“Friend Request?”: A Multimedia Project on Social Media and “the Facebook Effect” on Friendship

Research Questions

  • What are the differences between traditional “real world” friends and Facebook friends?

  • How is the definition of “friend” and “friendship” changing due to Facebook?

  • How are teenagers’ friendships affected by Facebook and social media?

  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of Facebook’s conceptualization of friendship and the resulting effect?

Personal Interview Questions

  • Do you think Facebook has changed how we value friendships? Why/why not?

  • Does Facebook change how we conceptualize our friendships? Why/why not?

Podcast Format

  • ~50 minute podcast

  • Introduction of co-hosts and rationale for episode’s content

  • Brief overview of concepts from The Culture of Connectivity by Jose Van Dijck (2013) that sparked our interest

  • Application to our lives

  • “Are You Really My Friend” project

  • Interviews with peers

  • Discussion on research questions

  • Debate: Does Facebook have a positive or negative effect on friendships? (Advantages vs. Disadvantages)

  • Engage the audience: Who won the debate? What do you think?  @vvichroski @_annabelle eve

  • Wrap-up

Rationale

We chose to research Facebook and it's effect on friendship because of its prevalence in everyday life.  Facebook is a tool used to establish an identity and manage a social presence.  Therefore, it has a crucial influence on the relationships that interact on the platform and exist in "real life" --the face-to-face world. We found importance in researching this influence to establish exactly what this influence is.  Through our independent research and collaborative conversation, many concepts from COM 520 arose which made this project a good ending point for our semester in media studies.  We decided to create our project as a podcast due to the conversational nature of it.  We wanted our project to be engaging and also exciting for us, so this podcast felt appropriate since it allowed us to stray from the typical research paper and rely on a different form of media.  

Concepts Relating to COM 520

  • The meaning of social: Human connectedness vs. automated connectivity

  • Making the web social vs. making sociality technical

  • “Well-connected” people in offline world vs. online world

  • Popularity Principle

Much of our interest in this research topic stemmed from this book --specifically chapters 1 and 2.  Van Dijck defined social as a combination of human connectedness (natural and traditional) and automated connectivity (engineered and manipulated human connections). This stark difference in the two components of the meaning struck us as contradictory, ambiguous and thought-provoking, thus leading to our research topic.

Van Dijck also contrasted between making the web social and making sociality technical.  Although Facebook’s Owner Mark Zuckerberg claims that “technology merely enables or facilitates social activities” (p. 12),  Van Dijck argues that this makes sociality technical.  In other words,  technology “enables platforms to engineer the sociality in people’s everyday routines” (p. 12).  So what does this mean for friendships on Facebook and in real life?  Our podcast explores this question that was given to me from this book.

The Culture of Connectivity also defined “well-connected” people offline versus online.  These definitions couldn’t have been in greater opposition!  Van Dijck (2013) said that those who are well-connected offline (or in the real world) are people whose connections are gauged by their quality and status.  However, well-connected people online are those with many connections--emphasizing quantity over quality.  The online world has made connectivity a quantifiable term.  Van Dijck (2013) goes onto to discuss the popularity principle online which states: the more friends you have and make, the more valuable you become, because more people think you are popular and hence want to connect with you.  As you can see, connectedness is conceptualized very differently offline and online.  However, since our offline and online worlds are continuously overlapping, the lines can be blurred and meanings can be swapped.  Van Dijck’s ideas raised questions within us such as: how as the meaning of friend changed due to Facebook?

  • Weak ties on social networks

  • Facebook’s distortion of privacy norms and relational etiquette

  • Facebook promotes informal learning of media literacy

  • Traditional friendships vs. Facebook friendships

  • Need for status vs. companionship

In this article, Rosen (2007) explored the important concept of “weak ties”.  “The activities that social networking sites promote are precisely ones that weak ties foster, such as rumor-mongering, gossip, finding people, and tracking popular culture and fad” (p. 21).  This connects to COM 520 due to our research apprenticeship on girls and their attachment to celebrity figures.  Throughout our research on this topic, we discovered that pre-teen to teenaged girls are more likely than other people to engage in these “activities” (rumor-spreading, gossip, tracking fads, etc.)  This connection established between our two projects got us thinking: are teens more likely to have weak ties among their friendships than other age groups?  Is Facebook an influencer on this?

Rosen (2007) also discusses Facebook’s distortion of privacy norms and relational etiquette.  In the offline world, “communities are typically responsible for enforcing norms or privacy and general etiquette” (p.23).  Therefore, a challenge is presented in the online world: what is the etiquette?  Where is the line drawn for privacy?  I connected these thoughts to a topic from COM 520: media regulation.  There are many forms of regulation on the media concerning authorship, censorship and more.  However, there are not as many for social media such as Facebook.  Sure, there are ways to flag inappropriate content and such.  However, what is the rule for when a friend posts a comment on your page that you wish was private?  Do you delete it?  Is that offensive to your friend?  The issue of privacy was often a topic explored in COM 520 as well.  Privacy is often violated by social media networks giving information and access to profiles to advertisers and companies.  But do we violate our own privacy with the information we share to our Facebook “friends”?

Although these unclear norms and etiquette present a problem, Rosen (2007) also presents positive findings: social networks can promote informal learning.  She argues that using Facebook can help young people learn media literacy--a term certainly related to COM 520!  Although we wish this topic could have been explored more in our podcast, it deepens our interest and encourages our future research.

In this study, Rosen (2007) distinguishes traditional “real-life” friendships from Facebook friendships; much of the podcast is focused on her information.  One connection I made from her study to COM 520 had to do with our class on YouTube--specifically the YouTube Cult video.  This video raised so many intriguing points, as did our class’s discussion post viewing.  YouTubers often present a self to the public that is not genuine; they have motives unknown to the viewers.  A fan’s relationship with their favorite YouTuber is parasocial, unreciprocated and very different from their relationships with traditional friends.  We were interested how teens’ “relationships” with YouTubers were similar to their relationships with their Facebook friends.  Has the trend of forming attachment to a YouTuber that a teen may think that they know influenced how they perceive Facebook friends that they think that they know?

