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by Michele Zappavigna
Continuum, 2012
Review by Elin Weiss on Aug 21st 2012

Discourse of Twitter and Social Media

Discourse of Twitter and Social Media: How We Use language to Create Affiliation on the Web by Michele Zappavigna focuses on some of the types of language and language trends that are commonly used on the social network site Twitter.

Twitter is a large world wide social network that lets users post short messages. These messages can be viewed by many people at once, so called “followers”. Twitter is a common communication device for people all over the world and is for example a way that celebrities can mass-communicate with their fans.

Zappavigna emphasizes the social aspect of Twitter by highlighting how Twitter works as a space for online social contact and claims that a person’s “followers” acts almost as a fan base. The more “followers” the more popular a person appears to be as other people consume what the person they follow “tweets”. The fact that information is tweeted at the very moment of an event means that the text produced in Twitter is time sensitive. One of the results of having “followers” is the fact that a person with a large number of followers can reach the status of “microcelebrity”.

Messages posted on Twitter appear instantaneously and can be read by a very large amount of people at once. The sheer volume of users makes Twitter an interesting tool for studying language and language trends.

Even though social networks are often criticized for promoting nonsense in the way that they encourage people to report on every little thing that happens in their lives, Zappavigna argues that Twitter has many social functions. The main reason for the popularity of Twitter, according to Zappavigna, is probably due to the fact that it negotiates and maintains relationships, and does so easily. It is easy to keep in contact through a social media such as Twitter and it happens in real time. Twitter has also become a place where people go to find the latest news because updates happen every second and people can report from different places in the world in an instant.

Zappavigna discusses her own research concerning the discourse used in Twitter. By using the program HERMES Zappavigna was able to capture large amounts of data from Twitter which she used in order to analyze language trends from the social network site.

Zappavigna found that the language used in Twitter is quite specific in that it is often bound to technological literacy and in ways flaunts a person’s social and technological knowledge. Zappavigna also emphasizes the use of humor in order to bond and confirm relationships as well as further showing one’s technological understanding. In doing so it is common for users to utilize inside jokes, sarcasm and “memes”.

Examples of common language used by Twitter members are emoticons (such as the smiley face), hashtags, the at sign, the sign for heart or love, repeated exclamation marks as well as all sorts of abbreviations such as “lol” ( laughing out loud). Even though social networks are often very self-promoting, the use of humor is frequent in reaching popularity and negotiating relationships while entertaining other members. One example of online humor is the use of “memes”. “Memes” are phrases that are often taken from popular culture and are adopted and slightly altered by the person using it in order to express humor and knowledge, often of a certain type of media or of pop culture.

The book is an interesting account of commonalities of online language. It clearly shows that users are adopting a language style that is specific to online use and that uses different signs in order to convey emotions to account for the lack of actually seeing or hearing the person that you are communicating with. The book is interesting and entertaining and some of the online inside jokes such as the “memes” are very amusing. Overall, the book is a great tool for a person interested in social networks, media and language. My main criticism is that the book uses quite difficult and field specific language, especially so in the introductory chapter. The language used in the first chapter will prove difficult for someone that is unfamiliar with electronic and linguistic discourse.  


© 2012 Elin Weiss


Elin Weiss has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Women's Studies from University College Dublin, Ireland. She writes for Feminists For Choice (



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