Express Yourself: Facebook and Teen Identity Formation


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Confession: 90’s pop music was is my jam. I may or may not still tune into the blissful harmonies of *NSYNC and reminisce about Britney Spears’ glory days. While I am coming clean, I recently starting running again after a 4 year hiatus. Thanks to the information provided by the Nike + GPS app, I learned you apparently do not pick up where you left off.

Although appearing to be a cathartic relief, I just shared those oh-so-flattering tidbits to showcase how as a 23-year-old, I am sometimes still embarrassed by my music choices and dwindling athletic prowess amongst other things. I can only imagine how my angst-ridden teenage self would feel about sharing these ‘offline’? activities with the online world.

A few weeks ago, Facebook made that concern a reality with the unveiling of 60 frictionless sharing apps ranging from Pinterest to LivingSocial to Foodily.

A blog post announcing the new feature stated, “You can now enhance your timeline with apps that help you tell your story, whether you love to cook, eat, travel, run, or review movies.” Using Facebook’s Open Graph platform, any brand can now build an app that sits in a user’s timeline and lets their friends know what they are doing. Facebook has wisely given users control over who can see their app activities.

As with the existing Spotify app, updates will appear in their friends’ tickers and news feeds. Discovered a recipe for Mac n’ Cheese topped with Corn Flakes (a personal teenage favorite) on foodily, now you can share this discovery with friends on Facebook since the app integrates with timeline to appear in the ticker and newsfeed stating “Katelyn is cooking Mac n’ Cheese on foodily.”


What does this blur between the offline and online world mean for teens?

As stated in our Psychology of Social whitepaper, Danah Boyd, a Senior Researcher at Microsoft hypothesizes that teenagers incorporate the use of social networks to facilitate identity formation, establish social status, and as a means of communication. Even in creating a profile, Boyd points out how teens are working towards establishing an identity and once the profile is established, teens monitor its contents to manage its (and their) appearance to peers.

James Marcia, a developmental psychologist from Canada, supports this notion of crafting an online identity. Marcia defines identity as “constructed rather than societally imposed.” This definition lends credence to the idea that adolescents may create a separate identity online than the one they have in real life.

So, while this integration may appear a little big brother-esque, teens will have to go through one more hurdle to create and manipulate the identity they want to convey to others online ‘ actually living that identity offline. Therefore, this integration could lead to a healthier development and platform to truly “express yourself.”

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