Semiotics of social networking

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Social Media is an online chat relay system that is used to share text, pictures, and videos with friends or play games. A few examples of social media sites include Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Creating an account enables one to add friends and to post and/or upload files, messages, pictures or videos.


Semiotics is a philosophical discipline by which one studies images, symbols, signs, and other similarly related objects in an effort to understand their combined use, interpretation and meaning.[1] With semiotic structuralism one seeks the meaning of these objects within a social context. Post-structuralist theories take tools from structuralist semiotics in combination with social interaction. This is called social semiotics.[1] Social semiotics is “a branch of the field of semiotics which investigates human signifying practices in specific social and cultural circumstances, and which tries to explain meaning-making as a social practice.” “Social semiotics also examines semiotic practices, specific to a culture and community, for the making of various kinds of texts and meanings in various situational contexts and contexts of culturally meaningful activity”.[2]

Social networking[edit]

Social networking is the communication between two or more people within a virtual social space.[3] Social media is a tool that gives people the opportunity to connect instantaneously with one another. This new medium of communication allows new insight into the significance of social semiotics. Social semiotics is concerned with studying human interactions.[4] “Millions of people now interact through blogs, collaborate through wikis, play multiplayer games, publish podcasts and video, build relationships through social network sites, and evaluate all the above forms of communication through feedback and ranking mechanisms”.[5] Social semiotics “unlike speech, writing necessitates some sort of technology in the form of person device interaction”.[6] Social semiotics functions through the triad of communication or Peircean semiotics in the form of sign, object, interpretant[7] (Chart 1), and “Human, Machine, Tag (Information)”[8] (Chart 2). In Peircean semiotics (Chart 1), "A sign…[in the form of representamen] is something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity. It addresses somebody, that is, creates in the mind of that person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign. That sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign. The sign stands for an object, not in all respects, but in reference to a sort of idea which I have something called the ground of the representamen".[1]

Sign, Object, Interpretant
Sign, Object, Interpretant
Human, Machine, Tag
Human, Machine, Tag
Social semiotics

Social semiotics (Chart 2)

Human-Social interacting.[9]

Machine–Computers are created by humans and now have social applications.[4]

Tag– Picture/information tagging on social networks “has changed the traditional online communication process”.[10]

This example of the triangle of Human, Machine, Tag is shown when looking at tagging photographs on Facebook (Chart 3).[11] The Human takes the photo on a camera and puts the digital file (information) on the Machine, the Machine is then navigated to Facebook where the file is downloaded. The Human has the Machine Tag the photo with information (e. g., names, places, data) for other Humans to see. This process then can be continued (see Chart 2). “Collaborative tagging has been quickly gaining ground because of its ability to recruit the activity of web users into effectively organizing and sharing large amounts of information”.[12]

Semiotics of social networking (Chart 3)

Semiotics of social media
Semiotics of social media

Sign as Human: "the form which the sign takes (not necessarily material, though usually interpreted as such".[1] Photo of Human is the Sign/Human.

Object as Machine: "something beyond the sign to which it refers (a referent)".[1] Computer, digital file, social media is the Object/Machine.

Interpretant as Tag: "not an interpreter but rather the sense made of the sign".[1] Names, places, dates is the Interpretant/Tag.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Chandler, D. 2007. Semiotics: The Basics, 2nd ed., New York, NY, Routledge.
  2. ^ Lemke, J. L. Important Theories for Research Topics. 2002. Internet on-line. Available from
  3. ^ Artsnooze. Social Networking (Semiotics, Phenomenology, Epistemology, Ontology, Culture studies). 2009. Internet on-line. Available from
  4. ^ a b Hodge, R., and G. Kress. 1988. Social Semiotics. Polity: Cambridge.
  5. ^ Warschauer, Mark, Douglas Grimes. 2007. Audience, Authorship, and Artifact: The Emergent Semiotics of Web 2.0. Cambridge Journal 27, no. Annual Review of Applied Linguistic: 1-1-23.
  6. ^ Noy, Chaim. 2008. Mediation materialized: The Semiotics of a Visitor Book at an Israeli Commemoration Site. Critical Studies in Media Communication 25, no. 2: 175(21).
  7. ^ Mules, Warwick. 1997. The Social Semiotics of Mass Communication. Journal of Communication 47 p166(4).
  8. ^ Social Tagging, Online Communication, and Peircean Semiotics. 2008. Internet on-line. Available from the website
  9. ^ Thibault, P. J. 1991. Social Semiotics as Praxis: Text, Social Meaning Making, and Nabokov's Ada. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  10. ^ Huang, Andrea W., Tyng-Ruey Chuang. 2009. Social Tagging, Online Communication, and Peircean Semiotics: A Conceptual Framework (report). Journal of Information Science 35, no. 3: 340(18).
  11. ^ White, L. 2010. Facebook, Friends and Photos: A Snapshot into Social Networking for Generating Travel Ideas (Chapter 7). In Tourism Informatics: Visual Travel Recommender Systems, Social Communities, and User Interface Design. Edited by N. Sharda. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
  12. ^ Cattuto, Ciro, Vittorio Loreto, and Luciano Pietronero. 2007. Semiotic Dynamics and Collaborative Tagging. (Applied Physical Sciences) (author abstract)(report). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States 104, no. 5: 1461(4).