Public Comments and the Online Audience

Last week we spoke about the rise of social media and its subsequent triumph over print media. True to the ever-changing nature of online social media, sub-cultures of online media audiences appear or disappear depending on what is trending online. There are three types of audiences: a writer’s audience, a broadcast audience, and a networked audience. Let’s break them down.

A writer’s audience – this audience is a fictionalized audience, or an audience that is invoked by the writer. The audience forms around the work, and the work caters towards a particular demographic on purpose.

A broadcast audience – this is an audience which can also be referred to as an ‘interpretive community’. The members of this audience are comprised from a fandom following, and can also be a participatory culture.

A networked audience – these are real and potential viewers. These viewers can connect to each other in a network. Platforms like Twitter allow a networked audience to directly contact a public figure and have their questions answered directly from the source.

As per the above video, it’s pretty evident that the internet is a free-for-all commenting playground, and as most people who read YouTube comments will know, it’s generally where faith in humanity goes to die. That might seem a little exaggerative, however if you’ve ever seen comments like this
youtube comment

you’ll know that that’s far from the worst thing you can read on YouTube. It seems hard to believe that there are actually rules and regulations surrounding how internet users should conduct themselves when commenting on public forums, but for the purposes highlighting how far from ideal the internet is, here is an ‘idea model’ of social interaction online:

  • All participants have an opportunity to speak
  • All participants are obliged to carefully consider what they hear
  • All participants speak plainly, and ask for clarification when they need it
  • All participants maintain respect for other participants

The main formats for inviting user participation are through polls, message boards, ‘have your say’ sections, Q&A’s, blogs, etc. Q&A’s are a great way for public figures and celebrities to hear from their fans and followers, although if you follow Robin Thicke on Twitter you’ll know that this form of communication can go very, very wrong.



Key concerns for editors who run online audience participatory platforms are based around maintaining their brand, legal concerns like defamation, and the desire to ‘own’ content and stories. Unfortunately for some, derogatory or ‘hate speech’ style comments become the property of the brand upon being posted to the site, and editors have to work quickly to monitor what is posted.

While a networking audience can be criticized for all its negative effects, it does have a profoundly positive effect when used to create awareness for charity. Something trending in online social media right now is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, where anyone from celebrities to friends are donating to the ALS foundation, dumping a bucket of ice-water on their head, and nominating their friends or other celebrities to do the same. Since these viral and entertaining videos took off, the ALS foundation has received over $70.2 million.


So what do you think? When popular sites open comments to the public are the effects ultimately detrimental, or do the positives of campaigns like the ALS ice-bucket challenge outweigh the negatives?


The History of Social Media, and other Short Stories

 When I started high school it was unimaginable that my friends’ web-presence could be more compelling and entertaining than their physical presence. The year was 2005, and Facebook was barely one year old – not at all a competitor against MySpace for my love and attention. Even when I moved to Sydney and began my degree, it was only between 2011-2014 that I really started to notice the migration to online social networking. By now, Facebook has 1.25 billion users worldwide, shadowing all other social networks. My aspirations of print journalism were swiftly swallowed whole by the ever-looming presence of social media, and I turned my attention to more technological pursuits. Indeed, all we need do is look to Brian Solis’s ever-updating Conversation Prism in order to understand the range of social media at our fingertips. So why is it that we have made the transition so effortlessly into online media? In order to answer my own questions, I need to look at what’s behind us.

Brian Solis and JESS3’s Conversation Prism, 2014


In the 1990s the word ‘blog’ was coined from the words ‘web’ and ‘log’, and became a relevant cultural format in 2006. Initially the primary genre of the blog was the online diary, but then it expanded into business news and developer diaries. Particular characteristics of the blog include: dynamic content, individual ‘posts’ (with text and ‘embedded’ media, and their own individual URL) that are traditionally organized in reverse-chronological order. Blogs are ideally easily navigable and well documented, and offer ease of connection between blogs and bloggers (permalinks, blogrolls, trackbacks, and specialized search engines).

With the rise of political blogging in 2001, the popularity of blogging gained momentum. In 2002 political bloggers broke a story about racist comments made by Senator Trent-Lott, leading to his resignation. Blogs soon became a credible source of news to the public. Google purchased Blogger in 2003 under undisclosed terms. In 2004 bloggers were given press badges in order to cover US elections. As of August 2014, the Huffington Post is the most popular blog, with estimates of over 110,000,000 unique monthly visitors.

Blogging is the earliest established platform as a ‘representative’ social media. They are acknowledged to have a major impact on journalism and politics, as well as many other genres and uses.This is both an excellent outlet for communication between people around the world, but also gives way to the negative effects of the ever-growing internet ‘over-share’. 

Social and Mobile
The major online social platforms are:

  • Flickr: 87 million users, 8 billion photos, 3.5 million new photos daily
  • Facebook: 1.25 billion users and climbing
  • QQ: 800 million users
  • Reddit: 4.8 billion monthly page views
  • Tumblr: 200 million blogs
  • Twitter: 500 million users
  • Sina Weibo: 503 million users

Major mobile statistics:

  • 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions globally by the end of 2013
  • 5 billion mobile phones/subscriptions sold in 2012
  • 60% + all of new mobile phones are smart phones
  • Over 1.2 million apps in the iPhone app store by mid-2014
  • Added at a rate of 25,000 per month

In 2006 Time Magazine named their person of the year as ‘You’, celebrating the social media boom, also referred to as the Web 2.0 ‘revolution’. Over time, Web 2.0 played a major role in political movements and protester agendas. In 2011 Time Magazine named the ‘masked protester’ as their person of the year, in blatant reference to the democratic uprisings across the ‘Arab World’. Social media played a particularly important role in the Egyptian revolution of 2011.

The more intertwined social media becomes with our world news, the more connected the world will become with the medium. Between 2011 and 2014 alone, the number of Facebook users has risen from 700 million to 1.25 billion, and this number is still climbing. We are in the motions of transitioning to an online world, and whether it is spent gaming or surfing the net, the average ‘screen time’ for a child is up to 35 hours a week. It seems that as early as the 90s, more and more people have become aware of the uniqueness of online media, and it is only a matter of time before blogging and micro-blogging replace print media completely.

So what are your concerns? Do you think that along with the social media boom will come an unwelcome and unstoppable flood of ill-informed opinions, or are we all entitled to a public platform? Can any old blogger with a screen and an internet connection have their say, or will we still respect the opinion of an elite few?