Information activities in social media

5 May, 2015

Information seeking, sharing, and encountering are for many people activities that take place to a large extent via informal, mediated contacts. Not least, social media provide platforms both for sharing information about people’s lives and for keeping informed on issues related to business, politics and everyday life.

To grasp what information literacy means requires understanding the social situation in which information activities take place; to understand how to ask about or share information, what (or who) is considered to be a relevant and trustworthy source, and how to make use of information in fruitful ways. In social media environments, such understandings include sociotechnical knowledge, for instance knowing that in order to effectively share information from a conference using Twitter, you need to use not only a hashtag, but the same hashtag as everyone else. But it also requires learning what are acceptable topics to raise and views to hold in a community, such as a Facebook group or a discussion forum.

The sociomaterial performance of information activities in social media is being investigated in several past and ongoing projects in Sweden at the moment, partly within the Social Media Studies programme at the University of Borås. Already a few years ago, studies in the EXACT project of how credibility was assessed in relation to Wikipedia articles showed clearly the differences in cultural tools available to high school students and to active Wikipedia editors in making decisions about what editors and articles to trust. By being active in the Swedish Wikipedia community, editors had formed opinions about contributors and acceptable editing patterns that they could use in assessing credibility; tools that were not available to those who have not very actively engaged with the production of Wikipedia. [1]

Information exchange in social media sometimes concerns societal changes, such as climate change. These changes can have more or less direct implications for the people involved in the exchange. In a study of climate change blogs, a very active interaction between participants with more or less expertise on the subject was observed. Sources drawn on in the arguments included news media and social media, but also scientific articles. Quite a sophisticated critique of the peer review system took place. However, the ideologies which were constructed within the blog community strongly shaped and co-constructed which sources were viewed as credible and which arguments were considered to be valid. Thus, both political and scientific convictions did to some extent shape what were acceptable types of sources to endorse on the blog. [2]

In Ameera Mansour’s ongoing PhD project where she studies a closed Facebook group centred on motherhood, she has similarly noticed the importance of what Patrick Wilson termed intrinsic plausibility [3] in how some of the members talk about which information they take into consideration when making decisions for their families. In particular, a similar background and family situation is important when deciding whose advice to follow. Even though the group members may know very little about each other outside of the group, the mothers, just as the Wikipedia editors, form an opinion of the other active group members based on their activities in the group. They use that knowledge to inform how they use information they get through the group, but also which information they share in the group.

We, along with many others, continue to investigate the sociomaterial entanglements that make up information activities in social media. We are also interested in how people learn to become proficient participants in these activities. Using social media is quite rarely part of formal education, even at the more general level of understanding how platforms work. This may be useful both in using the platforms to communicate and to critically assess them. However, taking part in particular social interactions is something that must be learnt through participation (at least in the form of lurking). It is therefore important to study such situated interactions for understanding how information literacies are conceptualized in social media.

Helena Francke & Ameera Mansour, University of Borås


[1] Francke, H. & Sundin, O. (2010). An Inside View: Credibility in Wikipedia from the Perspective of Editors. Information Research 15.3, Special supplement: CoLIS, London 21-24 June, 2010. http://informationr.net/ir/15-3/colis7/colis702.html

[2] Francke, H. (2014). Dimensions of Credibility: Review as a Documentary Practice. Proceedings of the iConference, Berlin, 4-7 March 2014. https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/handle/2142/47357

[3] Wilson, P. (1983). Second-hand Knowledge: An Inquiry into Cognitive Authority. Westport, CT & London: Greenwood Press.


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