have a high
number of Likes are fewer than the flaming remarks and do not receive many posts in
Some posts that reference each other and agree on the same topic use
humor/flaming or simply agree with each other. The first set of posts are examples
from the Final Smash for Americas Giant Particle Collider (September 6, 2011)
that displays agreement with humor/flaming:
A: Maybe we can turn that giant particle collider into a gargantuan
"Tevatron Bomb" we always, magically, seem to have
$$$$TRILLIONS for anything war-related. Or maybe the "Tevatron
Outlet Mall" with a huge food court, staffed by miserable wage slaves,
serving crappy food & enormous "Tevatron" soft drinks! Unrestrained
September 6 at 1:13pm 7 people
B: The "Tevatron Outlet Mall" has got a ring to it.
September 6 at 1:15pm & 1 person
C: It's only worth it if it can make combustible lemons, then call life's
manager and give them back. That's science, dammit!
September 6 at 1:15pm
B: One "super lime colliderade" coming up!
September 6 at 1:17pm [Final Smash Article]
A: Is anyone else completely depressed by the stream of American
scientific achievements that have become museum pieces. Decades
ago, the US used to lead the world in science and technology and now,
we don't have a manned space program, we're shuttering our high-
energy physics facilities, and our atmospheric monitoring satellites
will be crashing back to earth soon. It's little wonder that our future is
bleak. We're not investing in our education, our research, our science
programs. Isn't there anyone willing to make the connection between
investments in education/research and our future prosperity?
September 6 at 12:14pm & 6 people
B: @A but at least we have "Keeping Up With the Kardashians."
September 6 at 12:23pm & 2 people [Final Smash Article]
The above posts show a sense of agreement between the participants and also use
humor as a means of expressing their opinion. Although these comments are not as
extreme as some of the posts, there are few people engaged in the conversation and
there is no evidence that the initial responder was aware of the following posts.
Furthermore, these types of conversations are brief and only a few posts are
exchanged. Other posts that display agreement simply post AAA agree, which is
essentially a way of Liking a post. Although, there would be occasional evidence of
agreement between users through direct conversation, the main way members would
portray their agreement was through Liking a post.
Opinion challenging is considered a post that directly references another post
while presenting a counterargument. Although these posts were also rare in terms of
numbers, they were more prevalent within the Wall space than Opinion affirming if
referring to actual posts. Since there is no Dislike button, if users wish to contradict
a post, they must reference the original comment within their own post. Opinion
challenging includes posts that present a differing view and use either civil tones,
flaming, or at times, trolling. Trolling is defined as cyber bullying which is performed
as a form of entertainment or a hobby. Individuals who engage in trolling spend time
perfecting their performance online. The intentions of trolling are to deceive, use
aggression, and disrupt conversations. If a troll effectively performs these within an
online forum without being detected as a troll, they are considered successful. The
main purpose of a troll is to post incendiary comments... ludicrous rants, inane
thread-jackings, personal insults, and abusive language... with the intent of provoking
others into conflict (as quoted in Hardaker, 2010, p. 224). Trolling and flaming are
categorized together since the intentions of some of the users is ambiguous as to
whether they are simply stating an opposing opinion with flaming or if they are
intentionally engaging in trolling behaviors.
The following posts are from various articles which show a disagreement, but
a set that maintain civil tones.
A: ok, ill keep it basic, here: THIS IS A CLEAR SIGN THAT THE
US IS NO LONGER A SUPER POWER. Our shuttle are scrapped,
we're loosing the Hubble telescope, & now the Fermi collider...these
are are telltale signs of our lost power.
September 6 at 1:09pm & 4 people
A: (sorry 4 the spellings. In a hurry!)
September 6 at 1:11 pm
B: I beg to differ, the American Empire is strong and growing. We've
merely shifted our power and interest to the front lines and are fully
invested in the business of war and corporate monopolies.
September 6 at 1:12pm & 3 people [Final Smash Article]
A:Don't quite see what Republicans have to do with this; as I recall the
Super-conducting Super-Collider which was partially constructed near
Waxahachie TX as much as 1 Sbillion or so had already been spent -
was cancelled under Bill Clinton's watch.
September 6 at 12:38pm
B: @B, the SSC was cancelled by a Republican Congress in 1993 over
President Clinton's objections.
September 6 at 12:44pm & 3 people [Final Smash Article]
A: Ron Paul is unelectable because of his foreign policy choices. Mitt
isn't a very good choice either. Sadly it looks like it will have to be
Perry at this point.
August 28 at 1:37pm [Mitt Romney as CEO Candidate Article]
B: Well A, unless you are a fundamentalists, make your funeral pyre,
because these folks (Perry and Bachmann, and their backers) will
outlaw all forms of religion not like their own (including other forms
of Christianity of which Mormonism is not).
August 28 at 1:39pm [Mitt Romney as CEO Candidate Article]
C: @ B...that is a good point you bring up. Romney's beliefs are not
nearly as publicly intrusive as the other frontrunner's.
August 28 at 1:40pm & 1 person [Mitt Romney as CEO
A: I agree with C 150,000 years and I dont understand why we would
need men except...
September 26 [No member with As name found]
B: Too bad statistically men still make more money on average than
women. Not saying I agree with that but before becoming all wrapped
up in grandiose statements maybe we should look at the facts.
September 26 & 1 person
A: @B those are just vestages of a system that is on its way out bud.
B: @A Well it has been trending that way for some time but it's been a
very slow process and it's not going to get any easier for real balance
to come about since those with the majority hold now will only keep
fighting harder to hold onto it.
C: @B, once women replace men in higher positions of power, it
would be natural for women's salaries to alsobegin to rise to meet or
exceed that of men's
September 26 [Are Men Finished Article]
These posts show recognition of an alternative perspective followed by a
counterstatement. Although these comments pave a way for a civil discussion/debate
to continue, the thread is not continued after the last comment. As a result, these
exchanges encompass no more than three comments and involve at most three
different individuals leaving out a larger portion of the NPR Facebook population.
A: D I'm saying that everyone but the Mormon and the libertarian are
bat shit crazy and utterly dangerous. I am not impressed with any
Republican, however, and have not been for years. It has become the
party of the stupid, the rich and the religiously fundamentalist.
August 28 at 2:07pm & 4 people [User D was not addressing User
A in anyway, so it is unclear why User A addressed User D here.]
