DO YOU “LIKE” IT?:
AN AUTOETHNOGRAPHY AND ETHNOGRAPHIC STUDY OF HOW THE USE AND
ABSENCE FROM FACEBOOK IMPACTS MILLENNIALS.
Rachel Jessica Jenny Lewis
An Independent Study Thesis
Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Course Requirements for
Senior Independent Study: The Department of Communication
March 24, 2014
Advisor: Dr. Ahmet Atay
The social networking site Facebook has shown impressive growth and increasing
influence on the ways in which we communicate over the last decade. Specifically, Millennials
are highly dependent and devoted to Facebook. My study examines how Millennial students‟ use
of Facebook impacts their self-presentations and perceptions of others. Additionally, this study
reveals the implications of deactivating one‟s account for a brief period of time. To conduct a
qualitative analysis, I employ the methods of ethnography and autoethnography, with narratives
of four liberal arts students as well as myself. My research reveals common themes among my
participants, such as the preoccupation with self-presentation, the importance of self-concept,
and negative feelings resulting from Facebook use. Overall, I found that our perspectives
towards Facebook are highly dependent on our own individual experiences and identities, and
most importantly, directly related to how we value the site.
Key terms: social networking site, facebook, identity, self-presentation, perception, millennial
The completion of my Independent Study would not have been possible without some very
important and special people. First, I am so grateful for my advisor and mentor, Dr. Ahmet Atay,
who is one of the most dedicated professors I‟ve had the honor of knowing since I was a wee
freshman. Thank you so much for always being my cheerleader and keeping me motivated. I
appreciate your honesty when telling me to take a “chill pill.” Additionally, I want to thank the
entire Department of Communication Studies for their hard work and positive attitude
throughout this process. I look back at my late nights in Wishart 105 with fond memories. It is
rare that a student can have inside jokes with professors that stem from 2 AM work/ grading
sessions, and such solidarity among faculty and students is what makes our department unique.
(Also, thank you Dr. Johnson for calling me “Dean Lewis.” I think it is starting to catch on.)
Next, I want to thank my wonderful family. Both my parents and brothers have been
tremendously helpful throughout not only my I.S. endeavors, but any feat I‟ve had to overcome
during my college experience. Mom, Dad, Zach, and Jacob, thanks for the continued inspiration
and support; I would not be where I am today without you. Last, I want to thank my incredible
friends, near and far, for simply being there. You know who you are and please know that you
are always appreciated.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION..................................................................................1
Description of Methods...............................................................................................5
CHAPTER II: LITERATURE REVIEW ....................................................................6
Social Networking ......................................................................................................6
Functions of Social Networking Sites...................................................................7
History of Facebook............................................................................................10
Infringements on Privacy....................................................................................11
Digital Natives ....................................................................................................23
The Classroom ....................................................................................................25
Audience Segregation ...................................................................................53
Physical- Virtual Dialectic............................................................................54
Social Comparison .......................................................................................56
Deactivation Analysis ...............................................................................................67
Expectations vs. Reality......................................................................................67
Observations Post Deactivation .........................................................................71
CHAPTER V: CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS............................77
Implications of the Research Findings......................................................................79
Recommendations for Future Research....................................................................80
Final Thoughts ..........................................................................................................81
APPENDIX: Interview Questions ...............................................................................90
CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTION
I‟ve had social media accounts on several platforms ever since I was in middle school.
Yet, a lot as changed since the days of teen angst and parental controls. Now I am a senior in
college, preparing to enter “the real world.” However, I still find myself wasting away the hours
on Facebook when I should be focused on finding future employment. Whether I am connecting
with friends, or looking at the seemingly perfect lives of my peers, I am constantly online
looking to amuse myself.
After a semester abroad last spring, I realized how integral Facebook is to my life as it
was my main source of connection to home. Over the summer, I spent a majority of time
reminiscing over my abroad and school experiences, and conversing with friends. Yet,
throughout all of these interactions I noticed that despite my communication, I was still alone
and sometimes even anxious.
Returning to school this past Fall I became increasingly aware of the enormous role
Facebook seems to play on not only my life, but the lives of those who surround me. I cannot
walk into a room on campus without seeing a fellow student logged onto Facebook, scrolling
through their newsfeed. Almost every student I know at my school has an account, and thus I
became curious if my peers shared similar experiences or perspectives to my own. This marks
the inspiration for my independent study topic. I decided to study the implications behind our
Facebook use and the impacts of our preoccupation online.
The first chapter of my independent study provides a narrower scope into my research
with my intended purpose and rationales for carrying out the study. Additionally, I include
definitions necessary for understanding my study effectively, and a description of my research
The purpose of my study is to conduct a qualitative analysis of how our increasing
presence on Facebook impacts our perceptions and reality both on and offline. I will be
observing how the Millennial generation specifically uses and thinks about Facebook.
Furthermore, to truly determine how much of an influence Facebook has on our daily lives, I aim
to examine if and how our perspectives and behaviors change when we no longer have access to
According to Facebook‟s Investor page, there are 1.19 billion monthly active users on
Facebook, and 728 million daily active users on average. The number of daily users is at an
increase of “25% year-over-year” and monthly users at an increase of 18%. Thus, Facebook,
which was only created in 2004, has a massive following and is still growing (Facebook
Creator Mark Zuckerberg has come up with two five-year plans, the first of which was
implemented in 2010. This plan came with the assertion that he would “eliminate loneliness”
completely with the social networking site by 2015 (Keen 65). The second five-year plan, known
as “Zuckerberg‟s Law,” states that by 2020, 1,000 times more information about each user will
flow through Facebook (65). As it stands now, Facebook is deeply personalized and contains
private information about its users. With the expansion of Facebook across the globe and the
impending increase of information sharing, my study is relevant and time-sensitive.
Facebook is said to be transitioning us into a world where loneliness does not exist.
Moreover, by studying interpersonal relationships and personal perceptions in relation to
Facebook, I will be able to see if this is in fact happening. Is loneliness decreasing amongst
Facebook users in our society? Or, like I theorize, is Facebook actually having adverse impacts
on our relationships and emotional wellbeing?
Another reason why my study is significant is because it specifically studies the
Facebook use of college students. Students use social networking sites in an effort to create and
maintain relationships with their peers, along with upholding personal presentations. Moreover,
in this study, I will observe how select students‟ behavior on Facebook influence their
interpersonal relationships. My research is particularly unique in that it looks directly at the
students of a small liberal arts school. The College of Wooster's students are different and
important to study in comparison to those who encompass larger universities. With an
undergraduate population of 2,000, most current students who belong to the “College of
Wooster” network on Facebook know or are familiar with one another. Often times if students
have not yet met, they recognize each other from Facebook. Moreover, my research will
determine the impacts that a close- knit environment has on our conversations and attitudes with
our fellow students both on and offline.
Finally, my study is significant because while scholars have studied Facebook users and
non-users, there appears to be a lack of scholarship about the impacts of deactivating one‟s
account. Because our society is so internet obsessed, we have become part of a “cyberculture”
(Ulfo 140). With a growing dependence on the internet, scholars are looking to see adverse
results of such usage. While my study is not a psychological analysis of Facebook users, I will be
studying the behavior and thoughts of those who have Facebook, deactivate their accounts, and
then reactivate if they so choose. While this portion of my study includes only a short-term
absence from Facebook, it will reveal the ways in which social networking sites might impact
people on a daily basis.
There are a few terms that are key to effectively understanding my study. First, the
concept of presentation, specifically self-presentation. Self-presentation can be defined as the
process of setting forth an image we want others to perceive (Wood and Smith 47). Sociologist
Erving Goffman studied and wrote about how people work to present themselves in everyday
life and compared self- presentation to a performance of sorts (53).
Identity refers to the multiple parts that organize the “overall self,” and a person has an
identity for “each of the different positions or role relationships” one holds in society (Stets and
Burke 132). Identity relates to the notion of self-awareness, which is another manifestation of
humanity's long struggle with identity. How we engage in self- presentation is a large part of
what makes up our identity (Wood and Smith 52). Since ancient times humans have been
manipulating their identities, and such changes in displays of self can even be seen in
Shakespearean plays (53). Now with new internet technologies such as the social networking
site Facebook, there is more of an ability to shape aspects of our identity for public
consideration than any other time in history (53).