Lastly, this study touched on the different motivations that drive us to initiate and maintain real-world friendships versus offline friendships:  the need for companionship versus the need for status.  Similarly to our point above, this concept relates to COM 520’s YouTube discussion and more discussions from class.  We can recount discussing why people share news or things on social media, why people wish to add to Wikipedia, and more.  Studying people’s motivations is extremely interesting and important to understanding behaviors.  In this context, it was important to understand the contrasting motivations between establishing real-life friends and Facebook friends.  It says a lot more about our topic than it seems (Rosen 2007).

  • Facebook’s diminishment of “categories” of friends

  • Facebook, emotional support and Information gathering

  • Benefits to maintaining weak ties

  • Lightweight interactions

In this article, Urist discusses how the word “friend” includes many associations due to Facebook--old classmates, one night stands, even complete strangers.  Facebook eliminates friend categories which is harmful for trust and expectations.

However, what is important about this article is the advantages of Facebook it presents.  One advantage Urist (2015)  presents is “how people use the site to exchange emotional and tangible resources” (p. 1).  People can find support from friends during a time of loss or get advice on a good restaurant in the area instantly.  Having these resources instantly relates to a concept from COM 520: web 2.0.  Because of web 2.0, we are able to interact with people almost instantly and conveniently, and often in a less invasive way than the telephone or face-to-face.  The support and resources given on Facebook could strengthen a friendship or begin a new one.

Urist (2015) also presents Facebook’s advantage of weak ties.  The community of weak ties one fosters on Facebook can serve as a plethora of information, networking and learning.  This is partly due to the social circles that each weak tie has of their own--those social circles are often different from one’s own.  Therefore, unique information and networking opportunities are available through these people.

Lastly, Urist (2015) describes the benefits of “lightweight interactions”: the actions one can take on facebook such as liking, commenting, sharing, etc.  These friendship maintenance behaviors are convenient, fast, easy; they are lightweight.  Facebook enables someone to keep in touch with people they may not have otherwise.  This relates to COM 520’s web 2.0 topic as well.  Web 2.0 and its platforms, such as Facebook, allows for this communication to happen instantly and easily for relationships to stand the test of distance and busy lives.

Sources 

Guizzardi, L. (2013). Vis-a-vis to face(book)-to-face(book) interaction: A study on

friendship between young students. Polish Sociological Review, 182, 165.184.

Haynes, N. (2016). Social media in nothern Child. UCL Press.

Rosen, Christine.  (2007).  Virtual friendship and the new narcissism.  The Center for

the Study of Technology and Society, 17, 15-31.

Urist, J.  (2015).  How real are facebook friendships?  The Atlantic. Web:

Van Dijck, J. (2013). The culture of connectivity: A critical history of social media. New York:

Oxford University press.

The Effect of Social Media on Teen Friendships

 

The need to develop friendships a human one.  We desire to feel a sense of connection and belonging with others.  The development of social relationships can have a positive correlation with an individual’s mental and physical health.  These needs are reflected in social media behavior and explain the resulting need to seek out connections with other virtually, just as we do in real life.

Teens are a prevalent group utilizing social media today.  Since they are also a fairly vulnerable population, it is imperative to understand the effect that social media can have their friendships with each other.  Social media allow teens to feel constantly connected to their friends, eliminating the barrier of physical distance.  These platforms, such as Facebook, let teens consistently keep up peer friendships (Umberson, D., et al. 2010).

Social media allow teens a platform for virtual social support. Because they have eased access to each other via social media, they are able to use these to provide support for one another when not physically together.  73% of social-media using teen girls that were surveyed by the Pew Research Center reported receiving such support via social media, as did 63% of social media-using teen boys (Pew Research Center, 2015). Teens use a variety of platforms, ranging from the widely accessed Facebook to the more adolescent-focused Snapchat.  This research is particularly relevant for this project because Facebook remains the most widely used social media platform among teens (Pew Research Center, 2015).

Social media has proven to be an effective place for teens to both make new friendships and sustain old ones.  94% of surveyed teens reported continually using social media to spend time with friends online (Pew Research Center 2015). These digital spaces can be beneficial in teen development, but also come with a host of drawbacks. Because teen friendships are so apparent on social media platforms, teens feel pressure to post popular content that will garner attention in the form of “likes” and comments from friends.  39% of surveyed teens felt pressure to post content that would be viewed as popular and widely liked by friends, while 40% felt pressure to post only content that would paint them in a positive light (Pew Research Center 2015).  Teens are already consumed by a desire to be liked by other people, and this extend to digital “likes” as well.  This focus on online attention can lead teens to equate likes with self-worth, distorting their conceptualizations of the self and negatively affecting their relationships.  Such a correlation can have long-lasting, disastrous consequences on a teen’s emotional and mental health.  

Sources:

Bernstein, E. (2009, August 25). How Facebook ruins friendships. Wall Street Journal.

Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/

SB10001424052970204660604574370450465849142

Lenhart, A, Smith, A, Anderson, A, Duggan, M., & Perrin, A.. (2015). Teen, Technology,

& Friendships. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center, pp. 53-62.

Popescul, D. & Georgescu, M. (2015). Generation y students in social media: What do

we know about them? BRAIN: Broad Research in Artificial Intelligence & Neuroscience,

6(3 / 4), 74-81.

Rideout, V., Foehr, & Roberts, D. (2010). Generation M²: Media in the lives of 8- to

18-year-olds. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Stout, H. (2010, April 10). Antisocial networking? The New York Times. Retrieved from

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/fashion/02BEST.html

Umberson, D. & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for

health policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51.

