Context Collapse

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Context collapse is a concept used by academics writing about the effects of social media. It refers to the infinite audience possible online as opposed to the limited groups a person normally interacts with face to face. In a limited group, a person is constantly adjusting their tone and presentation of self to fit into the social context. In a situation of context collapse, this becomes impossible. In addition, behaviors and materials intended for a limited audience can suddenly clash with parts of the wider audience they actually receive.

Origin of the term

The term was coined by cultural anthropologist Michael Wesch[1]. He first used it in his talk An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube.[2][3][4]

Context collapse in fandom

Within fandom, this type of situation can arise when a fanwork becomes so popular that people outside of the original fandom are made aware of it. For example, a vid like Closer goes viral on youtube or a parody fic like The Very Secret Diaries or Wait Wait Don't Eat Me attracts attention from outside of fandom. Context collapse is also the result when a LiveJournal post that was aimed at the author's flist gets metafandomed and is read by lots of strangers who, though also in fandom, weren't the intended audience.


  1. Wesch's page at Kansas State University. (Accessed December 22, 2011.)
  2. E-mail in response to Franzeska indicates that this was the first use. (December 22, 2011.)
  3. Wesch defined the term in more detail in a "Context Collapse" at Originally posted July 31, 2008. (Accessed December 22, 2011.)
  4. See also: YouTube and You: Experiences of Self-awareness in the Context Collapse of the Recording Webcam. Explorations in Media Ecology 8(2):19-34. (Link accessed December 22, 2011.)