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Fresh insights into teen social media use

Facebook for Facebook’s sake – for something to do – is one way some teens use the site, some in wealthier Nashville communities, for example, according to some early observations in social media researcher danah boyd’s current field work. “Teens who are more likely to be stuck at home … are … much more likely to sit and chat on Facebook because it’s Facebook.” They’re also texting at “unbelievable levels” (see the Nielsen numbers I posted yesterday), but texting goes “across socio-economic divisions,” boyd says. She confirms what many of us parents are seeing, too – that tech use is also a self-expression or identity-presentation tool – teens treat it “with the same level of emotional connection as they treat their clothes. Some are obsessively passionate about it and some just see it as a functional thing that they may or may not want to engage with.”

Remember MySpace’s “Top 8,” how it expressed teens’ social strata, how they viewed or ranked their friends in very individual ways? [See “Related links” below for several of my posts about this in 2006.] Sometimes they’d put a sibling or best friend in the No. 1 spot, sometimes a boyfriend or girlfriend. Well, shades of Top 8 in Facebook now, boyd reports, where teens list their closest friends as their brothers and sisters (my son has seen peers do this). It requires confirmation, boyd adds, which is good because an agreed-upon state of closeness. And, “while joining ‘groups’ used to be a cool way of doing identity marking, it’s now all about clicking ‘Like’,” she says, under funny comments, photos, etc. I imagine FB’s new “Groups” feature will have interesting applications for teen social groups, but I hope “closed” and “secret” groups won’t be used to ostracize peers in a form of bullying. Boyd says, though, that MySpace is by no means a thing of the past, “but the socio-economic issues around it are extremely pronounced [she reported last year that it was generally the more ethnically diverse city schools where MySpace was more popular], and those who are on MySpace are typically also on Facebook at this point. MySpace and YouTube are ground zero for law enforcement doing gang intelligence. Particularly interesting given that Facebook is heavily used by the Kurdish Pride kids to connect with family back in Iraq; both sides post photos with guns to show toughness and connection.” See boyd’s blog (linked to above) for more.

On sexting, this disturbing anecdote from boyd shows that it isn’t just adults who struggle with it: boyd writes that a boy she interviewed shares a cellphone with his mother. “He takes the phone during the day and she takes it at night. His mother appears to be promiscuous (“gets around”). All day long, he receives naked photos of older men to his cell phone intended for his mother. He’s terrified that his friends will see those pictures and think that they’re intended for him. He’s super embarrassed about his mother but too uncomfortable to confront her.”

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