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Social Media Selves: College Students' Curation of Self and Others through Facebook

  • Author(s): Kasch, David
  • Advisor(s): Rhoads, Robert A
  • et al.
Abstract

This qualitative study used cyber-ethnography and grounded theory to explore the ways in which 35 undergraduate students crafted and refined self-presentations on the social network site Facebook. Findings included the identification of two unique forms of self-presentation that students enacted: a curated self and a commodified self.

The curated self was a digital self-presentation created through an ongoing curatorial process of organizing media elements within a Facebook profile to create a distinct digital embodiment of self that was both separate from and a continuation of a user's physical self presentation. This curated self included three layers of curation to address the multiple types of audiences students engaged through Facebook: a personal curation of content primarily for themselves, a social curation of content for connecting with acquaintances, family, and friends, and a spectacle curation of content for strangers and authorities to assess. Linking these three layers of curation together were four uses of Facebook: as entertainment, as a relational tool, as a pragmatic tool, and as a scrapbook. These uses and layers of curation all existed concurrently with specific variations for individual students.

The commodified self was an amplification of the curated self as an identity surrogate that was a resource and object for production, consumption, and distribution. These commodified selves emphasized identity and self as forms of capital that one owns, rather than what one "is" or "does." Within the commodified self there were three major foci of activity: self as commodity, others as commodities, and Facebook Citizenship. Key findings for these foci include the treatment of profiles as disinterested resources, an articulation of a continuum of creeping and definitions of good and bad citizenship.

Discussion of these findings addressed curated and commodified selves as parts of the individually and socially constructed nature of Facebook, as well as opportunities for faculty and student affairs practitioners to help students develop greater critical awareness of their self-presentations on and uses of Facebook. Implications for practice and future research included suggestions for campus climate initiatives, the development of online learning environments, and the application of student development theory to self-presentations on Facebook.

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