Where do the children play?

By Colin, Vanessa, and Jacob

Is today’s Facebook really the new MySpace? Is it a networked public that plays a crucial role in the development and performance of teen identities? Or has it become an extension of an age-segregated culture where parents aggressively constrain their children’s behavior? In this blog post, we discuss key differences between Facebook and MySpace that may lead Facebook to play a very different role in teen’s lives than MySpace did when danah boyd wrote “Why Youth Heart Social Network Sites.” We focus on Facebook’s features and use today, instead of Facebook at the time MySpace was popular.

Parents invade the playground

The biggest change in use since the time danah boyd’s article was written is that Facebook has seen major growth from adult users. As more adults, parents, and extended family members are logging into Facebook regularly, teens may perceive it as a space which is less cool and harder to be themselves. Moreover, boyd identified that teens on MySpace had to deal with maintaining their image among their peers as well as appearing to be appropriate and acceptable to their parents. Even though privacy controls exist on Facebook, it may be difficult for teens to deny their online presence to their parents. Many of us grew up using sites like MySpace in our teen years and may have had to deal with our parents finding out about our page, but did our parents actually join and use MySpace? Did they really understand the features of the site? Now that parents are on Facebook and have access to the same privacy controls, they may suspect their teen is using the site to conceal content from them.

Facebook’s new Graph Search feature may also make it harder and harder for teens to hide their identities. The main goal of Graph Search is to help users discover new information about their networks.[1] This new feature will allow users to issue detailed queries to mine their network for interesting things like “what types of music do my coworkers like”. An unintended consequence of Graph Search might be to make it easier for parents to find out what their kids are talking about on Facebook, one could imagine queries like “where does my daughter checked in and with which friends?” Adults and advertisers might be interesting in mining the social graph, but it could potentially cause teens to be more reluctant to share on the site.

New places to be expressive?

One of the major draws attracting teens to social networking sites identified in “Why Youth Heart Social Network Sites” was the sense of them being an unregulated space, in contrast to their homes. “For many teens, home is a highly regulated space with rules and norms that are strictly controlled by adults.”[2] When parents join these social networks what happens to teen expression?

Despite the fact that their parents and extended family members are now actively using Facebook, teens do not appear to be deactivating their Facebook accounts and flocking to different sites. A Pew survey last year showed that 93% of teens who use social networking sites had a Facebook account.[3] One thing is true—and also unsurprising for people have been on facebook for a long time—it is no longer the space that it once was; we are now friends with our mothers, bosses, and grandparents. Surprisingly, it’s hard to find data on how teens use privacy settings/options to limit their posts to just their friends, but it seems to be the case based on the personal experience of the authors, that many times they don’t. Rather, they quickly learn that Facebook is to be used differently than the social network sites conceptualized in boyd’s article.

Perhaps Facebook’s lack of tools for creative expression may lead it to play a lesser role in constructing teens’ identities than MySpace did? On MySpace, teens could use HTML and CSS to create customized, decorated, chaotic profiles. According to boyd, the process of creating profiles was where teens “write themselves into being,” or construct their identities by highlighting certain characteristics of themselves. In contrast, teens cannot change the fonts, colors and design of their Facebook pages. In response, teens may be switching to other services like Tumblr and Instagram (each of which are designed for creativity) to creatively express and create their identities. The social media landscape has changed in recent years with many more sites popping up that offer certain benefits teens care about such as anonymity, easy sharing from mobile devices, and the ability to network with others based on their interests. A recent survey showed that while 55% of teens use Facebook on a regular basis, even more (61%) are using Tumblr on a regular basis.[4] Sites like Tumblr may be popular with teens because they allow users to customize their pages and follow other bloggers based on their interests. Services like SnapChat which allows for temporary photo sharing, would potentially give teens more control over the audiences they are sharing with and might be a safer space to post photos than Facebook where the invisible audience is much larger.

References: 1. https://www.facebook.com/about/graphsearch 2. danah boyd, “Why Youth Heart Social Network Sites.” 3. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/30/business/la-fi-facebook-teens-20120531 4. http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jan/11/business/la-fi-tn-tumblr-facebook-teens-survey-survata-20130111

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