The Social Representations of the Internet: A Systematic Review of Literature Towards a Groundbreaking Research Agenda

  • Luciano Moreira Faculdade de Engenharia da Universidade do Porto
  • João C. Paiva
  • Carla Morais
Keywords: social representations, internet, social cognition, social identity


In this paper, we draw upon the empirical research about the social representations of the Internet in order to propose a theoretically-driven agenda. A systematic review of empirical, peer-reviewed literature was conducted. The corpus of analysis consisted of eight papers which fell into four thematic categories: (i) Internet and quality of life; (ii) Internet as a moving representation; (iii) Internet and digital divide; (iv) Internet and mobile culture.  The research about the social representations of the Internet is still limited in number, depth and breadth. Notwithstanding, it conveys important insights about the evolving, symbolically-loaded meanings of the Internet as a prosthesis of knowledge and as a means of communication, with consequences for identity and intergroup relations, contributing to expand the theoretical and empirical debates on the field of digital media. The research agenda for studying the Internet from a social representations perspective includes three major theoretical foci: social cognition; social identity and intergroup relations; and social thinking in times of big data. Social representations can provide the field with powerful conceptual tools to learn how people deal with novelty and to navigate through huge quantity of data generated online. In change, digital media can contribute to further social representations theory developments. To learn how communication flows in the Internet and how people make sense of the Internet and Internet-related phenomena (including automatically generated contents, mass and social media accounts) equals to set the clock for the present time schedule.

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