B: Lol. I wish we had a more moderate political climate, but we don't,
and won't for quite some time (thanks in part to the media). But, if
you don't think Perry is a serious candidate, you are in for a shock.
This is going to surpass 2010 as far as Conservatism goes. People are
angry, which creates polarization, and Obama is the incumbent who
will be the target of frustration (rightly or wrongly).
August 28 at 2:07pm & 1 person
A: B are you one of those whorish political operatives or something.
All of us who are not Talibaptists might just as well bum ourselves at
the stake enmasse if Perry OR Bachmann are elected. Their
Dominionists views and the people behind them will see to it that we
are rustled up and moved to concentration camps and do it for us
August 28 at 2:11pm & 2 people
A: So by voting against Obama, B, you hope to destroy the country in
order to save it though Perry?
August 28 at 2:22pm
B: That would depend on how we define destroy. I think there are
infinite ways to define that term, most of which we would never agree
on so it makes no sense to argue about them. I am simply saying that
Perry is tough competition for Obama. And the polarization is going to
favor Perry and hurt Obama.
August 28 at 2:25pm
A: B, by destroy I mean the founding of a neo-feudal American in
which the poor are utterly wiped out, the middle class are enslaved,
and only one form of religion (the Dominionist heresy) survives. If
that is what you want, I challenge you that you are truly not an
August 28 at 2:31pm to 1 person
B: Well, I am not going to exchange in verbosity with you A. Suffice it
to say, I too do not want that. But no one has every claimed to want
that, you are merely creating a straw man fallacy, which is a waste of
energy to respond to directly. But, it cannot be said either side has a
monopoly on the truth, and this like many other things is a place where
reasonable minds differ.
August 28 at 2:38pm
A: That is what will happen if Dominionists are given the presidency.
No straw man argument here. You will be fondly remembering the
days of Pres. Obama, and will rue the day that Perry ever got the
August 28 at 2:42pm to 1 person
B: Straw man to disprove a straw man. That only makes it worse. As
you can see, I am willing to exchange with you A, but my responses
are irrelevant if you are making conclusory statements to me and
framing my thoughts to use them against me before even knowing
what they are.
August 28 at 2:45pm
A: No straw here: Perry is a dominionist. Dominionsm is based on the
thoughts of John Rousas Rushdooney as refined by C. Peter Wagner
and others and says that all non-fundamentalist, non-gay hating, and
non-Christian people must be killed off so that Jesus can come back
when they gain power.
August 28 at 2:51pm 1 person
A: You are a lawyer aren't you B?
August 28 at 2:51pm & 1 person
B: That is another layer of straw. You are attributing a term to Perry
which he has never claimed to be in order to make his character weak
and easier to attack, you then attack it while claiming it as a fact. You
are flagrantly creating strawmen. I don't even like Perry, but I also
don't appreciate intellectual dishonesty either. Fallacies are the most
atrocious tools of the intellectually dishonest. You are obviously a
smart guy, you are netter than fallacious arguments.
August 28 at 2:56pm
A: Look He invited all the leaders of the New Apostolic Revolutiuon
to hjis prayer meeting. Are you suggesting that he is anothing other
than a follower of their teachings? You are a political operative. How
much are you making to be here today?
August 28 at 3:00pm
The above conversation is one of the lengthier and most sustained conversations
found in NPRs Facebook Wall. Again, the conversation involves at most three
individuals, the third conversant was not included because that thread diverted the
initial conversation, which is a usual tendency. The comments appear to be one right
after the other in the excerpt for ease of reading, but these comments were originally
spaced between other posts, which hinders a readers ability to smoothly read the
conversation. At times, tracking the next comment in the conversation is frustrating
and can dissuade users from attempting to follow the arguments made by each side.
User B also maintains a balanced tone throughout the thread, while User A appears to
get upset as the conversation continues. Furthermore, User A accuses User B of being
a political operative displaying a sense of distrust in the users intention.
The end of the thread is not the end of the discussion between User A and
User B, but only extends past three more posts. However, user B does continue to
comment throughout the rest of the entire thread, exchanging ideas with other users.
It is unclear whether User A continued to read the posts but stopped commenting, or
if User A left the conversation entirely. Computer-mediated communication makes it
difficult to verify these answers since no material presence was seen. Additionally,
the lack of a physical presence makes it difficult for conversationalists to know if
their opinion was acknowledged. In face-to-face conversation it is much easier to
know when an individual is talking, another listening, and when one or the other
leaves the conversation.
Another layer to the conversation is the trolling aspect. It could be argued that
User A could have been a troll attempting to derail the conversation, was
unsuccessful, and so left the forum. This cannot be proved either way, which adds
complexity to CMC. Trolling is difficult to detect since one of the goals of a troll is to
blend into the community as much as possible. They wish to cause conflict and incite
negative reactions while remaining undetected. Another dimension to this is that
some members on the NPR feed have stated that some individuals are paid to partake
in this behavior to attract readers. Regardless of whether this claim is correct or not, it
still convolutes the conversation if individuals are distrustful of others intentions.
The following is a thread from Sharpton's New MSNBC Gig Part Of A Bigger
Story (August 25, 2011) Article where a User B is acknowledged as a troll, but not
until after User B engages in conversations with others:
A: I would not worry about A1 sharpton. Worry about the
Becks,Limbaughs, Hannitys and their ilk. They spew hatred, Rev. A1
spews justice. For once just listen!
August 28 at 3:12pm & 4 people
B: Ahaha al spews justice,wow,later people have a nice day
August 28 at 3:22pm & 2 people
A: Yes B he spews justice Listen for a change and get your blinders
off. Brawley was a long time ago and MOST people have grown from
that especially Rev.
August 28 at 3:39pm & 1 person
A: I know Rev. Personallyand that was bull. You think perhaps it was
a set up? What about Rush. I don't hear ranting at him. And what
exactly are his qualifications. My husband and I have a construction
business that works with the black churches/community. I know what I
am speaking of. You don't. You just listen to talking heads.
August 28 at 3:47pm & 1 person
B @ A please baffle me with your knowledge because you work with
a black church group, people like you are the problem and your
probably the biggest bigot on here, pull your liberal head out of your
ass and look around the world has changed since the 70 s
August 28 at 3:52pm
A: B you are the problem and are not even aware of it as you are so
wrapped in hatred. By the way clean up your mouth you piece of trash.
