Academic journal article College Student Journal

Perceptions and Use of Social Networking Sites in the United States and Ecuador: A Mixed-Methods Approach

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Perceptions and Use of Social Networking Sites in the United States and Ecuador: A Mixed-Methods Approach

Article excerpt

Social networking sites are globally popular. In the United States, these types of sites are perceived positively by users and used at high rates, which has likely yielded personal health behavior displays such as substance abuse and depression. Due to possible cultural influence present on these sites, it remains unknown if SNS could be utilized towards identifying health-related displays internationally, specifically in resource-limited countries like Ecuador. The study aimed to explore the perceptions and use of social networking sites in the United States and Ecuador. Perceptions and use were examined through interviews in the US and paper surveys in Ecuador. Interviews and surveys addressed identical items. US university students reported more positive views of social networking sites and more social networking site use than Ecuadorian students, but reported internet use was similar. Thus, US and Ecuadorian students view and use social networking sites differently. These differences illustrate that cultural considerations should be taken when using social networking sites in global intervention research, as well as the potential for this area of research.

Keywords: Social networking sites, college students, health behavior displays, culture, Ecuador

Introduction

Social networking sites (SNSs) are immensely popular and their use is crossing geographical and cultural boundaries, a rare phenomenon. These types of sites, which are used to interact with friends, family, and/ or acquaintances in posting text, photos, or links, are used at high rates all over the world (Socialbakers, 2012). The most popular SNS is Facebook with close to 1 billion users (Socialbakers, 2012). Although the United States has the highest rates of SNS use, use is increasing in other countries. The countries with the second and third highest numbers of users are Brazil and India. These countries both have nearly 60 million SNS users and encompass vastly different geographic and cultural characteristics (Socialbakers, 2012 and Gapminder, 2012). Young adults make up the highest percentage of SNS users (Lenhart et al., 2011), many of them college students. Within the frequent interaction that is occurring on these sites, an incredible amount and wide variety of information is shared.

Information as personal as health behaviors are observed on SNSs. One study conducted in 2010 found that of 225 SNS profiles examined, 16.1% displayed references to intoxication or problematic drinking while 19.6% displayed references to alcohol use (Moreno et al., 2010). Additionally, health behaviors involving mental health such as depression have been found on Facebook. In 2011, a study examined depression symptom displays on Facebook. That study found that 25% of the profiles coded had displays of depression present (Moreno et al., 2011).

These personal behaviors are not just being displayed by users, but have been found to be representative of offline behaviors. In one study, displays of depression found on these websites were associated with higher scores on the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), a scale used to measure depression symptoms in clinical screenings across the United States (Moreno et al. 2011). In another study, increased displays of alcohol were found to be associated with a higher score on the alcohol use disorders identification test (AUDIT) (Moreno et al., 2010). The AUDIT is a screening tool used to measure alcohol dependence (Babor et al., 2001). Furthermore, the Media Practice Model suggests that what a person portrays online may represent offline behavior (Steele & Brown, 1995). The model emphasizes that the use of media, such as SNSs, doesn't happen separately from 'lived experiences' (Steele & Brown, 1995). This supports that the behaviors demonstrated on these sites are directly connected with offline life. Thus, SNSs may present new avenues for health screening and interventions (Moreno et al. …

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