‘There will be screen caps’: the role of digital documentation and platform collapse in propagation and visibility of racial discourses

Cabral A. Bigman, Arrianna Marie Planey, Lillie D. Williamson, Marisa A. Smith, Shardé McNeil Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Digital technologies facilitate the existence of online spaces where understandings about race and racial inequality are co-created and contested as part of social networks and within the context of existing power relations and social identities. This project qualitatively explores US college students’ exposure to and experiences with content on social media that they consider to be related to race and racial discrimination. Based on analysis of focus groups, we highlight the role of digital documentation, mediated spillover, and platform collapse as key processes in propagation and communication visibility of racial discourses. We begin by delineating first level-digital documentation that digitally captures local campus and national events from second-level digital documentation–the copying of already digitized content (e.g., via screenshotting). We then introduce the concept of ‘platform collapse’–second-level digital documentation that enables mediated spillover of content in ways that disrupt discourse architectures, affordances, and audience contexts. Platform collapse emerged in student discussions of how content was documented and moved from relatively private to more public spaces to call attention to racist events, messages, and behavior, and to spur conversations and action. This extended reach and frequency, and also changed the context of racial discourses. Conversely, there was also evidence of platform collapse where content was moved from public to more private spaces to address social groundlessness and avoid masspersonal engagement on social media. We conclude by discussing implications of digital documentation and platform collapse for communication theory and methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1812-1829
Number of pages18
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2023


  • Social media
  • race
  • surveillance/privacy
  • young people

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences


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