Twitter Chats as Third Places

When Ashleigh White (MA ’13) was a masters student in the James L. Knight School of Communication, she developed an idea in Dr. John A. McArthur’s seminar on space, technology, and information design. The class encouraged students to think about social media as a place that could be visited, and to imagine the impacts of digital technology on space and place. Ashleigh was (and still is) a talented communication consultant with particular expertise in social media. She imagined that social media could be more than social – that social media (and Twitter chats in particular) might be places for people to gather.

One of the beautiful things about graduate school is that the work of predecessors, faculty, and peers create vibrant connections for students and ideas. In Ashleigh’s case, she was inspired by Jim Shoff’s (MA ’12) thesis on the development of social capital in third places. Ashleigh added her own expertise in social media to the conversation. Dr. McArthur offered a research method that fit the concept and guided the analysis. And the project was underway.

As the faculty-student team coded months of scheduled Twitter chats and over 3,100 individual tweets, they quickly realized that their idea and method had merit. Under the right conditions, the hashtag can be a powerful tool for creating a gathering place in a digital environment.


Not only did Ashleigh’s work fulfill her quest to complete a master’s thesis – she graduated in 2013 –  it has inspired later projects and theses by other talented students, and paved the way for Ashleigh’s professional aspirations.

The latest iteration of Ashleigh White and John McArthur’s research in the Knight School’s Master of Arts in Communication program is a publication. Their study has been retooled into an article in Social Media + Society, published by Sage Publications, one of the leading academic publishers in social and behavioral sciences.

You can read their article – “Twitter Chats as Third Places: Conceptualizing a digital gathering site” – in the July-Sept. 2016 issue of Social Media + Society.

John A. McArthur, PhD, is an Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Programs in the James L. Knight School of Communication at Queens University of Charlotte. Ashleigh Farley White (MA ’13, Queens University of Charlotte) is a professional communication consultant in Charlotte, NC. They can be reached on Twitter @JAMcArthur and @ashleighwNC.

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