August 28 at 4:26pm
B @ A you old bigot clean up yours,hatred? That's all you honey,look
at your posts
August 28 at 4:30pm
B: Your loud mouth new york italian tough guy routine won't work
August 28 at 4:33pm
A: Loud mouth italian? NY tough guy? Oh no you don't hate much.
Go get some anger management and a life. I am done with the likes of
you. I done want to lower myself to your level. Caio
August 28 at 4:57pm
B: Your ridiculous and yeah loud mouth italian,that's what your doing!
August 28 at 5:01pm
C: @A, you must be new, or you'd know B shitz is our resident troll.
He comes out on ALL the NPR post dealing with race and pretty much
gets the same reactions out of any unsuspecting newbie. Those of us
regulars of the last few months pretty much ignore him.
A: @C. Thank you for your input. In the meantime I blocked him.
Your remarks were words of wisdom. I think Rev. A1 will do just fine.
It appears that his guests seem to respect and like him as well. Again I
August 28 at 7:03pm & 2 people
This thread was only one of the numerous conversations of which User B was a
participant. This thread was the only one that another user interjected, attempting to
ease User As frustrations with the interaction. User B initially attracts User A into a
conversation by sarcastically reiterating her statement. In the previous conversations
User B has already portrayed himself as a user that flames, but User A had not yet
established himself in the thread. User A was lured into responding with a negative
reaction, which is what User B (if indeed a troll) wanted to elicit. User C interjects at
this point addressing User A by announcing that User B is the resident troll and to
ignore him. Afterwards, User A responds by thanking User C, but also admits that
User B had been Blocked already. This act of Blocking demonstrates that excessive
use of flaming and trolling activity actually shut down conversations as User A had
already Blocked User B, which is detrimental for democracy (Sunstein, 2007). When
this happens, individuals isolate themselves with like minded individuals to avoid
frustrations and this leads to further polarization.
Reflections on Initiating and Responsive Posts
For ten randomly selected articles, the first 50 comments contained, on
average, three comments (6%) that directly referenced another comment. The average
number of posts is 362, based on 35 randomly selected articles, which means that
throughout the course of an average conversation only 21 posts include members
directly engaging with each other. The number of comments per individual article
that were responsive ranged from zero to seven posts and varied between opinion
affirming and challenging. Based on these initial calculations and patterned behavior
of users, initiating, and not responsive posts were the dominant form of posts. The
remaining 94% of posts in the ten randomly selected articles were divided into
reiterating common themes within the thread or stating opposing viewpoints with no
reference to any preceding post. These posts do provide an account of where users
stand on particular issues and could have been used as a basis for conversation.
However, other than liking a post, it appears that the majority of previous posts were
unread and few actual exchanges between members were made.
Most posts that were exchanged among members or received the highest
numbers of Likes proportionately displayed belittling attitudes and contained flaming.
Most of the exchanges were primarily between variant groups. Although,
theoretically bringing together disparate groups seems beneficial for democracies, the
conversations that were carried out on NPRs Facebook usually involved only a few
members and were short lived never ending with a clear conclusion. In addition,
when one actor used flaming tactics, occasionally some members would attempt to
guide the conversation back to more civil tones. More frequently, users were enticed
into a battle of flaming wars. It is not clear whether these types of behaviors would be
avoided if the conversation was carried out face-to-face, but perhaps the conversation
would conclude differently if each participant had nonverbal cues to assist in the
exchanges. Nevertheless, conversations that included flaming ended quickly as the
engaged members no longer posted, but it is uncertain if the participants returned to
read the rest of the conversation. Even when conversations maintained civil tones, the
discussion would abruptly end with no real conclusion. This does not necessarily
mean the effects of the conversation ended there. Perhaps those that engaged in
conversation or remained omniscient observers consumed the information in the
dialogue and later internalized what they read and privately adjusted their opinions.
Furthermore, several individual regulars reappeared in several threads,
meaning these particular members were extremely engaged, while many other users
were not. If the number of posts is compared to the number of Facebook members,
the percentage of individuals who engaged in dialogue is extremely low. One of the
highest posts per story is 3,157 and this statistic will be used as an example since it
accumulated the highest number of posts. If we assume that each individual post is
from a unique member, only 0.15% of members are actually engaging in posting
activity per story out of the 2,070,700 members of NPRs Facebook. If the trends
from the ten randomly selected stories is applied to this, where only 6% of the
conversation contains direct exchanges between members, that would mean 189
comments were involved in exchanges and 0.0009% of the members on NPRs
Facebook Page are directly participating in a dialogue with each other. This leads one
to assume that most individuals are posting without reading or commenting on others.
Moreover, as stated before, these occasional conversations tend to spiral into flaming
wars and are not productive at producing a civil discourse.
FACEBOOK AND SOCIAL CAPITAL
As technologies dominate the means through which individuals engage in
conversation, it leads one to question whether online forums are capable of
reconstituting all the beneficial qualities generated in real communities. Can an
individual accumulate or mimic simple bridging social capital behaviors such as
nodding or smiling to a stranger online? Can a person produce the same bonding
capital online as sitting and having coffee with a close friend? There are many
proponents of computer-mediated communication who argue these forms of
communication allow busy individuals to stay connected. This may be true, but are
people able to benefit in the same way from CMC as society has historically benefited
from creating offline communities? This chapter analyzes and expands on the
conclusions from Chapter Two to determine if NPRs Facebook Page creates social
capital and, consequently, if cooperation and coordination are viable characteristics of
NPRs online community.
I begin this chapter with a discussion of Robert Putnams (2001) statistical
analysis of social capital throughout the 19th Century. Afterwards, I utilize the
information collected in Chapter Two to determine if the formation of honesty, trust,
and reciprocity are encouraged in the exchanges within NPRs Facebook Page.
According to Putnam, these three characteristics are fundamental to the production of
community and social capital. If one of these fundamental ingredients is lacking, the
creation of a cohesive community and production of social capital is greatly
diminished. Finally, I conclude the chapter with a discussion of whether bridging or
bonding social capital is present in NPRs Facebook Page. If social capital is present,
I will analyze whether the two forms are equally constructed, or if one is
overrepresented within NPRs Facebook Page.
