A Review of Online Social Networking Profiles by Adolescents: Implications for Future Research and Intervention
Williams, Amanda L., Merten, Michael J., Adolescence
The Internet has earned its own niche in social research (Greenfield & Yan, 2006) and the newest phenomena of online social networking is rapidly developing its own field of inquiry in the social sciences (Herring, Scheidt, Wright, & Bonus, 2005; Mee, 2006). In fact, researchers are scrambling to understand the phenomenon almost as quickly as the technology advances. Mazur (2005) defined blogs as updateable public records of private thoughts. As our knowledge of this new social forum advances, research is beginning to differentiate between social networking sites and blogs. However, for the purposes of this study, blogs, web journals, and social networking profiles are considered synonymous as they all involve individuals creating and maintaining personal Internet sites allowing authors and other users to post content, thus creating a personal network.
Lenhart and Madden (2007), senior researchers for the Pew Internet and American Life Project, said that in the past five years social networking has "rocketed from a niche activity into a phenomenon that engages tens of millions of Internet users" ([paragraph] 3). Previous studies have examined surface content found in various web journal forums such as demographic information, communication styles, thematic content, purposes for blogging, and disclosure of personally identifiable information also referred to by Huffaker (2006) as identity vulnerability (Lenhart & Fox, 2006; Fox & Madden, 2005; Subrahmanyam, Smahel, & Greenfield, 2006; Huffaker & Calvert, 2005; Mazur, 2005; Herring et al., 2005; Mee, 2006). However, to date there has been very little research on dynamic social and emotional content provided in blogs and how such content relates to adolescent development, peer relationships, and indicators of emotional well-being. The present study proposes that online social networking profiles posted by adolescents contain intimate, candid, and observable self-disclosure and peer interaction that can be analyzed creating an overall picture of adolescent behavior, highlighting specific areas needing additional research, and addressing implications for parental monitoring and intervention.
ADOLESCENT SOCIAL NETWORKING
Fifty-five percent of teenagers online use and create online social networking profiles (Lehnhart & Madden, 2007). With more than half of teenage Internet users interacting online, the concept of blogging is a salient research topic investigating what adolescents are blogging about, how they are socially interacting, and what potential effects this phenomena may have on other dimensions of their lives.
Social networking profiles present a unique research opportunity as the process of blogging involves individuals voluntarily posting information about themselves--personal thoughts, feelings, beliefs, activities-in a public arena with unlimited access for anyone with an Internet connection. The amount of personal information contained in a blog is completely dependent on the author's judgment. This situation is ideal for social scientists as it allows unobtrusive observations of authentic human behaviors and interactions with no "real" contact or interference. Adolescent blogs are full of information about their daily lives (Mazur, 2005) documenting whatever they choose to disclose about themselves and any subsequent written interaction by individuals posting comments to the blog. A recent study involving adolescents and the Internet sums up the communication medium's impact and potential:
The Internet is more exciting and challenging as a research environment than earlier media because it is a complex, virtual, social, and physical world that children and adolescents participate in and co-construct, rather than something that is merely watched or used such as television or personal computers. It becomes a complex virtual universe behind a small screen on which developmental issues play out . …