Is social media making me meaner?

I was chatting with a colleague earlier today and he asked for my input on something he had recently heard. Basically, he suggested that social media is making the population snarkier. The reasoning goes a little like this:

(1) If we assume that the reason most people post status updates, comments, Tweets, etc. is to get attention, and

(2) If we assume that snarkiness is more likely to get attention than otherwise banal posts, then

(3) Logically, people should be increasing the snarkiness of their postings.

Since I am rather obsessed with observing these media outlets, my friend asked if I had noticed this. And I had to really think about it. The logic does have a degree of face validity. It makes me think of Generation Me, a book I bought a year or two ago that I still haven’t read (I’ve been busy!). The book looks at people born after about 1970: a generation of people who are more self-absorbed and have less respect for others than their forebears. For the me generation, it often is about “me, me, me,” and social media support the projection–and sometimes shouting–of that individual’s identity throughout the world.

Look at Twitter. I will admit I am an avid user, and I use it for a variety of purposes, from keeping in touch with friends to posting news links to venting frustration (in 140 characters or less!). But if we break Twitter down to its most basic question–What are you doing?–it perpetuates the idea of me! Me! ME! The same can be said of Facebook status updates, which can be updated innumerable times a day if one so chooses.

But moving back to the question at hand, I have a hard time believing that social media are reshaping users’ identity in such a way as to make them snarkier, meaner, or posting solely to get attention. Obviously, these sites let users play with identity in a way that is more difficult–or even impossible–in an offline interaction. But why be mean to a friend on these sites when they know where you live? With Facebook at least, a key difference in these interactions from more anonymous sites is that the vast majority of Facebook “friends” constitute pre-existing offline relationships (see Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007 for empirical support).

We can also look to other forms of media as introducing snarkiness into our daily lives. The two examples that pop to mind immediately as homes of snarky content are someecards and lolcats. So then, the question becomes: are sites like these a response to increasing snarkiness or are they making snarkiness more acceptable? Or both?

For me, the most basic question I come to is, Is snarkiness even a problem? I am about as snarky as a person can be, but I generally constrain my snarkiness in such a way as to make it clear that it is a part of my sense of humor and not a comment to be taken seriously. I also find myself evaluating my relationship to the individual before commenting on a photo or status update or responding to a tweet, and the snarkiness only comes out when I know the person will appreciate (or at least understand) the joke. But do I do it to draw attention to myself? Without probing too deeply into my subconscious, I would say not really.

So while I think this rationale for posting is feasible, at this time I don’t think it is necessarily the case. As ubiquitous as they are, SNSs still have something of that new car smell for many users, who still get excited when they find an old friend or when someone posts a picture from back in the day. People are genuinely interested in the conversation and interaction, much more so than getting their 596 friends to notice them. While I hate the saying, “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar,” it is true for many people. Then there are people like myself and several of my friends, who gauge the closer of our relationships by how deeply we can insult each other (it’s harmless fun, I swear!).

Regardless, I think I’ll be taking a closer look at my Live Feed over the next week to see if any patterns of postings jump out to support this idea.


C’mon ladies, let’s get posting! — Gender gap applies to Internet creativity

New research out of Northwestern confirms what should be no surprise to most Internet users — men are more likely to share creative work online than women. While nearly two-thirds of men and women in the survey report that they participate in creative work online or offline, the gap emerges when considering creative work such as videos, photography, writing and the like that is posted online.

There are many possible reasons for such a gender gap. The one that jumps to my mind immediately lies in the differences between 18-year-old boys and 18-year-old girls (the respondent base was 1060 Northwestern freshmen). Boys at that age, to put it simply, have no shame. When I think of all the videos on YouTube of college-age guys performing “stunts” and the like, it completely dwarfs any videos from girls that age. Furthermore, girls at that age are very conscious of the image they present to others, and are likely to focus more on how they look and who their friends are then how popular their blog is. Eighteen is not exactly the most popular age for girls to go techy.

Another area this research touches on is perceived knowledge of the Internet, and specifically of the ways in which users can post their creative works. While sites like YouTube make posting videos as easy as pie, the idea of posting video will intimidate girls much greater than boys, who are more likely to spend the time figuring out the technology. This goes hand-in-hand with the (somewhat justified) idea than men are more technologically inclined than women. Research (including my own) has shown that women like using the Internet to communicate with their friends and use sites like Facebook more often and for longer periods of time than men. But once you enter the more technical side of the Internet, it is far-and-away a male dominated world. I read a lot of technology-based blogs; when you consider contributors, men outnumber women at least 3 to 1, and probably by a lot more.

A final consideration for why men are more likely to post content than women could be privacy related. As my research (among others) has shown, women are much more likely to be concerned about their privacy online. This is probably a result of early-on scare tactics that suggested that there were legions of men prowling the Internet looking for young girls to prey on. I guess it wasn’t such a bad thing really. I had many a run-in during the late 1990s with rather, um, direct men via AOL instant messaging. But there are certainly ways to share content online without revealing intimate details about your life.

I may not be a programmer or an expert on the Web, but I certainly know my way around the Internet and how various applications work. I am certainly adept at posting a variety of content online and can do so without having stalkers pop up at my front door. I think girls need to move past the stereotypes that science and technology are for men and get more involved in this thing we call the Internet.

Social networking site adoption worldwide

Here’s a great map showing which social networking sites are popular around the world, along with my observations:

1) Friendster is still popular in Indonesia, which reaffirms my belief the Indonesia is the location of Hades.

2) As per usual, France feels the need to be different that everyone else, and especially from the U.S. by using some service even I’ve never heard of. In addition, the bastards publish the map in French, as if anyone outside of France knows their language!

3) I know there are people living on Antarctica because I saw it on an episode of House, which is the end-all, be-all of fact. So why isn’t it on the map? Such discrimination against the largest continent.

(Addendum: I guess I shouldn’t hate on France too much since the map exists only because of the French. No wait, I can still hate on them. Ha!)