Wider Discourse Regarding Social Capital
Social capital is arguably the driving force behind a vibrant and healthy
democratic society. As discussed previously, social capital is concerned with the
relationships individuals forge within a community. Bonding capital is between in-
groups and is more exclusive, whereas bridging capital is based on relationships
established between disparate groups and is more inclusive. The production,
maintenance, and balance of these two forms of relationships are imperative for
establishing a solid foundation for a flourishing public sphere. Robert Putnams
statistical analysis tracking social capital throughout the 20 century provides a
general backdrop to trends in social capital within the United States. Putnam
concludes that, overall, social capital has steadily declined with the exception of the
baby boomer generation. Putnams statistics are based on the number of individuals
who are engaged in communal activities, such as bowling leagues, religious activities,
work/informal friends, volunteering, attending town hall meetings, and even voting in
political elections.6 For the most part, all of these activities have experienced a
decline in membership and participation throughout the last century. Individuals who
are less active in their communities produce less social capital, which is detrimental
for societies with strong democratic ideals.
Although there are different theories about democracy and the characteristics
needed to enhance it, such as those that value individualism, this research will use the
theory of social capital and democracy as presented by Robert Putnam. Accordingly,
if social capital is lacking, individuals within society will have no sense of
community or unity. If there is no sense of community, disparate individuals
inherently turn to individualism and reject the idea of a collective good. In general,
the community is worse off when the majority of individuals within a group absorb an
individualistic attitude. As Putnam states, a well-connected individual in a poorly
connected society is not as productive as a well-connected individual in a well-
connected society. And even a poorly connected individual may derive some of the
spillover benefits from living in a well-connected community (p. 20). Accordingly,
healthy democratic societies are successful at cultivating well-connected individuals
through social capital. The opposite of this statement might also be true, wherein
individuals who are well-connected construct vibrant democracies.
In broad terms, social capital is threatened by what Putnam classifies as
sectarianism, ethnocentrism, [and] corruption (p. 22). This behavior disposes each
citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the circle of
family and friends; with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the
greater society to look after himself (Alexis de Tocqueville as quoted by Putnam, p.
24). When this occurs, fragmentation of a society takes place, and democracy has
little hope of advancing, for individuals become less interested in communicating
with each other. In addition, with each successive generation leading up to 1999, the
general inclination of the populace is that the United States is placing less emphasis
on community, more on individualism, which creates a breakdown of social
connectedness (p. 25). Putnam distinguishes several different factors that contribute
to this popular notion and actual decline in social capital (p. 187), which Putnam
categorizes into four chapters based around common themes. These chapters include
pressures of time and money, mobility and sprawl, technology and mass media, and
generational trends. Although none of these are the primary reason for the decline of
social capital, each factor contributes significantly to the problem.
Economic pressures and constant busyness have decreased the amount of time
citizens, both men and women, have for engaging in social capital. Individuals who
are employed, and do not work from home, tend to be more active in producing social
capital due to the fact that they work closely with others. However, external factors,
such as downturns in the economic cycle, stimulate anxiety, which counteracts
positive social capital growth within the work community. Even when the economy
experiences recoveries, anxieties and insecurities remain prevalent, which further
contributes to the decline of social capital. Accordingly, individuals become less
connected to their communities, and the resulting lack of social capital only adds to
the anxiety one feels. Consequently, the loss of social capital from economic pressure
and busyness is never truly regained, as this cycle perpetuates itself.
In addition to pressure and busyness, mobility and sprawl have physically
increased the distance between people. Historically, children grew up in one
town/city and, as an adult, tended to stay in that same town/city. Today, a growing
number of individuals move away from their hometown, which creates a culture that
encourages youth to partake in detached behaviors. This type of societal behavior
breaks long standing social bonds and leads individuals to feel more isolated and
lonely. Of course, individuals establish new capital in their respective locations which
can, arguably, increase bridging social capital. But Putnam argues that these new
connections are fewer and less extensive. In contrast, when individuals establish roots
in one area over an extended period of time, both bonding and bridging social capital
are stronger since community members as a whole have similar backgrounds,
contextualization, and familiarization with each other. Therefore, when individuals
within this community disagree, their similarities allow them to engage in civil social
discussions. In addition to displaced persons, society has experienced sprawling.
Putnam attributes this societal phenomenon to the development of suburbs. As people
move away from the city and into suburbs, people physically lived further away from
each other. Commuting to work, the grocery store, or even an acquaintances house
requires the use of a vehicle, which reduces the amount of time for actual face-to-face
interactions and increases the amount of time individuals spend alone. These
behaviors further negatively detract from the formation of social capital within a
Furthermore, according to Putnam, mass media and technology have
individualized entertainment and leisure activities. Society as a whole no longer needs
to orchestrate fixed schedules so that numerous people can experience music, a play,
and the like together. Due to technology, individuals are in control of their
entertainment, which allows them to partake in events on an individual level,
irrespective of place and time. In addition, the amount of time spent on entertainment
has significantly increased. Two forms of technology that dominate leisure activities
are the television and, even more recently, the internet. As a result, individuals spend
more time alone and less time involved in community activities or volunteering, and
those that watched television more extensively were more likely to be less civil.7
Even more seriously, research has found a strong correlation between youth who
watched television heavily and their political ignorance, cynicism, aggressiveness,
social ineptitude, and less involvement in the community. As generations grow up on
these ever present forms of entertainment, predictions for the trends in social capital
are not positive.
Furthermore, as entertainment is increasingly individualized and easy to
access, the number of individuals who are interested in the news has declined. A
statistical correlation has shown that individuals who read printed newspapers are
more civically engaged, and, therefore, produce more social capital (Putnam, p. 218).
Unfortunately, print news organizations have experienced such a significant decline
in patronage that many news businesses filed for bankruptcy (2008-2009). As more
news sources turn to the internet or television as a means of connecting with audience
members, the social capital lost is not regained. According to Putnams statistics,
individuals who solely receive news via the internet or television are less inclined to
involve themselves in the community. These trends suggest that, as individualized
entertainment increases, individuals are less interested in events outside of their own
individual realm and are less likely to civically engage with their community.
Putnams last theme explaining the decline of social capital is generational
trends. Putnam particularly isolates the trend of individualism, which originated in the
Baby Boomer generation and was inherited by later generations, to be a primary
cause of declining social capital. Individualism only intensified with Generation X,
who had matured in a society that emphasized private gain over public aspiration. As
a result, Generation X never established a personal connection to politics, is more
materialistic, more insecure, trusts fewer people, and is unhappier. All of these
characteristics are harmful to the production of social capital, as they contribute to a
sense of loneliness and disconnection. Unfortunately, these trends are not reversed in
younger generations, but are rather reinforced and perpetuated.
