Socially Mediated Publicness

In the article, Baym & Boyd (2012) affirm the potential of social media to blur the traditional boundaries between what is private and public. Traditionally, the public and the media have maintained an intertwined nature whereby ancient Romans posted newspapers in the streets. The use of media including, television channels, quilts and radio has in the past facilitated the creation of new publics. While people have traditionally used the media in creating public identities, social media has increased the scale at which people create public identities. Indeed, social media has revolutionized life to great extents such that it is difficult to differentiate real from virtual or presence from absence. However, it is the ability of social media to blur the boundary between private and public that constitutes socially mediated publicness. In today’s socially mediated world, the definition of public is dynamically changing to reflect different outcomes (Boyd, 2012). Consequently, the nature of public has been reconfigured through the social media to reflect different complexities and nuances.

The advent of socially mediated publicness introduces a spin into the understanding of the boundaries between public and private realms. Through social media, both public and private realms are inextricable and constitute of each other through the changing of privacies for each of the two realms. That notwithstanding, socially mediated publicness also presents the challenge of obscurity and consumption despite providing an avenue for visibility and public engagement (Baym & Boyd, 2012). A video shared on social media may not always receive views or go viral owing to the changing spheres of obscurity. Essentially, publicness that is socially mediated requires new skills and mechanisms of control to maintain sustainability. There are boundless inequalities in social media such that the audience may choose to view a certain video while ignoring the other. In particular, the basis for gaining a perceived audience is dependent on the decision by the public to share the video and make it viral.

The presence of multiple layers of publicness for users of networked media requires new skills to deal with many different audiences. For instance, the nature or topic of discussion may require the use of different mechanism of skills and control. It is upon the user to apply these mechanisms appropriately in meeting the needs and requirements of a certain discussion. The rationale behind this requirement is that networked media renders mediated acts to be visible or invisible (Baym & Boyd, 2012). Part of the mechanisms for control is the rethinking of the nexus between publics and audiences from the traditional treatment of audiences as less important than publics. While the public directs attention and has the potential of swaying views, the audience is important as it is an aggregate of the former. It is not surprising to come across a video that goes viral within hours of its production without having the impact of the publics. The nature of social media renders the distinction between audiences and publics to be too insignificant to warrant special treatment.

Today, audiences are much more visible in the online platform owing to its ability to confer the opportunity to create identities at a larger scale (Boyd, 2012). Still, the platform presents challenges that can only be met through a change in mechanisms of control. One must understand whether their audience is composed of people that comment on their contents or the silent audience that thrives on listening. Message directed at opposite camps are open to everyone on the platform including the targeted group as well as the bystanders and eavesdroppers. The nature of social media may also expose the content builder to future stigma of self and their immediate family. The sustenance of privacy requires the application of new skills to control the information shared in social media, both voluntarily and involuntarily.



Baym, N. & Boyd, D. (2012). “Socially Mediated Publicness: An Introduction.” Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 56(3), pp. 320-329.

Boyd, D. (2012). “The Politics of ‘Real Names’: Power, Context, and Control in Networked Publics.” Communications of the ACM 55(8), pp. 29-31

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