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Creating Facebook: the management of conflict and the pursuit of online conviviality

Creating Facebook is a project run by Philip Seargeant and Caroline Tagg of the Open University’s Applied Linguistics and Literacies (ALL) Research Group. Amy Aisha Brown is research associate.

The project investigates people’s awareness of how communication via Facebook works, and the social implications of their communication. This includes the way that information and opinions are circulated, and how people react to them.



A book on our research, Taking offence on social media: conviviality and communication on Facebook, is being published by Palgrave Macmillan in early 2017.

The book looks at incidents where online communication has gone awry – where people have accidently given offence, or been offended by what other people have written or shared. We use this as a means of asking people about their awareness of how online communication works, and the possible pitfalls involved.

Based on the findings of this research we are now developing a project to create teaching resources (specifically open educational resources) which will help raise awareness around people’s use of the technology, especially in terms of its social implications, and the role it plays in the circulation of information. The premise is that an awareness of this allows people to make informed decisions about their use and consumption of it as a form of media.

While much of the recent discussion in the media about the influence of ‘filter bubbles’ and the circulation of ‘fake news’ has been about altering the technology and the design of the site, our argument is that education around how Facebook is used as a means of communication and outlet for media is of equal importance.


Our main findings

  • People’s ability to use the site as an effective means of communication (and avoid social problems) was reliant on their awareness of how it worked, both in terms of the technology, but also in terms of the norms of communication on it and the ways in which these norms facilitated the flow of information.
  • Rather than directly confronting people, they would either ignore posts they disagreed with, hide them, or occasionally un-friend people. In this way they themselves created something similar to a filter bubble effect, by constructing a news feed which only contained opinions with which they agreed. Filter bubbles are implicated in the spread of fake news, in that they create the conditions in which one-sided and extreme opinions can freely circulate and where information is not easily challenged.
  • The research suggests that people are very aware of their own communication on Facebook and that they have developed strategies for dealing with it. However, it is difficult for an individual to understand how communication works at a more general level and how information flows on the site as a whole.

Critical digital literacy awareness is therefore needed around the following:

  • the apparent role that Facebook and other social media sites now play in politics and the dissemination of news and other information;
  • the potential tensions that may emerge between this political role and parallel assumptions that Facebook is light-hearted, trivial and therefore of little political consequence;
  • the various and often unintended implications that people’s online actions can have;
  • the argument that people’s actions are important in shaping the kind of online space that Facebook can be, and how information is disseminated through it. 


For more about our theoretical approach, context design, see here

For more details, contact Philip Seargeant ( or Caroline Tagg ( We tweet at @philipseargeant and @carotagg.



Publications and other resources

Popular articles and blog posts

The filter bubble isn’t just Facebook’s fault – it’s yours. The Conversation, 5 December 2016 

Fake news: the solution is education, not regulation. Times Higher Education, 29 December 2016 

Why the solution to ‘fake news’ is education, not technology, OU News, 11 January 2017 

The real reason you can't quit Facebook? Maybe it's because you can judge your friends. The Conversation, 12th July 2017

Political discourse on social media, Social Science Matters, 30 October 2017

Seargeant, P. and Tagg, C. (2018) The role of information literacy in the fight against fake news, Information Literacy Group Blog

Seargeant, P. and Tagg, C. (2018) Blaming Facebook for our fractured society: how online communication is changing everything from friendship to politics, English and Media Centre emagazine 79, Feburary 2018


Tagg, C, Seargeant, P. and Brown, A. A. (in press) Taking offence on social media: conviviality and communication on Facebook. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Seargeant, P. and Tagg, C. (eds) (2014) The language of social media: identity and community on the internet. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 280 pages.

Chapters in books

Tagg, C. and Seargeant, P. (2017) Negotiating social roles in semi-public online contexts. In Sirpa Leppänen, P., Kytölä, S., Peuronen, S., Jousmäki, H. and Westinen, E. (eds) Discourse and identification: diversity and heterogeneity in social media practices. Abingdon: Routledge. 

Tagg, C. and Seargeant, P. (2016) Facebook and the discursive construction of the social network, in Spilioti, T. and Georgakopoulou, A. (eds) The Routledge handbook of language and digital communication. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 339-353.

Seargeant, P. and Tagg, C. (2014) The language of social media, in Seargeant, P. and Tagg, C. (eds) The language of social media: identity and community on the internet. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1-20.

Tagg, C. and Seargeant, P. (2014) Audience design and language choice in the construction and maintenance of translocal communities on social network sites, in Seargeant, P. and Tagg, C. (eds) The language of social media: identity and community on the internet. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 161-185.

Journal articles

Tagg, C. and Seargeant, P. (2012) Writing systems at play in Thai-English online interactions. Writing Systems Research. 4: 2, pp. 195-213.

Seargeant, P., Tagg, C. and Ngampramuan, W. (2012) Language choice and addressivity strategies in Thai-English social network interactions. Journal of Sociolinguistics. 16: 4, pp. 510–531.

Seargeant, P. and Tagg, C. (2011) English on the internet and a ‘post-varieties’ approach to language. World Englishes. 30: 4, pp. 496–514.

In the news

Teach students to navigate fake news, say researchers, by John Elmes, Times Higher Education, 2 January 2017

Teach students how to spot fake news stories, say academics, by Richard Vaughn, i News, 2 January 2017

Policy impact

Written evidence for select parliamentary committee on fake news, December 2017

Oral evidence given to parliamentary select committee on fake news, 23 January 2018


Social media – fake news, filter bubbles and sharing wisely! A suite of three pedagogic videos, Open Learn.

Facebook, filter bubbles and fake news, or how people create the experience of social media through their own actions (told through the medium of memes). An Academic Memesis by Philip Seargeant and Caroline Tagg.

What's fake about 'fake news'? Philip Seargeant  discusses what makes 'fake news' fake with law lecturer Hugh McFaul, 19 January 2018.


Our plenary at BAAL Language and New Media SIG seminar, April 2017: Language, New Media and Alt.Realities

Brainteaser: How do we respond to offence on social media - expert opinion, 24 January 2018