A social networking site can be defined as “a web-based service” that allows individuals
to formulate an online “profile,” connect with other users, and view their connections with others
“within the system” (Boyd and Ellison 151). Facebook specifically is a highly convergent
technology which consists of self-disclosures that can be displayed through autobiographical
self-descriptions, status updates, group messages, comments, geo-tags, links to content elsewhere
on the web, 'liked' pages and groups videos, and photographs (Lambert 16). Facebook was
created in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg and the site now has over four hundred million active
users worldwide, with half of them logging in on a daily basis (Wittkower xxxi). Mark
Zuckerburg attributes the success of the website because it gives its users the 'power to share
and make the world more open and connected' (Wittkower xxxii).
In this study I will be employing ethnographic methods and autoethnography.
Ethnography is the study of the socio-cultural contexts, processes, and meanings within cultural
systems and is conducted with fieldwork and extensive interviews (Whitehead 5). I will be
using the method of ethnography to study how the use and discontinuation of Facebook impacts
different students at my school. Similarly, autoethnography is a “research method that utilizes
the researchers‟ autobiographical data to analyze and interpret their cultural assumptions”
(Chang 9). I will be using this method to assess my own Facebook use and how it relates to my
own perceptions and relationships. Additionally, I will personally deactivate my own Facebook
for an allotted amount of time and analyze my experience. I will take notes on my productivity,
self esteem, social interactions, and overall wellbeing.
Hopefully, with the combined interviews, field notes, and self-reflection in my
ethnography and autoethnography, I will have clear depictions of the various impacts Facebook
has on the thoughts and behaviors of Millennials. Furthermore, I hope to see how such notions
are influenced by the deactivation and reactivation of the site.
In summation, I will be using the methods of ethnography and autoethnography in order
to study the different ways in which Facebook influences the lives of other Wooster students, as
well as my own. The specific aim of my study is to discover if and how Facebook plays a direct
role in presentations, perceptions, and relationships, both on and offline, and to understand why
CHAPTER II: LITERATURE REVIEW
I’ve been a social networking fanatic ever since I got my hands on Myspace in middle
school. However, my need for constant connection and interaction was not quite fulfilled due to
my mother and father’s paranoia and strict parental controls. They assumed that if I disclosed
too much information, I could potentially get stalked, kidnapped, etc. Thus, my name was merely
Rachel L. and my profile picture was of Regina George (the antagonist in teen sensation movie
“Mean Girls”). Despite my restrictions, I was completely enthralled with Myspace. I remember
my neurotic concern regarding the “Top 8 Friends,” and obsessively looking at my peers’ pages.
Were they talking about me? Were their lives extraordinarily fabulous? The answer usually
seemed to be yes. Perhaps I was paranoid, but at the time I was insecure (and immature).
Towards the end of middle school and upon my emergence into high school, Myspace
was was no longer “cool” because a newer, bigger social networking site was on the rise:
Facebook. I remember it seemed so exclusive and out of my reach, like a country club only for
the rich and famous. Yet, with a simple online request to join the network of my upcoming High
School, I would be allowed into that club. I would enter the world of the elite. In other words, I
would be on the same social networking site as high school and college students. Nevertheless,
this was an upgrade to the big leagues. Little did I know that with just a click of a button, I would
join a virtual world which would influence the ways in which I view my friends, foes, and myself,
for years to come.
Before I introduce Facebook as a social phenomenon, it is important that I define and
differentiate the terms that are associated with such social networking sites. “Social media” is
defined as “a wide range of online, word-of-mouth forums” that encompass “numerous and
varied” outlets (Mangold and Faulds 358). Social media covers six different types of online
platforms: “collaborative projects, blogs, content communities, virtual game worlds, virtual
social worlds” and most notably “social networking sites” (Park Calamaro 257). Social
networking sites (SNSs) are specifically websites where users “create profiles, formulate
connections with others, and view content made by others” (257). Moreover, the term “social
network” is defined as “the connection and communication between you and the society” (Shah
7). However, as a result of “Web 2.0,” an “interactive, two-way vehicle for networked sociality,”
people online have begun to network similarly to the way we do in person, hence the name (Van
Deursen and Van Dijck 5).
Social networking sites are the newest “platforms of social oriented activity” which allow
users to display themselves publicly and engage in self-presentation to a public audience
(Lambert 251). I will be discussing the notion of self-presentation and its relevance to social
networking further in this chapter.
Functions of Social Networking Sites
When looking at the meaning of a social networking site, it is no surprise the term
suggests that people use SNSs in order to socialize with others. However, people have different
reasons and abilities of being social online, and often utilize different SNS platforms for other
opportunities as well.
For instance, the SNS Twitter is “centered around exchanging short messages that are
mostly real-time status updates, so as to create an „ambivalent awareness‟ of issues” (Kietzmann
et al. 244). Twitter‟s primary purpose is to promote instant conversation and gratification.
Conversely, blogs “are less about staying connected synchronously than about facilitating rich,
often lengthy conversations that can be traced back on the blog itself” (Kietzmann et al. 244).
Therefore, people have multiple reasons and motivations for using SNSs rather than “a single
reason as the most important” (Brandtzaeg and Heim 146).
The opportunity to reveal one‟s identity to the world is one of the main reason people use
SNSs. With the ability to disclose personal information and preferences, users can portray
themselves in particular ways (again, relating to the notion of self-presentation) (Kietzmann et al.
243). Another reason why people are enticed by SNSs is because such platforms provide a space
where users can communicate with others. Whether one sends a tweet, posts on a blog, or
composes a Facebook message, such actions lead to conversation (244).
One exceptionally common reason for using SNSs is to remain in contact with those we
cannot frequently see in person. It is now easy to “maintain off-line connections” with friends,
family, and acquaintances, “regardless of where they happen to be situated” with these websites
(Gustafsson 7). Because SNSs provide “new venues” for “relationship management,” individuals
can now engage in important social relationship maintenance, such as development, support, and
self-disclosure (Rice and Fuller 361).
In addition to assisting with relationship management, SNSs allow individuals the
opportunity to form new relationships online (Brandtzaeg and Heim 147). Virtual profiles serve
as “safe” environments for users to seek out virtual friendships and relationships because they
have the ability to “verify the person.” People who are in new relationships or seeking
friendships in new environments, such as college, are likely to use SNSs because of the ease and
accessibility of “meeting” people online (147).
Many people use SNSs for the purpose of socializing in a variety of contexts. With the
use of such sites, users can share their thoughts, make “small-talk” and even seek and provide
“social support on different issues” (Brandtzaeg and Heim 148). Socializing online provides
“self-confirmation,” allowing users to feel part of a bigger “community” (148). By gathering an
audience, users can gain self-esteem and popularity, or at least the perception of it (Lambert 12).
Also, SNSs are optimal because they allow users to communicate in “multiple modes”
(Boyd and Ellison 159). In other words, individuals have the choice to communicate “one-to-
many” or “one-to-one,” with “textual and media-based” content, and either in public or private
(159). These options allow users not only the ability to engage in sociality, but to do so
according to their personal preferences.
Besides socializing, people use SNSs with other intentions in mind, such as receiving
information, debating with others, free messaging (SMS), “time-killing” content sharing, profile
viewing, and “unspecified fun” (Brandtzaeg and Heim 148). Additionally, users often engage in
social activism and politics, especially since the elections in 2008. Also, users can stay up to date
on world affairs, with “news sharing, fundraising for causes,” and even global revolutions such
as during the Arab Spring (Kassim n.pag.).
Facebook is a social networking site where users create their own personal “profiles” and
join different “networks.” Facebook allows users to provide personal information, post photos,
list their hobbies and the “electronic groups” they belong to, publicly “record comments about
their feelings or activities,” send private messages to their Facebook friends, “like” what their
friends‟ post, and “tag” their friends in photos (Yang and Brown 405). To clarify, a “Facebook
friend” does not necessarily stand for someone a user is friends with in real life, but merely with
whom they are connected to online. Yet, “Facebook friends” usually also consist of “real-life
friends, relatives, and colleagues,” however, the term “friend” is a metaphor (Wittkower 18).
With all of these options and abilities to connect and share, the way we “communicate and
interact” has changed (Kirkpatrick 15). We have been affected on a consumer level in relation to
“how marketers sell products,” on a political level via “how governments reach out to citizens,”
and on a professional level with “how companies operate” (15). Although Facebook was only
created about a decade ago, as of the end of 2013, there are about 1 billion users on the platform
(Smith n. pag.). Moreover, out of those users, about 86% of the users live outside of the United
States, and 29% of users log on from Asian countries (n. pag.). Another staggering statistic is
that Facebook is the “second- most- visited site” on the internet, after Google, with 20% of all
1.7 billion people online worldwide using the platform (Kirkpatrick 16). It has been theorized
that this social networking site is “the fastest- growing company of any type in history,” and
Facebook continues to progress in popularity.
