Friday, December 13, 2013

Conclusions and Implications

Overall, I find that online identity is certainly related to language use and gender when it comes to adolescent girls.  Adolescents, especially girls, focus on their audience and use that information to code-switch between the different groups of people.  The research breaks down into three groups: gender, language, and identity.  Facebook was the obvious choice to use for this research because it is an affinity space that is so heavily trafficked by adolescents.  The site is large, but it can be split into smaller groups to be more manageable for maintaining friendships within small social groups.  The research shows that adolescent girls are highly susceptible to code-switching, particularly when there are adults present in the conversational group.  Code-switching is essential to the formation of one’s in-person identity, and it is equally important to one’s online identity.  The ability to assess one’s audience and determine the acceptable way to interact with that audience is something which leads to increased linguistic and social capital.  

While code-switching is something that all individuals do, it is interesting to see the deliberate nature of this activity in adolescent girls.  The formation of online identities are certainly important to anyone raising a teenage daughter; however, it is equally important to those who are teaching adolescents.  Educators must understand the social lives of their students to ensure that the education is relevant to the entire group.  The inclusion of SNSs and other online avenues in the classroom mean that one’s online identity will become even more important.  Adolescents, who by nature are still developing their identities, require positive role models to help them learn how to construct the necessary identity.  The teacher from the second data set appears to be one of those role models for the participants in this research.  He and the other adults in the post also play the role of the moderator to the adolescent language use.  Without a role model of what kinds of speech are appropriate in certain situations, individuals have a difficult time determining that on their own.

The research on adolescent girls and their online identities is important, but I do believe that additional research and study is necessary.  A larger group of participants would be the first change I would make for a future study.  The second would be to either ensure that all participants are active users of the SNS.  I also began to wonder if a different SNS might be a better idea at this time in Web 2.0 technology.  Is Facebook outdated?  If so, other sites like Twitter, Tumblr, or Snapchat could be used instead.  As someone who is entirely unaware of how any of those particular sites work, that would be difficult for me.  I also believe that older participants—college students, perhaps— might yield different results; however, they also have their own identities fairly cemented into place.  Overall, I do think that additional study is necessary, but I am personally unsure of how it should be completed.

Revised Polished Analysis

I chose to use Facebook as a means of studying adolescent girls and their interactions online, more specifically how speech acts online help shape individual identities.  I argue that Facebook is an affinity space (Ellcessor & Duncan) in large form, and as such it allows for the participants to create a group lead space where they can construct their online identities.  Just as people make deliberate choices regarding speech use in face to face interactions, those same choices are made in online conversations.  Individuals, specifically adolescent girls, are aware of their audience in an online environment, and they code-switch (Sankoff & Poplack) and use language differently depending on with whom they communicate.  I started this research by identifying the participants who I would follow on Facebook.  The participants in my group are teenage girls between the ages of 16 and 18 years old.    They all live in a small town (Palmer, Alaska—approximate population of 5,900 in 2010), and they attend the same high school.  All of the participants are friends, move in the same social circles, and most are members of the same extracurricular activities (student government, band, etc.).  I address each participant by their initials.  I am Facebook friends with MS but not the other participants, and, therefore, I can only view the information the other individuals have made public.

My first data set is from a post that originated on MS’ wall.  See Figure 1 for the original data set.  The thread started as a meme on which MS was tagged along with three other individuals, so a total of five participants.  The thread then elicited 25 comments.  The data set includes comments from five people, one male and four females.  This particular thread helps me with my research because it includes multiple instances of code-switching.  I have noticed the following—typographical differences between comments, the use of internet vernacular and emoticons, and numerous uses of non-standard written English.  For instance, one of the comments in the first data set is from SH who writes, “Oh we are going to have soooooooo much fun” (Figure 1a).  Likewise, another participant, AL, writes, “Not me?  I’m gonna go home now (QQ)” (Figure 1a).  The first example shows non-standard written English because of the misspelling of the word so, while the second example shows the use of emoticons.  At first I was not sure what to make of this data, and it did not become completely clear until I had collected and analyzed the second data set.

