The word share is at the heart of social media. It appears as both a link and an imperative verb under every Facebook post, every YouTube video, every story on the New York Times website. Social media tools from Twitter to the BBC iPlayer highlight possibilities of connection and sharing. Instead of simply watching, listening or reading, we share ideas and images, information and entertainment, stories and songs with self-selected networks of friends, contacts and our own personal audiences. From Spotify playlists to Tumblr blogs, from BitTorrent to the Guardian opinion page, we are encouraged to communicate, cooperate, collaborate and share. Sharing is what is social about social media.

But the word share is also the very word that the established media content industries have mobilised against as a threat. The practices of file sharing break open the business models of the music, TV and film industries. Newspapers find their online content circulated, archived and accessed by newer advertising-driven firms such as Google, and by individual users, challenging the news industry’s business models and brand profiles. Content industries lobby for the criminalisation of sharing, and for regulatory models and technological interventions that will inhibit it. And while online sharing opens up new social possibilities, new kinds of networks, and new forms of distributed creativity and collaboration, it also opens net users up to new forms of visibility, exploitation and surveillance.

The word share can be used in many different ways. To share can be to separate and divide, or to copy and multiply. On social media, it can variously be about sharing images, links and ideas, or meanings, opinions and emotions. Sharing may be about maintaining relationships, a moment of ritual or communion, or the performance of versions of self. It may be to affirm someone, or to take something without paying. All of these may be visible, as others share in our actions in the network. And what we share may become a commodity for social media firms such as Facebook.

In this inaugural lecture, Graham Meikle will explore the meanings and significance of sharing through social media, examining what it means for our identities and reputations, and for our understandings of media and communication.

Professor Graham Meikle

Graham Meikle joined the University of Westminster in February 2013 as a Professor in the Communications and Media Research Institute. He has previously taught at the University of Stirling, in Scotland (2007-13) and at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia (1999-2007). His most recent book is Media Convergence: Networked Digital Media in Everyday Life, co-authored with Sherman Young (Palgrave Macmillan 2012). Graham is also the author of Future Active: Media Activism and the Internet (Routledge 2002) and Interpreting News (Palgrave Macmillan 2009). He is co-editor, with Guy Redden, of News Online: Transformations and Continuities (Palgrave Macmillan 2011), and has published numerous book chapters and articles on internet cultures, media activism and online news.

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