With the advent of Network Era, social communication among people has experienced a great change (Wyrwoll, 2014). In the past, social media platforms were not mature enough and were unable to provide a great deal of opportunities for users’ participation and interactivity. At Current, people prefer connecting with others through social networking platforms where audience can play a role of user as well as producer. The popularity and ubiquity of social media has generated some new concepts and added new meaning to participatory culture. This essay will explain the core concepts related to new media audience participation and analyse the Sina Weibo as a case study.
Concepts which are closely linked with social media users will be illustrated in the following.
The concept ‘produsage’, which was created by an Australia media professor at Queensland University of Technology called Axel Bruns, is the combination of the word ‘produce’ and the word ‘usage’. This concept displays that the role of audience has transferred from the user role to multiple roles such as participant and producer (Bruns, 2008). The produsage term are used to describe the user-created content, which means that contents on social networking communities are generated by users. The other term relevant to produsage is the term produser. The term produser refers to new media audience and embodies that new media audience play a dominant role in content creation.
Professional generated content (PGC) means that contents are created by professional producers and organizations. PGC is a traditional type of content creation, and the mode of PGC can ensure a high quality of contents. The majority of online video platforms represents this kind of content production. For example, a Chinese website called iQIYI. iQIYI provides a variety of videos for its audience such as films, TV series and TV shows. These videos are published officially by professional companies or studios, and iQIYI needs to purchase the copyright of these videos to obtain the permission for showing these videos. iQIYI also publish TV shows which are produced independently by this platform’s professional studios.
Figure 1 iQIYI platform
User-generated content or user-created content is a significant concept as it shows that participants act as new roles in new media. Audience plays an active and dominant role in social media since users are both consumers and producers (Flew, 2008). A significant proportion of new media platforms require user-led creation, and this user-led innovation is an important symbol of new media. The UGC mode has become an essential part of social media, and one example is the digital memes. Digital memes can be easily produced by users and are popular in daily networking communication. Users, especially the young generation, like creating funny Internet memes and sending or posting the memes to express personal feelings in humorous way.
Figure 2 digital memes
The concept participatory culture is related to the generation of culture and contents which requires the creativity and innovation of users, audiences, consumers or fans (Fuchs, 2014). Different from traditional media, new media involves users active participation and participatory culture emphasize this characteristic. As a new model, participatory culture encourage users to be produsers rather than senders or recipients. One typical example of participatory culture is the bullet screen. The bullet screen originated from Japan is now popular in China. The bullet screen provides opportunities for users’ interactivity and participation because audiences are able to read other users’ comments, send comments and reply to other comments while watching videos. This mode can satisfy the demand of audience engagement and communication, at the same time, it can enhance entertainment.
Figure 3 the bullet screen
Case study: Sina Weibo
Sina Weibo is a popular and famous social media platforms in China. Users can post microblogs, pictures or videos, communicate and interact with others by commenting, liking, or reposting, express opinions and follow popular or controversial events through this influential social networking site (Lei et al., 2018). According to Weibo Data Center (2017), at the end of September, the number of daily active users is 165 million and the number of monthly active users is 376 million. In addition, the survey data shows that more than 80 per cent of users are people under 30 years old. Thus, Sina Weibo is a representative Chinese social media platform which is popular with the young generation.
Figure 4 Sina Weibo
Figure 5 Weibo Survey Data
Characteristics: Produsage and Participatory Culture
As a microblogging platform, Weibo is based on millions of users post blogs on its site. The UGC mode, therefore, is an essential part of Weibo platform. Participants play a role of producer as well as user and a great deal of user-created content is posted and disseminated through this site. Users act as produsers and can post pictures they made or other people made, their selfies and different kind of digital memes. Weibo leads to the generation of V-bloggers who possess a certain number of followers and post blogs daily. For example, a popular V-blogger called MeiRiYiGou post dog-related blogs daily. At current, 6.97 million users follow this blogger and each blog post can obtain other users’ comments, likes and reposts. Users who love dogs can find interesting and lovely pictures or videos of dogs. Moreover, a great deal of user-led creation are displayed by famous V-bloggers on Weibo site. Weibo generates fans communities to enhance users participation as well. This platform contain a super topic function which is mainly used by fans. Users can enter the super topic communities through clicking the hashtag. Famous and popular celebrities’ names are the common hashtags. For example, the super topic#鹿晗. 鹿晗(Lu Han) is a popular Chinese idol who has more than 40 million followers on Weibo, and the super topic #鹿晗 managed by his fans has approximately 5.72 million posts and 215.6 billion pageviews up to now. In this super topic community, creative fans post pictures and videos produced by themselves and fans can communicate and interact with each other. The UGC mode palys a significant and essential part on the Sina Weibo platform, which embodies the produsage concept. In terms of the participatory culture, the Weibo site provides attractive functions to encourage users to participate in and create innovative contents.
Figure 6 V-blogger: MeiRiYiGou
Figure 7 the super topic#鹿晗
Problems and Regulation
Some problems relevant to characteristics of Sina Weibo generated by this site as well. One of the problems is the embezzlement of contents as contents such as videos and pictures posted by users can be easily downloaded and sent to others. In some cases, users unwittingly post and spread other people’s contents. Thus, users’ awareness of copyright should be improved. Weibo provide each users with a special watermark which will be marked on pictures or videos they posted. However, words posted online can still be copied and the watermark could be cut or changed. Accordingly, the government or regulatory department need to introduce effective laws to solve related problems.
Another problem is the privacy disclosure. Some contents posted on Weibo involved other users privacy. Users would post photos or videos leaking private information which could be diffused and used by intentional individuals or organizations. In another case, personal information about celebrities could be found on this site such as the picture of celebrities’ passport information, the flight information of popular idols. The insecurity of privacy is a common problem of social media platforms. The Chinese government implements strict rules and regulations on the operation of social media platforms. At the same time, platforms themselves should also impose relevant restrictions on contents posted online.
Cyber violence is another serious problems. Some users dislike or hate other bloggers and attack them through extreme measures. Attackers swear, insult and slander the users or even the users’ family. The worse case is that some bloggers are under the pressure of curse as extremists would post contents such as pictures of the users’ or their family members’ death or funeral. This kind of cyberbullying can result in serious psychological problems of victims and their family and friends. The majority of victims are celebrities and their fans. Currently, Weibo are devoted to promote the real-name system which can alleviate problems caused by anonymity. Produsers would regulate and be liable for their behaviour in real-name system. In addition, Weibo allows users to close comment function and helps prevent attacking contents. In severe cases, attackers’ Weibo accounts would be suspended permanently.
Produsage is the trend of new media development and the major characteristic of social media. Social media platforms such as Weibo is based on user-led creation and innovation and promote users’ participation and interactivity. The advent of Web 2.0 contributes to a high level of users’ engagement in online activities (Hinton & Hjorth, 2013a). However, the UGC mode and users participatory can generate disadvantages as well. Both the government and the industry itself should implement regulation and laws to address related problems. Social media has become an essential part of people’s daily life, and it is also confronted with challenges.
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Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013a). What is Web 2.0? Understanding Social Media. (pp. 7-31). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Lei, K., Liu, Y., Zhong, S., Liu, Y., Xu, K., Shen, Y., & Yang, M. (2018). Understanding User Behavior in Sina Weibo Online Social Network: A Community Approach. IEEE Access, 6, 13302-13316.
Weibo Data Center. (2017). Weibo User Development Report. Retrieved 23th April 2018, from: http://www.useit.com.cn/thread-17562-1-1.html
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