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With the rapid development of the ages, Internet has become a significant element of people’s lives. Internet-based social network services allow people to access information and communicate with others via online platforms. A distinctive feature of the mass communication in the new media era is that the audience begin to participate in mass communication, which is known as user-generated content (UGC). Users share their original content through the online platforms with other users, which means they are not only the audience, they have become the producers and suppliers of the Internet content. According to Hinton and Hjorth (2013), there are two categories of user-generated content. UGC can be considered as a result of social media usage, while user-created content refers to content that are intentionally created by users for other users to consume (Hinton, & Hjorth, 2013). This article explains how does the author approach the framework, briefly illustrates the motivation and reason user-generated content are shared on social media, analyses the merits of UGC and demonstrates some underlying problems.
In Chapter 5 of Understanding Social Media, Hinton and Hjorth discussed participation and user created content and provided some examples. They firstly explained how social media works as a participative medium Hinton and Hjorth (2013). Users have become producers of online content, which is summarized by the theory of “produsage”. After defining these concepts, they explored how the concepts are being generally used in practise. Several examples are provided including Crowd Sourcing, Smart Mobs and Wikipedia. Next, they critically discussed the phenomenon of citizen journalism.
Motivations of User-Generated Content and Advantages
The development of Web 2.0 provides Internet users with more initiatives for interaction and self-expression purposes. Therefore, the UGC-based forum, blog, social network sites are flourishing. Here, take Weibo as an example, the motivation and reasons of users creating content on social media platforms are analysed. These motivations also reveal the advantage of UGC.
Weibo, short for microblog, refers to social network sites that offer platforms for people to share short real-time information. Sina Weibo is the most popular and mainstream platform in China today. This platform allows users to share the latest news and also fragments of their daily lives with other users. With a growing trend, the monthly active user of Sina Weibo reached 313 million in December 2016 (Team, 2017).
The motivation for people to generate content on Sina Weibo can be divided into five main categories. Firstly, for social purposes. Users can chat with people they follow or even strangers via Weibo by commenting on someone’s posts. Since the launch of Weibo private message, users can chat with others personally. The social purpose of generating content is more reflected through this function. Users are allowed to interact with others using their edited text, pictures, voice messages, gifs, etc., in order to make friends, build up new relationships and expand their circle of communication.
Secondly, for the purpose of sharing content. Sina Weibo was originally known as a social sharing platform when it first came into public’s attention. Different from other platforms like Wechat and QQ, the content on Sina Weibo has a wider spread range. Users do not have to add friends with each other to see their content. They can simply browse any content from all users about what they are interested in by searching key words. For example, most celebrities in China use Sina Weibo to share their lives or promote their latest works. As users can access this kind of information easily, the distance between celebrities and their fans narrows down, which can be an efficient way to improve their influence.
Thirdly, for the purpose of public discussion. Content exposure is high on Weibo due to the feature that users can comment, like and repost others’ content. The emergence of Weibo allows users to have a relatively free channel to express themselves and make themselves heard. For example, a woman bullied in Lijiang was a widespread incident on Weibo. On 24 January, a Weibo user shared a post claiming that she was bullied by some robbers in Lijiang (a famous tourist city in China), accompanied by several photos of herself before and after the incident. This post spreads rapidly on Weibo with hundreds of thousands reposts and discussion. On the second day, the official police Weibo account released investigation results (see picture below). Generally, in life, the problems encountered by ordinary people are not taken seriously. This lady decided to turn to Weibo to make herself heard after receiving unsatisfactory results from the police. Weibo, a UGC-based platform has played an important role in public discussion and raise concerns for the incident.
Fourthly, for the purpose of information exchange. The exchange of information on Weibo has strong autonomy and selectivity. The instant messaging feature of UGC platforms makes it easier for users to update at any time. For example, sometimes information about emergencies or event that causes global concerns is posted first by users. It can be faster and more updated than all the regular media.
Problems of UGC
Nevertheless, there are some underlying problems behind the many benefits of UGC platforms. The main problems include copyright issues, monitoring issues and the legitimacy of the content. These problems are reflected in many platforms, of which the online live show is particularly evident. As a UGC-based social media form, live websites are the medium for live shows, which allow the users to broadcast content anytime, anywhere. In the technology age, everything can be online for others to see (“Facebook Live”, 2017). Taken Facebook Live as an example, the problems of UGC will be discussed.
Facebook unveiled Facebook Live in 2016. It allows Facebook users to live stream events. Yet, some people take advantage of this function to broadcast extreme events, which are socially harmful. A 37-year-old American man shared two videos on Facebook on 16th April. In the first video he announced that he plans to kill someone. The second video shows the scene of him shooting an old man. He talked about the murder and other criminal behaviours on Facebook Live after around 10 minutes. These videos were taken down after two hours. The appearance of this kind of inappropriate and irritating video content on Facebook can cause serious results. This case reveals the deficiency in monitoring live stream contents, which is a significant issue in UGC-based platforms.
From another point of view, the traditional media are often retained when reporting these kind of accidents. For example, hidden personal information, use mosaic pictures in order to avoid potential anti-social activities. However, these principles have been gradually abandoned due to information explosion. An important reason for this phenomenon is that the access threshold is low. Everyone can become a source of information as long as they have access to mobile devices, which makes it difficult to monitor the content being spread. Live stream provides people with a more direct and personal interaction form, yet in the meantime it has many underlying problems. Whether it is Facebook or other live stream platforms, it is difficult to prevent such events immediately. These violence events might be faded within the flooded information online. However, the impact on the audience and the society might result in more serious problems.
The rapid development of UGC-based social media has great influence on social media users. The feature of wide spread range and speed enables users to access up-to-date information according to their interests and needs. Yet in the meantime, the regulation and monitoring of UGC should be strengthened to ensure the negative impact is minimized.
‘Facebook Live’ murder indicates big problem. (2017). The Daily Collegian. Retrieved 20 April 2017, from http://www.collegian.psu.edu/opinion/editorials/article_0994f366-23ce-11e7-9a5a-17375c868492.html
Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media (1st ed.). Los Angeles, CA [etc.]: SAGE.
Quade, R. (2017). Facebook Live, Trend or Tremendous? | Affirm Agency. Affirmagency.com. Retrieved 20 April 2017, from http://affirmagency.com/facebook-live-trend-or-tremendous/#.WPizcmXgfFI
Team, C. (2017). Weibo monthly active users grew to 313M in Q4 2016. China Internet Watch. Retrieved 20 April 2017, from https://www.chinainternetwatch.com/19847/weibo-q4-2016/