Social media increasingly trouble our traditional distinctions between distribution concerns on the one hand and editorial concerns on the other. Sites like Facebook and reddit simultaneously serve as distribution platforms, circulating messages addressed to individuals and publics, and as mechanical editors, deciding algorithmically which posts and topics warrant inclusion in the continuous and often overwhelming feed of information delivered to each of our screens. Recent controversies surrounding the manner in which social media companies develop and test software and editorial strategies for curating content may have brought this editor–distributor duality into sharp relief in ways that feel new and at times uncomfortable. But as a number of critical scholars—most notably Michael Warner—have illustrated, the boundary between editorial and distribution concerns has always been highly porous. Framing social media as centers of reflexive distribution not only opens up sociologically interesting questions about how such distribution infrastructures are forged but also about how they affect the “concatenation of texts through time” and the sense of shared attention and imagined community that enable public discourse. This essay argues that the emerging field of “distribution studies” is a compelling lens for the considering social media and their place in society and public life.
Journal or Book Title
Social Media + Society
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