Article: Robards, B. & Lincoln, S. (2017) ‘Uncovering longitudinal life narratives: scrolling back on Facebook‘, Qualitative Research, online first.
This article explores the potential role of sustained social media use in longitudinal qualitative research. We introduce the research design and methodology of a research project exploring sustained use (five or more years) of the social network site Facebook among young people in their twenties. By focusing on this group, we seek to uncover how ‘growing up’ stories are told and archived online, and how disclosure practices (what people say and share on social media) change over time. We question how we can understand the ‘digital trace’ inscribed through the Facebook Timeline as a longitudinal narrative text. We argue that ‘scrolling back’ through Facebook with participants as ‘co-analysts’ of their own digital traces can add to the qualitative longitudinal research (QLR) tradition. QLR and the scroll back method attend to a similar set of concerns around change over time, the depth of inquiry, and uncovering rigorous, rich life narratives. We explore limitations (especially around intentionality) and ethical challenges, while also arguing for the inclusion of these often highly personal, deep, co-constructed digital texts in qualitative longitudinal research. We also consider how the scroll back method could apply to other digital media, as the sites and applications that people use diversifies and changes over time.