Date of Award

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Information Studies

First Advisor

Michael Zimmer

Committee Members

Nadine Kozak, Wilhelm Peekhaus, Sandra Braman, Richard Grusin


Information Flow, Power, Social Media, Twitter, Users


Following a number of recent examples where social media users have been confronted by information flows that did not match their understandings of the platforms, there is a pressing need to examine public knowledge of information flows on these systems, to map how this knowledge lines up against the extant flows of these systems, and to explore the factors that contribute to the construction of knowledge about these systems. There is an immediacy to this issue because as social media sites become further entrenched as dominant vehicles for communication, knowledge about these technologies will play an ever increasing role in users’ abilities to gauge the risks for information disclosure, to understand and respond to global information flows, to make meaningful decisions about use and participation, and to be a part of conversations around how information flows in these spaces should be governed. Ultimately, knowledge about how information flows through these platforms helps shape users’ informational power.

This dissertation responds to such a need by investigating the extant state of information flows on the popular social media platform “Twitter,” user knowledge about information flows on Twitter, and explores how Twitter, Inc.’s messaging to users may impact users’ knowledge construction. Through a mixed-method approach that includes a science and technology studies informed technical analysis of the Twitter platform, a quantitative analysis of survey data gathered from Twitter users and non-users which tested knowledge of different aspects of information flows on Twitter, and a critical discourse analysis of Twitter’s messaging to users in the new-user orientation process, this dissertation theorizes how junctures and disjunctures among the three can impact individual power. Findings of this project suggest that while many of the protocols and algorithmic functions associated with real-time information production and consumption on Twitter are well understood by users and are clearly articulated by Twitter, Inc., other aspects of information flows on the platform—such as the commodification of user-generated content, the long-term lifecycle of Tweets (such as the archival of Twitter by the Library of Congress), and the differential global flows of information—are not as well understood by users, nor explained in as much detail by Twitter, Inc. This dissertation describes the resulting state of users’ informational power as one of “information flow solipsism.”