Vossen, H. G. M., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Do social media foster or curtail   

adolescents’ empathy? A longitudinal study. Computers in Human Behavior, 63,   118-124.

The Dangers of Facebook

Facebook’s influence on friendships is primarily negative and can have disastrous consequences on an individual’s life. Because of social media, more specifically Facebook, we now value our own worth based on the quantity of social media friendships as opposed to the quality of them. In other words, we develop a sense of self-worth on social media based on the number of people we are friends with, regardless of the quality or content of these friendships. Simply put, it is purely a numbers game. In turn, we strive to post content that will make us look appealing to these superficial friends.  Yet, the danger lies in the fact that this content is most likely not an accurate representation of our real-life identities.

Facebook is also a source for gaining attention from others. When an event occurs in one’s life, he or she need only to post it on Facebook to get a response from various friends and acquaintances.  One’s “real-life” friends would typically already know this information, because they seemingly communicate outside of the realm of social media and are more involved in one another’s life.  Therefore, the only reason, and benefit, to posting such information on Facebook is to receive attention and/or sympathy from various virtual friendships.  Yet, this sympathy is superficial and the attention unnecessary.  This blurs the lines for what is appropriate and leads to superficial expressions of said friendships and, ultimately, a further distorted representation of the user’s identity (Wall Street Journal, The New York Times.)

The pressure to post content, especially that which will be flattering to one’s self, has caused social media users to become socialized to post personal content.  The conventions of Facebook make it a seemingly innocent action to post often about one’s life, including deeply intimate information. This can lead to an overall loss or privacy, and even more harmful effects, such as identity theft or online bullying.  Backlash from posts is a common theme on Facebook, as people grow more used to posting often about their personal, social, and political beliefs, many of which their fellow Facebook friends will not agree with.  The visual anonymity provided by the platform makes it easy to disagree with Facebook friends, often causing people to send harmful messages to friends that they would never have in a face-to-face interaction.  The platform can eventually lead to the damaging of one’s real-life friendships, a danger that users must be constantly wary of (Umberson 2010, Vossen, et al. 2016).  

Relevant Sources:

Belangee, S., Bluvshtein, M., & Haugen, D. (2015). Cybersocial connectedness: A

survey of perceived benefits and disadvantages of social media use. Journal of Individual

Psychology, 71(2), 122-134.

Bernstein, E. (2009, August 25). How Facebook ruins friendships. Wall Street Journal.

Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/

SB10001424052970204660604574370450465849142

Jaffe, L. (2015, May 18). 5 reasons why facebook can be dangerous for people with

depression. Huffington Post. Retrieved from:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lorne-jaffe/5-reasons-why-facebook-is_b_7295816.html

Stout, H. (2010, April 10). Antisocial networking? The New York Times. Retrieved from

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/fashion/02BEST.html

Umberson, D. & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for

health policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51.

Vossen, H. G. M., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2016). Do social media foster or curtail   

adolescents’ empathy? A longitudinal study. Computers in Human Behavior, 63,   118-124.

Personal Interviews

(These interviews were conducted over text message with various peers. They were asked the same questions. The answers are recorded both in direct quote format and by paraphrasing).

Do you think social media has changed how we value our friendships? Why or why not?

J: “I would say no to value because it's not like you like someone more or less based on their social media if they're your good friend because chances are your social media presence is similar. I would say it's changed how we select friends/how we judge friends/how we communicate with friends.”
  • Content posted by close friends does not change perception of friendship, but can be source of annoyance.
  • The greater the intimacy of friendship, the less their social media content will influence said friendship.
H: “I would would agree that it doesn't change how I value my friendships. But I think that for some people it probably does! It can be very all encompassing if you read some of the articles of [Instagram] famous people... but I agree that it can make you feel like you want to be friends with people that in all likelihood you would have nothing in common with!”
L: “Well we've used social media since we were like 10 years old so I think it's hard for me to see changes in value. I don't think it changes the value of a true friendship. For example would our friendship be any different if one or both of us didn't use social media? Probably not.  It would probably even be better. And then you can get into all the people who have thousands of friends online and 2 friends in real life, and why we only post the highlights from our lives to make ourselves seem happier and like we have a lot of friends… Social media interactions are cheap but I think that's separate from the value of a friendship.”

Does it change how we conceptualize our friendships?

J: “Maybe but I think it changes more about how we conceptualize ourselves/people we don't know.”
  • May develop a certain image of a person one doesn’t know too well, but this image may or may not be an accurate representation of the person.
H: “[It has] definitely changed how I conceptualize people I don't know and people I don't know WELL. There's definitely [an] in between level where I'm going to check someone's [Instagram] or facebook to help me form an overall social opinion of them… but I know everyone does it to a certain extent. And hopefully that isn't the be all and end all, and for me it isn't... but I'm sure for some people it is.”
 

Leap #4: Reflecting on COM 520

 Spotted in my natural [media-saturated] habitat.

Spotted in my natural [media-saturated] habitat.

Prior to enrolling in COM 520: Media Studies, I had operated with an incomplete view of media, rarely acknowledging its omnipresence or influence.  My conceptualization was admittedly limited in scope.  However, my descent into the world of media studies and media literacy has taught me that media is not the static entity I once believed it to be.  It is ever changing and profoundly influential.  Media has the ability to reach others; it is influenced by a multiplicity of factors, including culture and time period.  Some media is massive, while other kinds are more personal.  Ultimately, media is an expression of ideas and/or thoughts.  It can take many forms, from print to sound to image, and more.  In the past, I held a limited perspective on the purpose of media, believing it mostly to entertain and occasionally to inform.  In reality, media has many other purposes.  It can surely serve to entertain and inform, but also promote, persuade, and educate.  Regardless of a given purpose, media holds a level of influence over audience.  Perhaps my most startling revelation in this course regarded my own power as a user and creator of media; that as much as media shapes me, I am allowed the tools to shape and create it as well.  The various readings, assignments, and class work I have completed throughout the semester have contributed to this new, further developed conceptualization of media.  What will follow is a limited synthesis of my experience in COM 520 that contributed to this new perspective. 

