Can interfaces and social profiles ‘speak without words’? Social platforms as ideological tools to shape identities and discourses


User agency has been profoundly transformed since all the new digital practices and communicative exchanges are mediated, filtered and re-modelled through digital technologies thanks to the presence of the two potentialities of interactivity and connectivity. Most of the discursive practices represented in social media platforms are focused on processes of self-profiling. Additionally, pre-packaged identities and meanings are produced by multimodal discursive patterns that are generated by social network technologies. The co-deployment of different semiotic resources is regulated by the platform design, which combines multimodal artefacts uploaded by users with those pre-imposed by the interface architecture. So far, digital profiles have been almost exclusively investigated as new multimodal and multimedia digital texts. Our focus, instead, is on technology meant as a further and complex semiotic resource, and its meaning potential gives rise to hidden signs (metadata and algorithms) which are regulated by normative codes. What we are proposing in this theoretical contribution is a tentative framework that is grounded in an integrated view of textuality. Digital meaning is conveyed through texts but also via computational actions that, in turn, are triggered not only by users but also by platform technologies embodied by the interfaces. If we apply a further level of analysis, as suggested by the framework proposed, we realise that users are partially responsible for their identity construction. De facto, algorithmic relations mostly shape their agency, and this implies a new approach to the study of meaning-making processes in digital settings.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v58p43

Keywords: algorithms; multimodal discourse; self-profiling; social network platform; user agency


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