Visual audience gatekeeping on social media platforms: A critical investigation on visual information diffusion before and during the Russo–Ukrainian War

Oct 29th, 2023 | By | Category: RSS Feed


Gatekeepers, including prerogative elites and institutions, possess multifaceted tools for controlling information. Historically, these gatekeepers have systematically instrumentalized visual information to shape audience perceptions in alignment with specific agendas. However, the advent of social media platforms has disrupted these power dynamics, empowering audiences through user-driven visual information exchanges. This has led to visual audience gatekeeping whereby users act as audience gatekeepers by selectively disseminating visual content, thus shaping information diffusion. While this democratisation of gatekeeping holds considerable promise for user empowerment, it also presents risks. These risks stem from the inherently persuasive yet manipulative qualities of visual content, compounded by users’ susceptibility to unconscious biases, especially during polarising events. Therefore, we critically investigated visual audience gatekeeping in the context of the Russo–Ukrainian War, specifically focusing on a Reddit subforum devoted to Russia-related discussions. We find that visual audience gatekeeping operates within a paradigm that reflects the social reality the audience embraces. Audience gatekeepers disseminate visual information both to reproduce and defend an idealised conception of this social reality. Collectively, they produce a visual echo chamber characterised by low information diversity, which, in turn, reinforces and perpetuates the incumbent paradigm. However, heightened social tensions can trigger a paradigm shift and amplify the reproduction and defence processes, increasing the potential for the diffusion of more radical and extreme visual narratives. Based on our findings, we propose a theoretical model of visual audience gatekeeping, which has important implications for research on visuals, gatekeeping and social media platforms.


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