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Social Media and Politeness

Positive-politeness in virtual interaction

Seminararbeit 2011 27 Seiten

Anglistik - Kultur und Landeskunde


Table of content

1. Preface

2. Web 2.0, Social Media and Social Networks
2.1 Web
2.2 Social Media
2.2.1 Blogs
2.2.2 Microblogs
2.2.3 Wikis
2.2.4 Instant Messaging Facebook Google Plus
2.3 Participants within the networks
2.3.1 Purpose of conversations
2.3.2 Classification of conversation according to Searls illocutionary speech acts

3. Politeness
3.1 Geoffrey Leech and politeness
3.2 Goffman, Brown and Levinson and politeness
3.3 Combination of the two approaches

4. Politeness patterns within conversations in Social Media networks
4.1 Type of conversation
4.2 Positive Politeness pattern of conversation starter
4.3 Positive politeness pattern of other participants
4.3.1 Indicators of friendliness
4.3.2 Indicators of approval

5. Research work
5.1 Text samples
5.2 Frequency measurement
5.3 Results of text sample examination

6. Conclusion

List of illustrations

Graph 1- text sample categories

Graph 2- relation of posts vs. participants

Graph 3- relation of friendliness vs. approval

List of abbreviations

CP Cooperative Principle

CMC Computer mediated communication

PP Politeness Principle

1. Preface

“Never in the course of human events have we lived in a time where tools to communicate … have been handed to us in such volumes, and for free.” (Klososky dedication) By this Klososky made a statement about the current situation of our instruments of communication. But not only have the numbers of instruments impact on our communicative behavior. Also the style, the background and the way of use of such instruments changes and influences our communication.

With the rise of the term Web 2.0 Tim O`Reilly and John Batelle coined the new way how the Internet is used and how it appears to its users. At the beginning the Internet was a collaborative tool for scientists to work together. It should be a simpler medium to exchange ideas and knowledge. So it appears to the broader audience as the so called Web 1.0. With this first step of the Internet humanity was confronted with such exciting new communication features as the e-mail, the chat or even the forum. This new ways of communication breached borders. They were able to ignore time and location of the communicators and connect people of different cultures from different countries. It stimulated the matter of communication in a way humanity never had seen before. Communication was seen as borderless.

Even with such a mighty tool as the Internet we cannot neglect the fact that conversation is a special phenomenon. (cf. Burkart 46ff.) According to the principle of symbolic interaction the chance for successful act of communication is very small. Communication is a process with so many presuppositions it seems not possible to happen. To name a few of the conditions:

- You have to share a similar cultural background
- You have the intention to act with your communication
- Your communication partner should be able to share your symbolic pool of words and meanings
- Your communication partner wants to interact with you
- Your conversation has a specific goal

But humans developed some strategies to deal with these problems. They developed behaviors and strategies that would make the act of communication more likely to happen.

One of these principles is the principle of politeness. “Leech (1980: 19) defines it as “strategic conflict avoidance” and the establishment and maintenance of comity, …”. (Watts, Ide, Ehrlich xv) Politeness is used to reduce friction between the communication participants.

With the appearance of the new form of the Internet, the Web 2.0, the variety of communication tools has grown even larger than during the stage of Web 1.0. So the users of the communication tools have to adopt their conversation patterns and principles to the new ways of communication. Within their conversations they also use the familiar concepts. So if someone communicates through a Social Media network or a Microblog he also uses typical strategies to avoid friction and conflict and to make the conversation more successful.

This paper gives a look at the conversation within the virtual media in regard to the use of the principle of politeness. The principles of politeness referred in this paper are the concept of face by Goffman, Brown and Levinson and the Politeness Principle (PP) of Leech. The focus of this work is mainly on the positive face concept and how this concept is used within the conversation in social networks. In this association the following hypothesis will be examined by this paper:

The participants in conversations in Social Media networks are mainly using positive politeness strategies. These strategies are positive strategies according to the Politeness Principle of Leech and the positive face threatening act of Brown, Levinson and Goffman.

The first part of this works gives a short overview of the terms Web 2.0 and Social Media. It will introduce the reader to both terms and gives a sufficient definition of these. Within the Social Media as a part of the Web 2.0 there are different tools for communication. The first part gives a brief overview of the different tools and illustrates the background of each tool. It also takes a look on the theme and style of conversation realized by a specific tool. This part shows what kind of conversation is looked at by taking Social Network conversations as samples.

The second part of this paper makes an approach to the principle of Politeness in regard to the concept of face by Goffman, Brown and Levinson and the Politeness Principle by Leech. First of all the term politeness is described with common literature definitions. This is followed by the description of the Politeness Principle by Leech. Then the concept of face by Goffman will be introduced to the reader. The focus of this work is the use of the concept of the positive face and linked acts within the conversation. In connection with the different approaches of politeness this paper defines a pattern of positive face threatening act and shows the appearance of such acts within the conversation of a certain social network. The special pattern will be used at text samples of one Social Media network and will show the usage of positive face threatening acts by measuring the frequency of this special pattern.