Engaging with texts is how I learn best, and I was exposed to a variety of rich sources in COM 520, each divulging a new facet of media and media studies.  Cynthia Lewis’ examination of Mikhail Bakhtin further expanded my understanding of media.  This chapter of Renee Hobbs’ Exploring the Roots of Digital and Media Literacy through Personal Narrative stuck with me.  As a student with an undergraduate degree in writing, I was struck by Lewis’ focus on the power of words, giving both speaker and audience equal agency over a message.  She deftly explored Bakhtin’s perspective.  One particular claim of Bakhtin’s that Lewis discusses states, “the word in language is half someone else’s” (p. 78).  Much like Lewis, I am drawn to this statement, as both a writer and an academic.  A speaker or author holds a level of ownership over his or her own words, but language can only be understood fully within a specific social context.  In relation to media, I found this revelation to be a powerful one.  The creators and users of media shape its content, but ultimately it is imperative to consider its societal influences and limitations. 

A screencast developed for my graduate media studies course. Fall 2016.

Leap 1 allowed me to utilize my training in rhetorical analysis with my newfound knowledge of media and media literacy.  For my screencast, I chose to focus on noted rhetorician Kenneth Burke.  I examined the notion of identification, using this theoretical concept to examine an example of contemporary propaganda.  Burke argued that persuasion was only possible when some semblance of similarity existed between speaker and audience.  By examining this example, I was able to draw connections between two of my areas of academic interest, rhetorical analysis and media studies.  This experience also served as a nice transition into the work of Edward Bernays and helped to further contextualize my understanding of propaganda and media in general. 

Through Edward Bernays’ Propaganda, I was introduced to the ever-present nature of propaganda and the vast potential of media to influence the masses.  Propaganda always seemed so removed from my own experience.  I believed it was a tool used by governments of the past, during wartime especially.  Although initially written back in 1928, Bernays’ exploration of propaganda revealed just how wrong I was.  The concepts he articulates are very much at play today, just as much as when he wrote his book.  Engaging with this particular text taught me that propaganda is a much wider phenomenon than I initially imagined.  Bernays defines propaganda as a force influencing society in both conscious and unconscious ways.  These forms of media aim to modify our thoughts and behavior.  He articulates the notion that this force is a dangerous one, but is ultimately a necessary factor in maintaining societal order.  

[ Break for propaganda ] 

Propaganda initially seemed an entirely invisible force propagated by the government, when in reality we are confronted by it every single day through many different channels.  As week 5 of our course exemplified, propaganda is all around us, from the blatant advertisements posted on bus stops to product placement in our favorite shows to the sponsored content shown on Facebook.  These types of propaganda may seem, and very well can be, fairly innocuous.  That is, if we are equipped with the necessary media literacy skills to transform us from passive to active users of said media.

 A visual representation of the constant barrage of information and elevated sociality on social media platforms. 

A visual representation of the constant barrage of information and elevated sociality on social media platforms. 

As a millennial, I have been socialized through social media platforms.  If I once thought I was an expert on these forums, I no longer any similar illusions.  This course has revealed that there is so much more to them than meets the eye. Jose van Dijck’s The Culture of Connectivity exposed me to a new world of social media that I was eager to explore and engage.  One of my initial takeaways was that the participatory culture of social media serves to foster connections between users, allow them to build communities, and advance democracy.  She discussed this idea of connectivity as a resource.  The sociality of social media has become a sort of commodity for businesses, which, in turn, seems to lead to the view of user as commodity.  The commoditization of individuals was an alarming concept, but the development of the social media world we live in today exemplifies this idea.  Social media are systems that manipulate connections, shaping content specifically for individual users.  Social media content is not ours to control, but is controlled by the governing systems of the platforms we use.

 My personal twitter account.

My personal twitter account.

This post admittedly presents a limited analysis of the many sources I engaged with during the course.  However, I readily admit that each of the various readings and assignments within COM 520 ultimately transformed any perceptions I held of my role as a media-user and maker, as well as transformed my role as a student.  I have always been an active participant and learner.  I do not learn well just by simply reading a text.  In order to fully absorb knowledge in an academic setting, I must engage with a text further, either through writing or class discussion.  My experience in COM 520 has been no different.  In fact, I have felt even more engaged and encouraged to participate as a student. Reflecting on my participation and learning within this course is humbling.  I have always been a more traditional student; I read what I am assigned and I complete homework and writing assignments in a timely manner.  Neither of these aspects of student-hood has changed for me, but I have definitely expanded my role as a thinker and learner.  I was exposed to media studies briefly in my undergraduate career, but have never before experienced such an interactive course.  Past classes have given me tools to examine media from a position of distance, while COM 520 has allowed me to not only interact with media, but to create it.  The level of interactivity afforded to us in this class has ultimately benefitted my graduate learning experience and transformed the way I view media in general.  Concurrently, the consistent focus on media literacy in this course has led me through a process of self-reflection as a media maker, consumer, and user.  I am more aware of the media that surrounds me.  My newfound knowledge has transformed my experience in the media-saturated world of today.  I am now able to pinpoint examples of propaganda and I can sort through media sources to determine their validity, a skill that is becoming increasingly relevant in the current political landscape.

