Private and public writing in a social media environment

In Essays by Dan1 Comment

How has the division between public and private writing been influenced by the rise of social media?


With the increasing use of social media to disseminate private writing, the industry behind public communication of the written word has been decentralized (Anderson, 2009). Social media delivers a platform where subjective private writing takes on mass media like qualities usually reserved for objective material produced for profit and blurs the line between the audience and producer (Lüders, 2008) . In this social media environment, readers have become writers (Walker, 2008) and corporations once restricted to mass media messages are able to communicate with their customers in seemingly personal environments (Aziza, 2010).

Defining Public and Private writing 


“The blurring of spatiality and corporeality introduces the blurring between the public and the private” (boyd, 2006). 


The increasing use of social media to mediate both public and private written communication has left the line between the two significantly blurred (boyd, 2006). To define the differences between public and private writing and fully understand how important the introduction of social media is on our writing in in general, we must first take a step back from modern communication.


In the past written communication intended to reach a group of people publicly, was restricted by economics and the conditioning of time and space (Anderson, 2006).  Be it the cost of publishing a newspaper, the time it took to print and mail communication or the space constraints of physical distribution chains (Anderson, 2006), public communication of the written word was essentially the domain of profit driven corporatized organisations. Profit was made from charging the audience for access to the communication and those with a need to disseminate information were charged for the space to do so. As a result much of the publicly written word was objective text, written to appeal to the most people for maximum profit.


Private writing while relatively free from economic consideration was only isolated due to time and space restraints and not necessarily privacy concerns. “Journals such as [Thomas] Edison’s may have been primarily intended for the writer’s own use but were not necessarily secret or private, as we imagine diaries to have been” (Walker, 2008). Within the transmission of the privately written word “people generally knew with whom they were communicating” (Lüders, 2008) and as a result the expression usually contained subjectivity, written to appeal to an  individual or small select group of recipients.


Social media’s influence on the private and public writing 


“The digitalisation and personal use of media technologies have destabilised the traditional dichotomisation between mass communication and interpersonal communication, and therefore between mass media and personal media (Lüders, 2008).


Within the pages of social media, both public and private communication become decentralized (Shirky 2002). This shift in the centralization of the written word has undermined  the value of public writing as a product (Shirky, 2008), and given mass media characteristics and an assumed value to privately produced material (Lüders, 2008). In this online environment of mass amateurization (Shirky, 2002) it has become increasingly difficult to delineate between private subjective communication, and objective public writing produced for profit.  With thousands of blogs, many of which fall into the genera of ‘private diary’ (Technorati, 2010), and social media pages full of personalized subjective comment, private writing has entered the  public domain, an environment where the line between the audience and the producer is obscured.


“With blogs, private home pages, message boards and newsgroups, people are never sure who will constitute the Ego(s) who select an understanding from their utterances.This is arguably the most fundamental change which has occurred, and explains how personal media forms may take on mass communication characteristics” (Lüders, 2008).


Before this shift to an online public dissemination of the written word, “people generally knew with whom they were communicating. They knew who would reconstruct an understanding from the communicated messages”(Lüders, 2008). We assume a reconstructed understanding of the message online, because social media offers us a space in which to construct an audience around our online personalities (boyd, 2006).  “For most people, the idea of speaking to a constructed audience in public is not a fearful one because a conception of public does not mean all people over all time and space” (boyd, 2006). Behind perceived walls of constructed audiences, social media has made it possible to share once privately written communication within a group of friends defined only by selection or quite often with the entire online world    .

The private word in a public online environment 





Through the google owned social media service ‘Blogger’, The Ramenbackpacker was able to share stories, information and a passion for Japan, publicly in an online environment with the same characteristics of a mass media publication.  In the past, due to the unprofitable nature of publishing such personal, objective material, and the time and space restrictions of physical distribution (Anderson, 2006), the communication occurring on The Ramenbackpacker blog would have remained unpublished and held privately.  An online audience is “beyond immediate social and geographical borders” (boyd, 2006), with the Ramenbackpacker blog receiving over 800 individual page views, from readers across 10 different countries. This reach of the private word suggests that “mass media institutions no longer reign as exclusive storytellers” (boyd, 2006).


