In a recent JCMC article, Lu Wei examines different kinds of blog, as regards their “knowledge producing” potential – and tries to look at the socioeconomic differences that might be contributing to the observed difference.

First the results, and then some comments.

The main line of thought goes something like this. Knowledge production is a phenomenon that should be understood and studied separately from mere knowledge possession; the idea being that knowledge production is sociologically more important, because it is correlated with social power.

From this starting point, one could take a look at blogs and categorize them according to how much political knowledge they “produce”; and while several categorizations are possible, we arguably don’t lose much if we only establish 3 categories: those of “filter blogs” – that, as the name suggests, filter and comment on other sources’ material -, “personal journals” – that focus on the writer’s personal life and tend not to produce much political information, and everything else, which latter category we can take as irrelevant for now.

What Wei did here was to take a look at a sample of these different kinds of blog, and try to assess what demographic and socioeconomic factors lurk in the background. That is, if we can take blogs as a proxy for the amount of online political knowledge that is produced, who is producing more, who is producing less?

The results:

  • Filter blog writing – that is, a high level of political knowledge production – is NOT related significantly stronger to media consumption than personal journal writing. That is, just because one is writing a filter blog, it does not mean that one is consuming more news media than someone who is not writing a filter blog.
  • Filter blogs – in general – do NOT get more incoming links and hits than personal journals. The “genre” of the blog does not guarantee popularity.
  • However, filter blogs do receive more attention from “public officials”, and even from family members, than personal journals. Thus filter blogs – with their higher political knowledge content – seem to be more socially influential.
  • Filter bloggers tend to be older, more educated, of a higher socio-economic status, white, richer, Republican and conservative.
  • Younger and female bloggers tend to prefer writing personal journals.
  • Liberal bloggers are more powerful in the blogosphere, while conservatives seem to have more power on the web as such (i.e. liberal filter blogs tend to have more incoming links from other blogs, but conservative blogs tend to attract more visitors from wherever).

And in general –

“The structural inequ[al]ity within the virtual political space mirrors existing material and legitimized reality in US politics” – that is, social, knowledge-production-related inequalities tend to get replicated on the web, too.

I found some problems with the article. For one thing, it came as a surprise to find typos and even grammatical mistakes in an ICA journal; not to mention the fact that in no article should the word internet be capitalized; not after Wired’s 2004 article, and not after Ted Stevens’ “Internets”.

I find the concept of “knowledge production” problematic. Wei doesn’t clearly define what he means by this; but to me it seems like a mixture of information dissemination and information production. Filter bloggers might “produce” a lot of “knowledge”, but – “FILTER”, nudge, nudge! – most of that will not be “produced” by them but by the sources that they rely on. As I have often suggested, the production and the secondary treatment of information should definitely be distinguished.

So much for “production”; but then about “knowledge” – as Eveland and Hively has shown (Journal of Communication 59 (2009), 205-224), it matters a great deal what kind of knowledge we are talking about. Does “knowledge” refer to the knowledge of facts about politics, political events or politicians? Or does it refer to the ability to connect different facts and to understand how they are related to each other?

Finally, while I agree with Wei’s approach to differentiate between different kinds of blog, their independence or professional status is again overlooked. So all in all it seems that the article would have greatly benefited from clearer concepts and more thorough operationalization.

Lu Wei (2009): Filter Blogs vs. Personal Journals: Understanding the Knowledge Production Gap on the Internet, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14, 532-558.

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