History of Facebook
Before I explain the current state of Facebook, I must first discuss the making of the
platform and recent history behind the site. The story behind Facebook‟s creation has been
discussed, debated, and even made into a feature film. Different assertions have been made
regarding whether or not former Harvard student, Mark Zuckerberg, was the sole creator and
mind behind Facebook. Yet, despite a lawsuit and settlement, Mark Zuckerberg remains the CEO
and founder of the Facebook organization.
Facebook started off as merely one Harvard student‟s “college project” at only nineteen-
years- old in 2003 (Kirkpatrick 15). A computer science major, Zuckerberg first made a website
for the Harvard community called “Facemash, a „Hot Or Not‟ clone” comparing the
attractiveness of different students (Carlson n. pag.). While controversial, Facemash was an
“instant hit,” making him somewhat of a campus “celebrity” (n. pag.).
With Zuckerberg‟s “knack for making software people couldn‟t stop using,” he continued
with computer projects and collaborations, and registered a website called “Thefacebook.com” a
few months later (Kirkpatrick 25-27). The site was similar to his “Facemash” project, along with
the already created Friendster network which allowed people to make personal profiles about
themselves for the specific intention of dating (27). However, Friendster‟s quick success led to
technical difficulties that made it “slow and difficult to use,” and thus was pushed to the side as
Myspace emerged (27).
Zuckerberg‟s initial intention was to “help people share more at Harvard,” explaining that
his desire was to create a platform where everybody “could get access to information about
anyone” and share anything (Kirkpatrick 29). “Thefacebook.com” went live February 4, 2004,
and only four days later, over 650 students signed up. Initially, only those with Harvard e-mail
address could join the platform, however the website quickly grew to include other university
students as well (Boyd and Ellison 218). Just over three months after it‟s creation, Facebook had
grown to 100,000 users at thirty- four schools (Kirkpatrick 34). Facebook‟s growth led to the
inclusion of “high school students, professionals inside corporate networks, and, eventually,
everyone” (Boyd and Ellison 218).
Zuckerberg succeeded in building a “technological powerhouse with unprecedented
influence across modern life” (Kirkpatrick 15). As a result of the massive growth and
opportunities associated with Facebook, there are clearly several opportunities available that
users can take advantage of. However, with opportunities comes risk and controversy as well,
such as with the notion of privacy.
Infringements on Privacy
While Facebook is known for it‟s various functions and abilities to connect the world, it
is also infamous for risking users‟ privacy. There have been criticisms of Facebook for being a
place where we reveal too much about ourselves. The Onion once wrote a humorous article
about Facebook, referring to the site as being a “CIA conspiracy” since it is so easy to spy on one
another with the mass amounts of information provided (Keen 28). While the Onion is a satirical
news source, the article indicates a real concern; our information on Facebook is easily
Creator Mark Zuckerberg once said that as a result of social networking, “privacy is no
longer a „social norm‟ ” (Clemmitt 83). Privacy is defined as “the idea that all people have the
right and should have the ability to determine for themselves who can see their personal
information” (89). While the creator of Facebook may see this privacy as a concept from the
past, others have reacted differently towards this new reality. Some analysts have argued that
“privacy protections are critical,” yet now SNSs such as Facebook are promised financial
compensation for selling users‟s “information for targeted marketing efforts and the like” (83).
Most users remain painfully unaware of how much their online activity is tracked despite
the growing abilities of companies to do so. In fact, a majority of Facebook users “perceive
benefits of online social networking as outweighing risks of disclosing personal information”
(Tello 207). A majority of users are unaware of the fact that their information is “stored and used
without any consent or knowledge.” This is called “Information Monitoring” (207). Several
“social media and data- analysis companies” collect data about everything users do on Facebook,
ranging from the articles they read, when they log online, and which events they attend to
(Clemmitt 89). Statistical analysts collect such data in order to “aggregate that information into
profiles” which different businesses can target with ads and campaigns (89). Politicians have
been known to use such techniques, such as Barack Obama, who used social media effectively
with his 2008 and 2012 online campaigns (86).
Privacy is also challenged when users apply for schooling or jobs. While in the past,
college admissions officers were only able to gain information “provided by applications or
available from public sources, such as schools or government agencies,” students are now
subjected to having their SNS profiles judged upon entering college (Clemmitt 89). One survey
studying medical school and residency admissions officers revealed that 9 percent routinely used
content from these sites to make decisions regarding administration, a staggering “53 percent
said evidence of unprofessional behavior found on such sites could jeopardize a candidate‟s
spot” (89). In relation to job- applications outside of school, there have also been numerous
incidents of “people losing their jobs because messages they had intended to be private turned
out to be public” (Wittkower 19).
The information that we post online is available for everyone to see, not only possible
employers or college admissions officers. Many news organizations do have “ethical guidelines”
for the material they find on SNSs; however, others treat “private individual profiles as
equivalent to press releases” (Wittkower 20). Therefore, anything a user may post online could
end up being covered by the news. There is no way to ensure that anything one posts online will
not be shared with others, no matter who the person is. Therefore, while users may not literally
be CIA agents, “everyone can become a secret policeman” in the world of Facebook (Keen 29).
Besides threatening our privacy, another growing concern with Facebook is it‟s negative
impacts on users‟ interpersonal relationships, concept of self, and identity, particularly in that it
can create loneliness. Mark Zuckerberg has stated he has instilled the second part to his five-year
plan so that by 2020, there will be a thousand times more information about each Facebook user
flowing through the site (Keen 65). Additionally, he claims that users will have a “device” with
them at all times which can automatically share such personal information. This has been
referred to as “Zuckerberg‟s Law” (66). While this may initially sound appealing, such a plan
could hurt us rather than help us. While Mark Zuckerberg stated his plan was to completely
eliminate loneliness, he may be contributing to it instead by giving users a false consciousness.
The internet and ability to converse online can cause loneliness because users become
desensitized to the fact that the relationships that exist on social networking sites are quite
different than those that take place in “real life” (Turkle 288). Because we are able to control our
interactions and always create new connections online, there is less consistency and overall a
quicker “pace” of relationships, exaggeration of stories, and a continual “adrenaline rush” (288).
Such agency to put our attention wherever we choose, the reassurance that our voices will always
be heard, and the assumption that “I share, therefore I am” can be detrimental (288). This logic
has led to an inherent sense of urgency to define all our thoughts and experiences, and always
have something to share. With so many people thinking this way and comparing their posted
experiences to one another, internet users sometimes even fake experiences just so they can
contribute (The Innovation of Loneliness).
Relationships that are developed and experienced in-person are not so one-dimensional
and nonsensical. Thus, the consequence lies in the fact that users try to “make life with others”
resemble cyberspace (Turkle 288). Online, it is very easy to “lose confidence that we are
communicating or cared for,” and therefore attempt to connect even more. We assume that if we
are connected, then we are not alone. However, this constant need and search for connection
makes us feel uncomfortable when we are actually by ourselves. Without realizing it, we become
“intolerant of our own company” (288). As a society, we have become disillusioned into thinking
that an increase in communication leads to a decrease in loneliness. However, this puts us at
“risk” because if we are not able to be alone with ourselves, “we‟re going to be more lonely”
As I reflect upon my Internet use, an array of memories and emotions come to mind. I
think of my ridiculous screen names I made as a child on Kids AOL, such as “soccericecream”
and “AmericanDude101.” I recall joining themed chat rooms, once conversing with people who
claimed to be witches and warlocks. I look back on my attempts at seeking support on message
boards when I was suffering from severe stomach problems in middle school, and finding the
solidarity in the public posts comforting .
Even more recently when I studied abroad for a semester in Denmark, I relied on
Facebook, Skype, and E-mail to stay connected with my family and friends. When I had
emergency surgery, it was a reassurance seeing my mother and father’s faces on my computer
screen, even if they were thousands of miles away. And with Facebook, my thirst for gossip was
quenched as friends gave me updates that seemed newsworthy, helping to quiet my insecurities
that I was missing out on any extreme excitement at school.
Yet, when I think about the Internet, I also get a tinge of anxiety as I remember the days
in middle and high school when I felt targeted on social networking sites. The memories of
seeing public posts clearly referring to me on Myspace and Facebook are all too clear.
Additionally, some of my darkest memories regarding my social life consist of horrible
conversations I had in online messaging platforms.I got into arguments and misunderstandings
with friends who became foes, and even worse, I was even bullied in certain instances. It seems
like just yesterday when an anonymous account messaged me in eighth grade and drew me into a
downward spiral of drama as they tricked and then harassed me. I remember crying to my
mother in my room unsure of what to do. I wanted to know who was behind the screen, and felt a
need to solve all of my problems online. What I did not realize at the time was that the internet
was the root of such middle school evil.