My second set of data is slightly different from the first set in the sense that it includes far more items to study.  See Figure 2 for original data set.  One of MS’ friends made a video about the most influential teacher she had in high school.  She chose the music teacher at the high school, and then she tagged all the other students who were in the same program.  All the students from the first data set were tagged in the second data set.  MS did not comment on this particular post, but there were many other people who did.  There are also some adult influences in this post that were not present in the first data set.  This adult influence made me realize how intrinsic audience awareness is, particularly to adolescent girls.  I focus specifically on the difference in the language used in the presence of adults, even if it is in an online community.  The internet speak and use of vernacular is significantly curbed in my second data set.  Likewise, there are zero instances of emoticons, and the non-standard written English is significantly decreased.  

The second data set revealed that the high school students changed the way they use language when they are communicating with adults.  The use of code-switching, or switching between two distinct and different ways of speaking with different groups, appears to be intentional.  The participants make specific linguistic choices within the second data set.  The second data set is interesting because it revolves around a teacher, a teacher who participates in the conversation.  The majority of the conversation comes from current and former students who are reminiscing about certain neologisms and humorous anecdotes that the teacher uses in his classroom.  Therefore, most of the instances of non-standard written English come from those parts of the data.  For instance, DM quotes the teacher, “MAY THE BIRD OF PARADISE LAND ON YOUR LEFT EAR” (Figure 2a) and later CR gives a different quote “Stop masticating the stands, they are only for music” (Figure 2a).  While both examples are linguistically sound, they are both also rather nonsensical.  The examples show the ability of the participants to understand their audience and then write specific comments to that audience.  If the teacher who was profiled in the video had not been present in the conversation, it is presumable that the conversation would have developed quite differently, simply because the audience was different.

My major argument is that adolescent girls invent an online identity, specifically on Facebook, and that identity is tied to the language used on their profiles, posts, and comments.  I also assert that the identity one establishes or creates can be modified depending on the audience with which one interacts.  For instance, in my second data set there are a large number of adolescent girls interacting in a thread that is related to their school environment.  The language used in this data set is different from the first, and I posit that it is different because the audience has changed.  The first set is smaller and only includes five members.  The first set also ends up being about school, but it does not start out that way.  The second set was much larger and originated as a post that was already school related.  The second set also included adults, which in turn made the audience and the language used different from the first.  The informal nature of the first set was gone and had been replaced by a more standard approach to writing English.  I argue that nature of the writing gives the writer certain linguistic capital (Merchant), or credit in terms of reputation, depending on who an individual is speaking to and if the individual is seeking linguistic capital.  In the case of Facebook, the linguistic capital also leads to social capital, or the resources one has available due to the social relationships one has cultivated.  These two ideas are particularly important in relation to the second data set in which the participants are interacting with adults, or those who can measure their linguistic and social capital.  

In terms of actual data, the majority of my analysis comes from my second data set.  While the first data set is interesting, its main focus is to situate the reader/viewer into the conversation, and most importantly, it allows the reader/viewer to understand how this particular cohort of adolescents interact with one another on a smaller scale.  Then the second data set allows the reader to see how they interact on a larger scale with different people present in the conversation.  For instance, the information presented in the first data set shows nine instances of emoticons and three instances of overt use of non-standard conversational written English in just 25 comments.  However, the second data set has zero emoticons and only three instances of of overt use of non-standard conversational written English in 45 comments.  I use overt in the sense that these adolescents are making language choices that are outside the norm of standard conversational written English.  This information leads me to assert that adolescents are aware of their audience and they purposely code-switch depending on to whom they are communicating.  The information also shows that the adolescents are taking language risks among their peers, while using standard forms of writing when interacting with a mixed audience.  This form of code-switching is rather impressive in a group of young people, especially since the code-switching appears to be intentional and purposeful rather than automatic.

I researched three terms that I thought would be the most important—gender, language use, and identity.  I chose these particular terms because they yielded the best results.  I found gender to be the least important to my particular research; however, it is still important in the sense that the participants are impressionable adolescent girls.  I focus on language use, principally standard versus non-standard written English, the level of usage of emoticons, and the amount of code-switching between the two. I also determine how language functions on Facebook, specifically in posts, tags, and comments, and how the participants use the language online to build their online identities.  The articles I chose to use focus on identity and how individuals express their own identities online, as well as how particular language use can function as a form of identity.  

