Recent National Girls Institute (NGI) listening sessions conducted by staff from the NCCD Center for Girls and Young Women with justice-involved girls piqued our interest in the impact of social networking. The young women engaged in an intense discussion around what is being put on Facebook about them and how these posts result in fighting. The girls reported Facebook “is used to spread rumors,” “ruined friendships,” “results in bullying,” and that “girls mean to hurt other girls” with their Facebook activity.
In the last five years, social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace have become wildly popular among American adolescents. The ubiquitous nature of these sites has caused social interactions, communication, and relationship styles to evolve in a very unique way. The data indicate that girls use social networking sites at a higher rate than their male peers (Tiggemann & Miller, 2010). In fact, by 2011, female Facebook users of all ages outnumbered males by 12%. Specifically among the 14 million adolescent users, 53% were female users compared to 46% male and 1% unidentified users. Contextualized by the sociological research that suggests females tend to be more focused on relationships and relationship building than men, it is no surprise that females spend more time on social networking sites, like Facebook, that facilitate and foster relationships (Stafnone, Huang, & Lackaff, 2011). As such, it becomes prudent to examine the ways in which these sites specifically influence and impact girls.
Some research has emerged about gender differences in use of and experience with social networking. Males usually spend more time online “on sports-related activities and playing video games,” while females frequently use the site to “avoid isolation and build a community of support (Stafnone, Haung, & Lackaff, 2011).” Girls frequently are both the agents of the bullying and the victims. A Washington Post article suggests that girls are more likely than boys to partake in and experience cyber-bullying.
In addition, Facebook and other social networking sites appear to place undue pressure on girls. Adolescent girls spend a substantial amount of time looking at the pictures and information on their Facebook profile pages and analyzing posts and comments. “This constant analysis of the profile page can intensify an adolescent girls’ dissatisfaction with herself and the anxiety from Facebook can lead to depression” (Tiggemann & Miller, 2010).
Given the prevalence of social media sites, it is critically important to research the relationship between social media and bullying, and for whom this relationship is strongest. Research can also provide opportunities to learn how to expand the positive use of this technology.
What trends are you seeing in your community and/or in your work with youth?
Is social media a problem for the young people you know?
How often do you hear about a post, comment, or a picture on Facebook?
Are you seeing new behaviors (e.g., internalizing/externalizing/sexual) or mental health consequences related to Facebook activity?
How can the positive power of social media, such as using it as a buffer to isolation, providing social support, building relationships, and giving a positive “voice” to young people be expanded?
What would be helpful to you in learning more about trends and/or how to monitor the impact of social networking on the youth you serve?
MacDonald, G. (2010). Cyber-bullying defies typical stereotype; Girls more likely to engage in new trend, research suggests. The Washington Post. Available at: http://ww2.fairfaxtimes.com/cms/story.php?id=2078
Stefanone, M. A., Huang, Y. C., & Lackaff, D. (2011). Negotiating social belonging: Online, offline and in-between. In Proceedings of the 39th Hawai’i International Conference on Systems Science (HICSS-39), January 4–7, 2006, Poipu, Kauai.
Tiggemann, M., & Miller, J. (2010). The internet and adolescent girls’ weight satisfaction and drive for thinness. Sex Roles, 63: 79–90.