Lastly, I was drawn to and inspired by the notion of the Burkean parlor, introduced to us initially by Dr. Hobbs.  This metaphor views scholarship as an ongoing dialogue.  The emphasis on continuous conversation, one that anyone may enter, gives the individual greater agency within academic dialogue.  This emphasis fostered a classroom atmosphere of inclusivity.  Such an environment was especially comforting in a class composed of students from varying backgrounds and at alternating stages of their academic careers.  We may be different types of students, media-users, and citizens, but our voices are heard and our contributions valued.  My experience in COM 520 is not one I will soon forget and I will surely take the knowledge and skills developed in this class as I make my way from academic to the professional world.  I may not consciously engage these sources on a daily basis when I leave this classroom at the end of the semester, but my overall experience has allowed me to further develop my role as a thinker, transformed the way I absorb media, and opened my eyes to a new world of media literacy.  

(A humorous examination of an app who's entire premise is to have humans 'rate' each other. This app is surprisingly not a parody.)

References

Bernays, Edward. 2005/1928. Propaganda. IG Publishing: New York.

Carvell, T. & Gurewitch, D. (Writer), & Leddy, B. (Director). (2015). Mental health [Television series

episode]. In Oliver, John. (Executive Producer), Last week tonight with John Oliver. New York, NY: HBO.

Hobbs, Renee. 2016. Exploring the Roots of Digital and Media Literacy through Personal

Narrative. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Van Dijck, Jose. 2013. The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. New

York: Oxford University Press.

Media Studies Research Apprenticeship

Analyzing Girls’ Celebrity Attachment

Annabelle Everett

Tori Vichroski

Isabelle Cohen

Research Questions

  • Does the level of parental interaction with girls contribute to their celebrity attachment?

  • What characteristics predetermine which adolescents will be more attached to celebrities than others?

  • What enables Youtubers to create such a strong attachment among girls?

  • What language is used by celebrities to encourage attachment among girls?

  • What are the negative effects that celebrity attachment has on body image?

 

Rationale

The relationship between celebrity attachment and young girls is important to examine as it can often lead girls to develop unhealthy self-images, potentially causing them psychological and physical harm. This topic is especially relevant to study today as the rise of Web 2.0 has allowed celebrity culture to become increasingly prevalent in American society.  These days, it is impossible to avoid the influence of celebrity on the average person; the lives of all kinds of celebrities (YouTubers,movie stars, tv stars, athletes, etc.) are constantly discussed on various social forums and reported by news outlets, etc. Young girls are often the audiences of which celebrities can increase their fame by targeting.  They are prone to being influenced as they lack the necessary critical thinking skills and social tools to fully combat the ways in which celebrity actions may shape their own thoughts and attitudes towards the world and themselves.  Therefore,  this research question will help towards creating an understanding of girls’ attachment to celebrities and the impacts of this attachment.

 

Literature Review

Analyzing Girls’ Secondary Attachment to Celebrities

           Even prior to the rise of technology, the emergence of Web 2.0, and the resulting influence of social media, adolescents have historically displayed a tendency for celebrity attachment.  Greene and Adams-Price examined various influences on development and the effect of age, gender, and pubertal development on levels of attachment to celebrities (Adams-Price, et. al 1990).

Adolescent development is traditionally marked by their “gradual disengagement from parental authority toward greater autonomy and self-definition” (p. 336).  As children grow older, they become more independent and self-sufficient and thus are less reliant on their parents.  This can be a confusing process for teenagers to engage in, so they often turn to other figures for guidance.  Peers facilitate adolescent development by allowing one another to “explore new social and sex role behaviors, obtain sexual gratification precluded in family relationships, and develop decision-making skills necessary for autonomous functioning in adulthood” (p. 336).  Popular celebrities have often served as guideposts for adolescents on how to behave and develop a unique identity.  This adoration of celebrities and transition to viewing them as authorities often causes adolescents to enhance or idealize specific qualities of a particular celebrity.  This attachment indicates a transition from parental authority to a perceived celebrity authority.  “Secondary attachment can be best understood as a means of affective transition from the nurturant, parental attachments of childhood to the more intimate, romantic attachments of adolescence and young adulthood. Adams-Price and Greene (1990) characterized secondary attachment further.  There are two dimensions of this type of attachment: romantic attachments and identificatory attachments.  Romantic attachments refer to a desire to be in a romantic relationship with a given celebrity, while identificatory attachments signify a desire to be similar to the celebrity.

The levels of such a type of secondary attachment range for the individual due to a variety of factors.  Adams-Price and Greene surveyed sixty male and female 5th, 8th and 11th graders on their views on and perceptions of their favorite celebrities, finding evidence for the influence of gender and age on celebrity attachment:

Whereas males described identificatory attachments to a favorite male celebrity whom they perceived to be high in instrumentality (e.g., strength, aggressiveness), females described romantic attachments to a favorite male celebrity whom they perceived to be high in instrumentality (e.g., warmth, nurturance).  Regardless of the type of attachment described, however, 5th graders attributed greater expressivity to their favorite celebrities than did 8th and 11th graders. (p. 336).

According to this specific data, males and females will have different types of attachment to male celebrities.  Female adolescents develop attachments that indicate developing concerns regarding sexuality and personal identity.  The scholars also concluded that an adolescents’ view of his or her favorite celebrity will largely influence perceptions of and preferences for celebrities in general.  Additionally, they concluded that adolescents display a preference for opposite-sex celebrities, indicating that celebrity attachment allows adolescents to engage in psychological experimentation and fantasy that provides an opportunity for sexuality and identity exploration.  The findings in this study ultimately support the notion that adolescents develop and negotiate identity through an affective transition experience that is influenced by their secondary attachments, including those to celebrity figures.

