Assessment 3

SNSs and Networked Publics: Trace Back to News Storytelling on Boston Marathon Explosion

XUETONG HU SID 460180322

Tutorial: 12-3 PM Thursday Fiona Andreallo

Do you still remember your life before smart phone? You contact your friends with landline or flip phones as a way to reinforce your friendship, you spend three hours driving to talk to your 86-year-old aunt, you have to show up at every conference, important ones or less significant, you gather news from prime-time TV or wait until next morning’s front page. Back then, life was completely separate from the constant intrusion of smart phones.

Contemporary life is dominated by ubiquitous network. With the invention of smart phones, this kind of always-on, always-accessible network has gradually ruled your life. Even when you try to give full attention to moments, consciously setting your iPhone aside and give up ten minutes after. In fact, Daily Mail reveals that the average person checks their device 85 times a day[1]. 85 times!



Networked publics


With the rise of social network sites, making physical appearances not mandatory anymore, providing a way to gain interaction through online spaces. People use SNSs to reinforce relationship, acquire the latest news, even for a political rally.

Thus, arguably, people say that social network sites can be described as the new form of socialize which has potential in creating a new public sphere. In Habermas’s (1991) idea, public sphere is a space where individuals gather together to discuss issues or share moments in their social life, like a coffeehouse or a hair salon. Here, when we talk about “public”, it refers to a collection of people who share mutual interests. Meanwhile, when we enter the 21st century, since the communicate landscape is not limited as before, the existence of SNSs help create a new term “networked publics”. Like Boyd (2011) states, networked technology restructured the publics, as a result, the SNSs are a genre of “networked publics”.

According to Boyd, the networked publics are:

restructured by networked technologies. As such, they are simultaneously (1) the               space constructed through networked technologies and (2) the imagined collective             that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice.                     (Boyd, 2011: 39)

SNSs have become a fact of life for civil society worldwide, publics frame an entity that can be act like a social factor. In real world, publics are more inclined to talk to acquaintance rather than strangers. However, SNSs help shape how people engage with environments in consequence of networked publics share so much in common. We still show up to talk about issues like we always did, which is simultaneously age-old and unprecedented. But nowadays, we choose to reach out to strangers over Internet. It is a new possibility for interaction, we could say, the new dynamics emerge this kind of participation.

Public space has increasingly privatized and virtualized, public media replace individuals. SNSs are examples of online technologies that sustain the argument about the production and reproduction of networked publics (Hinton& Hjorth, 2013). Under this circumstance, networked publics are not just publics that get networked together, but they are publics that have been transformed by public media (Boyd, 2011).

Twitter- a news sharing and reporting system

As one of the most representative social network sites, Twitter is 11 years old this year. With its unique demographics, attracting 319 million active users and taking up 23% of the Internet users in general (Statista, 2017). You might wonder how much you can share via Twitter as the word is limited within 140 characters. Actually, it’s a lot.

The transition of network publics is not all about technology, it is deeply tied into societal changes (Varnelis& Friedberg, 2008). Unlike mainstream media, Twitter is an open, transparent and two-way conversation system, which helps expand the scale of networked publics. Providing a continuous stream of events in real time, Twitter has the advantage that television and press media do not have time to develop a fully sourced story. Such scenario includes crisis, attack, accident, political rally, etc. The majority of trending feed on Twitter wall tend to become next morning’s headline, meanwhile, the verified Twitter accounts of traditional media like The Australian, BBC are forwarding print and broadcast stories to their news feeding. Not even mention that now the US president is more willing to deliver messages through his Twitter as @realDonaldTrump.


Twitter permits individuals to participate in public discussions, to mobilized, to get access that bypass some certain watchdogs and contribute directly to the news. At the same time, it allows individuals to go against large-scale enterprise and help shape how incidents happened. Take United Airline for instance, UA has been at the top of the heap over a week. Since one of the boarding passengers disclosed the video about the passenger David Dao being dragged kicking and screaming off a flight at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. The hashtag United Airline was No.1 over Twitter’s trending topic for days. Thousands of people have been swift to condemn United, some talk about boycott, some start to reveal other unpleasant experiences when they fly with UA. Through Twitter, this major PR crisis might not the first reputation damage case of UA, but definitely the most serious one in this social media age.

Boston marathon bombing

Twitter has been a controversial topic over years, when mainstream media are busy criticizing Twitter for spreading fake news or raise wrong allegation. In April 2013, Twitter went from being engaged in social movements to show a liability that function and interact with networked publics.

From the moment that two bombs exploded near the Boston marathon finishing line, Twitter provide the latest info updates, through re-tweets, hashtags, proving that it is possible for the general public to help identify and help capture the suspects (Haddow, 2016).

Since the first tweet being sent out referring the explosion through The Boston Globe at 2:57 PM, two minutes later, they caused an uproar. Millions of people talk about it both online and offline. 50 minutes after, the verified Twitter user Boston PD confirmed it via their account. During the whole capture, the public kept being notified and participated. In the end, it was a tweet to announce this success capture by BPD on the 19th April.

“Captured! The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won.”

The networked publics are a huge active participation in this incident. It is so much easier for law enforcement to coordinate and keep publics informed. All in all, Twitter has made it happen.

Nonetheless, it’s not always positive side of Twitter and networked publics during Boston bombing. Reddit user misidentified the missing Brown University student[2], when this accusation got re-post over Twitter, thousands of Internet users started to attack his family with verbal abuse. When the social media were celebrating that they solve this crime. The authority had to deny it and disclose the real bombers[3] against their willingness.


(BPD had to deny the wrongly reported through Twitter)


SNSs, networked publics and The Con

When we first decided to do the project about The Con, we realized that precisely because the less participation among networked publics, has resulted in its low awareness in USYD students. According to Sensis (2015), almost half of Australian use SNSs every day, 18-29 age group account for 79%, yet, few organizations actively operate a social media engagement strategy.

Based on previous analysis, we came up with our own lunch break promotion campaign, with the target audiences from 18-29 USYD students. By creating The Con’s verified accounts, providing user-generated contents to deliver key messages via different SNSs platforms, targeted audiences adopt the information, even if they are not interacting with us in close physical proximity. In other words, The Con’s accounts are a genre of networked publics.


Habermas, J., Burgher, T., Lawrence, F. and Burger, T. (1991) The structural transformation of the public sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Haddow, G. and Haddow, K. (2016) Social media and the Boston marathon bombings: A case study. Available at: (Accessed: 19 April 2017).

Hinton, S. and Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media. 1st ed. Los Angeles, CA [etc.]: SAGE.

NewsComAu. (2017). Hilarious memes mock United Airlines’ disastrous passenger ‘re-accommodation’. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Apr. 2017].

Papacharissi, Z. (2011). A networked self. 1st ed. New York: Routledge.

Papacharissi, Z. and de Fatima Oliveira, M. (2012). Affective News and Networked Publics: The Rhythms of News Storytelling on #Egypt. Journal of Communication, 62(2), pp.266-282.

Sensis (2015). How Australian people and businesses are using social media. 1st ed. [ebook] Available at: [Accessed 20 Apr. 2017].


[2] Sunil Tripathi, was an American student who went missing on March 16, 2013.

[3] Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev


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