Network Gatekeeping Theory

“Online, users can become gatekeepers, and are no longer simply being gatekept for – so gatekeeping power has shifted to some extent; additionally, gatekeeping is no longer a solid state, but is becoming a much more dynamic phenomenon where we’re sometimes gatekeeping ourselves, sometimes receiving the results of gatekeeping processes.

Gatekeeping theory was developed by Kurt Lewin in the 1940s, observing food habits in families (and seeing housewives as gatekeepers at that time); this was later applied in a major way to the editors in news publications, who control what information is selected for publication from all the daily events. Other applications are the management of technology (what new technologies reach a larger range of users) and information science (already starting to look at the role of communities as gatekeepers).

Gatekeeping theories can now be found in a very large range of fields (from information science to sociology, from management to public affairs), and Karine has examined top publications in eight such fields for occurrences of gatekeeping and related terms in recent years. There are some common themes which emerge from this – gatekeeping practices in various contexts, for example (access, dissemination, linking, editorial, protection, preservation of culture, facilitation, change agent).

Cross-disciplinary themes are about the gatekeeping process itself (how does it work in specific instances), differences in new and old technological frameworks, identity, influence, practical factors, and normative considerations. But what is missing here is a real interdisciplinary vocabulary, a consideration of the ‘gated’ (the people for whom the gatekeeping process is performed), the dynamics of gatekeeping, the notion of communities as compound gatekeepers, and our own self-regulation as gatekeepers.

There are four attributes of the ‘gated’ which can be used here: their political power (their ability to set agendas or change their preferences), their own information production, their relationship with the gatekeeper, and their alternatives. There are multiple types of ‘gateds’ here, too: the traditional gated, the dormant gated (e.g. a captive audience, a vagabond reader), the potential gated, the bounded gated (e.g. the frustrated gated), and the challenging gated. In the literature, these types of ‘gateds’ appear mainly as dormant gateds – people who have very limited bargaining power with their gatekeepers. Higher, more active levels of the gated do not appear significantly.

We can then apply this networked gatekeeping theory to online uses: examining the gatekeeping processes in viral information transmission online, examining discussions in Wikipedia as controlling its information synthesis processes, examining distinctions in Twitter between the 20% informers who share information generally and the 80% ‘meformers’ who share information mainly about themselves, examining the role of search engines in channeling information, or examining the self-regulation of virtual communities, for example.”


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