Before cyberculture can be defined, I must explain cyberspace and its dynamic history.
Originally, cyberspace was referred to as the “the world wide web,” a space where users could
find documents with hyperlinks, and send e-mails to one another (Dutton 76). However, over the
years, cyberspace has transformed to “Web 2.0” with the inclusion of social networking sites and
various online search engines (76). While cyberspace is a virtual dimension rather than a
concrete physical location, this does not take away from its validity. Cyberspace had been
previous described as being specifically a “virtual reality” as opposed to “real life,” yet as of the
early 1990s, scholars began to see its direct intertwinement with daily life (Shah 6). Thus,
cyberspace was seen as being interconnected with users‟ lives rather than a separate entity,
making the discourse regarding the “virtual-physical” dialectic irrelevant (6).
As users have become more reliant and connected to cyberspace, its impact and
relevance has grown over the years. Thus, our society has become part of a “cyberculture.”
Cyberculture‟s definition is a “world consisting of humans and machines where documents and
images are created by computer interaction” (Ulfo 140). However, cyberculture has become a
much more colloquial term used to describe the mass influence that both cyberspace and the
digital world has had on various aspects of our lives. “Critical cybererculture studies” looks into
the different facets of cyberculture, including “the social, cultural, and economic interactions”
occurring online (Silver n. pag.). Cyberculture consists of digital media, digital film-making,
film production, along with distribution and consumption (Silver and Massanari n. pag.).
However, more recent technology that has pervaded our culture include chat rooms, message
boards, instant messaging, video chats, blogs, online search engines, gaming sites, podcasts, and
social media networks (Ulfo 140).
While the world wide web was only developed in 1991, cyberculture has still managed to
spread rapidly on both a national and global scale. This is not because of coincidence, but
partially due to its convenience. For instance, “the spreading of telephone networks and
computer use” has allowed people across the globe access to the internet (Ulfo 140). Such
growth can be contributed to aspects such as low costs, a way to communicate “based on
conceptual straightforwardness,” instant gratification, complete with the ability to remain
While it is true that “today‟s „digital society‟ is comprised of those from every social,
cultural and age group,” some have easier access to cyberspace than others (Ulfo 140). The term
“digital divide” was initially defined as “gaps in access to a computer” and physical access was
key (Van Deursen and Van Dijk 893). However, while the “have and have nots” relate to having
“basic hardware and connectivity,” lacking tools such as digital skills and understanding also
contributes to digital inequality (Hargittai and Hsieh 131).
The issue of having basic computer technology and equipment is a relevant problem with
37% of low income households not having regular Internet access (Pskowski n. pag.). On a
domestic level, one‟s living environment can strongly affect their ability to use the internet
simply because of broadband access, or lack thereof. For instance, rural communities do not have
nearly as much broadband access as suburban and urban regions (Caumont n. pag.).
While Americans go without Internet access because of their specific living situation, this
compares only minimally to the stark disproportion on a global scale. In fact, “only a minority of
the population on our planet have access” (Graham, Hale, Stephens 1010). As early as the 1990s,
researchers noted the “unequal international spread” of the Internet, with less developed nations
having lower “rates of diffusion” than more developed nations (Dutton 133). The International
Telecommunication Union (ITU) studies such Internet diffusion trends across the world, with
recent findings in 2010 that certain European countries, specifically those in Scandinavia, and
Asian countries, such as South Korea and Japan, have Internet access in over 80% of the
households (133). Conversely, this figure drops a staggering amount in several South Asian,
Latin American, and African nations, even to under 5% (Dutton 133). The ITU also found that
there are “notable gaps” in broadband dissipation across countries, with under 1 broadband
subscriber per 100 inhabits in under developed nations, but 41 broadband subscribers in develope
countries like Sweden. Such inequalities and disparities can be contributed to the different costs
of Internet subscriptions in certain countries. For instance, while broadband access is affordable
to most in America, the monthly fee “can amount to large portions of people‟s earnings” in many
African nations. Overall, the global digital divide is a result of a country‟s wealth, the education
and literacy levels of its inhabits, governmental system, and “telecommunications policies”
In addition to the domestic and even greater global imbalances based on geographical
location, other factors play a role in the digital divide as well. Over the years, there is growing
concern regarding the digital divide pertaining to the possession of different “digital skills,” or
lack thereof (Van Deursen and Van Dijk 894). As a result of the widespread growth of Internet
use and cyberculture, our society has an increasing demand for users to skillfully navigate the
web. As the amount of information online grows, so does the dependency, thus such skills are
“vital assets” (894). The term “digital immigrants,” can be used to describe people new to the
Internet (Shah 24). These users have a type of “analogue „accent‟ ” in that they are in a “state of
permanent transition into the digital world,” not very comfortable with new media technology
and lacking fundamental skills (25). Different skills necessary for Internet use include
“operational skills,” which is basic knowledge of how to type and operate a computer,
“information skills” which is the ability to use the computer as a tool, and then “strategic skills”
which are the applications of basic skills in order to solve personal questions (Brake 11). There
are also three types of digital immigrants: The “avoiders” who live a lifestyle with minimum
technology, the “reluctant adopters” who attempt to use digital technology but are not
comfortable with doing so, and the “enthusiastic adopters” who embrace internet culture and
“have the potential to keep up with natives” (Zur and Zur n. pag.).
According to Pew Research, factors that contribute to the digital divide include age, with
adults over 65 consuming almost half of the non- Internet users (Caumont n. pag.). As mentioned
above, income and educational attainment also greatly affect one‟s internet usage. For instance,
only 4% of undergraduates do not use the internet as compared to 41% of those who do not
graduate high school. Finally, research indicates that adults with disabilities lack presence on the
Internet, along with native Spanish speakers, although various language options are often
available on computers.
While I have discussed the various ways and reasons in which people lack Internet access
or skills, I must note that this information does not take away from the strong impact
cyberculture has on Western societies. In fact, users rely on cyberspace at such a high magnitude
that cyberculture is impacting many interpersonal relationships.
The dependence and devotion people give to the internet can affect their social lives in
both a positive and negative manner. Studies have shown that compared to those who do not go
cyberspace, Internet users reportedly are more involved in the community and extracurriculars,
and thus are more “socially active” (Wittkower 67). Additionally, with the widespread use of
social networking sites and e-mailing, it has become easier for people to stay connected and in
contact, and thus can be correlated with improving “strong tie relationships” (67).
However, the increasing reliance on the Internet can negatively affect one‟s social life as
well. Often times users are online so much that they become “suburban hermits,” choosing to
stay at home rather than engage in any other activities. One study, conducted by Nie and Erbring,
found a negative correlation between the hours people spend online and the time they spend with
other humans (Wittkower 66). Their findings, which included a random sampling of household
users, concluded that in addition to a lack of social engagement, their interpersonal relationships
were challenged because if people are seemingly always on their computers, they are not going
to spend time or communicate with their family and friends face to face (66).
One platform that can be particularly destructive to users‟ relationships is Facebook,
because all of the interactions and updating solely exist online. This is a cause for concern
because such dependencies on social networking sites might make “face-to-face interactions
obsolete” (Wittkower 75). Moreover, if people feel so comfortable with Facebook that they rely
on the site as their main way of communication, their social lives could eventually dissipate (75).
For example, a 2009 Pew Research Report regarding “Social Isolation and New Technology”
found that members of social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, etc, are “26 percent less likely
to spend time with their neighbors” (Wittkower 67). Another study from MIT‟s Initiate of
Technology and the Self found that “perpetual networking activity is actually undermining many
parents‟ relationship with their children (67).
Another growing issue with cyberculture and its impact on relationships is the prevalence
of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can be defined as “deliberately using digital media to
communicate false, embarrassing or hostile information about another person” (O‟Keefe 801).
Different types of cyberbullying include ignoring, disrespecting, name-calling, threatening
others, and often times cyberbullies resort to spreading rumors or harshly picking on their
victims (110). Cyberbullying is often associated with youth and teenagers, and is now being
viewed as more detrimental than regular bullying. When victims are targeted by “traditional
bullying,” they are aware of who the perpetrators are. Additionally, such bullying often times
occurs on or around school grounds, making it easier to alert a member of authority (Erdur-Bake
111). While I am in no way condoning traditional bullying or undermining its pernicious effects,
I am simply emphasizing how such actions have now escalated with cyberculture. Because cyber
bullies can be anonymous, often time perpetrators feel a sense of “safety” because they do not
fear getting caught (111). Such perceptions of immunity can cause bullies to be particularly
ruthless and cruel.
