Recently I was invited to speak to a group of local year 12 (completing) high school students about social network sites. I suppose I was asked to speak to some of the ‘dangers’ associated with young people and the social web, but that’s really not my bag (and I think young people hear way too much of that) so I decided to take another route, and spoke about how identities can be managed on the social web.
It was a bit of a challenge for me speaking to a group of high school students. There isn’t a big age difference between a room of high school students and a lecture theatre of first year uni students, but high school and uni are very different places. The last time I spoke to a group of high school students was when I was in high school, probably giving a farewell speech on behalf of my cohort at a graduation ceremony (I was the school captain, #nerdlife). This time I was not only talking to these students about the nuances of how identities can be managed on social network sites (audience segregation, impression management, etc.) but the subtext was that I was a uni lecturer and I was giving a ‘mini lecture’. It was a strange experience, but the students listened carefully for the half hour or whatever it was, and they had lots of questions at the end. I hope more high schools will be open to having these kinds of discussions in the future – I think it’s pretty vital.
What I found in talking about my own research (transcript extract in slides below) and some of the great research Pew has done on impression management, was that these young people knew (to differing degrees) about how to manage a sense of self online, but they didn’t really have the language or the capacity to explain to people (adults, teachers, parents, etc.) that this is what they were doing. So rather than getting exasperated when confronting negative discourses and moral panics about how and why young people use the internet, maybe they can use some ideas like ‘audience segregation’ and ‘impression management’ to articulate a response.