Revised Literature Review

The study of digital literacies began to take shape when the internet became widely available to the public, and that direction of study continues on to present day.  Web 2.0 applications have changed the internet and the way individuals and groups view information online.  Adolescent girls in the digital age have a wide variety of social networking sites where they can spend their time.  A large majority of adolescent girls choose Facebook as an alternate form of communication.  The literature in this review will solidify the information relating to adolescent girls and how their interactions on Facebook have shaped their online identity, particularly in terms of how language choices vary depending on their audience.

The first of the three classifications in the review is gender in online environments.  Susan Herring’s article “Gender and genre variation in weblogs” discusses the linguistic variation in genre based on gender.  Likewise, the idea that computer-based text has created a concept of complete anonymity is not supported by Herring’s research, which shows that gender differences are just as present in computer-based text as it is in spoken discourse (442).  Herring highlights the different language used by the different sexes.  The seven year gap between the two articles is telling of how much has changed since the beginning of our Web 2.0 society.  There is more information given and received online than at any other time in history.

The increase in information given over the internet has lead to a change in the way language is presented, particularly language among young people.  Guy Merchant’s research centers around teenagers and their use of language in chatrooms.  Merchant suggests that young people are rapidly changing the way humans communicate, even if some see the changes negatively (293).  His research also introduces the term linguistic capital which describes how specific language use can increase the lingual currency in certain social situations.  Sali Tagliamonte also looks at the way teenagers use language, specifically via instant messaging platforms.  She discusses the linguistic variations that occur online as they juxtapose standard written English (3).  Each of these two articles are useful to distinguish the amount of code-switching teenage girls do online, especially when their audiences are different.  For instance, my own research shows that adolescent girls are susceptible to distinct changes in their own language use depending on to whom they are speaking. 

Online identity is tied to both gender and language use, but it is distinct because it is a conglomeration of those and other things.  Bronwyn Williams’ short article discusses the changes that web 2.0 applications create in adolescents.  She writes, “One of the more intriguing developments has been the way online technologies allow young people to manipulate and play with their identities” (Williams 683).  Williams also asserts that the idea that adolescents are more socially isolated now because of the amount of time spent online is a false determination.  In fact, she posits that young people are using social networking to talk to more people than they ever would have otherwise.  H. Andrew Schwartz’s research “found striking variations in language with personality, gender, and age” (1).  His particular type of research looks at what people actually say on social networking sites (Facebook and Twitter) and correlate certain attribute with one another.  While this article seems like it should be among the group based on language, it also applies more specifically to identity because of the way Schwartz includes personality (1).  Similarly, Caleb Carr’s article demonstrates how users express themselves online as opposed to through face-to-face communication.  Carr specifically studies Facebook status messages as they pertain to self-presentation online (176).  One of the most useful terms I have found for this research is social capital and Paul Godfrey describes this term that originates from Pierre Bourdieu.  The concept refers to the resources that are available to an individual as a result of the social relationships that individual chooses to foster and promote.  My research focuses specifically on Facebook interactions and how they pertain to identity and personality formation.

In-class discussions and readings also connect to the analysis of adolescent girls in relation to how they construct their online identities, specifically on Facebook.  Social Networking Sites (SNS) like Facebook, have been described as affinity spaces or places where individuals can come together for a comment purpose (Ellcessor & Duncan).  While Facebook would be considered a massive affinity space, it does allow for smaller groups to form, such as the close-knit group of adolescent girls in my research.  Michele Knobel and Colin Lankshear research Facebook and how individuals interact in groups socially.  Also, their research into digital and online attention yield the term attention economy or the concept that attention is a limited commodity in constant flux, like supply and demand, which means that individuals always have to make a choice about where and with whom to give their attention.  Likewise, Angela Thomas focuses on how adolescent girls use text and pictures online to craft their own digital presence, or identity.  Thomas’ research, similarly to Williams’, asserts that a digital space does not mean a disconnection from the physical space.  Danielle DeVoss and Cynthia Selfe note the importance of an online identity in shaping one’s self image.  Each of these articles will be helpful in determining how adolescent girls create and maintain their online identity using language.  More specifically, how much does emphasis is placed on audience in terms of the creation of their identity?

