If our many social tools have one thing in common, it’s sharing. Sharing that is often overwhelming. Overwhelming, because it produces further sharing demands and expectations, and because it communicates itself, and often notifies about itself.
Any social media action is an act of sharing. This, simply, because social tools aggregate audiences — around and on the tool, as well as to each individual user. Each user has his/her own audience of friends, peers, fans, followers, and so on. And the tool, overall, has an audience (about which it can usually offer up metrics and meta social use data). Actions on social tools are acts of sharing because they are perceived by audiences (some kind of attention economy governs who and what is seen most).
Sharing of shared actions is also a form of sharing. Retweeting, reblogging, liking, following, voting, favoriting — you get the picture. So, any social action solicits further social action. Why? Because in mediated social interaction, there is no indication of reception unless a further re-sharing action is taken. There are no view counts for tweets, tumblr blog posts, Facebook status updates. Only likes, reblogs, retweets, @replies, and so on confirm that the post has been seen. Re-sharing has thus a social function: to communicate back.
The trouble with sharing is that it generates noise. This is structural — it’s in the mechanics of sharing.
An initial post is a social act. It wants to be shared. Sharing the post solicits re-sharing. Structurally, it has an author, it has information content, and an undetermined audience (the audience is solicited, but not targeted).
But the act of re-sharing has multiple referents. First, the identity of the person re-sharing (I am sharing this post shared by a friend). Second, the information content of the post reshared (what it says). Third new or redundant information content of the action of resharing (I like this person’s posts, and so my act of resharing is not simply to repeat what they shared, but to indicate a relational interest). Fourth, the author of the original shared post (please notice that I paid attention to you!). Fifth, the audience of the person resharing (you might find this interesting).
Meaning, in other words, is ambiguated in the amplification that is sharing. Multiple signals are sent in the act of resharing, allowing for multiple interpretations, thus engendering even more possibilities for communication (be it successful or unsuccessful).
Sharing thus engenders noise more easily than it produces signal, because intended signal (I want to share this, I want to be seen sharing this, I want the author to take notice, I want my audience to see this, etc) is delivered within a medium of ambivalences.
This is just a property of the medium. A medium of excess and surplus communication whose preference for gestural actions (sharing) mitigates its ability to produce successful interactions and communication. There’s no fix for it. Just an ongoing demand on users to tolerate and abide ever-greater levels of noise and activity. A crack in the system, perhaps; or a reflection of the psychology of modern-day media.