Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Location-Based Social Media Behavior and Perception: Views of University Students

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Location-Based Social Media Behavior and Perception: Views of University Students

Article excerpt


Over the previous two decades, society has witnessed a dramatic rise in the prevalence of mobile communications, Web 2.0 applications (O'Reilly 2005), Web GIS, and cyberspace. Not only can people communicate over a free range of geographic space and participate in the Web's social construction, these tasks can be performed simultaneously through the GeoWeb. While technological improvements have freed individuals from the constraints of static communication, people have not necessarily been liberated from place (Malpas 20L2); individuals are still part of and influenced by the relational networks of places. For many, much of today's 'presentation of the self (Goffman 1959) occurs online, and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS: for example, GPS, and GLO-NASS)-enabled mobile devices and Internet connectivity have enabled users to easily attach geographic information to Web content (Goggin 20L2), facilitating a social display of one's locational activities. Arguably, the role of location in communication and social networks is more important than ever before.

Today, 88 percent of U.S. adults use the Internet, seventy-seven percent own a smartphone, and 69 percent use social media (Smith 2016). These figures have increased remarkably over the past ten years and are likely to continue increasing. Interestingly, 30 percent of these social media users have tagged their location in a post (Zickuhr 2013). This practice, termed location-based social media (LBSM), is a subset of volunteered geographic information (VGI) and has become the principal means by which people share locational information online (Goodchild 2007a, 2007b). With the proliferation of these activities, the use of LBSM as a data source for studying spatial processes has become common. In light of this, it is crucial to evaluate the meaning of this information and its validity for such purposes. Many studies have examined the demographics, perceptions, and motivations of those who contribute to explicitly geographic forms of VGI (for example, OpenStreetMap (OSM)), but there is a lack of research on implicitly geographic forms of VGI (such as Twitter and Instagram). Further, researchers have yet to determine the applicability of broad principles of VGI to LBSM.


In this study we assess the demographics, usage patterns, and perceptions of a group with high rates of social media (Greenwood, Perrin, and Duggan 2016) and LBSM usage: university students (Zickuhr 2013). Through the administration of a Web-based survey, we address the following research questions: Do significant differences exist across gender, race, or academic standing groups in the use of LBSM? Are there significant differences in the way these groups perceive LBSM? For instance, why do people choose (or not) to attach locational information to social media content? Are some groups more concerned about privacy than others, and do usage patterns appropriately reflect these concerns? Most importantly, in the grander scheme of VGI research, what are the implications of users' responses for researchers seeking to utilize LBSM as a data source to study socio-spatial processes?

We discover that the LBSM user base is different from other VGI platforms and seemingly less biased. Females are the more common users and surprisingly are less concerned about privacy. More generally, place is an important social media component to a substantial number of users, making a compelling case for the use of such information in geography.



With the increasing prevalence of new forms of technology, "coded" processes --those hidden from users--have gained greater potential to alter interactions in physical space through covert power structures (Dodge and Kitchin 2005; Graham, Zook, and Boulton 2012). Authoritative representations on Web maps, such as those created by Google, are often accepted as objective, when realistically much is masked behind cryptic software (Zook and Graham 2007). …

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