CANCELLED Sharing, Subterfuge, and Silence: Sorting through Signals in Digital Social Spaces

This talk has been cancelled due to CBS' virus precautions. We aim for a future event. We apologize or any inconvenience, thank you for your understanding. Best regards, the Digital Transformations Platform A talk by Jeffrey W. Treem, University of Texas at Austin.


Sharing, Subterfuge, and Silence: Sorting through Signals in Digital Social Spaces

A Talk by Jeffrey W. Treem, University of Texas at Austin

As organizational work is increasingly intertwined with the use of robust digital communication technologies, the opportunities for actors to discover, confront, and utilize information is more expansive than in previous eras. Specifically, a set of technologies I label digital social spaces (e.g. social networking sites, online chat, social intranets, collaborative work platforms, knowledge management systems) affords users the ability to interact with each other and communicate in ways that are visible to other actors across space and time. By dramatically increasing the potential information resources available to workers, the reliance on digital social spaces creates greater burdens on organizations and organizational members in evaluating both the credibility and significance of information, and assessing the intentions of those responsible for providing, concealing, or obscuring information. For example, if a work group is using a collaborative tool (i.e., Slack, Chatter, Teams, Workplace) to communicate about a project, and a team member is silent, does that communicate disinterest, agreement, or merely that they don’t know how to use the tool? If another team members dominates the online chat does that communicate expertise, leadership, or that they simply have more available time? The answers to these questions have significant implications for the ongoing work of the team and relationships among group members.

I argue that a useful framework for conceptualizing the processes through which communication is made more or less visible in digital social spaces is to consider the signaling associated with communicative acts and spaces. Using a lens of signaling theory, this talk will examine the ways that activity in digital social spaces comes to operate as a signal, and the extent to which that process results from, or produces an asymmetry in, communication visibility. Foregrounding signaling in examining communication visibility in digital social spaces has three potential implications for ongoing scholarship: 1) It calls attention to ways the sociomaterial context of organizations can alter processes of visibility by making some signals more or less visible, meaningful, or valuable; 2) It recognizes that individuals may differ in the skill and intent with which they produce signals, and therefore may have differential success managing visibility, or observing and assessing others; and 3) It opens up questions regarding what types of signals lead to different forms of attributions (i.e., competence, trustworthiness, commitment) and how or why actors make particular assessments. Overall, integrating signaling theory treats communication visibility in organizations as a product of a dynamic system in which actors intentionally and unintentionally produce diverse, interdependent signals.


Jeffrey W. Treem is an Associate Professor at The University of Texas at Austin.

This talk is organized by the CBS Business in Society Platform Digital Transformations.

The page was last edited by: Business in Society platforms // 03/12/2020