Another large problem with cyberbullying is the difficulty in ceasing it. Because
cyberbullying is often “associated with computer literacy,” any skilled Internet user has the
potential to be an online bully (111). Additionally, cyberbullying generally goes unreported to
school administrators or parents for several reasons. Victims often fear “retribution” from bullies
and peers worry about their friends getting in trouble, like any other sort of bullying (Cassidy,
Jackson, and Brown 392). However, the difference lies in the fact that cyberbullying exists
outside of school property, so victims may question the school‟s responsibility and competence
in handling the issue, or even worry about having their internet access restricted at home (392).
Thus, this remains an unsolved problem primarily among young Millennials.
Clearly I have had both positive and negative experiences in my recent years online. Yet,
despite any dark memories that remain thanks to our lovely cyberculture, I believe I am still a
“social medialite.” In fact, I have even been appointed the “social media guru” of my Greek
group on campus (I am not sure if this qualifies as a legitimate leadership role, but I am proud to
hold this position). However, despite my capabilities, I am still often the brunt of jokes for being
such an active users. It is not rare that I will get a message on Facebook from a friend in the
library, telling me to get offline and do my homework.
While I am proficient in my ability to navigate the web, perhaps my friends have a point
in that I spend too much time in cyberspace. I seem to always be connected online to various
platforms, constantly multitasking. If I am on Facebook (which I probably am), it is likely I’m
also logged into Twitter, my school and personal e-mail accounts, with several other tabs open
on my browser. Such tabs could include news platforms and blogs, while I simultaneously listen
to music, and of course, attempt to do my homework. While often I brag about my abilitiy to
multitask, I also realize that such behavior is more than likely not efficient. My aforementioned
behavior has me wondering if am a product of my environment, or a rarity. And moreover, am I
inhibiting my productiveness in being so incredibly connected, or am I as skilled as I would like
While “Digital Immigrants” exist, those who are new to cyberculture or are negatively
impacted by the digital divide, so do “Digital Natives.” Digital Natives describe anyone born
after the 1980s, and therefore, have had computer access their whole lives (Shah 25). While I
previously explained that cyberspace is an environment which connects the online and offline
world, digital natives have trouble differentiating their true identity as a result. Because such
users “spend most of their lives online,” the lines between being on and offline become blurred
(Shah 26). Another term for Digital Natives is the commonly used phrase, Generation Y, or
People are fascinated with the current “Millennial generation,” also referred to as
“Generation Y” or the “Internet Generation” (Stein and Sanburn 34). There are dozens of
websites and sections of news publications devoted to Millennials, yet there is still confusion on
who actually makes up the population. While the term “Millennial” has several connotations, the
general consensus is that the generation consists of those born between 1980 and 2000 (34). Due
to cyberculture and social media, along with imperial globalization (the global expansion of
technology), Millennials around the world are quite similar to each other. As the “biggest age
grouping in American history” at “80 million strong,” my generation is truly influential over
others worldwide. The “Baby Boomers” were often called the “Me Generation,” and thus they
“produced the Me Me Me Generation” (Stein and Sanburn 34).
Millennials are said to always be interacting. However, most of the time these
interactions occur “entirely through a screen,” no matter where they are located (Stein and
Sanburn 3). More than 8-in-10 of Millennials say they “sleep with a cell phone” by their bed
(Malikhao and Servaes 68). Millennials also often experience anxiety about “missing out on
something better,” which is why 70% “check their phones every hour,” an even experience
“phantom-vibration syndrome” (Stein and Sanburn 3). They have a constant desire for approval
and fear of “missing out” (7). However, the constant need and search for “a hit of dopamine” has
been said to “reduce creativity” and the lack of face-to-face communication has caused low
“scores on tests of empathy” starting in 2000. Additionally, “higher degrees of narcism” have
been found, which I will touch on later.
Compared to previous generations, such as the Baby Boombers and “Silents,” Millennials
and Generation X are much more likely to rely on the Internet for news, as opposed to the
television or newspaper. In fact, according to a Pews Research study in 2010, they use the
Internet as a news source equal to or more than their elders used a combination of all other
platforms (Holcomb 39). Another staggering statistic revealing the contrast in generational usage
of the internet is the fact that Millennials are also 62% more likely to use the Internet “when not
at home or work” than the three previous generations (39).
The Millennial generation is obsessed with social media, with 75% of my generation
reporting to currently have a social networking “profile” (Crappell 2). While people have
different reasons and motivating factors for having social networking sites, whether it be purely
for “personal social interaction” or for a “personal/ professional hybrid mode,” the ability to stay
connected is a growing necessity for the business world, which is always becoming more
technologically dependent (Crappell 12). Thus, the millennials have a possible advantage on the
career front in this sense.
While Millennials are not the only people using social networking sites, they are the
group of people who are most familiar with potential risks. Despite younger Millennials being
victim to cyberbullying, a majority of Generation Y users are adept at protecting themselves
online. For instance, Millennials are well versed in using the various available privacy controls
for their profiles, and their knowledge of privacy infringement has created a useful “deep-seated
mistrust of the intentions” of these sites (Keene and Handrich 40). In fact, the tech savvy
millennial generation is considered more “diligent” than other older users in monitoring their
privacy whether it be with “controlling access to their profiles” or “deleting unwanted posts”
(40). Being born in the digital era has potentially given Millennials a leg up because they are
consumed with cyberculture, and thus can effectively navigate it. Overall, Millennials are a
condition of their society in that they have been bred to skillfully use the internet. However,
because there are so many millennials who are so adept at this, they are also raising the bar and
making such skills a necessity for other generations, who may be at an automatic disadvantage.
Millennials are changing the ideas and practices surrounding college life. The first of the
millennial generation went to college in 2000, and ever since then, “they have flooded into the
highest student reaches of academe” and “every aspect of university life has begun revealing a
new young- adult mindset” (Howe and Strauss 32). With a whopping 85% of millennial college
students saying that their degree is more important today than it was for their parents‟
generations, the pressure is on to stay successful and utilize all tools available (75). Thus,
because millennials are “coming of age at a time of unprecedented technological change,”
colleges have begun to take advantage of digital options.
For instance, many universities are putting course material online and establish
“bandwidth access” to other academic institutions, research bases, and government agencies
(188). However, the most indicative sign of the times is the less structured changes in university
policy and perspectives; professors are increasingly using social networking sites like Facebook
to allow connections with their students. College students use social networking sites for several
purposes, such as connecting with classmates, working on assignments, and now increasingly to
connect with faculty (Hrastinski and Aghaee 452).
Universities and colleges have been working to enhance “relationships between students”
and also “support staff through repeated interactions,” particularly with the use of academic
advisers (Amador and Amador 9). As a result of student demands increasing “through interactive
mediums” rather than “in-person advising appointments,” many professors have begun to
embrace “distance advising” (10). Such advising uses “electronic advising delivery,” which has
“less time constraints” for both staff and students (Amador and Amador 10). Because millennial
students “were born in the digital age and have been interacting with digital technology from an
early age,” it has become necessary to transform the “traditional-teacher centered approach to
learning,” to one that is more focused on the learner (which is the goal of a liberal arts institution,
like Wooster) (Sánchez, Cortijo and Javed 139). Thus, because students respond well to
cyberspace and social networking sites, these platforms can be used to enhance “learning
outcomes” (139). For instance, when advisers interact with their students on Facebook, students
can easily ask questions relating to their courses. This helps bridge the gap between the student-
teacher relationship, increasing “comfort” and “efficacy” (Amador and Amador 13). Thus,
because Millennials are familiar with digital technology and communication, professors can
effectively use websites like Facebook as a “tool” to communicate “interest and concern for their
students” (Sánchez, Cortijo and Javed 139).
However, while Millennial students can be positively affected by our cyber culture, many
professors also find the mass dependence on the internet as disadvantageous. David Ellis,
Director of Communication Studies at York University, finds that Millennials are
“hyperconnective” which makes “young adults „less productive‟ ” (Anderson and Rainie 28).
Teachers are also worried about the younger children of Generation Y, finding them harder to
teach because they seem to have difficulty with “connecting ideas” and “critical thinking” (23).
Millennials are often quick to rely on initial information they find online rather than extensively
doing research, because they can be quick to assume the internet has provided them an instant
“correct” answer without even checking the context (Anderson and Rainie 13). This hyper
reliance on the Internet has lead to a decline in reading, and instead an increase in merely article
skimming (23). Thus, students have learned that they can find whatever they need online
instantly, and therefore do need to apply effort or skill.
