The kidsmediacentre (kmc) is a research centre and think tank at Centennial College’s School of Communication, Media and Design in Toronto. The kidsmediacentre’s mission is to explore kids’ media futures. The kmc was awarded a fellowship grant from Centennial College’s Applied Research and Innovation Centre (ARIC) in November 2013. The research team on the project includes Director, Debbie Gordon and Children’s Media graduate students Kayla McNally, Jess Westlake and Felix Chan.
#Instafame and the Epidemiology of a Selfie-Curated Culture – an online multimedia resource examining how youth use social media to brand themselves and build #Instafame #askingthehardquestions
· probe trends, attitudes and young people’s social media usage patterns
· identify influences driving fame building and selfie curation
· tease out the larger impact of social media and technology culture on teen identity
· examine youth cultures’ media health
Big Picture Findings
Youth are consciously and deliberately branding themselves online for mass audience consumption, putting their whole lives on display. They are using tools like retweets, shout-outs, hashtags, likes and follows to build a personal brand and following on social platforms and apps like– Instagram, Gifboom, Vine, Twitter.
Youth are creating online personalities through selfies and GIFS, carefully crafting, staging and curating their “ selfie moments” (think photo opps). Youth are experiencing unspoken pressures to continually update social media in order to create a ‘perfect’ looking life.
Recall, this generation has been raised in DIY celebrity culture – YouTube = celebrity incubator, Twitter = thought amplification. They’ve had a front row seat and have learned from digital celebrities like Justin Beiber, Arianna Grande and Miley Cyrus. They’ve also grown up in a 360° marketing culture.
For many youth, followers = popularity, acceptance and adulation. Some are doing this for “attention”, some for validation, some as a cry for help and some for perceived, future monetary gain.
Social media is integrated in childen’s digital lives at a very early age. Many websites and games integrate community tools like galleries, chat, comment streams, polls and more to engage, sell products and encourage literacy amongst children. Dependent on the degree on digital mediation, this early digital socialization can have both positive and negative effects.
Youth have a growing appreciation for and awareness of privacy. Privacy is generally interpreted in the context of social privacy, which includes using settings to limit parental and family oversight. Young people have limited awareness of data privacy and limited understanding of corporate and developer personally identifiable information (Pii) best practices.
Teens have grown up with a mobile phone and camera in their pocket. Documenting their lives through static selfies and selfie GIFS is now part of the basic trajectory of growing up.
With shrinking screens and movement to social apps, young people’s digital activity is more challenging for parents to monitor and mediate. Teens are constantly connected to their social networks through smart phones making web 2.0/ “POS” digital tracking very difficult.
We are also seeing a major generational shift around disclosure. Despite years of digital literacy curriculum and privacy awareness building around issues like identity theft and cyber-bullying, many youth are choosing to ignore these concerns and do the opposite, making their digital personas as public as possible.
A large number of youth are pushing their self-promotion/self-exploitation to the extreme with followings of 100,000 plus. Indeed, many have followings in the millions with legions of digital fans and followers, creating a new brand of celebrity.
Instafamers are deliberately choosing NOT to apply any critical literacy filters or privacy settings. Quite the opposite. …they optimize their “searchability” through the use of strategic hashtags like #spamforspam (#s4s) and #followforfollow (#f4f).
Parents are often unaware of their children’s online presence and the potentially negative – and occasionally positive - effect this presence can have on their lives. This research includes case studies of youth using social media for social good.
Many of these youth are monetizing their online presence and actively shilling product – their own and as corporate spokespeople – to their followings. Many negotiate shoutouts for cash or gifts and many more understand that by building Instafame and a significant following, they can add Google ads on their site and monetize their brand. No paper route for these kids!
In order to further build #Instafame, and according to youth participating in kidsmediacentre focus groups, many young people buy their Instagram following (Google images - buy your Instagram following http://bit.ly/1x4BKPu)
On target with the kmc mission : exploring kids’ media futures.
As educators, these youth represent the next wave of citizens and students for Centennial College and it’s critical to understand their usage, attitudes and behaviours. Centennial’s Book of Commitments pledges to #leadtheconversation and we believe this research delivers on that objective.
There is clearly a significant vacuum of awareness and understanding around youth and their evolving use of technology. This study documents real behaviours and asks some hard questions about the mental, emotional, physical health of youth including why so many youth are pursuing #Instafame. Collateral discussions around self esteem, mental health, authentic vs fabricated selves, self-porn, community validation are important discussions in this research.