Works Cited
Bailey, Jane et al. “Negotiating With Gender Stereotypes on Social Networking Sites: From ‘Bicycle Face’ to Facebook”. Journal of Communication Inquiry 37.2 (2013): 91-112. Web. 31 October 2013.
Carr, Caleb T. et al. “Speech Acts Within Facebook Status Messages”. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 31.2 (2012): 176-196. Web. 31 October 2013.
DeVoss, Danielle N. and Cynthia L. Selfe. “‘This Page Is Under Construction’: Reading Women Shaping On-Line Identities”. Pedagogy 2.1 (2002): 31-48. Web. 15 October 2013
Ellcessor, Elizabeth and Sean C. Duncan. “Forming The Guild: Star Power and Rethinking Projective Identity In Affinity Spaces”. International Journal of Game-Based Learning 1.2 (2011): 1-14. Web. 1 October 2013.
Godfrey, Paul C. “Social Capital”. ESR Review 10.2 (2008): 2-3. Web. 30 November 2013.
Herring, Susan C. and John C. Paolillo. “Gender and genre variation in weblogs”. Journal of Sociolinguistics 10.4 (2006): 439-459. Web. 31 October 2013.
Knobel, Michele and Colin Lankshear. “Digital Literacy and Participation in Online Social Networking Spaces”. Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies, and Practices. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. 2008. 249-278. Web. 30 September 2013.
_____“Do we have your attention? New literacies, digital technologies, and the education of adolescents”. University of Georgia. State of the Art Conference, Athens, Georgia. 26-27 January 2001.
Merchant, Guy. “Teenagers in cyberspace: an investigation of language change in internet chatrooms”. Journal of Research in Reading 24.3 (2001): 293-306. Web. 31 October 2013.
Schwartz, H. Andrew et al. “Personality, Gender, and Age in the Language of Social Media: The Open-Vocabulary Approach”. PLoS ONE 8.9 (2013): 1-16. Web. 31 October 2013.
Tagliamonte, Sali A. and Derek Denis. “LINGUISTIC RUIN? LOL! INSTANT MESSAGING AND TEEN LANGUAGE”. American Speech 83.1 (2008): 3-34. Web. 31 October 2013.
Thomas, Angela. “Digital Literacies of the Cybergirl”. E-Learning 1.3 (2004): 358-382. Web. 15 October 2013. 

Williams, Bronwyn T. “‘Tomorrow will not be like today’: Literacy and identity in a world of multiliteracies”. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 51.8 (2006): 682-688. Web. 31 October 2013.

Revised Methodology

I started my research on Facebook.  More specifically, my research is on a collection of individual pages on Facebook.  I chose Facebook because I think it gives people, specifically adolescents/young adults, the ability to interact together and form identity groups and alliances.  It is an affinity space used by people of all age groups, but specifically by young people.  While Facebook is a fairly large virtual space (1.19 billion active users in 2013), it creates certain affinity spaces within its boundaries by allowing individuals to group themselves together in specific ways.  Facebook also gives adolescents the ability to meet virtually outside of other face to face activities, such as school.  Certainly some people use the site, and other social networking sites (SNS) to meet others who are not in the same area, but this particular research focuses only on individuals who interact within their normal face to face social groups and then move those interactions online.  Due to the informal nature of the site, usually the language used is quite informal; however, that can change depending on one’s audience.