The last part of this work summarizes the results of the research and gives a conclusion in connection with the hypothesis.

2. Web 2.0, Social Media and Social Networks

Everyone has personal connotations with the terms Web 2.0, Social Media and Social Networks. Everyone knows that the Internet at current is at the stage of the so called Web 2.0. Everyone participates in the Social Media and using it for their purpose of communication. In general communication via the Internet and every used tool within it is called computer mediated communication. Therefore the computer and the Internet have to fulfill the conditions of a medium. A medium is a location of intermediation of content based on technological agents. (cf. Beck 28) Consequently computers (location and technology) and the Internet (as mediator and content) are media. Both technologies incorporate the four aspects of the media term. (cf. Beck 28) According to Beck all four aspects of a medium are fulfilled by the computer and the internet and therefore both are media and able to mediate content and information.

2.1 Web 2.0

The term Web 2.0 was coined by Tim O`Reilly and John Batelle. By creating this term both wanted to find a definition for the ongoing revolution and change of the Internet. “Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.” (O´Reilly,

Their definition shows that the Internet has changed in some way of its use. To be precise the concept of the Web 1.0 was to receive information and building up first attempts of new communication tools like the e-mail. The Web 2.0 was built on the foundation of the Web 1.0 but emphasizes collaboration, communication and knowledge collection. (cf. McAfee) The key term in this case is network. Tim O’Reilly accentuates the network effect as an effect that is produced by a certain media to attract more and more users by their numbers of users. If a realization within the Internet has many users these applications attract even more users. (cf. McAfee)

So the term of the Web 2.0 can be seen as the revolutionary shift of Web 1.0 to a new and more effective usage of the Internet as a whole. The meaning of the Web 2.0 can be defined by more effective usage of conversation and collaboration and by using the network effect.

With the change of the Internet towards Web 2.0 there also appear new terms reffering to tools and realizations of communication media.

2.2 Social Media

The term Social Media collects all realizations of communication, collaboration and networking within the Web 2.0. “This includes the use of Internet and mobile media (videos, documents, photos, slide presentations, etc.) for sharing ideas, concepts, messages, or entertainment. For each type of medium, there are services that facilitate one-to-one or one-to-many communication; …” (Klososky 7)

So every realization within the Web 2.0 is called Social Media. The following list shows some examples of different kinds of Social Media. Each of its own has some special features and some typical usage.

- Blogs
- Mikroblogs
- Wikis
- Instant Messaging
- Social Networks

In regard to the aim to show the usage of positive face threatening acts within social networks the above mentioned forms of the Social Media are described in a very brief way.

2.2.1 Blogs

„A “blog“(an abbreviated concatenation of “Web log“) is a Web site used regularly by one or more authors to post articles on any subject deemed to be of interest to its readers. A blog might be described as a diary, journal, or log book that has been made accessible to a selected readership or the general public. It is often the case that blogs allow comments on their posts from other users, and such users may also decide to cross-link such blog posts with their own. The entirety of all blogs on the Internet is often referred to as “the blogosphere.”” (Buhse/ Stamer 206) According to this definition the blog has a certain aim to provide information to others. It would be very interesting to look at the discussions within a blog. But as a matter of fact a blog is a very specialized information media. Ongoing conversations are done most times by specialists and the author himself. The blog as a Social Media has a very talkative conversation but this conversation is too specialized for the matter of the research of this work.

2.2.2 Microblogs

“Microblogging, a form of connection we have not encountered in the past, consists of short bursts of user-generated content that allow people to stay current with known contacts and to follow the thoughts of strangers who have interesting or relevant things to say.” (Klososky 10) The specialty of the Microblog is the limited usage of words. Most Microblogs force their users to compose messages of only 140 letters. Within such a communication tool there is merely little till no space for strategic use of the principles of politeness.

2.2.3 Wikis

“The word “wiki” is taken from the Hawaiian language, where it means “fast.” Hosted on an intranet or on the Internet, wikis are Web sites that can not only be read by their users but also modified, expanded, and commented on – all in a manner of seconds.” (Buhse, Stammer 209) This special case of Social Media deals with cooperative work and knowledge exchange. The most popular but also controverse case of such a Social Media is Wikipedia. People can work together and put together a kind of encyclopedia for everyone to look up certain facts. Everyone who participates in creating an article on Wikipedia could do this even with the lack of evidence or source. But it also has to be mentioned that due to current occasions of popular plagiarisms the quality of articles on the Wikipedia platform has risen. The crowd who is involved in the development of such wikis tries to be serious and controls its results through crowdsourcing. (cf. Howe) For analyzing politeness strategies like positive face threatening Wikis are not likely to have typical conversations. The ongoing communication is more about connotation, suggestion, and helping within the content of a certain article.



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Titel: Social Media and Politeness