“Babe, why aren’t I in your profile picture?”

At one point or another, almost everyone has been friends with that couple on Facebook. Yeah, you know the one I’m talking about: the girl that writes paragraph long status updates about how wonderful her boyfriend is and the boy commenting on his girlfriend’s wall about how much he loves her and how pretty she is. Personally, I’ve never really understood the reason for sharing so much about your personal life on the Internet but apparently many social users, particularly Canadian teenagers, primarily use Facebook for this reason.

The article “Youth, researchers discuss offline impact of social media on teen relationships” was posted earlier this month in Huffpost Style Canada. It discussed a project that a Carleton University professor is currently conducting called the Hanging Out Online Project. Professor Bivens is studying how 13 through 18 year old Canadians are affected by Facebook use by looking at the status updates, photos, comments, etc. posted on the site. Bivens is particularly interested in how Facebook might influence the teens’ thoughts on relationships, gender-based violence, and other individuals. Her observations have found that some teenagers share a considerable amount of information about themselves, specifically details about their relationships and offline activities.

Why, might you ask? Bivens attributes some of this behavior to “broadcast impulse”; She says “we have this impulse to broadcast this information in this habitual way”. But again, why do we experience such an impulse? 17-year-old Hanna Gillis says “a lot of times on social networking sites, it’s more for show”. She believes that people just want to brag and show off that they’re in a relationship because it makes them look cool. This idea was reminiscent of both danah boyd’s “Why Youth ❤ Social Media” and Rebekah Willet’s “As soon as you get on Bebo you just go mad“. At the beginning of boyd’s article, she quotes a young, teenage girl named Vivian who wasn’t popular in school, but would always post photos of the extravagant vacations she went on with her parents so the other kids would “want to be [her] friend”. The information that Vivian shared online is just how the article describes teenagers posting about their relationships: the intent is to impress or show off to a particular audience in order to be accepted and esteemed. In her article, Willet discusses Goffman’s idea of identify performance, stating, “We think about how to present ourselves to others, we think about how others see us, we strategise and consider how best to achieve our goals through our presentation of self.” With so many different platforms to choose from, kids are incorporating social media into their self-presentation strategies. Judging by boyd’s interview and Bivens’ findings, as well as the Huffpost article’s commentary from teens themselves, what’s being put online is completely calculated by some users.

Another issue raised in the Huffington Post article was that of privacy. This was something that boyd and Alice Marwick in their article, “Social Steganography: Privacy in Networked Publics“. They talked about the different definition and levels of privacy between children and their parents. In terms of social media, parents think of privacy as a means of protection and a way to keep their children away from the stranger danger lurking around on the Internet. Teens, however, define privacy as keeping things from their parents; they don’t want their parents stalking their Facebook profiles, much like they wouldn’t want them reading their a journal or diary. The Huffpost article brought up the idea that there is also a discrepancy of privacy’s definition amongst kids. In reference to over-sharing online, 18 year old Ben Lord commented, “I can’t judge anyone on how comfortable they are with that kind of thing. But you have to recognize there are different levels (of privacy).” He described how some people have photos of them making out with their boyfriend/girlfriend while others don’t even like to have their relationship status publicly listed online; although there is a more obvious difference between how parents and their children view privacy, it’s interesting to learn that the definition varies so much among teenagers, as well.

Another compelling point that Lord made was that “we’re just such a technologically-driven generation that [social media use] is integrated into us, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing to the extent that we’ve taken it.” This was suggestive of Nancy Baym’s discussion of domestication in her book Personal Connections in the Digital World and also Professor P-S’s mention of the third person effect during class. Domestication occurs when a new technology becomes second nature to us, while the third person effect is when you think you aren’t affected by the media but you think that other users are. Although Lord acknowledges how much social media has become a part of our lives, I don’t think all other teens, particularly younger teens, would agree about just how much they’re being affected. A girl interviewed in the boyd and Marwick article said, “It’s pretty much expected you’re on Facebook… there’s [isn’t] any reason not to be.” Since it’s become so naturalized, they might not realize the extent to which they’re using sites such as Facebook to communicate a contrived personality that they want others to receive.

Leave a comment


  1. Really solid and applicable points made by the HuffPost article, but I think another factor in a teens’ show-offiness attitude toward social media is that social media literally affirms every aspect of their life (or so they like to believe). We all were teenagers–we know much of the discourse around teen/tweenhood surrounds social hierarchy and social relevance. Kids always took measures to climb the social ladder and carve a place for themselves at the top, but now we have published proof on sites like Myspace and Facebook. I believe teens don’t broadcast their relationships, take racy photos, or disclose TMI merely because they need that confirmation from their peers who see it, but that they need it for themselves. I’ve always wondered why couples take, upload and COMMENT on 150 photobooth pictures of themselves, but then I realized that this gallery isn’t always created to proclaim their love to the world, but it stood as evidence that affirmed their relationship to themselves.

    I like how you explained this binary tension between teens’ and parents’ views on privacy, but it’s interesting that there’s a shared understanding in both their views: Both parents and teens think the other is too naive to be on social media.

  2. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  April 1, 2012

    Great points, both of you!


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