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Beyond platform-centrism and digital universalism: the relational affordances of mobile social media publics

Willems, Wendy ORCID: 0000-0002-9185-4268 (2020) Beyond platform-centrism and digital universalism: the relational affordances of mobile social media publics. Information, Communication and Society. ISSN 1369-118X

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Identification Number: 10.1080/1369118X.2020.1718177


In debates on digital affordances, mobile devices and social media platforms are often treated as separate (physical or digital) objects which function independently from each other and from the environments in which they are used (‘platform-centrism’). However, mobile phone use has increasingly been dominated by social media apps while social media are frequently accessed via mobile devices, particularly in Global South contexts where users often rely on mobile-only internet access via subsidized/zero-rated social media data bundles. Furthermore, the affordances of mobile social media are shaped by the physical, mediated and political contexts in which they are used. Technological affordances are far from universal (‘digital universalism’) but take on different shapes across the globe. Drawing on research carried out during the September 2011 Zambian elections, this article introduces the notion of ‘relational affordance’ to emphasize the interplay between mobile social media, users and their varied contexts. Despite the relatively low number of mobile internet users at the time, the Facebook group of the popular, privately-owned Zambian television station, Muvi TV, quickly emerged as a fast-paced forum for the sharing of information on the elections. Three ‘relational affordances’ ― infrastructure, home-based access and temporality ― help to explain the emergence of this active mobile social media public. This analysis challenges previous accounts of mobile social media publics which identified negative (constraining) affordances like the control exerted by Facebook page administrators and positive (enabling) affordances such as the ‘always-on’ nature of mobile social media use and their ‘on-the-go’ access in public spaces.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 Informa UK Limited
Divisions: Media and Communications
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2020 17:39
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2024 01:24

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