 

Girls’ Attachment to YouTube Stars

When examining girls’ emotional attachments to celebrities in today’s society, it is imperative to direct the attention first to the YouTubers.  According to Cnet.com’s article Generation YouTube (2015), YouTubers are individuals who make a career through the platform Youtube.  Unlike previous generations who were quite taken with movie stars, television actors and lead singers, Generation Z (or millennials) has grown increasingly attached to YouTubers.  According to a 2014 Verizon survey, tweens and teens watch more than a third of their “TV” online--triple the percentage viewed by Generation X (Cnet.com, 2015).  Therefore, Cnet.com refers to this cohort of individuals as Generation YouTube.

According to a survey done by Variety.com in 2015, YouTubers have a stronger influence and connection with girls than mainstream celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Johnny Depp, Bruno Mars and more.  The survey compared 10 YouTubers against 10 traditional stars with the highest Q score among 1,500 teens aged 13-17 (a Q score is a measure of influence used by advertisers).  The teens were asked how the 20 options ranked in approachability, authenticity, etc. and the answers were translated to a 100-point scale (Variety, 2015).  

The YouTubers ranked high in all categories and consumed over eight spots in the top 10 list.  In fact, most traditional celebrities fell toward the bottom on the top 20 list.  In other surveys referenced in Variety’s 2015 article on these digital stars, teens’ emotional attachment to YouTube stars showed to be seven times greater than that toward a traditional celebrity.  Furthermore, “YouTube stars are perceived as 17 times more engaging, and 11 times more extraordinary, than mainstream stars” among teens (Variety.com, 2015, p.1).  

So, what enables YouTubers to create fan-crazed people out of your sisters, daughters, nieces?  What makes these individuals profoundly more popular than the movie stars we grew up idolizing?  One answer lies in relatability.  “Looking at survey comments and feedback, teens enjoy an intimate and authentic experience with YouTube celebrities, who aren’t subject to image strategies carefully orchestrated by PR Pros” (Variety, 2014, p.1).  The Guardian.com (2016) states that teens appreciate YouTubers’ humor, lack of filter and risk-taking spirit which is often unseen or hidden by mainstream celebrities.  In other words, YouTubers’ relatability is what makes them an easy attachment figure among tweens and teens.

Another reason YouTubers are so popular among girls is because they offer a sense of connection.  Not only are they talking into the camera in a one-on-one style, but they are often taping in intimate settings such as their bedroom or home.  It is easy for a teen to feel as if they are getting to know the YouTuber under these conditions.  According to TheGuardian.com (2016), YouTubers also establish a connection with fans by participating in self-disclosure.  “From the coming-out announcements of stars such as Connor Franta, Ingrid Nelson and Shane Dawson to Zoella vlogging about her experience of anxiety attacks” (TheGuardian.com, 2016, p.1), connection and a sense of closeness are easily established.

Mentioned in TheGuardian.com, The Atlantic investigated another angle that aids YouTubers in reaching fame: the “YouTube Voice”, which is the linguistic characteristics shared by many of the most successful YouTube Stars that generate attention and interest.  Naomi Baron, a professor of linguistics at American University, teamed up with The Atlantic’s writer Julie Beck in 2015 to analyze the shared linguistic tactics employed by YouTubers.  Some of the following were found to be essential in creating the YouTube Voice: overstressed vowels, extra vowels between consonants, long vowels and consonants and aspiration.  These tactis--also used by popular and informal TV hosts such as Jon Stewart, grab the listener's attention and keep it.  The two researchers also noticed strong, exaggerated gestures and facial expressions (TheAtlantic.com, 2015).

Another idea theorized on why YouTubers have gained so much fame is from Mark Mulligan, a music industry analyst.  In TheGuardian.com (2016), the writer references his 2015 blogpost where he described that teens prefer YouTubers over musicians because this content is “their own”.  It is not considered mainstream and in turn, it’s different and unique to them.  “With no music subculture to cling to, Generation Edge has instead gravitated to YouTube stars” (TheGuardian.com, 2016, p.1).  The CEO of news curation site Redef, Jason Hirschhorn, says “the star-making machine is outside big corporations for the first time” in Cnet.com (2015).  Kids and teens don’t care about how much something cost to make--they want something that entertains them and makes them feel special.  The fact that these YouTube videos that teens are subscribing to are not something their parents like/know about and are something that may annoy non-fans is part of the appeal, says Mulligan (2015).

Overall, this part of the literature review on YouTubers and their influence on girls was helpful because it described the qualities that make a YouTuber so attractive to a younger audience and also described the tactics that YouTubers actively engage in to attract the audience.  I agree with what this research has explained, but I would like to add to it.  One implication of this research is that it does not specify gender/sex of the tweens and teens.  Therefore, it enlightens more about the general age group than the male/female variable.  I am left wondering how a focus on girls would affect findings.  Future research could aim to investigate YouTubers’ influence on specifically young girls and see if there are different or gender-specific findings on this topic.

 

Negative Psychological and Physical Effects of Secondary Celebrity Attachment

Growing up is difficult and with the advancement of technology and the rise of social media, one’s image has become almost everything.  With this rise in social media, the instant celebrity has grown, making those in the spotlight more prominent than ever.  From advertisements, to movies, to “selfies”, and everything in between, adolescent girls are, now more than ever, exposed to the ideals of what the perfect woman should look like.  In turn, these images have affected adolescent girls body image, negatively more than positively.  The research done by Maltby, Giles, Barber, and McCutcheon examines the relationship between body image and celebrity worship and its effects on adolescents.

           Much research has been done on the association of mass media and eating disorders in adolescence (Maltby 2005).  There is a fear, though, that this association has given girls the idea that the ideal is to be thin, while models and advertising agents continually use models who are deemed as “scary skinny.”

           The relationship between celebrity worship and female adolescent body image is quite large. The more a female adolescent reports celebrity worship to a specific person, the greater the chance the adolescent experiences poor body image (2005).  Even more so, those adolescents with higher negative body image thoughts feel a more intense-personal connection to the celebrity.   The individual feels such a parasocial relationship that they strive to be more like that particular celebrity.  All of these findings concluded that these feelings of intense-personal connection and celebrity worship are particularly found in female adolescence and not within any other group (including males, female young adult, female adult).