Focus is also affected for Millennials because they are so hyper-connected that their
“human attention and depth of discourse” has come into question (Anderson and Raine 11).
Many “young people tend to use home computers for entertainment” rather than homework and
learning purposes (Richtel n. pag.). Moreover, when they are using the internet for education,
“half of students from 8-18” have been found to be “watching TV or using some other form of
media” either “most” or “some” of the time they are working (n. pag.). Thus, their attention is
not undivided towards their homework. Overall, it can be concluded that millennials are more
concerned with instant gratification than being well-informed.
While many millennial students allow themselves to be distracted by all that cyberspace
has to offer, there are others who are aware of the risks associated with the internet. In particular,
many college students “opt out” of using Facebook and other social networking sites out of fear
of “academic failure” and viewing SNSs as “too time-consuming and distracting” (Turan,
Tiinmaz and Goktas 140).
Besides seeming too connected and less attentive, Millennials are often also associated
with being narcissistic. Narcissism can be defined as “the fascination with oneself,” with
narcissists usually thinking they are “better than others, inflate praise of themselves, and believe
that they are unique and special” (Leung 997). Typical behavior of narcissists include “self-
promotion, emotional coldness, duplicity, and aggressiveness” (2). According to the National
Institutes of Health, “the incidence of narcissistic personality disorder” is almost three times
higher for those in their 20s compared to those 65 or older (Stein and Sanburn 1). Additionally,
“58% more college students scored higher on a narcissism scale” in 2009, compared to in 1982
(1). College students with high narcism scores have been found to be “masters of promoting
themselves” online, gathering many “friends” and “highlighting their best qualities” (Twenge
and Campbell 110).
Millennials have “replaced blogging as their dominant mode of online self- expression”
with SNSs such as Twitter, Facebook, and even YouTube. Such platforms for self-expression are
used to promote and gain attention (Stein and Sanburn 120). Millennials display traits on social
networking sites that reflect narcissism, such as posting pictures that “only feature themselves”
and that are “negatively related to the extent to which they post pictures that feature others”
(Bergman et al. 707). Such vanity and self-promotion is highly indicative of narcissism. SNSs
are perfect platforms for narcissists because these platforms “allow one to have almost full
control over self- presentation and afford the ability to maintain social network bases” (Leung
However, while Millennials are very self-centered, it it must be noted that Millennials
may have such “perceived entitlement” because they have adapted to “a world of abundance”
(Stein and Sanburn 4). The Internet has “democratized opportunity for many young people,”
allowing them easy access to information that only the wealthy used to have. Thus, while
millennials do feel entitled, they are also likely to be more innovative with the available
technologies (5). Scott Hess, who presented “Millennials: Who They Are and Why We Hate
Them” at the TedX convention, made an an analogy stating, „Can you imagine how many
frickin‟ Instagrams of people playing in the mud during Woodstock we would‟ve seen?” (6) He
noted that perhaps Millennials are merely being blamed for the technology that they've had their
Every time I change my profile picture, I do so with my intended audience in mind. I
realize that my mother, professor, best friend, and romantic interest view me differently, and thus
I must find a way to appeal to them all. Yet, often times it is a matter of weighing what (or who)
is more important for me to impress. Do I truly care if my mother doesn’t find a picture
humorous that all of my best friends love? But what about future employers? Such depictions of
college-shennanigans may not be appear so amusing… That’s where privacy settings come in.
I would be lying if I said I’ve never posted a particularly flattering picture of myself to
get the attention of someone I was interested in (or even in a petty attempt to make one regret
wronging me.) A ploy to send the message: “You missed out! Take that! I don’t need you! Really,
I’m fine!” Everything I post on Facebook I do so strategically. It is not uncommon for me to
delete pictures and statuses minutes after I post them after reconsidering how people may view
them. I second-guess myself a lot.
I even think about what to post on Facebook when I’m not online. When my father sends
me an interesting article via e-mail, I immediately wonder if my Facebook friends would enjoy it
as well. If so, I’m likely to post it. Not only am I able to share something I find special with those
I care about, but I also get the opportunity to appear intelligent and well-informed. Bonus! In all
seriousness though, I do enjoy posting articles about issues I am passionate about. It is a way for
me to display what is important to me and tell the world what I value. And I can do so on a
platform without being silenced.
Yet, my openness regarding my personal beliefs stems from pride and confidence. There
are other parts of my life I am less certain or proud of, and thus less willing to share. I am
unlikely to post about a bad day, unless there is a way I can spin the experience into a positive
lesson. If only my life was a fable...
Facebook and other social networking site usage is heavily related to self presentation.
Self- presentation can be defined as “the process of setting forth an image we want others to
perceive” (Wood and Smith 47). In other words, we display an idealized version of ourselves and
act the role we want others to see.
Manipulating our identity is not new to western culture. In Fact, Shakespearean comedies
and tragedies represented these notions centuries ago (such as in Oedipus, which revolves around
the theme of misrepresented identities, or A Midsummers Night Dream with the presentation of
gender swapping). However, notable sociologist, Erving Goffman, extended on this idea of self-
presentation and theorized that “everyday life was a performance of sorts” (54).
According to Goffman, our behavior can be described as a “theatrical metaphor”
(Goffman cited in Wood and Smith 54). Moreover, we adopt “roles” when we know others are
watching, and the attempt to maintain those roles is called “face- work.” (54) Whether or not we
engage in face-work is determinant on who we are performing for and what side of the stage we
are on. When alone, we are at “back stage,” free to be ourselves without fear of judgement.
Usually, “access to the backstage” is limited to only “a very select and small group” who are
assumed to observe and not interrupt (Peluchette, Karl, and Fertig 293). When we are out back,
we, the “actors,” are permitted to “loosen some of [our] self-imposed restrictions, relax, and be
themselves” (293). However, once we are “onstage,” we interact in public or professional
settings, and thus must perform the roles we so desire others to see.
Self-presentation can be described by two different types of behavior,
“acquisitive and protective” (Rui and Stefanone 111). When people have a desire to be liked,
they present themselves by participating in “ingratiating behavior” (Sadler, Hunger, and Miller
623). Such behavior is acquisitive and is used for approval seeking, and thus presenters attempt
to “emphasize attractive aspects of themselves and construct desirable images” (Rui and
Stefanone 111). The other type of presentation, protective self- presentation, “is aimed at
avoiding disapproval” (111). Thus, presenters want to save “face,” and instead of enhancing
certain characteristics, they make “neutral expressions,” conform, and only engage in “modest
self- disclosure to avoid rejections from the audience” (111).
Often times, there is a tie which is between “self-presentation tactics” and “problematic
personality features” such as low self- esteem, self-consciousness, anxiety, and fears of “negative
evaluation” or even failure (Sadler et al. 623). Moreover, the manner in how one presents his or
herself can be affected by their personal concern with “public appearances, private identities, and
social anxiety” (Lee et al. 703). Thus, self-presentation is not dependent based on any on
characteristic or situation. Instead, it is “an activity that is shaped by a combination of
personality situational, and audience factors” (Schlenkler 498).
Self-Presentation in Cyberspace
Facebook and other SNSs are opportune spaces for engaging in self-presentation. For
instance, the ability to post photos, update profile information, and write public messages all
serve as opportunities to work on one‟s “face” (Seidman 402). Users who seek popularity and
approval will engage in “strategic self presentation” with the desire of enhancing their online
profiles (402). More often than not, identities that are “produced” on social networking sites like
Facebook are considered to be relatively “realistic and honest” (Chen and Marcus 2092). This is
a result of the extensive and unknown visibility of such sites, because if users fabricate their
online identity, they could easily be called out and “questioned” by their peers (Chen and Marcus
2092). However, many users “tend to stretch the truth” at least somewhat in the online portrayals
of themselves, such as by only posting flattering pictures of themselves (2092). While this is not
an active act of deceit, it is still an act of withholding truth.
While social networking site profiles are usually representative of one‟s true self, such
platforms can also be used to express “alternate” selves as well (Seidman 402). The Internet
allows users to “express hidden self-aspects” that they might not feel comfortable revealing in
everyday life (402). In fact, individuals are more likely to disclose information on the Internet
than any other communication platform (Chen and Marcus 2092). However, the Internet also
provides an opportune environment to display one‟s possible or “ideal” self (402). This often
times leads to deception, whether intentional or not.
Deceptive self- presentation is more likely to occur as the “function of the pressure to
engage in self- presentation” increases (Guadagno, Okdie, and Kruse 642). Individuals are more
motivated to present themselves in a certain way when interacting with others they are attracted
to, or when they perceive that their image has been threatened (642).
