This report is a study of the identity negotiations of young active Facebook users through their online significant others. The following research investigates the identity negotiations in the life of a Facebook user. The important research question is ‘how’ a young active Facebook user alters or extends his circle of significant other. Significant other implies a person whom one looks up to for affirmation or negation.  It is assumed that the online activity of an individual varies on the basis of ‘age’ and ‘phase of life’. With respect to the data collected and analyzed from intensive interviews, it was interesting to observe that the process of significance developed between the user and his significant other primarily due to Facebook chats. Some of the respondents preferred virtual communication over face to face conversations.

Facebook events and messages were extensively used by the users for effective computer mediated communication. It was also found that girls were active on Facebook for social browsing and social searching, while boys generally looked at Facebook as a networking tool. Also girls were more active in expressing their state of mind as compared to the male counterparts. These findings were later correlated with NEO-PI-R personality test to bring objectivity to this study.

Introduction

Hangouts’, ‘Twitter’, ‘Instagram’, ‘What`s app’, and ‘Facebook’ aptly describe the normal life activities of a young person living in these modern techno savvy era. Marshall McLuhan in the year 1967 had rightly predicted the impact of internet on today’s age and had invented the oxymoron ‘global village’. So it is not uncommon, to see Hangouts replacing face to face communication, Facebook displacing personal diaries and twitter being the new newspaper of Generation Y.

In the modern age of science and technology the role of Social networking sites (SNS`s) as a medium of communication is an important area of interest for many researchers and academicians. Research suggests SNSs have a much deeper meaning for this generation Y than the rest of society (Boyd, 2008; Palfrey & Gasser, 2008 as seen in Farquhar, 2009 Identity Negotiation on Facebook.com).

The term “significant other” was coined by Harry Stack Sullivan, who identified significant others as those who directly socialize the person to whom they are significant. Sullivan (1940) and George Herbert Mead (1967) suggest that socialization relies upon a person’s considering the other’s view of himself or herself as important.

The Study

The researcher aimed to understand identity negotiations taking place in the life of an active Facebook user when he/ she had an online significant other. (The online activity of people who are friended on Facebook). Significant others are those persons who are of sufficient importance in an individual’s life to affect the individual’s emotions, behavior, and sense of self. To understand the aim more comprehensively, the concept of identity formation is explained below.

Identity Formation: In Adolescence

Identity is developed by the individual, but it has to be recognized and confirmed by others. Adolescence is thus also a period in which young people negotiate their separation from their family, and develop independent social competence (Buckingham, 2008 as seen in Introducing Identity). The assumption for this study was that the online activity and identity of a 17 year old boy will be different from a 28 year old professional.

Background Literature

The affect of CMC on the nature of interpersonal relationships has been an intensively researched topic in the academic discipline of Communication Studies. Boyd (2004, 2008) analyzed the role SNSs play in the daily lives of teens. Turkle (1995, 2004) analyzed how technology shapes the individual’s sense of self. Hodkinson (2006) and others examined how subcultures can thrive online even when non-normative behaviors thereof are continually rebuked in daily interactions. In all these cases, the daily living of the individual with the technology is crucial. It is not that we live separate lives, one in the technology, and one in the “real” world. Rather, it is that we live lives with a mix of interaction-types (Altheide, 1999; Boyd, 2004). The study of Facebook can help illuminate this intersection.

Frazzled By Facebook, An Exploratory study of gender differences in social network communication among undergraduate men and women’ authored by Sharon H, Thompson(2010) interestingly states that women generally use language skills to their advantage and it is believed this evolved from a survival advantage.
The researcher has reviewed a research article authored by Suresh Kalyani (April, 2013) ‘Social Media Participatory Cultures-A Study of the dynamics between user personality and Facebook use’. The article emphasizes about the Uses and Gratifications theory suggesting that people have different socio-psychological traits, which may affect the way and the reasons for using social networking sites.

The researcher has also reviewed the book Alone Together (2011) authored by Sherry Turkle, which has guided researchers and students undertaking project on CMC and interpersonal communication. Important points taken from the book were as follows:

  • On Social Networking Sites such as Facebook we think are presenting ourselves, but our profiles end up as somebody else-often the fantasy of who we want to be
  • Online life provides plenty of room for individual experimentation but it can be hard to escape from new group demands, to be there always
  • Facebook is a world in which fans are friends. But of course, they are friends. They have been ‘friended’. That makes all the difference in the world
  • When identity is multiple in this way people feel ‘whole’ not because they are one but because the relationships among aspects of self are fluid and undefensive. We feel ‘ourselves’ if we can move easily among our many aspects of self (p.194).
  • “You have to give Facebook to get from Facebook”

Methodology

The research question here was ‘How does SNS extend or alter the circle of significant others in identity negotiations’. The research was inductive in nature therefore qualitative approach was vital. Firstly the researcher conducted an online survey as a preliminary method to procure data about the respondents. In order to get the amusing and amazing stories, the one-to-one interview was the best technique and was preferred over focussed group discussion. Hence In-depth Interviews was the research tool used in this study. Following were the important areas looked into by the researcher.