           The most interesting evidence found in this research is the disappearance of this celebrity worship and body image connection as one grows up.  These findings are sparked some questions that have the potential to be very useful while studying this topic in the future.  The samples used in this research were relatively small, so it would be extremely interesting to see results on a larger scale.  It needs to be noted that the research should include mental health attitudes as well.  There is the possibility that the intense-personal connection to a celebrity that an adolescent female desires could be due to poor mental health. More research must be done regarding that connection.

           The literature reviewed reveals a particularly alarming ideology.  In order to be happy, or to feel a connection to a specific person (in this case a celebrity) one must completely change the way they look.  There seems to be no positive outcome from the evidence provided in the literature.  One good outcome is that because the research has found negative outcomes to celebrity worship and body image, this allows clinicians and social psychologists to do more research and help those suffering from poor body image (2005).

           Overall, the literature reviewed is helpful in understanding the relationship between celebrity worship and body image specifically in adolescent girls.  By understanding this relationship early on in a girl’s life, there might be a way to prevent the feelings of a para-social and intense-personal relationship, allowing young girls to be comfortable in their bodies without comparing them to those in the spotlight.  Understanding this connection is the first part in making sure that young girls feel beautiful in their own skin, and recognize their importance and influence to other girls who will one day look up to them.  The research also allows celebrities to be the role models they strive to be.  By loving, taking care of, and encouraging young girls to be the best they can be, they will be able to change the mindset and stigma around the “perfect” body.

 

Data

The data collected by Renee Hobbs in her Celebrity and Girls Research shows that almost half of girls aged 7 - 15 have a television in their bedroom for media consumption under little parental observation, rule or guidance.  The girls show levels of moderate to high desire to be famous like their celebrity attachment figure.  The data exposes several other factors among girls in today’s media-saturated society.  If continued, our Research Apprenticeship would correlate this data to the studies of our literature review and make strong connections..  We hypothesize that the articles of our literature review and our own research would reflect the completed data.  We specifically hypothesize that low levels of parental interaction among girls would influence higher levels of attachment  to celebrities.

 

 

References

Adams-Price, C. & Greene, A. L. (1990). Adolescents’ secondary attachments to celebrity

figures. Sex Roles, 23, 335-347.

Dredge, S. (2016). Why are YouTube stars so popular? The Guardian. Retrieved from:

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/feb/03/why-youtube-stars-popular-zoella

Maltby, J., Giles, D. C., Barber, L., & Mccutcheon, L. E. (2005). Intense-personal    celebrity worship and  body image: Evidence of a link among female adolescents. British Journal of Health Psychology,10(1), 17-32. doi:10.1348/135910704x15257

Solsman, J. (2015). Generation YouTube: Today’s fastest rising stars aren’t coming out

of Hollywood. Retrieved from: https://www.cnet.com/news/generation-youtube/.

 

 

 

Leap #3: Write a Precis.

In “Clicking Away At Co-Rumination,” Ani Keshishian, Melanie Watkins, and Michael Otto in conjunction with the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Boston University examine the communication concept of co-rumination within the context of technology, specifically focusing on a study involving college students’ reliance on cellphones for co-rumination.  Co-rumination occurs when individuals discuss problems with friends, typically dwelling on the negative aspects and not focusing on potential solutions. This phenomenon has a dual effect: individuals often develop increased levels of anxiety and/or depression, while experiencing positive friendship quality.   

The rise of the smart phone has inherently altered how individuals engage in interpersonal communication and technology is now one of the primary conduits for social interaction.  The authors of this article hypothesized that due to the frequent use of cellphones by young adults and their tendency towards co-rumination, previously studied co-rumination effects would be applicable via this mode as well.  Additionally, they theorized that findings would be more significant across a younger community sample than within older populations.

Participants in this study were recruited from college psychology courses, as well as through online postings within the community.  There were 85 participants total, with the majority identifying as female (83.5%) and Caucasian (60%) (Keshishian, 2016, p. 474).  The mean age for college students was 19.4 years, while significantly higher for the community sample at 26.6 years.  Each individual completed the ‘co-rumination questionnaire,’ which attempted to measure participants’ tendencies towards co-rumination with same-sex friends through a self-report scale containing 27 items.  Individuals also indicated their methods for communicating with friends through a social networking survey and reported their overall friendship quality with a network of relationship inventory, while their mood states were examined through “state-trait anxiety inventory-state” and with the “center for epidemiologic studies depression” (p. 474).  Through a data analysis, the authors found that the overwhelming majority of participants texted with friends (96.5%), communicated via a social networking platform (91.8%), or spoke on the telephone with them (80%) (Keshishian, 2016, p. 475).  The study revealed an association between co-rumination via technology and both positive friendship quality and increased anxiety, but indicated no correlation to depression.  Positive friendship quality was associated for both samples with telephone communication and related to text communication within the college student sample.  There was no correlation with this factor and communication on social media.  Additionally, co-rumination experienced via texting led to much lower levels of anxiety than face-to-face co-rumination.  The authors hypothesized that this was due to the absence of nonverbal communication factors. 

Ultimately, the study concluded that co-rumination should be examined within the context of various modalities of communication, and that the modalities of mobile texting and, more widely, telephone use mirrored traditional findings in studies of face-to-face co-rumination. 

Comments and Questions for Inquiry

1.     I found this article to be especially interesting after reflecting on Jose van Dijck’s The Culture of Connectivity.  If social media is changing our social norms, surely it is altering how we perceive and participate in our social relationships. Although this is only one aspect of communication examined within this study, smart phones have become the primary means for accessing social media.  Therefore, I think it is important to study the effects of this evolving communication technology in conjunction with the effects of social media. 

