University of Tasmania
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Young people engaging with risk through everyday practices on Facebook

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posted on 2023-05-28, 09:13 authored by Kate WarrenKate Warren
Young people's social media use has become a focus of concern, particularly for governments, social service providers and parents. However, the apprehension of these groups is presented from a predominantly adult-centric perspective that frames young people as being 'at risk' in online environments. This narrative has fuelled a social media panic about the vulnerability of young people who are considered to be 'at risk' of online bullying, exposure to self-harming, and the predatory behaviours of strangers. Young people's explanations of how they understand and engage with risks on social media are undervalued compared to accounts provided by adults. This research aimed to explore the suppressed narrative of young people and online risks by privileging their voices through a youth-centred approach. I adopted this standpoint to explore and understand the everyday social media practices of young people using Facebook. Drawing on sociocultural theories of risk, I analysed how risk is created, understood and experienced through the online interactions of young people. The primary research question this study has answered was: How do young people engage with risk through their everyday practices on Facebook? A qualitative netnography was conducted with young people aged 15 to 18 years living in Australia who use Facebook. Netnography is a specialised form of ethnography involving participant-observation based in online fieldwork. Stage One of the research design involved seven months of online participant-observation of 73 young people's Facebook profiles and their interactions with their Facebook friends. Stage Two involved semi-structured interviews using Facebook private messages. Sixteen young people, a subset of the initial participant group, formed the interview sample. The two datasets were thematically analysed. The results of this study indicate that the participants engaged with risk on Facebook as an everyday experience of their online presence. However, analysis of the data clarified that young people actively engaged in their own risk practices by 'knowing and unknowing risks' and 'making and taking risks'. Young people demonstrated how they 'know' and 'unknow' risks through recognising risks, reframing risks and normalising risks. Young people showed how they 'made' and 'took' risks through connection, content and collective practices. Overall, these types of engagement reflect how ideas about risk on Facebook are co-constructed, and how this process is intertwined with identity formation and the need for belonging. Importantly, the results of the study reveal that violence was an everyday experience for participants, and that their everyday online practices were gendered. While literature has shown that young people use social media to reflect identity and enhance their belonging through connections and relationships, this research highlights how this is done: through practices of risk. The implications of these findings for practice, education and policy are discussed in this thesis, along with ideas for future research.


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