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Working Paper from New Media Theorytaught by Dr. Jim Zappen, Fall 2013.

Abstract: The Pope is on Twitter! The President is on Reddit! What happens for a reader when traditional and powerful people and institutions engage with online communities in their vernacular social spaces? This paper expands on previous research, Lanius, (2011), “YouTube Commentary,” which addressed speech community formation across YouTube, by taking descriptive parameters from that piece and demonstrating the implications for community speech mode formation today. With interactive features saturating the web, certain phenomena are observable as fairly stable processes of socialization and enculturation which bound the inside, outside, and politics of online communities. This project asks, what happens when two sets of expectations and communicative practice collide? Online communication forums, including commentary threads, twitter feeds, blogs, etc., have demonstrated their capacity to form groups of like-minded individuals who coalesce around common causes or ideologies. Limited research has addressed how ‘foreign’ texts are inserted into these spheres, frequently presenting expectation bending communiques which must maintain their professional veneer while simultaneously addressing an audience contrived and imagined from the website’s speech community. In these moments, what are optimum strategies for readers to decode the message? Through a content analysis of a Reddit AMA with President Barack Obama and the twitter feed of Pope Francis, this analysis reveals the conflicted and argumentative conversations present under authoritative texts where speech community members debate and decide how they should receive the message. Such an analysis enables scholars and communication specialists to re-theorize media reception in disparate environments and also prepare for the composition and construction of future communication events involving traditional authority and internet communities.

Keywords: authority online, internet research, speech modes

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