People are using media more than they sleep and social media are a major factor in that use. People at different life stages and from different generations are often understood to have fundamentally different patterns of digital communication, often across different platforms. Many have argued that Facebook is important for the presentation of self, for “Facebook official” public declarations of romantic commitment, for connectivity, for news and for emerging articulations of public engagement (e.g. Gershon 2010; Robards and Lincoln 2016; van Dijck 2013; Ito et al. 2010).
It is clear that social media, dominated by Facebook which currently has 1.86 billion monthly active users, informs almost every aspect of active internet users’ lives (correct as of Dec 2016). However, despite the uncontested size and scale of Facebook, many debate the role of Facebook as in users’ lives and as the leading example of platform capitalism (e.g. Kingsmith 2013; Bajarin 2013; Shirky 2008, 2001; Fuchs 2014; Miekle 2017; Jenkins et al. 2016; Srnicek 2017).
In addition, Facebook is continually changing, from its original closed web-based social network site it was in 2004, to a complex, mobile-first, cross-platform and integrated service. This means that the Facebook of yesterday, is not the same platform, with the same patterns of connection of today.
This research takes up this question, asking what is the role of Facebook in young adults lives? How do people make sense of Facebook and how does it inform their communicative patterns? How have these people’s views on and relationship with Facebook changed over time? In order to answer these questions, we have conducted longitudinal research beginning in 2013. This research consisted of an audit of respondents’ social media use and explored the meaning of Facebook to our respondents in focus groups with 45 students aged 18-29-years-old. In 2017, we approached the same respondents, conducted a social media audit and interviewed respondents in order to understand the role of Facebook in their lives over time.
In 2013, 83% of our respondents felt that Facebook was important to them, expressing highly emotive and extreme descriptions of their relationship to it, often marked by like “love”, “hate”, “fear” and even “power”. Notably, Facebook’s importance was not always viewed as positive. Respondents claimed that “Facebook is a necessary evil in a way”, that they “feel obligated” and even that they “hate it with a passion”. This emotive framing of Facebook highlights some of the tensions associated with heavy investment into a platform deeply embedded in their personal lives. In addition, while many value the ease of networking and perpetual contact enabled through Facebook, many also note the coercive power of Facebook to enable a kind “compulsive connection” not only to others but also to the platform. Four years, later, we compare and analyze how this same group of young adults, now aged 22-34, what has changed about their use, understanding and experiences of Facebook and social media more broadly.
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Dr Zoetanya Sujon