Despite these statistical trends, Putnam argues for a positive and productive
future for social capital in the United States. Putnam warns that social capital will not
be naturally rejuvenated and that individuals within society must actively attempt to
reestablish connections to their neighbors and communities. As more individuals are
busy, anxious, pressured, distracted, and disinterested, perhaps the internet can be a
medium through which individuals can reconnect. Although the internet can serve as
a distraction, it has the potential to provide public forums for busy individuals to
participate with their communities, especially forums such as NPRs Facebook page.
All NPR stories on the Facebook Wall include vast amounts of comments ranging
from as low as thirteen to as high as 3,157. An initial reaction to the number of posts
on NPRs Facebook Page is that most US citizens are already constrained in terms of
time and, so it is seems, impractical for normal users to allocate the time and effort to
read/analyze the article plus posts, and then to contribute effectively to the discussion.
Despite these limitations of society, this chapter implements critical discourse
analysis to analyze the post that do appear on NPRs Facebook Page to determine
whether individuals are able to reconstitute an offline community using computer-
Honesty, Trust, and Reciprocity
Well-adjusted and functioning communities have three conditional qualities:
honesty, trust, and reciprocity. In order for communities to maintain a level of vigor
and progress, these three qualities need to be continually promoted in democratic
societies as they serve to establish both bonding and bridging social capital. Honesty
is reflected in individuals who interact with others without concealing information or
intentions. Trust comes from individuals being honest with one another, which
produces an atmosphere where individuals experience a level of comfort to be and to
express themselves. Trust refers to the connection between individuals, not
institutions, where a mutual acknowledgement is made that neither participant is
being deceitful. Lastly, trust and honesty lead individuals to engage in reciprocity.
Reciprocity encourages individuals to tolerate and respect each other, therefore,
leading to cooperation for the good of the community. Reciprocity incorporates
elements of the Golden Rule and the old adage of Ill scratch your back, if you
scratch mine (Putnam, pp. 134-146). This does not automatically mean that
individuals have to be continuously selfless but, on the contrary, pursue their own self
interest and, in doing so, needs of the community will be served. In order for this
system to function properly, though, individuals have to be willing to cooperate at
some level, which means that there needs to be a substantial amount of trust and
honesty as a basis. These three characteristics facilitate the formation of connections
between individuals that are then transformed into bonding and bridging social
capital. For the remainder of this chapter, I will first examine how NPR and the tools
provided by Facebook encourage the formation of these three characteristics followed
by how NPRs Facebook members contribute. The last section of the chapter will
address how these characteristics do or do not contribute to social capital.
NPRs Facebook Contributions
NPR and Facebook are large organizations that have used public relations to
create a rapport with their consumers. In doing so, both organizations have
established an enduring relationship with their users, formulating a sense of trust
between consumer and producer. These connections have been facilitated over the
last seven years for Facebook and 41 years for NPR. Therefore, this trust arises from
a long standing dialogue between consumer and producer that maintains consistently
Policies for online behaviors, which help to facilitate conversation, are
provided by Facebook, but are not made immediately available for members. The
policies are simply described by Facebook as the following:
Participate in the Community
Be courteous to others when youre online.
Educate yourself about safety on our Tools page.
Review the privacy settings page and choose settings that are
right for you.
Read up on our Community Standards.
Report people and content that violate the Facebook Terms.
(http://www.facebook.com/safety/community/ October 2011)
These rules are relatively broad, but there are links for privacy setting, Community
Standards, and Facebook Terms that redirect a user to a more thorough
description. These more descriptive policies will be further analyzed in Chapter Four
as they relate more to civic actions, but are acknowledged in this part of the study as
it is an attempt by Facebook to provide structure for users. NPR does not include
specific policies for conduct on their particular Facebook Page and, thus, it is
assumed, that NPRs Facebook Page relies on Facebooks general rules. Since these
policies are not present on NPRs Facebook Page, a user would need to seek out these
guidelines in order to commit to them. Therefore, it is not known how many
individuals are aware of these policies. It is evident that the general NPR Facebook
population is not adhering to them, which will be discussed later in the next chapter.
Therefore, Facebook has attempted to provide a foundation for conversations that
would potentially help form trust, honesty, and reciprocity.
Additionally, NPRs Facebook Page invites users to engage in reciprocal
behaviors by providing them with the Wall and Discussion forums. These two areas
provide users with the opportunity to read posts made by others and, subsequently,
engage in conversation. However, it was previously determined that conversations are
infrequent and when they occur, interactions often develop into flame wars. In these
instances the direction of the conversation is a responsibility of the users. It is unclear
whether either institution monitors posts independently and reprimands individuals
who violate policies since this is not made public. However, it seems that neither
organization enforce these rules, allowing users the freedom to construct an online
community as is desired by the majority.
Another way in which NPR can facilitate reciprocity is by holding events that
bring users together face-to-face. Of the tools provided by Facebook, there is an
Events section. In the events section, NPR can post activities that they host to bring
members together. During this research though, this section of NPRs Facebook Page
was not utilized. It is understood that NPRs Facebook members are from across the
nation and even potentially around the world, but this does not mean that they do not
have the ability to bring together those who live in the same location. In Fact, these
meetings would enhance the conversations and involvement on NPRs Facebook
Page as individuals deepen their sense of honesty, trust, and reciprocity by
personifying the texts on a computer screen. But, as stated before, no such gatherings
occurred during this research and there is no evidence on NPRs Facebook Page that
the organization intends to do so.
NPR's Facebook Members Contributions
NPRs Facebook Page has established a structure and vague parameters that
provide individuals with a forum to interact. It is now the responsibility of the
individual members to commit to the creation and maintenance of honesty, trust, and
reciprocity. Therefore, this part of the chapter will analyze how individual members
on NPRs Facebook Page demonstrate these three qualities of healthy communities. If
the majority of the users commit to these characteristics, the community can develop
cohesiveness as well as both bonding and bridging social capital. However, if the
opposite is true, NPRs Facebook Page is lacking essential components that would
make it a vibrant public sphere and does not benefit democratic societies.