One context where deceptive self- presentation has been revealed to be prominent is with
online dating (Guadagno, Okdie, and Kruse 642). Research indicates that men are more likely to
deceive when seeking a potential date, however, both men and women engage in deceptive self-
presentation to enhance certain traits (642). For instance, of surveyed college students, men have
been willing to deceive in order to appear more dominant and resourceful online than they
inherently are. On the other hand, women are more likely to use deception for the purpose of
presenting their “physical appearance as more favorable than it actually was” (643). In typical
self- presentation, women have been known to alter their “self- reported sex role attitudes to
match the gender role values” of a perceiver they believed was a desirable man (643).
Unlike face-to-face communication, where an audience consists of individuals who
“interact with and can directly observe [our] behaviors,” on SNSs, an audience refers to one‟s
“online network members” (Rui and Stefanone 111). Different attributes of one‟s audience can
influence how they present themselves. For instance, users with larger networks are more likely
to be subjected to “other- provided” information, OPI, and thus must engage in more “protective
self- presentation to manage unwanted OPI” (112). Another factor includes “audience diversity,”
because if a user has a social network comprised of several types of relationships, such as “close
friends, family members, acquaintances and strangers,” this makes self- presentation more
complicated. Often times people present different sides of themselves to different people. Family
members may find posts inappropriate that friends deem acceptable (112). A way to engage in
protective self-presentation with a multiplicity of audiences is to “only disclose the information
acceptable to everyone in their networks, termed the lowest common denominator” (112).
Regarding a more extreme form of limited self-disclosure, there are people who engage
in drastic deception on Facebook and completely fabricate their identities. Such a phenomenon
has been represented in a documentary and MTV series called “Catfish.” This exposé depicts
people in virtual romantic relationships who have never physically met, however one person in
the dyad is secretly lying about their identity. The show seeks to expose the person who is
essentially presenting his or herself completely differently than how they exist in reality. For
instance, one episode features a young man talking to whom he thought was another, beautiful
young woman. Yet, she is actually a middle-aged woman lying behind a computer screen
(Kaufman n. pag.) “Catfish” has been criticized for being exploitative, however the show “raises
a number of incisive questions about social media, privacy and identity in the era of Facebook
and Google” (Kaufman). While instances of being “Catfished” are rare, there are severe
implications behind the occurances. “Catfish” reveals not only Facebooks‟ ability to connect
people and infringe upon users‟ privacy, but also depicts how people can lie in how they present
themselves online. Such deception may not be common, but alarmingly it does exist.
While some users do engage in deception or present themselves inaccurately, others
desire to portray themselves in accordance to how they identify in real life. One key aspect to
one‟s identity is their gender and sexuality. According to Judith Butler, gender is a performative
act (Butler 519). On Valentines Day 2014, Facebook provided its users with over 50 new gender
options, allowing a more diverse population to present themselves comfortably online (Griggs n.
pag.). While users previously could only be “male” or “female” online, the new options include a
greater array of descriptions. For instance, users can identify as “intersex,” “gender-fluid,” and
“transgender,” as well as “neither” (Griggs). Additionally, while Facebook previously would
assign feminine or masculine pronouns to users based on their names, Facebook now allows
users to choose. In other words, all Facebook users now have the option of being referred to as
“he” or “she” depending on their preference. These new options help Facebook appeal to a larger
audience, and has received wide acclaim. TIME Magazine refers to Facebook‟s new plethora of
options as a “Gender Labeling Revolution” (Richards n. pag.) This “Revolution” can be
tremendously helpful for transgenders and those questioning their gender and sexuality. Even if
one does not “check any gender box,” viewing the options is comforting and “less [isolating]”
Overall, I have discussed many significant themes that relate to my study. Facebook
cannot be understood without knowing the history behind the site, and the concept of social
networking as a technological phenomenon. Additionally, concepts such as cyberculture are key
to understanding Millennials, who are unique in many ways, particularly in that they are the only
generation who have always had Internet access. Finally, the notion of self-presentation is highly
important to understanding my independent study, because performances of self are given
constantly both on and offline. By writing narratives that correlate with different aspects of my
literature review, I hope that I provided not only information about my topic, but some insight
into why I believe each subsection is important. In the next chapter, I will expand upon my
methodology of ethnography and autoethnography, and explain the manner in which I will
conduct my study.
CHAPTER III: METHODOLOGY
I will be using two main methodological approaches in my study on Facebook;
ethnographic methods and autoethnography. By employing two qualitative methods, I hope to
get a multidimensional scope on both the perspectives of my participants and myself, in contrast
to not only one another, but to my scholarly research as well.
Ethnography can be defined as the study of people in naturally occurring settings or
'fields' by methods of data collection which capture their social meanings and ordinary activities
(Brewer 6). To clarify, ethnography is largely associated with social research as a qualitative
method (Hammersley and Atkinson 1). Specifically, ethnographic methods entail the researcher
engaging directly with the participants for an extended period of time, making observations,
conducting interviews, and collecting data (3). Typically, ethnographers utilize various data
sources, which in my case will be the interviews and online behavioral observations (3).
A key component to ethnography is that the focus is usually on a few cases, generally
fairly small- scale in order to conduct a conduct a comprehensive study (3). Accordingly, I will
be studying four College of Wooster students extensively, as well as carrying out a study of
Ethnographic interviews are unique in their construction compared to other types of
interviews. Ethnographic interviews should be primarily concerned with questions that seek to
discover the meaning individuals make of their experiences (Ortiz 36). Moreover, the reasons
and implications behind behavior. Ethnographic interviews often contain exploratory questions
that may not be well researched, with the researcher's intention to gain insight from his or her
participants that can provide critical information otherwise neglected from quantitiative research,
such as standard surveys (36).
When choosing participants for ethnographic interviews, the researcher must engage in
“purposive sampling” which entails selecting specific participants “who represent a broad
spectrum of experiences in the setting” (38). Doing so ensures that the researcher can “meet the
goals of the study and answer the research questions” (38).
Similarly to the method of ethnography which studies others, autoethnography is the
study of oneself. Autoethnography is another qualitative approach which allows the researcher to
analyze their own “personal experience” in the context of greater cultural phenomenon (Ellis,
Adams, and Bochner 273). Simply put, autoethnography uses a researcher's personal accounts
and perceived reality to reveal data and themes about a certain topic. This method is invaluable
because it provides the researcher the opportunity to produce “meaningful, accessible, and
evocative research” (274). While this approach obviously denotes subjectivity, emotionality,
and the researcher's influence on research, these aspects should not denounce the credibility of
autoethnography as a method (274). Rather, such a personal methodology provides honest
depictions and organic perspective which can be found in no other study.
Justifications for Methods
I submit that ethnography is the appropriate method for my study for the following
reasons: First, the nature of this type of research allows me to closely study a small number of
participants regarding their Facebook usage. This method enables a more comprehensive and
specific analysis compared with a quantitative approach, which would require more time-
consuming data collection from a greater number of individuals. The quantitative approach
would fail to allow an individualized examination of my participants, which is fundamental to
discovering the meanings behind their Facebook use. I am not interested in simply finding
common trends, but instead the meanings behind such trends.
Next, ethnography is apt for my study because the method allows me to employ different
tools in order to truly get to know my participants. First, ethnographic research entails
observations, and because I am currently “friends” with each of my participants on Facebook, I
have been able to access their pages. Thus, I have been taking notes on their posts and behavior
online, which has given me some background information regarding my participants before even
interviewing them. Additionally, since I have a limited time stamp to collect my data, it is
important that I use all of my available resources effectively to gain a thorough picture of my
participants' behavior. The ethnographic interviews allow me to not only characterize my
participants‟ Facebook usage, but analyze any implied meanings behind their thoughts and
actions. My interviews will give me the opportunity to grasp these implications in addition to my
observations of their behavior online. By combining in- person interviews and online
examinations of their profiles, I will be able to conduct a thorough analysis of my participants'
Finally, an expansive outlook on self- presentations and perceptions warrants the
additional method of autoethnography. Benjamin Franklin once said, “observe all men, thyself
most.” I chose this topic because I am very passionate and curious about Facebook use,
especially among Millennials, and I propose that there is no better subject for this study than
myself. By providing personal, honest pieces about my experiences online, I reveal a valid
perspective on how a millennial college student uses and is influenced by Facebook.
Additionally, by employing both ethnographic methods and autoethnography, I can compare my
experiences to those of my participants. Thus, providing me the opportunity to determine any
common themes in our behavior and thoughts, (or if I am in fact, an anomaly). I
must note that I was also inspired to use this research method because it granted me the creative
freedom to present my experiences as narratives. Doing so allows innovative and original, as
well as pragmatic.
