Commentary

Teens Hate Fakeness on Social Media, Are Fake

As most of you will recall from your own long-lost youths, teenagers hate fake people. While some might question their commitment to authenticity in our postmodern age, where meaning is constantly appropriated and reappropriated, they seem pretty sure about this hating fakers thing, so let’s just go with it. More interesting is the fact that they feel social media compels them to be fake too, according to a survey of U.S. teens and young adults conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Naver, a Korean Internet company.

Indeed, 69% of respondents said their friends weren’t being true to themselves most of the time on social media, and 57% wished their friends would be themselves more. 56% of college students said they would “defriend” someone who was being fake, while 47% of high school students would do the same. But at the same time 40% of respondents said they feel like they can’t be themselves online either. What’s more, 36% said they don’t believe there is currently a social media platform that allows them to fully express their real identities.

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Authenticity or no, social media isn’t going away, as three out of four respondents saying they spend the same amount or more time on social media as a year ago. However teens are becoming more measured in their usage, with two out of three saying they’re not sharing as much as they used to. That may be because four out of five think people in their age bracket are sharing too much in general.

And yes, they don’t like all the old people crowding into social media. Per the same Harris findings, one third said they had decreased their usage of social media sites after their parents and other older relatives showed up, and almost half said they would avoid posting something if there was a chance an older relative would see it.

This whole authenticity issue is obviously full of pitfalls. Previously I wrote about a study by researchers at Finland’s Aalto University, who found that social media users create an appearance of authenticity by being, well, fake. The researchers looked at user-generated content and interactions on Facebook and Last.fm, then asked users about their habits on social media, focusing on how their approaches to maintaining their profiles.

On one hand they “encountered a widespread disdain by users for what is known as profile tuning, or intentionally sharing content designed to depict the user in a false way,” reflecting “a common belief that sharing content in a way that is considered to be excessive, attention seeking or somehow portrays that individual in a fake manner is judged extremely negatively.”

At the same time, “While social norms required individuals to be real in their sharing behaviour, presenting oneself in the right way through sharing often necessitated an element of faking.” For example on Last.fm, “We found that it was not uncommon for some users to purposely choose to listen to, or indeed not listen to, particular music according to the image that that individual wants to portray to others.” Similarly, while Facebook users expressed disdain for “profile tuning,” they readily admitted to selectively withholding information in order to control their image -- in other words, profile tuning by omission.

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