Social media and their use by young people

How Social Media is being used by youngsters is not an easy thing to describe as practices change quite rapidly. However, we did come across a number of interesting studies and publications on the topic that describe the way youth uses social media. This list was collected in late 2008, early 2009.

Instead of synthesising them into one big blob of text, we present them here in an easy to scan overview, with links to their original sources in case you would like to delve deeper into the topic.

  • Lampe and Ellison conclude from a large scale study on Facebook use that youngsters use the platform most to stay in touch with people they already know in an offline context.
    C. Lampe, N. Ellison, and C. Steinfield, “A face(book) in the crowd: social Searching vs. social browsing,” CSCW '06: Proceedings of the 2006 20th anniversary conference on Computer supported cooperative work, ACM Press, 2006, pp. 170, 167. (PDF)
  • In a study by Valkenburg adolecents are queried on whether they engage in identity experimentation online (creating other identities than truthful representations of themselves). The most important motive for such experiments was self-exploration (to investigate how others react), followed by social compensation (to overcome shyness), and social facilitation (to facilitate relationship formation).
    P. Valkenburg, “Adolescents' identity experiments on the internet,” New Media Society, vol. 7, Jun. 2005, pp. 383-402. (Abstract)
  • A study by Schouten found a positive relationship between feedback adolescents received on their profiles on social networking sites, and their self-esteem and well-being. A small group of adolescents predominantly or always received negative feedback on their profiles. For those adolescents, the use of friend networking sites resulted in adverse effects on their self-esteem.
    A. Schouten, “Adolescents’ online self-disclosure and self-presentation,” Amsterdam School of Communications Research, 2008. (PDF)
  • A study by Wolak et al. shows that youngsters with high levels of conflict with parents, are highly troubled or had low levels of communication with parents, were more likely to have close online relationships. The study warns of the vulnerability of exactly these kinds of youngsters but also mentions possible therapeutical benefits for having an online feedback channel. The study suggests more research needs to be done to investigate both aspects.
    J. Wolak, “Escaping or connecting? Characteristics of youth who form close online relationships,” Journal of Adolescence, vol. 26, Feb. 2003, pp. 119, 105. (PDF)
  • A study by Bryant et al. investigated whether instant messageing, text messaging or participating in social network sites would create weaker ties between youngsters, but found no such evidence, however they did find that socially isolated youngsters did make far less use of these kinds of platforms.
    J.A. Bryant, A. Sanders-Jackson, and A.M.K. Smallwood, “IMing, Text Messaging, and Adolescent Social Networks,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 11, 2006, pp. 577-592. (Read)
  • In a survey study by Vanhoenacker 721 adolescents were questioned to determine the influence the use of new media on their identity creation and the way they use and experience these media.
    B. Vanhoenacker, Influence of New Media on the Identity Creation of Youngsters, Apestaartjaren, 2006. (PDF
  • Most youngsters see the use of new media as supplementing the way they already interact with existing contacts and find that the use of these media strengthens the ties between them and their contacts.
  • Youngsters often find it more easy to interact with eachother online about more intimate topics than they would face to face.
  • At the same time, the lack of information richness of media such as chat or text messaging (such as facial expressions or intonation), often leads to misunderstandings or even fights.
  • Some platforms allow for nicknames to be changed or supplemented by a ‘mood message’. Youngsters pick up on these changes in nicknames or mood messages and often start conversations based on them.
  • A study by Gross et al. investigates the degree to which users of social network platforms like Facebook and Friendster reveal details of their identity on these platforms and the degree to which this information is publicly accessible. The study finds that even though most of these platforms allow users to change their privacy settings so as to only share personal details with friends, most users are either not aware of these settings or never change them from their default settings. This leads us to concluce that it is important to be aware of what the default security settings of various platforms are, how they can be changed and to inform youngsters about this.
    R. Gross, A. Acquisti, and John, “Information revelation and privacy in online social networks,” WPES '05: Proceedings of the 2005 ACM workshop on Privacy in the electronic society, ACM Press, 2005, pp. 80, 71. (PDF)
  • In a report on 26 different ethnographic studies on the use of new media by youngsters, Ito et al. desribe media usage as seen through the eyes of the youngsters themselves.
    M. Ito, H. Horst, M. Bittanti, D. Boyd, B. Herr-Stephenson, P. Lange, C. Pascoe, L. Robinson, S. Baumer, R. Cody, D. Mahendran, K. Martínez, D. Perkel, C. Sims, and A. Tripp, “Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project,” Nov. 2008. (PDF)
  • Youngsters use new media as an extension of offline interactions, bridging the gaps between face-to-face contact.
