Skip to main content



This project is represents a significant change in the way we understand the use and consequences of social media as against prior work on these issues. The foundation was extensive fieldwork (each ethnography lasted 15 months) in fieldsites around the world, with a focus upon the content of what is posted on social media, rather than on the platforms or the companies behind them. Our central point is to document the considerable differences in both the use and consequences of social media in different places, thereby challenging general claims based on the analysis of data from only a single population.
Evidence for the immediate impact of our findings is that our books have already received nearly a quarter of a million downloads in total from almost every country in the world. In addition, significant numbers of people have taken our e-course (MOOC), and have accessed our work through our website, social media, and via established media reports.
Our team has created an entirely new definition of social media as `scalable sociality,’ based on the way populations now use a range of platforms in order to scale parameters such as the degree of privacy or the size of group that is addressed. Our term `polymedia’ focuses upon how people are now judged as to which media they choose and emphasises the need to examine social media holistically rather than studying each platform separately. Our ethnographic method has shown the importance of access to private social media such as WhatsApp and not just public data such as Twitter for a more complete understanding of social media. We have also shown that content migrates between platforms, which suggests the limitation of approaches focused on the technologies and properties of platforms. We have proposed a new conceptualisation of being human called `a theory of attainment’ which challenges the idea that with social media we have either lost our humanity, or become ‘post-human’ as frequently asserted in the academic literature.
Our project suggests that, contrary to most prior claims, social media is not contributing to a trend towards individualism, but more often helps repair the fragmentation of previous social groups such as the family, tribe or caste. The posts people share on social media often reflect more conservative values because of their social visibility. In most of our fields of enquiry the consequences of social media are simultaneously positive and negative, for example, enhancing access to education as well as being a distraction from education. Likewise, social media provides new opportunities for women and political oppositions as well as suppresses women and political oppositions. In some regions, social media is regarded as the death of privacy, in others as the birth of privacy. In revealing these contradictions, our findings challenge less nuanced judgements. We find regions such as Southern Italy where the impact of social media on social life is quite limited, as against populations such as Chinese factory workers where social media dominates life outside of work.
Our project recognises that social media has made visual communication, such as in the form of memes and photographs, integral to everyday conversation alongside text and oral communication. We have also used our understanding of social media and informal digital education to inform our research dissemination, using a range of digital tools to share our results with a global audience. For example in our use of short YouTube videos or memes.