The use of social media has not only increased the reach of the privately written word, but has also increased the volume of amateur content produced (Shirky, 2009). Evidence of this can be drawn from Annabel Crabb’s  AN Smith Lecture in Journalism on October 27 2010 at Melbourne University, in which she referred to an increase of personal exchange with her readers since publishing online. When people relied on physically posted mail for correspondence, “you’d maybe get one letter”(Crabb, 2010) she said. The instantaneous nature of digital communication and social media she remarked, allowed the audience to give “the kitchen table response” (Crabb, 2010).“Straight away. Right in the kisser. ‘Make a comment!’ suggests the tag at the end of the story. And ABC Online readers do. Oh yes, my word, they do. As do the denizens of the Twittersphere” (Crabb, 2010).


“Audiences are no longer recognized as merely co-producing media messages by interpreting their meaning; they take on an increasingly active role as producers of media messages in the first place” (Lüders, 2008). The Central News Network’s iReport web site highlights the  influence of social media on our written word and the way in which public and private writing are coexisting online. The website invites you to ‘take part in the news with CNN’ giving users a platform to publish privately produced material  with “features commonly associated only with mass media” (Lüders, 2008).   Through this social media service, subjective private writing has been given an assumed value and public writing, once the domain of corporations and restricted to the economics of profit, has become decentralized, available to everyone.


Mass media messages in a personal online environments 


“Variable (a)synchronicity and power differences between performer(s) and audience are attributes of computer-mediated communication mediums that contribute to the cultural changes present in secondary orality” (boyd, 2006)


Social media’s influence on our written word has also made it possible for cooperate entities to communicate in a seemingly personal exchange with individuals (Aziza, 2010). Whether it’s getting a reply from the personal account of Ben Folds after tweeting about his new album, or a YouTube video by a musician complaining about bad customer service (Bullock, Hunt,  McGinness, McKellar,  Whitfeld, 2010) we are now in conversation with the cooperate entities in our lives (Axon, 2010). Cooperate entities once restricted to mass media messages are now using private writing on social media sites to hold personal conversations with their customers (Axon 2010). Social media industry watchdog, Mashable,  reported in march this year that “The most common advice we received from businesses successfully using social media: Use it to engage your customers in a conversation, not just sell your services. Ideally, social media helps any business become the corner barbershop or bookstore where the owner knows each regular’s name and preferences.”(Axon 2010).




“We can see the dichotomy today between the dissemination of mass media to a passive mass audience and the dialogue found in two-way media such as blogs, online discussion boards and chat forums” (Walker, 2008) .


Industrialized communication to the public has become decentralized (Anderson, 2004) and the line between subjective private writing, and objective public text is blurring. Readers have become writers (walker), corporations are our friends on facebook (Aziza, 2010), and The Ramenbackpacker is sharing his story with the world. The influence of social media on both our public and private writing has resulted in there being very little delineation between the two and the professional mass media qualities once reserved for profit driven material are now available privately.





Anderson, C. (2006) Free: The Future of a Radical Price.


Anderson, C. (2004). Issue 10, The Long Tail [PFD]. Retrieved from,


Aziza, B. (2010) Where Social Media Meets Strategy. Retrieved from,


boyd, danah. 2006. “A Blogger’s Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium. Retrieved from,


Bullock, C. Hunt, S. McGinness, L. McKellar, P. Whitfeld, A. (2010). Background Brefing Social media and sentiment mining  [Radio series episode].


Crabb, A. (2010). The end of journalism as we know it (and other good news). Retrieved from


Shirky, C. (2002). Weblogs and the Mass Amateurization of Publishing [Blog Post]. Retrieved from,


Lüders, M. (2008). Conceptualizing Personal Media, 10(5). New Media & Society. Retrieved from,


Walker, J. (2008). Blogs, Literacies and the Collapse of Private and Public. Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 16(2-3).



Warnick, B. Warnick, B. (2004). Online ethos: Source credibility in an “authorless” environment. American Behavioral Scientist, 48(2), 256-265. Retrieved from,





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