  • A conversation may take place through different media, depending on the time and place. A conversation may start face-to-face at school, continue during class via text-messages and move on to instant messaging and comments on social network sites later at home.
  • The study distinguishes between friendship- and interest based online interactions, stating that most interactions online are with contacts they already know from an offline context. However, some youngsters do engage with people they do not know in real life in online communities where they go to to find information or to exchange views on topics that interest them. More than their immediate environment, the Internet allows these youngsters to find places online where they can interact with peers on very specific topics. It is in these online communities that they also find themselves interacting with people from other socio-economical backgrounds and different ages. 
  • By using these media, youngsters find themselves honing their ICT skills. Some even move from simply interacting with others to experimenting with media production. Some even take it upon them to teach their parents or syblings to use these media.
  • Youngsters publicly identify themselves by posting videos, music or references to these on their online profiles, in order to identify themselves among their peirs.
  • Youngsters use the asynchronous nature of online media as a way to reflect a certain ‘cool’ as they can take their time to come up with witty remarks chjoosing exactly the right words.
  • Participation of adults is often perceived as ‘creepy’ (apart from certain interest based interactions)
  • Participation of parents is often perceived as a breach of their personal privacy
  • Youngsters perceive others with whom they share an online connection as worthy of more acknowledgements in an offline context.
  • Ito introduces the notion of ‘hypersociality’, or the shared consumption of online media such as YouTube movies or music. Even though this consumption often takes places with the participants being in different locations, sharing the experience (even asynchronously) and talking about it later on, creates stronger ties.
    M. Ito, “Mobilizing the Imagination in Everyday Play:The Case of Japanese Media Mixes,” International Handbook of Children, Media, and Culture (PDF)
  • A report on the TIRO project in Belgium (Teens and ICT: Risks and Opportunities - PDF) finds that :
    • Youngsters blog as a way to identify themselves and learn to express their ideas in piblic. They often do so using pseudonyms so as to be able to experiment freely with different identities, sharing their pseudonyms with a selection of peers who are allowed to read along (privately public).
    • Internet use and school work go hand in hand. Youngsters use the internet to find information as well as helping eachother out via MSN. Once again, this is a plus for those with access and skills and puts those at risk of social exclusion at risk of scroing below par in comparison with those that have access to these resources. 
  • A study by Danowski and Zywica on the use of facebook by youngsters finds that :
    • Younger users are more likely to exaggerate in providing information for their online profils, than older users do.
    • Youngsters find it more and more important to be popular online as well as offline. Those who are less popular offline, often strive extra hard for online popularity.
    • Higher sociability (offline) often results in higher online popularity
    • Some youngsters use Facebook in an attempt to increase their self-image and to feel more popular
    • J. Zywica and J. Danowski, “The Faces of Facebookers: Investigating Social Enhancement and Social Compensation Hypotheses; Predicting Facebook and Offline Popularity from Sociability and Self-Esteem, and Mapping the Meanings of Popularity with Semantic Networks,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 14, 2008, pp. 34, 1 (Abstract)
  • A study by Walther et al. finds that the perceived attractiveness of the ‘friends’ connected to one’s online profile positively influences the way others perceive the attractiveness of that particular person.
    J. Walther, B. Van Der Heide, S. Kim, D. Westerman, and S. Tong, “The Role of Friends’ Appearance and Behavior on Evaluations of Individuals on Facebook: Are We Known by the Company We Keep?,” Human Communication Research, vol. 34, 2008, pp. 49, 28. (PDF)
  • Lampel and Bhalla discuss the dynamics of online status seeking by means of freely offering advice or information to others in social networks or online communities. This behaviour is especially reinforced if the system in place allows for the evaluation of such ‘gifts’ and the visualisation of rankings. This could be an interesting way for INCLUSO to stimulate online community participation.
    J. Lampel and A. Bhalla, “The Role of Status Seeking in Online Communities: Giving the Gift of Experience,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 12, 2007, pp. 434-455. (Read)
  • Beenen et al. discuss the dynamics of how contributions to online communities can be stimulated and find that if people don’t feel ‘lost’ in the crowd when participating and are being made aware of their uniqueness or responded to, they will be more prone to contributing. To set challenging goals for participants is another factor that stimulates interaction, especially when combined with ways through which the reaching of such goals can be made public within the community.
    G. Beenen, K. Ling, X. Wang, K. Chang, D. Frankowski, P. Resnick, and R.E. Kraut, “Using social psychology to motivate contributions to online communities,” Proceedings of the 2004 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work, Chicago, Illinois, USA: ACM, 2004, pp. 212-221. (PDF)