2.     Does the increasing reliance on social media for communication purposes and prevalence of mobile phone use ultimately cause us psychologically harm?  If co-rumination often leads to increased levels of anxiety and social media and mobile phones allow us to participate more frequently in co-rumination, surely we are experiencing the detriments.

3.     Additionally, this study did not report a correlation between positive friendship quality and social networking-based co-rumination, indicating that perhaps participating in co-rumination through these platforms might negatively affect one’s friendships.  This reveals the potential for underlying negative implications of social media use on interpersonal relationships. 

4.     How can individuals become more mindful of their tendencies towards co-rumination?  Perhaps if we were more aware of the effects we might be able engage in certain behaviors to successfully combat them.

5.     The process of co-rumination is difficult to examine because it carries with it both positive and negative associations.  How might we reconcile the opposing concepts of positive friendship quality and negative mood states related to this interpersonal communication tendency?

 

References

Keshishian, A. C., Watkins, M. A., & Otto, M. W. (2016). “Clicking away at co-rumination: Co-

rumination correlates across different modalities of communication.” Cognitive Behaviour

Therapy, 45 (6), 473-478.

 

Leap #2: Social media as potential {feminist} propaganda?

Like many millennials, I enjoy sharing aspects of my life on social media. If I find a spot with good lighting, I snap a quick picture for Instagram. If I come across an intriguing quote, I type it in a tweet. Through various social platforms, like InstagramTwitter or Facebook, we are allowed the chance to represent ourselves to the outside world. Yet these representations are mere snapshots of our lives.

I can search almost anyone and find their social media accounts, but that doesn't really tell me who they are. This is because we carefully craft our online identities so that they only represent a version of ourselves. This representation is not necessarily inaccurate; it is simply not entirely whole. Social media encourages oversharing, and we oblige, but so rarely do we share anything of meaning. 

The New York Times explicated the social media phenomenon by describing a 2010 novel, "Super Sad True Love Story" by Gary Shteyngart. Within this story, smart phones have evolved so far that they have in fact redefined society. Individuals are now societally ranked based on the quality and quantity of what they share about themselves. At first glance, this is a seemingly far-fetched notion, but in truth not so far from our current reality: 

Shteyngart's extrapolations from first-generation social media are beginning to prove surprisingly prescient. The biggest companies are now slaving away to bring his vision ever closer to reality. It's not a philosophical or ideological statement on their part; it's just that their business model is predicated on sharing, and finding new ways to extricate more and more from us.

Social media, once a fun way to reconnect with old friends and stay connected to family, has now become a game of "who can share the most?" This tendency to overshare is a hard one to combat, especially now that social media is so present in everyday life. Facebook even asks you upon signing in, "What's on your mind?" Such a greeting, although superficial, posits the user in a position of digital power. We have been transformed by our social media profiles into media-makers. We are given a role in shaping what our friends and followers see on their feeds. This power to create can be difficult to manage. We are consistently encouraged to overshare; yet oversharing can lead to the dilution of individuality and identity online.

Although social media may seem a far cry from traditional propaganda, the two may be reconciled through Edward Bernays. He describes propaganda as an omnipresent influence on the general public that is dangerous, but necessary to maintain order and direct society. He provides a succinct, yet appropriate, definition from the opening line of his book Propaganda:  "The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses as an important element of democratic society." Propaganda is something that happens to us. We are consistently manipulated by its ominous presence, a process that removes us, as the audience, of any potential power or influence.  

Propaganda as introduced by Bernays is a force that modifies our thoughts and habits, a process that can be conscious, but more often manifests subconsciously. Social media has transitioned into a form of propaganda. It is impossible to log into a profile without being confronted with some sort of persuasion, be it an advertisement or a friend's political.

But, although we constantly absorb propaganda through social media, we are concurrently encouraged to propagate ourselves. In fact, it is expected of us online. Through social media, we are given the chance to take back the power that has been removed by traditional (societal, governmental, etc.) propaganda. Instead, we are given the tools to create our own personal brand of propaganda.

Such a notion makes social media all the more overwhelming. But what you share online doesn't have to overshadow your individuality. Instead, be wary of the parts you choose to share. As is explicated by the NYT article previously mentioned, Beyoncé is a known public figure; she is a singer and a modern feminist icon. Her presence on social media is vast-reaching, yet ultimately limited. She does not give interviews. She does not post many candid selfies. She doesn't even tag a location in her pictures. She represents her public life on stage and through the pictures she posts. Her private life, although privy to much speculation, is largely kept secret. Beyoncé is also evidence of the potential power of women in digital spaces. Social media platforms are constricted by form, but broad in content. Modern day feminism has transitioned to these online spaces, as evidenced by activist campaigns like #YesAllWomen and the mass sharing of "Beyonce Feminist" memes.  

The NYT further examines how female identity is shifting in the digital age through the theory of cyberfeminism. Users, particularly those who are female-identifying, have the opportunity to reshape their identities in a meaningful way:

Donna Haraway, emerita professor of the history of consciousness and feminist studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an inspiration for cyberfeminism, wrote that new technologies could liberate women from patriarchy and other oppressive systems. In the distant future, she believed, people could assume virtual bodies, allowing for "permanently partial identities" that could exist beyond gender, beyond reproach and without limits. 

It is through this notion of cyberfeminism that individuals, like the millennials who are most prominent on social media, can utilize these platforms to not only spark social dialogue, but also reshape their own identities.

So, the next time you post, first ask yourself: does the information I put into the digital world serve primarily to suppress or liberate me? Participating on social media can be a freeing experience, and it can just as easily be stifling to your identity and personhood. Ultimately, it is important to keep in mind what you share and how that contributes to your online identity and the overall digital community.

In other words: 

Don't worry. Beyoncé.