Governing social media: organising information production and sociality through open, distributed and data-based systems.
PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
This thesis explores the management of social media networks through a specific interpretive lens. It views social media as networks organised for information production and managed through the development of complex data structures and underpinning technological solutions. The development of social media networks – chiefly characterised by the open and distributed participation of many diverse individuals through the intermediation of specific technological solutions – seems to give shape to new organisational forms and data management practices, impacting in many domains. Despite vivid interest in these participatory organisational forms, we do not fully understand how social media technology is leveraged to organise member communities, standardising processes and structuring interaction. In this research I build on the case of PatientsLikeMe, a prominent and innovative social media network constructing medical scientific knowledge through the data-based contributions of its open and distributed member base. By drawing on the findings of an intensive, participatory case research, the thesis makes a contribution on several levels.
The thesis demonstrates that the management of social media networks is characterised by the need to achieve steady, reliable and comprehensive production of information and associated data collection by means of complex data architectures and user reporting. I illustrate these conditions by highlighting the challenges that characterise the development of a system able to engage productively with the member base and by describing the mechanisms and techniques through which the organisation seeks to address them. Data and data structures figure prominently throughout the research as organisational devices of critical importance for the management of social media networks.
The thesis also indicates and comments on the implications of these innovative modes of organising knowledge production. It finds that social media support considerable innovation in the arrangements by which scientific knowledge can be produced, with a consistent inclusion of once marginalised actors in data management practices, and elaborates on effects on the relationship with research institutions and professions. At the same time, the thesis shows that social media technology, because of the challenges and strategies associated with information production, ambiguously supports the project of a wider inclusion that it seems to afford at first sight. Finally, the thesis claims that developing social media gives rise to specific techniques of construction and governance of the social, and the associated kinds of sociality where socialisation, computation and the production of knowledge objects are inextricably enmeshed.
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