In “Why Youth ❤ Social Network Sites,” Danah Boyd explores why teenagers are drawn to social networking sites, what they express on the sites, how the sites fit into their lives, what they’re learning from participating on them, and whether or not their activities online are equivalent, different, or supplementary to in-person friendships (119). Boyd’s research mostly focuses mainly on MySpace-using teens, aged 14 to 18.
(Sidebar: Boyd has the most awesome job, ever! I would love to do this research; I wonder if she needs a Research Associate to help her out? I will be available starting in June, but I digress…)
“…Social network sites are a type of networked public with four properties that are not typically present in face-to-face public life: persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences” (120).
Boyd’s description of “public” in reference to social networking is very interesting: She describes it as not just a collection of people who may or may not know one another, but also something that is “quite similar to audience as both referred to a group founded by a shared text, whether that is a worldview or a performance” (125). Specifically, Boyd refers to two types of networked publics – spaces and audience as connected through technological networks, such as MySpace or, most recently, Instagram. These networks (mediating technologies) mediate communication between members of the public.
Mediated Publics – Inquiring Minds Want To Know
So, what separates unmediated publics from networked publics?
- Persistence: The Internet never forgets! Code: Your embarrassing moment or terrible public break-up are probably going to be there forever. Future employers can also dig up dirt from your red cup-enhanced party days.
- Searchability: You can run, but you can never hide. You have a digital footprint, and folks will find you.
- Replicability: (Wuh-oh!) Rumors spread quickly and indiscriminately. Also, folks can quickly and easily plagiarize (hence: heavy use of turnitin.com amongst teachers).
- Invisible audiences: Lurkers abound, stalking your page. Or maybe you’re the digital stalker…
Essentially, these mediated publics are very … well … public, and in an especially widespread fashion. And while this can be problematic for most of us older folks, it’s especially challenging for young whippersnappers to navigate. This is especially the case as teenagers tend to have even less of a concept of how magnified their public exposure is, and the potential downfalls of that exposure.
In light of these potential downfalls, why do youth venture into the exciting and potentially dangerous land of social networks? In short, they want to socialize! Instead of hanging out at Valley Fair Mall, like my friends and I did back in the Stone Age 1990s, today’s youth connect via heavy social network use.
Social networks also “enable youth to connect with peers in new ways…to extend the friendships that they navigate in the familiar contexts of school, religious organizations, words, and other activities” (Ito, et al, 2008, p. 1). Basically, they’re always “around” in digital form, and there’s no parental gatekeeper taking messages via landline or portable phone, 1998-style.
Furthermore, Amber Buck, in “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites,” argues that social media platforms allow students to represent and cultivate their identities, not only through intricate pages, but also through the messages they transmit via Tweet, meme, or picture (2012). Social networks give teens the opportunity to practice image management through something other than wardrobe, car selection, or other more “traditional” status markers. And most of all, social networks give teenagers more agency over how and when they will “hang out” with friends and acquaintances. Of course youth ❤ social media sites!