When Friends Who Talk Together Stalk Together: Online Gossip as Metacommunication

Graham M. Jones, Bambi B. Schieffelin and Rachel E. Smith

in Digital Discourse

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199795437
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199919321 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Sociolinguistics

When Friends Who Talk Together Stalk Together: Online Gossip as Metacommunication

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Drawing on instant messaging (IM) conversations recorded between 2006 and 2009, this chapter analyzes American teenagers' normative assessments of peers' online practices. These assessments do not take the form of reflexively elaborated metadiscourses, but rather emerge through and within metacommunicative gossip, i.e., morally motivated stories about others' online communication. In particular, it concentrates on gossip conducted via IM about communication on the social networking site Facebook. Such gossip is not only metacommunicative; it is also metasemiotic insofar as participants incorporate materials from one media channel into another, drawing on evidence gathered by “stalking”, “lurking”, and “creeping” on Facebook to constitute moral assessments of others' online activity. This account shows that Facebook—an affectively charged arena of self-display and mutual scrutiny in which participants construct desire and build alliances through strategies of concealment and revelation—is a powerful catalyst for metacommunicative talk.

Keywords: social networking sites; facebook; instant messaging; IM; adolescents; teenagers; gossip; reported speech; metacommunication; multimodality

Chapter.  7692 words. 

Subjects: Sociolinguistics

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