“I’m a Stalker and Proud of It”: New research by Dr. Donna Howard on teen social media use
Dr. Donna Howard and Department of Behavioral and Community Health graduates Dr. Katrina Debnam and Amanda Strausser examine adolescent girls’ attitudes about social networking in a new study published in Youth & Society.
Dr. Howard and her colleagues “were interested in how messages from the broader culture shape girls’ conceptualizations of healthy and harmful dating relationships, the appropriateness of adolescent dating, and acceptable dating behaviors,” reads the report. “Thus, we explored girls’ appraisal of the role social media plays in their dating dynamics. Specifically, this study focuses on the motivations for, and consequences of, social media use among adolescent females in the context of their dating dynamics.”
The researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 70 adolescent girls to explore motivations for, and engagement with, technology in the context of dating dynamics. Their findings present a complex understanding of teens’ perceptions of social media tools and the positive, negative and mixed utilities of these platforms.
The report notes that texting, instant messaging, Snapchat and other social media platforms are increasingly the primary modes of communication between teen dating partners. Over 40% of the girls surveyed see social media as being beneficial. It can be used as a set of search tools to “find potential dating partners, determine compatibility and initiate the dating process,” the study reads.
The girls also spoke about the positive utility of social media “stalking.” One 17-year-old girl asserted, “I’m a stalker and proud of it.” In this context, stalking involves “friending” new acquaintances on Facebook and then viewing their page for information about their friends, activities and interests. A 16-year-old describes it this way:
“It gives you a heads up, that’s how he is, this is who he talks to, this is how he presents himself . . . so my friends can stalk my boyfriend . . . they can make judgments on guys . . . and it’s nice to have them have a way to kind of stalk him a little bit.”
Once a girl was going out with a guy, she might use Facebook differently, checking his postings and photos for disloyalty or perceived trespasses. “Consequently, these terms, Facebook “checking” and “stalking,” were applied to efforts aimed at information gathering, so as to assess compatibility, maintain accountability, and evaluate the integrity of the relationship.”
However, teens also talked about the drawbacks to using social media in their dating lives, expressing concern over issues of privacy, confidentiality, and boundaries. Also, almost half of the girls pointed to the hazards of online drama and rumor-spreading. A 17-year-old said, “It’s nothing but gossip and drama circulating in network.”
The research also points out mixed utilities—the intersection of positive and negative utilities of social media. From the report: “While girls felt social media eased relationship formation and maintenance, questions did arise as to the meaning of these relationships and how realistic or how fulfilling the dating dynamic would be if social media was the primary form of communication.” One 17-year-old said that texting and Facebook have replaced hanging out. In order to decide whether to go out with someone, “you have to text, which is like the most unromantic thing in the world.” Respondents also expressed feeling constant pressure to manage their profile, update their status, label everything.
“Our study findings provide a more complex understanding of adolescent girls’ perceptions of the role played by social media in their dating dynamics,” the report reads. “Indeed, it is at the intersection of positive and negative utilities that we see their narratives making an important contribution to the field.”