As discussed in Chapter One, computer-mediated communication allows
individuals to be unconstrained by societal pressures of face-to-face conversational
etiquette. Therefore, individuals experience a measure of safety through anonymity
and distance from others online. Perhaps the qualities of CMC can foster an
atmosphere in which individuals may be more open and honest. On NPRs Facebook
Wall indicators of a members identity are encapsulated by a name and a picture,
which is displayed on the wall. This could undermine the extent of anonymity, but
each member has the ability to adjust their privacy settings by limiting Facebook
members access to their individual Profile. In addition, some members have
foregone a traditional name and picture for something more ambiguous, such as a
band name, slogan, and so on plus the picture is of a cartoon, scenery, and the like
Therefore, when members interact with each other, NPRs Facebook users experience
a large measure of access to others, at the same time remaining relatively safe and
anonymous. This maybe a positive contribution of CMC, as it allows individuals to
speak freely without social conventions inhibiting conversation.
Therefore, honesty within any online community, on the surface, is not a rare
characteristic. Nonetheless, with online honesty, flaming and trolling complicate the
dynamics of exchanges. The following are representative excerpts, both neutral and
offensive, from an article titled Fatherhood, Not Testosterone, Makes the Man
(September 17, 2011):
A: I assume its a biological development that may have emerged by
favouring the offspring of those fathers whohad lower libidoes. They
may well have been more likely to stay near the home, fight less, not
mate with other women and provide more care to their offspring
September 17 at 2:25pm Like & 8 people
B: And, when the testosterone level drops the women look for another
September 17 at 2:25pm Like & 3 people
C: Why is fatherhood a prerequisite. How about acting like a man
makes the man.
September 17 at 2:26pm Like 14 people
D: testosterone levels drop because of the massive amount of regret a
man feels when he realizes he is going to have a child and is now a
slave to the mother and child. Its like pre-pardom depression, kids are
for idiots. This world needs NO MORE PEOPLE. STOP HAVING
BABIES. STOP LISTENING TO PSYCHOTIC WOMENS NEEDS.
NO MORE PEOPLE NEED TO BE BORN!
September 17 at 2:35pm Like 8 people
E: It also makes him write checks to support his child until he dies...
hopefully well insured.
September 17 at 2:54pm
F: Two Points: I sincerely hope that anyone who thinks children are
"crotch-droppings" and "runts" never breeds and if you think the world
needs less people then please lead by example and remove yourself
September 17 at 2:47pm Like &> 17 people
G: @ E...typical fuck who bitches about paying for the life he made.
How do you think we feel? Let me guess you're one of those 'super
dads' who sees his kid every other weekend or some shit while their
mother does the hard work the other 24 days of the month, and
spending the majority of her own paycheck on the kids as well. I hope
you know kids do find out from mom or another relative later on in life
that you only grudgingly paid your child support, and most likely will
hate you for it.
September 17 at 3:16pm Like & 1 person
All of the above statements appear to reflect honest opinions and thoughts from
NPRs Facebook members. Some individuals word their posts in such a manner that
no further offense is made, such as User A and C. User A employs a biological
argument while User C advances with a social argument. Either way, both arguments
are neutral and could produce further debate, but these alternative conversations do
not occur. These types of statements, therefore, contribute to a positive atmosphere.
However, Users B, D, E, F, and G contribute by attacking a particular demographic or
another user. Either way, these comments, even if honest, contribute negatively to
conversation by establishing harmful connotations. As stated in Chapter Two, it is
difficult to determine if a user is a troll or if the comments are genuine, since no
nonverbal cues can be used to decipher this behavior. Therefore, it is assumed that the
individuals are being honest. Regardless of whether the posts are positive or negative,
they all demonstrate that users are being honest, even if they are using flaming tactics.
Although it is beneficial for a democratic society to have honest expression,
these opinions may have an effect on the development of trust within a community.
Trust is understood as connections forged between individuals based on honesty and
confidence in anothers intentions. Relationships forged online are typically delicate
as various groups congregate from global locations and attempt to communicate with
strangers. Most individuals are online acquaintances and do not interact on a regular
basis. Either way, trust facilitates respect and cohesiveness within a group. Even with
the experience of flaming/trolling, NPRs Facebook Page maintains a level of trust,
which motivates and allows individuals to continue to post. If there was no trust,
people would feel intimidated and would forgo posting comments on NPRs
Facebook Page. Since Facebook originated as a way for individuals to connect with
others they already knew offline, this sense of trust may have matured into a general
trust in all Facebook applications. This research cannot determine definitively if this
is true without further research that would include interviews. This research does not
include evidence to further discuss this prospect, but it does acknowledge it. As
discussed in Chapter Two, many individuals feel a sense of trust, which they
demonstrate by sharing personal information.
Some posts by NPR directly address and ask users questions that involve
personal issues. From September 14 to October 14, 2011, there were ten such
postings. With the exception of two posts, one which only had 248 posts and another
which was posted eight hours ago having only 98 posts, the rest had over 1,000 posts.
The number of posts suggests that individuals are willing to share personal
information and, therefore, trust the NPR Facebook community. The following are a
collection of responses from some of these posts made by NPR:
A: I lived for 35 years as a male and finally decided this year that had
to change. I'm in the process of becoming A....
September 28 at 1:09pm Like & 26 people [Deception Question]
B: I unwillingly went to summer camp and pretended i was Polish so
that I wouldn't have to speak to anyone.
September 28 at 1:10pm Like &31 people [Deception Question]
C: I am Australian and my wife is West Indies, Trinidad and Tobgo.
We meet via the net in 1999 and emailed, chatted, phone calls for an
year. I went over to Trinidad in 2000 and we where married in June
2000. My wife X visa's was approved in November 2000 and we live
now in Alice Springs, Central Australia. We have a boy name Y,
7years old and a girl call Z 4 years old.
September 20 at 12:52am Like & 1 person [Interracial Couples
D: My husband (E) and I met on Match.com in late 2007 and we were
married in Orange County (CA) May 30, 2010. I'm persian and my
husband is black. We are soul-mates and very lucky to have found
each other. For the most part the cultures are blending well, however it
was not always easy. I just know that no matter what life throws at us,
together we can overcome anything!
September 20 at 1:36am Like & 2 people [Interracial Couples
Other NPR posts that are strictly stories also received responses from
members that include personal information. The following are two examples of
personal information used in a regular story thread:
A: our income was cut in half last year, we still owe for my mothers
funeral expenses, we eat a lot of bean soups with onions, carrots, and
the like it's cheaper than processed foods and better for you. but i will
tell you fruit out here is sooooooo expensive, i feel wealthy when i can
buy the cheapest fruit in season.
