The 5W

Are Jakobson and Lasswell’s theories still valid for social networks?

Jakobson and Lasswell were the first to study communication through the analysis of social schemata. Starting with the simple Shannon-Weaver mathematical model of communication, which highlights the possiblity  of physical interference in the transmission of a message, we can then move on to other schemas that will help us to better understand the interactions between communicating parties.


The Jakobson model (1956)

Context (Referential function) – Message (Poetic function)- Sender (Emotive function)

Reciever (Conative function)-Contact or channel (Exertive function)-Code (Metalinguistic function)

As you can see, in the above schema context is decisive. Lasswell provides us with further help: 

WHO? («Chi?»)

WHAT? («Che cosa?»)

WHICH? («come?»)

WHOM? («a chi?»)

WHAT EFFECT? («effetti?»)

5w 1

Bothmodels entirely lack an ingredient which comes to the fore in communication via social networks, and which was not technologically possible in the era when the models were created: feedback.

Equality between receiver and sender

As shown above, in online communication there is a kind of technological equality between the sending and receiving parties. This equality means that, at least at a formal level, both can be equally recognized as “communicating parties”.

Those who send messages can also receive them, and vice versaso is the other way around. Despite this, the relationship between the communicating parties will never be fully symmetrical if there are differences in their respective levels of cultural, economic and, above all, symbolic capital (such as that gained by having a larger number of virtual interactions). Those with more of these kinds of capital will always have an advantage over those with less, both in the sending and the receiving of messages.

The 5W questions can help us both to construct messages of our own and to correctly understand understanding its messages sent to us by others.

What’s going on? Have we correctly understood who is communicating with us? What messages are they sending to us? Which means of communication are they using to do so? To whom is the message directed? What is its intended effect?

These can be considered basic elements required for the construction of a frame communication. Analysing these basic elements can be a useful way of coming to understandthe efficiency of active communication; provided that we take into account the spatio-temporal situation in which communication is occurring and any resulting feedback when carrying out such an analysis.

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