  • Personality traits related with Facebook usage.
  • Shaping and re-shaping of Identity by technology
  • The process of identity negotiations in the realm of social media.
  • Concept of online friendships.
  • Facebook usage based on age and gender.
  • Facebook features and its importance in a user`s life.
  • Facebook as a tool for social searching and browsing.

Sampling Issue

The above research demanded qualitative treatment. Non-probability sampling was used by the researcher. Purposive Sampling technique was used in this study. The respondents were selected on the basis of certain parameters which are mentioned below.

[Report] Identity Negotiations of Young Active Facebook Users: What does it mean?

Selection Criteria for Respondents.
(Framework designed by the researcher)

 

Results

After analyzing the profile, interviews and data of the respondents, the researcher identified certain results. The important offline connections on fb were immediate family members, siblings and relatives. Some of them even considered their school, society friends as important ones. Most of them expected ‘likes’, ‘comments’ from these people as their inputs, appreciation mattered to them. For better understanding, these results have been decomposed into smaller units.

Online settings of users

The respondents from the group one were prudent about the things they posted online. Girls generally had restricted profile, whereas comparatively boys had a more open to all profile settings. Hence it was inferred that boys have a high degree of Extraversion as compared to girls.

Facebook as a networking tool

Boys viewed Facebook as an excellent networking tool. In comparison girls had their own set of doubts to work with an online friend. These two different results can be related to NEO-PI-R test which revealed females had high degree of Neuroticism as compared to males.

Facebook Chat

Most of the respondents did not use messages as an option to initiate friendships online. Generally girls had customized their chat settings to have conversations only with selected people, while their male counterpart usually had their chat window ON to make their presence felt. This can be related to high degree of Agreeableness in females.

Reasons for friending strangers

Females added strangers on the recommendation of their friends, or some emotional connect. This behavior was not observed with males. One of the male respondent even said “It is good to know about new people, their interests and connect with them”.

Thoughts after meeting significant other

Some of the respondents had preconceived notions before meeting their significant others. Users had created a mental image of their friended friends. For some it was the mirror reflection for some a totally contrast image.

Concept of a person being significant to a user

Different aspects made a person significant to the user. Some users considered nature, trust, transparency as qualities which qualified a person to be significant. Some felt appreciation about each other`s work, mutual interests were important. A male respondent even said “For me generally girls become significant”.

Identity representation of significant other

It was observed that events and personal chats were among the top rated features of Facebook. Female significant others mostly had original photographs which suggested that women were ready to socialize largely on a virtual platform. Males had some inspiring quotes as their status.

Point of Connect

Mutual interests, authenticity, value for the person, interesting status updates were some of the common points of connect as reported by the users. It WAS fascinating to understand that relationships which were started with chatting are regarded as important ones in offline world now.

Inferences

The present study observed that Facebook as a SNS was used for ‘Social browsing’ and ‘Social Searching’. Online SNS may also serve for ‘social searching’- finding out information about offline contacts and ‘social browsing’- the use of the site to develop new connections, sometimes with the aim of offline interaction (Lampe at al, 2006 as seen in Joinson, 2007).

The study suggested that users expected appreciation from these people. These online contacts were the ones a user generally looked up for negation and affirmation. The Social Enhancement hypothesis is that those who perceive their offline social networks as well developed seek to enhance them by developing more extensive online social networks (Valkenburg et al., 2005; See also Ellison et al., 2007; Kraut et al., 2002; Walther, 1996 as seen in Zywica, J and Danowski, J 2008).

The online activity of both the groups varied as group one from 17-22 had more friends as compared to the second group i.e.23 to 28. ‘Age’ and ‘phase of life’ defined the online activity of the older respondents. Whereas reaching out to ‘maximum people’ and ‘continuous online presence’ were important of the younger ones.
Friendship is a flexible notion; peripheral friendships can grow into closer friendships on Facebook, which is a practical facilitator for friendships (Boyd, 2006 as seen in Barkhuus, 2010).
Facebook user`s developed rapport with their significant others after several meetings and extensive late night chats. Some users found a family member in his significant other, while others had connected on mutual interests.

Discussion

Limitations

For the present study, the researcher has relied on the intensive interviews for data collection. This method of intensive interviews has its own typical advantages and limitations. Overdependence on the interviewer for truthful answers and sometimes the interviewer uses the interview as an opportunity to vent everything that is wrong with the topic, putting the researcher on the defensive and hence the researcher has to sift through their remarks for constructive criticisms. However, the researcher did not attempt to bring objectivity anywhere in the research.

Future Research Scope

Potential researcher`s could look at content analysis of Facebook. They could also conduct an ethnography study understanding the user`s online behavior thereby understanding the identity negotiations. By studying the profiles of the user the researcher`s can look into the identity constructions.

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Writer|Tarot Card reader|researcher| foodie| warli painter| social media enthusiast. This research was a part of my master thesis. I worked on it for six months. I am gold medalist in Media Research Specialization for my course. I love staying updated with latest online trends. I find it very intriguing and fascinating. For this research I have extensively refereed Sherry Turkle`s Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology, less from each other.
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