A new study finds that many teens, particularly girls, may go to great lengths to create a favorable online image. That may include posting only carefully selected photos, choosing to share activities that make them appear well-liked and even going as far as to ask friends to like and comment on their posts.
So what may appear as a fun and effortless way to share content may actually be quite painstaking and tedious.
“Teenagers aren’t just posting carelessly; they’re surprisingly thoughtful about what they choose to reveal on social media,” said lead author Joanna Yau, a Ph.D. candidate in education at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). “Peer approval is important during adolescence, especially in early adolescence, so they’re sharing content that they think others will find impressive.”
In fact, the researchers found that the primary social media goal of most teens is to post content that makes them appear interesting, well-liked and attractive.
In contrast to real life scenarios, social media platforms, such as Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram, allow individuals time to craft and edit posts and even strategize about how they want to present themselves online. This is quite possible because many online “friends” are those we know in person but aren’t necessarily close to, such as classmates.
Yau and study co-author Dr. Stephanie Reich, UCI associate professor of education, found that for girls, the effort to construct a favorable image can involve lengthy deliberation and advice from confidantes. The process of posting pictures is particularly time-consuming and can be a joint endeavor among friends, ensuring that only the most flattering photos, filters and captions are chosen.
Girls also actively enlist their friends to comment on and like their posts in an attempt to boost their popularity index, with especially savvy users choosing to post during peak social media traffic hours in order to maximize their number of likes. Boys in the study did not ask pals for feedback or to like their posts.
“We found that some teens invested great effort into sharing content on Facebook and Instagram and that what may seem to be an enjoyable activity may actually feel tedious,” Yau said.
“Their social rules for online interaction require a higher level of sensitivity than do those for in-person communication. Even interesting and positive posts can be interpreted negatively. For example, sharing about college admissions could come across as pretentious and prideful.”
The research included 51 Southern California adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 (27 females and 24 males). The study involved 10 focus groups consisting of three to eight teens each, based on proximity, grade level and gender. At each grade level, there were female, male, and mixed-gender groups, with no adults known to the participants present.
Source: UC Irvine