The highlight reel and the real me: how adolescents construct the Facebook fable
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Facebook is framed as a dangerous tool or at best, a colossal waste of time for adolescents. Stories of bullying, sexual exploitation, and adolescent idiocy dominate the mainstream and sociological narrative. Yet, there are few sociological studies of 13-18 year olds' social media experience. Available research on this age group is presented from the perspectives of adults or focused on college students. This dissertation seeks to address this gap in the literature by presenting the Facebook stories of 26 adolescents (13-18). It reveals a more contemplative and positive story of adolescent Facebook use than that described in the literature. To capture their lived experience I developed a social media ethnography, including a survey, focus groups, observation of Facebook images, and follow up interviews. These data show that while adolescents spend considerable effort on their impression management work to "document us being awesome," they also want to present an authentic self. When this visual self presentation enters the public realm of Facebook it is altered by the awareness of an audience, and thus their authenticity is bounded by gendered social media rules that highlight masculinity/femininity. Simultaneously they also engage in significant back stage work to evaluate how this presentation aligns with the "real me now." Facebook provides a public space for this self reflection; it allows them to visualize the presentation of self and the feedback they receive on it. Over time these micro interactions and moments of self reflection work to constitute the evolving self. This multi-method study offers media studies a new framework from which to consider the deeper meanings that adolescents make and take from social media. It presents an example of thoughtful decision making that may challenge brain development research indicating that adolescents struggle with impulse control. It also addresses a significant gap in the adolescent development literature by suggesting that work normally done internally to craft the self narrative now has a public presentation. Adolescents are forging a new path to development, and impressively they are taking control of social media technology to do so in a way that is both complicated and potentially helpful.