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Detailed Overview of Tumblr and Twitter’s Features: Descriptive Essay

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Anti-vaccination Discourse Online

Before advancing to the main part of the study, this section is dedicated to explaining why the topic of anti-vaccination was chosen to be analyzed from a linguistic point of view, as well as why Tumblr and Twitter were the social media selected for the corpus, beyond the arguments cited in 1.1.1.

This chapter has to main sections, 2.1., which provides with a detailed overview of Tumblr and Twitter’s features, with special emphasis to those relevant for the analysis; whereas 2.2. aids in establishing common ground regarding milestones in the chronology of anti-vaccination as an issue and also some of the main arguments used by anti-vaxxers. The aim of providing this contextual information follows Vásquez and Creel’s (2017: 63) idea that “intertextual references to a wide range of cultural phenomena can serve as links between author and viewer, creating a bond through the shared background knowledge – or shared affinities – required to understand the reference(s).” Elucidating the samples’ context aids in understanding the implicatures and whether an utterance is ironical in nature or not, as it is deepened in chapter 4.

In the beginning, studies of computer-mediated communication (CMC) were very broad and regarded CMC as impoverished compared to face-to-face interaction (cf. Hancock 2004: 450), nevertheless, Herring, Stein and Virtanen (2013: 8) state that “[t]he written, persistent nature of CMC makes language more available for metalinguistic reflection than in the case of speech, and this, together with a tendency towards loose cross-turn relatedness in multiparticipant CMC, encourages language play.” There are less than ten years between both sources, yet views around the topic changed significantly, partially thanks to the new features present in social media. Bieswanger (2013: 464) mentions nine features of digital written communication which are of pragmatic relevance due to their function mirroring spoken language features, which parallels and expands Carey’s (1980) seminal work on paralanguage in CMC.

Vásquez and Creel (2017: 60) mention the distinction between “social networking sites (SNSs), whose main focus is on providing ways for people to connect and interact, and user-generated content sites (UGCs), which focus on the production of creative material.” Why this distinction is important will now be explained through the disambiguation of Tumblr and Twitter’s features.

Features of Tumblr and Twitter

The aim of this section is to provide a succinct summary of a comparison of Tumblr and Twitter’s features which will play a role later in chapter 4. Both platforms were selected due to their similarities but especially because they complement one another in their differences, which will be stated next.

“Tumblr is categorized as a microblogging site, which offers features of both SNS and UGC sites, with both dimensions equally emphasized.” (Vásquez and Creel 2017: 60) Twitter is also deemed as a similar multi-media social networking platform. According to Bouvier (2015: 151), social media can mainly be used “for a combination of identity construction, the maintenance of social relationships and also to engage with more socially relevant matters.” Twitter is a platform in which users tend to engage in the latter and is therefore regarded by Argüelles Álvarez and Muñoz Muñoz (2012: 38) more as “a source of information than a social networking site.” Bouvier (2015: 156) supports this thesis herself stating that Twitter’s trending topics are “based around breaking news events, as defined by mainstream media, and often contain links to full articles”, which is a phenomenon also present in some of the samples studied in chapter 4.

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In social media, everyone can participate, indiscriminately. Gillen and Merchant (2013: 47) regard Twitter as “a ‘conversation’ – at once democratic, in that everybody can join, ostensibly on equal footing, and a powerful, way of communicating one’s message in an age of ‘networked individualism’”. Nevertheless, Zappavigna (2014: 211) comments that despite microbloggers using “social media platforms such as Twitter to engage in conversation-like exchanges between individuals, they will often simply be talking about the same topic at the same time”, not necessarily making it a conversation but more like phenomena occurring in parallel. What is more “[t]o participate in Twitter is to enter into a discursive relationship with others and to expect […] response, agreement, disagreement, and more.” (Gillen and Merchant 2013: 57). Anti-vaccination is a topic that emotionally charged and everyone contributing to the discourse believes their views to be the correct ones.

This discursive relationship also applies to Tumblr, where, according to Mccracken (2017: 154) users tend to be more selective and critic given their “exposure to a variety of identity categories, political positions, and affective material across generations”, which has shaped them into “sophisticated media consumers and producers who are critical of and resistant to existing institutional norms, social and cultural hierarchies, and narrow definitions of identity and behavior.” (Mccracken 2017: 154) This is to be seen not only in the content they post but in how it is phrased or in the references made, as it is also visible in some of the samples in chapter 4.

On the one hand, CMC “promotes self-disclosure” (Kashian et al. 2017: 275), but on the other hand, as Cho (2017: 3190) proposes, more often than not the “‘public’ is never neutral, is in fact highly scaffolded terrain, demanding a strict set of normative performances”. Which is what Tumblr users reshape and criticize in their contributions, as previously mentioned. One instrumental –as Renninger (2014: 1521) describes it– feature, which makes this possible, is the use of pseudonyms, “which [make] it much harder for families, employers, friends, and other institutional authorities to police [users]; as a result, many [sic] youth feel a greater sense of security and privacy on Tumblr than on other platforms” (Mccracken 2017: 154-155). Tumblr is deemed by Mccracken (2017: 161) as a “largely protected ‘private’ public sphere”, which is an attribute that differentiates it from Twitter.

Instead of mainly being based on reactions to trending topics or the identity of the posters, the majority of Tumblr’s popular chats, compared to Twitter for example, “rely on a sharedness of references, or a sharedness of experiences, for their interpretation” (Vásquez and Creel 2017: 62-63). On Tumblr, users “express social critique and to learn from it, but it also extends that critique beyond the individual, where it can continue to live and resonate with others through reblogging.” (Mccracken 2017: 161). This is the base for Renninger’s (2014) proposition of counterpublic communication. Interesting to mention is that both Twitter and Tumblr are “structurally rhizomatic; […] however, from the point that a public Tumblr post is reblogged by someone else, it cannot be recalled and deleted by the original poster, as it is possible on Twitter.” (Morimoto and Stein 2018)

Both Twitter and Tumblr users use intertextual references, through which “Tumblr users actively perform their interests” (Vásquez and Creel 2017: 62) but given that “so many posts on Tumblr are not text-based, tags are often the only way that users can easily stumble upon a given post through search.” (Renninger 2014: 1523). How hashtags –one way of expressing these references– are used differently on both platforms regarding the topic of anti-vaccination will be explained in chapter 4. Furthermore, Renninger (2014: 1523) proposes that there is a “near equivalent emphasis of posts from new and more advanced users” which provides all users with access and exposure. New users using hashtags allow themselves to be discovered by more experienced users, but the central concept is that all users (regardless of antiquity) get to see content grouped into their fields of interest and the content is not driven by how prominent a user is. This makes Tumblr in contrast to Twitter a “democratizing platform, with no demonstrable algorithmic hierarchy among its users” (Mccracken 2017: 155).

Lastly, regarding social media on itself: as has been stated in this section, users of both platforms have a certain awareness for current events and actively contribute to the online discourse in a dynamic way. Anti-vaccination is a current trending topic, very frequently on the news, and therefore it is compelling to be used as a means for linguistic analysis. In the next section a brief summary of the history of anti-vaccination is provided and how it is connected to online discourse is explained.

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Detailed Overview of Tumblr and Twitter’s Features: Descriptive Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/detailed-overview-of-tumblr-and-twitters-features-descriptive-essay/
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Detailed Overview of Tumblr and Twitter’s Features: Descriptive Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2022 Dec 5]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/detailed-overview-of-tumblr-and-twitters-features-descriptive-essay/
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