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The Logics and Grammars of Social Media

The final speaker in this AoIR 2016 session is Caja Thimm, whose interest is in the role of Twitter in politics. She begins by noting the transnational adoption of standard Twitter affordances across a variety of political uses, by actors on all sides (from protesters to police). This can be understood using a functional operator model across the levels of Twitter operators, text, and function; but this is merely functional and not analytical. More needs to be done here.

Instead, the question here is one of media logics: this combines elements of technology, culture, context, actors, and power, and examines their interactions. The network of these parameters is configured differently in different contexts, and provides a procedural framework through which social actions occur.

Political messages and activities are commonly designed to work within the logics of different media forms, to work within the logics of specific media institutions, and to address the media grammars of particular media technologies. This idea of media grammar is in turn drawn from an analogy with language, but includes the dynamics of different media forms and can be distinguished into surface grammar (the grammar visible and accessible to the user, and subject to the user's appropriation, and therefore also determining the economic success of a platform by making it more or less attractive) and property grammar (the underlying functional level of the platform, now driven largely by algorithms and determining the networked logics of the platform, which is not immediately accessible and appropriable for users).

On a platform like Twitter, these grammars combine into a reflexive circle, for instance – but the logics of media also extend well beyond such specific platforms and invade other spaces of media and public life, as well as other societal institutions. Both the open and the hidden properties of the media are important in this, and need to be studied in greater detail as well as connected with the broader dynamics of the platform society.