For my ethnography, I will be studying four College of Wooster students, two male and
two female. I am intentionally choosing my participants based on the amount of time they are
online with Facebook messenger, the frequency of their profile updates, as well as the nature and
content of their postings. I have chosen my participants based on observing the behavior of
several peers on Facebook, and these four seem to use the various functions of the website with
different frequency. I am also purposefully providing a diverse selection of participants in
regards to academic major, personal interests, political views, race, gender, and sexual
orientation in order to reveal any possible overarching themes in regards to usage. If nothing
else, this guarantees a wide array of views and interpretations from my participants.
In order to maintain confidentiality, I will change the names of my participants so that
their identities remain confidential to all that read my study. Additionally, I will leave out any
details that would make my subjects easy to identify, either in person or online. In every one of
my interviews, I will record the conversations on my phone‟s “Voice Memo” application, and
transcribe each recording. The recordings and document will be stored on my computer until the
completion of my study. Thus, I will ensure that my participants‟ privacy is protected. My hope
is that this study will provide the research subjects insight into their own Facebook use and how
it may be impacting their relationships and perceptions.
In order to cary out my ethnography, I will conduct an in-depth interview with each
participant about their Facebook use. I will ask questions about their actions and preferences
online, such as how often they use certain functions, spend time on Facebook, etc, and then open
up the conversation for more perspective into the way they view and use the site. After my initial
interviews, I will request that my participants deactivate their Facebook accounts for one week,
unless there are any extenuating circumstances that require reactivation. After the one week
deactivation, I will conduct shorter, follow- up interviews asking about their experiences offline.
My intention is to discover how my participants responded to life without Facebook, and what
implications lie behind their responses.
In addition to conducting two interviews for each participant, I will be observing their
presence on Facebook. I will take notes about their usage before our interviews, to see how they
use Facebook without any influence or second thought. Then, after their deactivation and
reactivation, I will visit my participants‟ pages and record their online behavior. This will enable
me to notice if there are any obvious changes in their usage. With my interviews and online
observations before and after the deactivation, I will be able to see if their lives change even with
a brief absence from the social networking site, and by providing an array of portraits, I will be
able to compare and contrast the results of their thoughts and actions before deactivating, during,
Finally, as a part of my autoethnography, I will also deactivate my Facebook account.
However, I will change the requirements of my deactivation to include the deactivation of all
social media, not just Facebook- this includes my two other primary social media accounts,
Twitter and Instagram. For my week without social media, I will keep a journal documenting my
thoughts, experiences, productivity, and overall wellbeing. I will complete this portion of my
study before I make any initial contact with my participants. This guarantees that my reflections
are based solely on my own perspectives and not influenced by my peer-interviews.
After I conduct all of my ethnographic interviews and record the observations of my
participants on Facebook, I will look back upon my online behavior post-deactivation as well,
allowing me to observe myself. Then, I will reflect upon my journal entries in combination with
my new notes, and compare my deactivation and reactivation experience with those of my
CHAPTER IV: ANALYSIS
Upon looking at my interviews and observations, I noticed some common themes among
my participants. While I only interviewed four students at the College of Wooster, they each
revealed varying patterns regarding Facebook, as relayed in their usage and discussion of the
social networking site.
By conducting extensive interviews, I was able to compare and contrast my four
participants not only with one another, but with myself. Since I combined ethnographic methods
with autoethnography, I was able to look at my own notes about the deactivation after I
interviewed my participants about their usage and deactivation. Thus, I could see where the
similarities and differences exist.
Accordingly, I have split up my analysis into four parts. First, I will provide portraits of
my participants, in addition to myself, giving some background information. Second, I will
examine what I learned about my participants in terms of how they use Facebook, and
incorporate the scholarly work that explains such actions and rationalizations. Third, I will
discuss the deactivation process among my participants, and analyze how their experiences
matched up with their predictions. Last, I will reveal writings from my own deactivation
experience, and tie the overarching similarities of my experiences with theirs.
Ted has around 450 Facebook friends, and has had his account since the beginning of
high school. While a self-proclaimed very active user, the frequency and intensity to which he
uses Facebook has varied throughout the years. Ted is impressively self aware and describes his
own usage with incredible sagacity. He recognizes his media consumption and is conscious
towards not only what he does online, but the implications of those actions.
As of recently, he describes Facebook as being benign, but admits that this is only a
recent change as a result of an improvement with his social life and state of mind. Ted struggled
emotionally last semester, and consequently spent more time on Facebook. He attributes his
copious usage to the fact that he had gone through a breakup and all of his closest friends were
abroad. The sense of alienation kept him active on Facebook as he sought connection with
others, but now that he has a new partner and his friends are back at school; therefore he has lost
the compulsion and need to go on the site.
Like many others, Facebook allures Ted because of the ease that comes with being
removed from the physical context of communication; that is, the ability to speak without being
bodily present. Ted is much more comfortable sharing certain parts of himself on Facebook, and
believes this relates to having dealt with mental illness and social anxiety. Ted explains that
Facebook provides an environment where its easier to express oneself compared to offline
environments, which can be awkward.
When Ted is on Facebook, he usually posts status updates about mundane tasks with a
humorous and ridiculous twist. He confesses that if someone only knew him by his Facebook
identity, they would probably find him very bizarre. He admits to being more relatable in real
life, but finds humor and amusement in his creative hum drums, many times regarding food.
Besides the occasional Facebook stalking, (a colloquial phrase used by many millennials to
describe obsessive viewing and searching of peers‟ profiles), Ted currently uses the majority of
his social energy for spending time with his inner circle of friends.
Thus, Ted no longer goes to Facebook in times of loneliness, and admits that Facebook
has contributed to it in the past. Ted believes that going on Facebook in times of loneliness is a
self-fulfilling prophecy: If he is online and making himself available, and people do not contact
him, negative feelings only grow. He has realized that sometimes it is better to just turn off the
computer and acknowledge the fact that if somebody wants to reach him, they will. As a result of
this realization, Ted has few qualms about deactivating his account for a week.
Kyle currently has almost 2000 friends on Facebook, which he has accumulated since the
beginning of high school around 7 years ago. He too describes himself as a heavy user. Kyle
primarily uses Facebook for the purpose of staying connected with friends via Facebook Chat.
Although Kyle uses the other functions available on the site, it is mainly the messenger function
keeping him on the website. Unlike most, Kyle rarely updates his profile, and can be seen having
the same profile pictures for months at a time. Likewise, he only changes his status once in a
blue moon. Kyle is not too concerned with his privacy as a result, because he does not have
much posted content to filter through.
In Kyle‟s opinion, Facebook and the reasons why one uses it are personal. He agrees with
Mark Zuckerberg in that privacy is no longer a social norm because while he may not post much
about himself, others post pictures of him regardless. Additionally, while Kyle does not use
Facebook much for stalking or for FOMO (fear of missing out), he appreciates the convenience
and ease in communicating with those he might not otherwise be able to, particularly those he
met abroad. Because Kyle is a very sociable and popular person, he is often engaging in multiple
conversations with different people. However, because Kyle has a girlfriend, he is aware of the
complications that can arise with communication through Internet. He is very conscious of who
he contacts and how, and does so with an obvious intention of not being creepy. In this day in
age of technology, Kyle recognizes that saying hello randomly to someone in person vs online
often has different implications and suggests different intentions.
Because Kyle does not have much about his personal life presented on Facebook, this
includes his romantic life as well. He does not have himself listed in a relationship on Facebook-
he does not want to worry about any awkwardness that could ensue if they were to break up for
some reason. Kyle is wary because he has actually dealt with the drama and ramifications that go
along with Facebook relationships before. Upon entering college, he had already broken up with
his girlfriend. Yet, because he was the first one to make the breakup Facebook official, drama
erupted as he learned this upset his ex girlfriend greatly. Additionally, because Kyle does not
typically post pictures of himself or with friends, he does not post photos with or of his girlfriend
either. According to Kyle, solely displaying pictures of his romantic relationship online would be
qualifying it as superior to his other relationships.
Kyle is acutely aware of the differences that occur in communication styles between
online and offline environments. He believes that social media communication allows users extra
time to plan out what they are going to say, making the conversations more calculated, and thus
less natural. He considers this a downfall to Facebook which plagues Generation Y.
Kyle does not believe his profile is an accurate representation of who he is, but instead a
very minimal and vague protrayal. He is also cognizant that profiles of others do not signify
their entire character either. However, Kyle stands out in this respect in that while he may be a
minimalist in terms of Facebook postings, others seem to make posts and updates that, according
to Kyle, make them seem larger than life.