September 23 at 1:55pm Like & 1 person [Salt Article]
B: I just got back from a wonderful bike ride along the Boardman
Lake in Traverse City MI. I listened to music on my smarty pants
phone and wished a friend happy birthday while sitting on a lakeside
bench. To be honest, I would not have remembered her birthday if my
phone would'nt have reminded me. I took a great photograph of the
lake with the built in camera which I will share with friends and family
later so they can see the beautiful city I live in.
Is this technology necessary? No! Do I rely on this technology?
No! Did I want to carry a 35 millimeter film camera, a calender with
birthdays and phone numbers and a live band performing one of 2000
songs I have saved on my phone? No!
I believe people who avoid certain technological advances, do it
as an expression of how they want to be seen by others. And also use it
as a way to judge other peoples lifestyle choices.
I am not who I am based on the phone in my pocket or the type of
sunglasses on my face.
I don't think your a moron for not having an mp3 player or
camera in your purse. Please don't think i'm an anything other than me
for having a phone with them.
And remember, it's not facebooks fault that some parents use it to
talk to their children. Maybe without it, those children would never
hear from their moms and dads.
August 8 [Fear of the Twitterbook Article]
C: Offensive title on 2 fronts. Neither having children or testicles is
necessary to be a man, & any man who has lived through 2 fights with
testicular cancer, as my husband has, can vouch for this. Can we stop
defining gender in terms of what people have biologically or what they
reproduce & start considering it as a state of mind? I'm sure this was
equally offensive to anyone who is transgendered.
September 17 at 2:32pm Like ^ 18 people [Fatherhood Article]
All of the above posts illuminate the level of trust members feel when posting
on NPRs Facebook Page due the nature of the sensitive information provided. The
information offered probably is not necessarily a secret, but is still personal
information that individuals voluntarily share with potentially millions of other users.
Threads that exhibit elements of flaming continue to receive posts with personal
information incorporated in the stream of comments. Perhaps this behavior comes
from a blurring of the line between private and public. Or, perhaps, it is related to the
dominant form of comments being initiating posts and, thus, postees are unconcerned
as to what has previously been posted. Therefore, members maintain a level of trust
since they are unaware of any negative aspects of conversations online. The threads
seem to be a space through which individuals utilize as a place to vent. Regardless,
NPRs Facebook members are not deterred from providing personal anecdotes, which
illustrates a continued measure of trust.
Trolling is a quality that has the potential to diminish the sense of trust in an
online forum, but this aspect of online dialogue does not seem to have a drastic effect.
There are occasional posts that demonstrate one user directly challenging the identity
and intentions of another by inquiring whether the user is a troll. More frequently
there are posts that identify another member participating in the thread as a troll.
Below are two examples that demonstrate this type of disclosure:
A: B, this kid is trolling you beyond belief. It's funny too. No one cares
about how hard you had it, because you know what? So have a lot of
us. The point of this whole thing is that we're ALL suffering and we're
ALL getting screwed. Making smart ass hooker comments and
spending way too much time posting on here makes you look just as
bad as anyone else. How many comments are you at now? Please
kindly remove yourself from your self-righteous high horse and start
helping instead of hurting.
October 14 Like & 1 person
C: That D guy is always trolling on NPR, Its easy to block him
permanently. He isn't worth reading.
October 14 Like & 1 person
Trolling behavior appears to be either accepted or ignored by most members, and it
does not deter members from posting. As stated before, though, the inability of
trolling to be universally effective could be due to a lack of interest in members to
read previous posts. Furthermore, behaviors enacted on the thread that aid in
mediating the affects of trolling are for more veteran members to support the trolled
member, or as stated in User Cs post, members have the option to Block another
user. When a user is Blocked, Facebook discontinues posts of the Blocked user. This
behavior is beneficial for the individual but it does not assist the community as a
whole. The distinction between individual and collective action in this example will
be further discussed in Chapter Four. Perhaps this sense of trust is a widespread faith
in the general community of NPR or Facebook and not in individual users.
Determining the derivation of trust would require interviews with members who have
posted personal information on NPRs Facebook Page to determine where they are
placing trust. Regardless of where trust is originating, there is an inherent level of
trust within NPRs Facebook Page.
Of the three characteristics, reciprocity is a quality of a face-to-face
community that is more difficult to replicate online. Offline it is easy to help an
individual who has dropped their bags at a grocery store or to hold the door open for
someone. Although these types of behaviors are difficult to reproduce, it does not
necessarily mean that it is impossible. One example already stated in this chapter is
when individuals assist a user who is being trolled; they are also partaking in
reciprocating online behavior. When users come to the aid of a trolled member, they
are helping another with no real reward. Assistance does require that a more veteran
member address the trolled individual and highlight the trolling behavior, which is
something a new user cannot do. However, no further conversation ensues about the
behavior or whether the individuals will report the troll so that no further grievances
can be made. Therefore, in order for reciprocity to continue, the member that was
trolled must then assist another in the same manner, which is behavior that was not
found during this research.
Another way online discussion can generate reciprocity is through
conversation itself. In order for this to occur, all participants must be mutually
involved. Furthermore, it necessitates that all opinions and information be presented
equally and that the conversation be multi-directional. These qualities ensure that the
conversation maintains a mutually shared commitment to rational and focused
discourse (Papacharissi, 2010, p. 122). As already discussed in Chapter Two, the
majority of discussions seldom occur and frequently involve elements of flaming.
Therefore, any conversation that employs flaming cannot fit the criteria for online
reciprocity as mutual conversations are abandoned prematurely due to insult or
Conversely, in a recent article titled Why the Haves Have So Much
(October 28, 2011), there was an exchange between two users that genuinely
demonstrated reciprocity, while differing opinions were presented. The opposition
even made concession and the two members did cooperate to form a conclusion. The
conclusion was vague, but was the first time in the posts read for this article that this
behavior actually transpired. The following is an excerpt of the last few exchanges
between these users.
A: It's easy to blame one entity (Wall Street), and while I agree they
should be blamed I am simply saying that people need to take some
accountability and realize their own greed played a part in this mess.
Yesterday at 12:25pm Like & 2 people
B: A, I agree with your point but I think it's a two way street.
