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Case Study on Digital Identity: Teen Girl Identity on Facebook

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My Power Point Presentation Slide Deck on Google Docs – Digital Identity PP Presentation. 

Digital identity discussions have gained much popularity in the last 20 years or so.  It is a very broad topic that involves the matters of privacy, digital divide, and the impact of the Information and Communication Technology on the way we function as the society. 

 Let’s define Digital Identity.   It is a data that uniquely describes a person and contains information about the subject’s relationships.   The social identity that an internet user establishes in cyberspace is referred to as online identity.

 Those generations that grew up without internet had a chance to establish their physical identity before their online identity.  Children growing up with Internet today develop their physical identity simultaneously with the digital. How does that impact younger generations?   

 The narrow focus of today’s presentation is the Teen Girl Identity on Facebook.   The cyber culture promotes relentless display of self via images and sound bites before the self has had a chance to fully form.  The digital identity of teens is influenced by many external factors.   

 In the Margaret Cooper and Kristina Dzara essay: The Facebook Revolution: LGBT Identity and Activism, authors analyze several stages of public identity development: 1) identity construction, 2) identity management and negotiation; 3) collective identity, activism and the construction of issues as social problems. 

 Social networking sites and Facebook in particular gives our online persona a sense of uniqueness.   We are a center of the universe as everything on our profile is centered around us, our lives, our views and our perceptions of ourselves. 

In 1995, Buhrmester and Prager developed a model of self-disclosure in which adolescents can achieve “identity development” and “intimacy development” both through the process of revealing their thoughts and feelings to their peers. 

What is interesting about self-revelation on social networks?   The question comes up how genuine is this self-revelation.  Do we always speak what we really feel or do we hold back?  Do we alter our revelation based on the perceived acceptance or unacceptance? 

Here lies the major difference between speaking your mind on Facebook versus the diary.  When you are writing in a diary no one else will ever see, you can write whatever you want at whatever length you want.  You can explore your own thoughts and feelings through your writing. 

When tweens and teenagers write and post photos online, they are seeking to please, entertain, impress or amuse their friends or opposite sex.  One danger of online blogs and social networking sites is that a teenager may not be expressing what she really feels.  

She might not even be aware of the difference.   She may not realize that what she says she is feeling isn’t what she actually is feeling.  She subtly adjusts what she is writing to suit what she thinks her friends want to read.  After a while, she may gradually become a girl she is pretending to be. 

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Many girls are well aware that the persona they are presenting on their Facebook page is not genuine.   Authenticity is not valued on Facebook.  It’s not about being authentic, say teens, it is about being cool.  Girls list favorite movies, music, books not based on their own preferences but on what they consider would get approval. 

Girls know that if they want their social networking site to be popular, then the site needs to include lots of photos.  Funny photos are good; sexy and suggestive photos are better, as long as the photos aren’t skanky.  It is all about projecting the right image: cool, hip, ironic. 

She is creating a mask, she is marketing a brand, she is performing: putting on a show to amuse others.  Girls that pretend to be obsessed with Clary and Jace because it is cute and amusing to portray such a persona may find themselves turning into girls they pretend to be. 

According to Bauerlein, “Instead of opening adolescents and young adults to worldly realities, acquainting them with the global village, digital communications have opened them to one another – which is to say have enclosed them in a parochial cosmos of youth matters and concerns”.

While working so hard on creating online identity across multiple social networking sites and blogs, teen girls adjusting their views to please others.  Staying hip, on top of the latest whim of adolescent fashion, requires constant vigilance and tremendous time investment.  But it achieves nothing lasting. 

“We have entered the stage of micro-celebrity” according to Clive Thompson.  When real celebrities go to a party, they know that somebody may take their photo.  And that photo may appear within minutes in the blogosphere.  They know they must always be on guard about how they look and what they say. 

The girls today are like real celebrities and politicians.  In essence, every young person in the cyberbubble has become, in the literal sense, a public figure.  And so they are adopting the skills that celebrities learn in order not to go crazy and use caution in developing their online persona. 