The participants in this group are teenage girls between the ages of 16 and 18 years old.  There is one boy who participates in one conversation, but his comments will not take a large role in my research.  They all live in a small town (Palmer, Alaska—approximate population 5900 in 2010), and they attend the same high school.  All of the participants are friends, move in the same social circles, and most are members of the same extracurricular activities, such as band and choir.  All of the individuals in the group are friends outside of school, and they continue the conversations they started at school on Facebook, or start new conversations online that usually apply to things from school or their other shared activities.  I chose this particular cohort because I thought it would yield a large amount of data that I could sift through to find exactly what I thought was important.  The problem thus far has been that the group of adolescents I am studying are not active Facebook users; therefore, I had a difficult time finding a large amount of  data.  However, the data I did recover was sufficient enough to yield the necessary results for this particular project.  Due to the age range of the group, I deleted the hyperlinks to individual Facebook accounts and took out complete names and added initials.  This practice allows me to share the data I collected without causing privacy issues with any of the participants.

One participant is my niece (noted as MS in my data sets) and the others are her friends.  That being said, I play an interesting role.  I am an active Facebook user, so I see the activities in which MS participates.  I am not friends with her friends, so I am only privy to the conversations in which she is included and among those, only the ones that are public.  I rarely post anything on MS’ wall or comment much on her posts, so I play the role of observer for the most part rather than active participant within the group.  I am significantly older than all of the participants and I feared that if I joined in the conversation I would place myself at a disadvantage and cause the other participants to stop engaging in the site when I was present.  For that reason, I continue to do my research as an outlier of the group and just observe.  At this time I have not had an issue with not being able to access information because of privacy issues.  

My problem has been a lack of data.  Currently I have collected two main data sets.  The first was a meme on which MS was tagged so it appeared on her wall.  Then a conversation ensued about the meme and the upcoming school year; this conversation included five  participants who posted 25 comments.  The second data set was a video that was posted on MS’ wall and included far more participants, 43 comments and 89 likes.  While MS was tagged in the video post, she was not an active participant.  The second data set yielded more relevant information and that helped me to narrow my research.  I studied the specific language use of the adolescent girls and how that language helps to create their online identity, and how gender is part of the online identity they construct.  Even more so importantly, I determine how adolescent girls change their use of language depending upon the audience with which they are interacting.  The first data set allowed me to see how the group interacts with one another while the second data set showed me how some of the girls interact when adults, and more specifically teachers, are present in the conversation.  The second data set is larger and includes more results, but it also includes many people who were not part of the first data set.

I analyzed my data in a broad sense in my first data set.  I looked at the number of specific occurrences of typographical anomalies, different and specific uses of a particular vernacular—mainly internet speak or text, the use of emoticons, and just generally informal use of language.  I found numerous uses of non-standard written English and emoticons.  My second data set included some more specific information, not only because the actual data set was larger (25 versus 43 comments).  I decided to pay attention to audience as part of online identity creation, specifically how the language of the participants changes depending on their audience.  The changes were more localized in the second data set because there were adults and other people from outside the original social group present within the conversation.  More importantly, some of the adults present were teachers from the school the girls all attend.  The second data set showed the use of zero emoticons, far less uses of non-standard written English, and more formal use of language in general.  I focus on how the change in language for a specific audience creates, or helps to create, an online identity for the participants.  I would further argue that the adolescents take more risks with different uses of language while they are among their peer group, and part of that risk taking becomes an active role in creating their online identities. 

I plan on researching mostly at the Transforming Economic Conditions and Social Relationships tradition.  More specifically, Knobel and Lankshear’s article “Digital Literacy and Participation in Online Social Networking Spaces,” and Black and Steinkueler’s article “Literacy in Virtual Worlds” and their idea of affinity spaces.  Thomas’ article “Digital Literacies of the Cybergirl” is another important article that I will look at because it looks at how women behave in online spaces and how those spaces can effect their identities.  As of now, the last tradition I will focus on is Transforming Reading and Writing, particularly Haas’ article “Young People’s Everyday Literacies” as well as Lam’s “Multiliteracies on Instant Messaging in Negotiating Local, Translocal, and Transnational Affiliations.”  For sources outside the classroom, I have located some potentially useful articles within the Journal of Sociolinguistics and American Speech.  Most of the research that has been done on this particular subject is both qualitative and quantitative, and I take a similar approach.  For instance, I review the specific number of participants in each post, the number of comments, the number of likes, and the specific uses of emoticons; however, I also focus on how that information helps to create an online identity, which is something far less tangible.