Architectures of Participation: Affordances

Prompt: Pick a politician or celebrity and compare two of their social media platforms (e.g., Twitter, FB, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat, etc). How does communication differ across these platforms? How might these differences relate to the platform’s “affordances”?

Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, (and his PR crew) use different social media platforms to present the best of Trudeau and thus of Canada to an audience of millions. People acquire political information via social media and express themselves politically on these platforms, therefore studying “affordances “of these platforms is crucial in understanding communication practices happening in contemporary social movements. (Comunello et al 2)

Different social media platforms hold different “affordances”; a term coined by the perceptual psychologist James J. Gibson to express how objects are oriented in terms of “the possibilities they offer for action” (Hutchby 448). Trudeau uses both Twitter and Instagram in differing ways due to functional, relational, learned and designed aspects of their affordances.


Political expression on social media often privileges, over other platforms, Twitter: A social media platform focusing on “what’s happening in the world and what people are talking about right now”, as users interact through “tweets” (Vaccari 221).

‘Tweeting’ enables Trudeau to share both text and image containing content about his current activities and of Canadian politics. Although, Trudeau uses this lightly with Twitter’s maximum 140-character count, which exemplifies the functional aspect of affordances – they’re enabling as well as constraining (Hutchby 448).

To make up for this restriction Trudeau ‘tweets’ and ‘retweets’ on a regular basis. Tweeting regularly isn’t something that’s built into the platform but rather it’s an affordance that’s learned about “through complex sets of concepts and conventional rules governing their use” (Hutchby 449). By Trudeau tweeting on a regular basis it strategically increases the visibility of his political actions and brings about public discussion across different social network sites (Segerberg et al, 201).
(Also see: Media Ideologies– ‘people’s beliefs about how a medium communicates and structures communication’ (Gershon, 776).)

Tweeting and re-tweeting by Trudeau. Note: re-tweeting enables Trudeau to show interest and support to other users.

Instagram, on the other hand, is a “home for visual storytelling for everyone”, enabling users to share photos with captions. Trudeau, although an avid Instagram user, posts less regularly and with similar content to his Twitter. Trudeau possibly uses Instagram to extend his reach to a larger audience rather than exploring different content. This shows how technologies are like a ‘blank-slate‘, open to interpretation and negotiation to give them meaning and structure, that the concept of affordances allows us to challenge (Hutchby 450). Thus underlining how people build their communication strategies.


Same post, different platform


Works Cited:

Comunello, Francesca et al. “The ‘Proper’ Way To Spread Ideas Through Social Media: Exploring The Affordances And Constraints Of Different Social Media Platforms As Perceived By Italian Activists.” The Sociological Review, vol 64, no. 3, 2016, pp. 515-532. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1111/1467-954x.12378.

Gershon, Ithaca. “The Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting Over New Mediathe Breakup 2.0: Disconnecting Over New Media.” NY: Cornell University Press, vol 40, no. 6, 2010

Hutchby, Ian. “Technologies, Texts And Affordances.” Sociology, vol 35, no. 2, 2001, pp. 441-456. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/s0038038501000219.

Paek, Hye-Jin et al. “Engagement Across Three Social Media Platforms: An Exploratory Study Of A Cause-Related PR Campaign.” Public Relations Review, vol 39, no. 5, 2013, pp. 526-533. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2013.09.013.

Segerberg, Alexandra, and W. Lance Bennett. “Social Media And The Organization Of Collective Action: Using Twitter To Explore The Ecologies Of Two Climate Change Protests.” The Communication Review, vol 14, no. 3, 2011, pp. 197-215. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/10714421.2011.597250.

Vaccari, Cristian et al. “Political Expression And Action On Social Media: Exploring The Relationship Between Lower- And Higher-Threshold Political Activities Among Twitter Users In Italy.” Journal Of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol 20, no. 2, 2015, pp. 221-239. Wiley-Blackwell, doi:10.1111/jcc4.12108.

Images Cited

Image of Justin Trudeau:
From Justin Trudeau’s Twitter account:

Twitter Logo:
By Twitter,

Instagram Logo:
By Instagram,

Screenshot from Justin Trudeau’s Twitter account #1:

Screenshot from Justin Trudeau’s Twitter account #2:

Screenshot from Justin Trudeau’s Instagram account:


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