Watch what you say.  Be witty – but don’t offend your friends.  Be cute – but not skanky. Be spontaneous – but not stupid.  And if you make a single mistake, it could go online and haunt you forever.  The strain of living in front of the crowd constantly is what causes real celebrities to fall apart. 

Teenage girls not only learn to make-sure they are always dressed and made-up for close-up pictures, they have to manage their online presence without having a professional PR expert to design their logos, fonts, and photoshop images.  Protecting their digital identity becomes another time-consuming task.    

While corporatizing their image and making their brand slick and cool, many teens are confused about who they really are.    

 

When Sweet Friendships Go Sour – Cyberbullying

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Image credits: http://uthmag.com/cyber-bullying/

We had previously discussed whether social networks can be considered communities and came to the conclusion in the class that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. are not communities per se.  They serve as online platforms which facilitate online community development.  Many adults for example are engaged in lively discussions in various online groups where they share interests, similar ideas and invest much time for building online peer relationships.   Some examples are online art communities, social activism and other belief / interest based communities.  

In the case of younger people and specifically teenagers, social media is an extension of their physical community.  Per Danah Boyd essay “Friendship”, “For most teens, social media do not constitute and alternative or “virtual” world (Abbbott 1998).   They are simply another method to connect with their friends and peers in a way that feels seamless with their everyday lives (Osgerby 2004).”   While adults can still separate the physical and virtual worlds, for younger generations those become increasingly inseparable and fluid. 

So we can assume that the social media friendships are a natural extension of the physical face-to-face relationships.  The online world lives in harmony with the offline reality.   Online, teenage girls do the same exact thing they have been doing – socialize with friends, share stories, gossip, flirt and simply “hang out”.  However, just like in real life, online friendships can go sour.  Sometimes “the best friend” of many years can decide to turn on a girl and engage half of the school in cyberbullying practices.  

There is nothing new about girls being mean to other girls, although feminism teachers today try to encourage women to elevate and support other girls which is the ultimate sign of strength and confidence.  However, gossips and nasty behavior have always existed.  What is new about cyberbullying is that the technology is used to inflict pain 24/7.   It can be non-stop, without a chance to escape.  Many girls are afraid to log on their social profile page to find nasty comments posted while they were offline.  A girl can be logged out from every social network yet still victimized online, and the awareness of that is equally traumatizing.  Watching the cell phone vibrate with nasty messages and worrying about potential insults posted online makes girls dwell and stress constantly. 

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In addition to cyberbullying being an around the clock phenomenon, its anonymity makes it even more dangerous.  Social networks with millions of their fake accounts make it difficult sometimes to track the true identity of the offender.  Mysterious mean comments, humiliations, fake invitations to non-existing parties, malicious threats and ultimatums coming from anonymous accounts make it hard to determine who is behind the cyberbullying. 

A decade or two ago, a girl that spread nasty rumors about someone else would be easy to track.  Also, girls would not resort to the most offensive techniques as speaking incredibly badly of someone would reflect badly on them.  However, cyberbullying does not have limits or restrictions that physical bullying would have out of fear or moral reasons.  A girl can easily pretend to be a boy and post something about receiving sexual favors from a girl who is completely innocent with the objective to tarnish her reputation.  Than a bunch of “friends” would join in with their insults and disparaging remarks.

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As a result of cyberbullying, many girls cry behind closed doors, can’t perform well at school, develop depression and health problems, start on the path of dangerous addictions and even resort to suicide.   The tragedy of cyberbullying is real and should have the immediate attention of educators and parents.  We must know what is happening online with our daughters and spread awareness about cyber abuse problems.  We need to teach our daughters to be strong and resilient and not let friendships (online or offline) solely define who they really are.  We as parents also need to make sure we do not allow our children to engage in supporting bullies or becoming bullies but instead teaching to help those children who may suffer from cyberbullying. 

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Image credits: http://uthmag.com/cyber-bullying/