Individual responsibility is important. So is corporate and government
Yesterday at 12:25pm Like & 1 person
A: absolutely B! The thing is everyone seems too busy playing the
Yesterday at 12:28pm Like & 2 people
These two users maintained civil tones and maintained a sustained conversation with
each other, which was one of the only interactions of this kind found on NPRs
Facebook. A third member was part of this interaction, but the users comments were
not as relevant to this thread and were left out. Nonetheless, the third participant also
maintained civil tones. It is unsure if the third participant was responding to the
previous tone of the conversation, but it is an excellent example of the potential that
NPRs Facebook Page does inherently encompass.
Since the above conversation was a unique occurrence, the following is a
representation of what most threads experience. The following is a direct example of
a user attempting to get others to cooperate or reciprocate. Posts in between User A
comments have been kept in the excerpt for better understanding.
A: Ok everyone stop commenting for a second i have an idea.
September 8 at 8:48am & 2 people
B: How timely! I was wondering this very thing yesterday, after housekeeping
left and I (again) had to unravel the "fold" in order to access the paper :)
September 8 at 8:48am
C: it's just easier to grab and pleasing to the eye.
September 8 at 8:48am
A: I said wait answer and stop commenting.
September 8 at 8:48am & 1 person
D: I worked as a hotel housekeeper in 1992 and we were told that the fold was
because they used to put a new roll in every time but it got too expensive.
September 8 at 8:48am & 1 person
E: I have never felt the need for such accurcy.
September 8 at 8:48am
F: maybe it's the new thing in crop circle "esque" methods of other worldly
September 8 at 8:50am
A:You guys talk more than you listen, that's not good.
September 8 at 8:50am & 1 person [Mysterious V Article]
User A was attempting to do something that required the collaboration of other
members, but they were either not reading the initial post, or wished to not cooperate.
In addition, only one person liked the post, which signifies that others either did not
read this or do not agree with User As statement. Either way, this excerpt is a direct
response from a user explaining what is occurring, and demonstrates typical behavior
which does not exhibit reciprocity. Responses used as examples in Chapter Two also
illustrated direct communication among NPRs Facebook members that lead to non-
cooperation. Many of the conversations devolved into flaming wars or the
conversation was terminated before the individuals come to any consensus or mutual
understanding. Furthermore, most posts were initiating posts and, thus, were not part
of any conversation. Therefore, none of the participants committed to the mentality of
maintaining a rational and focused discourse.
Honesty and trust are characteristics that are somehow part of NPRs
Facebook Page. Honesty can be understood as there is an increased measure of
anonymity online. Trust, though, is more difficult to determine where it came from as
there is no physical interaction between people. Therefore, the trust could be
generated from NPR, Facebook, or the technology used to access NPRs Facebook
Page. Regardless, trust was generated prior to this research, but was nonetheless
present. Additionally, based on the level of respect and commitment to conducting
and sustaining rational and focused discourse, it is concluded that reciprocity is a
rare quality on NPRs Facebook Page. This is due to the excessive use of
flaming/trolling, sarcasm, and irreverence. Furthermore, most comments on NPRs
Facebook are initiation posts, which state a particular opinion but do not engage in
dialogue meaning reciprocity is not a large priority. Perhaps if NPRs Facebook Page
provided more guidance and supervision for the users, true honesty, trust, and
reciprocity could be developed. As of now, there is little leadership or direction,
which gives users plenty of freedom, but is detrimental for the formation of honesty,
trust, and reciprocity and, thus, bonding and bridging social capital.
Bonding and Bridging Social Capital
Bonding social capital includes individuals who share common ideas, beliefs
and values, as well as individuals who support each other through groups and
organizations. The internet is an excellent medium for individuals of similar
backgrounds to find each other and engage in conversation. The most common form
of bonding displayed on NPRs Facebook is through Liking a post and reiteration of
similar statements. NPRs Facebook Page provided no other evidence that individuals
who posted similar ideas conversed with each other or elaborated on the opinions or
ideas. Therefore, the potential to bring people together through NPRs Facebook Page
is there, but the dominant form is by Liking posts or reiterating common opinions
with no further conversation transpiring.
Bridging social capital relies on variant individuals who have diverse ideas,
beliefs, and values voluntarily creating a link or connection with each other. Just as
with bonding social capital, the internet is an excellent medium to facilitate
communication between dissimilar groups. Ironically, the most common form of
communication between NPRs Facebook members was between disparate groups.
Although the initial reaction to this is positive, the conversations that developed are
not constructive. The following conversation is from an article titled Occupy Wall
Street Park Cleanup Postponed (October 14, 2011), which reinforces the findings
from Chapter Two and earlier in this Chapter:
A: I think they need to stop fighting greed, AND GO BACK TO
WORK! Lazy bunch of cry baby douche bags! I AM NOT BACKING
THIS RIDICULOUS MOVEMENT, I AM NOT THE 99% I PAY
MY OWN WAY, ALL THEY ARE DOING IS TRYING TO BE
COMMUNIST FREE LOADERS, The people going to work every
day supporting their families, paying taxes, thats where my respect
goes. And stop saying your the 99%, be realistic, your maybe the 20%,
grow up go home go back to work, PAY YOUR OWN WAY! Thats
the real 99%!
October 14 Like & 7 people
B: You A should get your money back from that college you attended.
It's "you're" you silly goose.
October 14 Like & 2 people
A: Cant pay student loans? I hear Mcdonald, Wendys, Burger King,
Construction, And Facories through out the U.S. hand out these things
on Friday called PAYCHECKS. I also hear that it can be turned into
cash, and according to my STUDENT LOAN STATEMENT, it works
on paying the amount down.... Cool hu?
October 14 Like & 2 people
C: you don't seem to be getting the message that these folks are trying
to spread...unless you are one of the wealthiest 2 million people in the
country, then you have been, and will continue to be, disadvantaged
and at risk. Your wildest aspirations will most likely never give you a
truly fair shake in the economic market. There is a good chance that
you are less than 6 months from poverty/bankruptcy on any given day.
All that needs to happen is for you to come down with a serious illness
and to lose your job then what? Do you have enough LTD to last you
60 years? Will your mortgage be paid if you lose your job? Even if
you could survive that kind of one-two punch, how about a little
empathy for those who can not (through no fault of their own)?
October 14 Like & 5 people
D: Aw, the little right wing Coulter haters are getting mad. Cowards
who run from their own shadow. Love the 1% and delusionally think