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Tuesday, July 28 • 10:31 - 12:00
"Audiencing ‘selfies’ on Facebook: Practices and interpretations"

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Author: Yin-Han Wang

As social media, mobile internet, and smartphones gain ubiquity, taking selfies seem to have become a common photographic practice, particularly among young people. The high visibility of selfies posted on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have resulted in the coining of new terms by the press – ‘relfie’, ‘healthie’, to name just a few, to describe variations of selfies. Yet mainstream news tends to fixate on extraordinary cases of celebrity and micro-celebrity selfies, and frames the practice from a polarized pathological perspective, linking it to either lack of confidence or narcissism. Such focus overlooks the everyday aspect of selfie: how do ordinary youth produce and interpret selfies in the context of mediated communication on social networking sites? 

The ways selfies are received by an audience may differ drastically from the author’s intent. Audiences view the selfies in the context of interpersonal communication, and may perhaps engage in negative social comparison (Feinstein et al., 2013), which may backfire against the author’s intent of managing a favorable impression (Goffman, 1959). This research explores this gap between author intent of posting selfies and audience reception of seeing selfies via studying the Facebook selfie-sharing practices of college students.

This research employs a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods to address the following research questions. First, how do college students practice self-portraiture on Facebook as a form of visual communication? Are there gender differences in their practices? A survey was administered to 800 Taiwanese college students who are active users of Facebook. Second, how do college students interpret their friends’ selfies posted on Facebook? Qualitative in-depth interviews are being conducted to learn about attitudes towards selfie-as-status-update.

Preliminary findings from the quantitative survey indicate that taking selfies is predominantly a female practice, with around 50% of the female respondents reporting to take selfies on a weekly basis. However, all respondents reported to be more reserved in posting their selfies on Facebook as a status update – only around 5% reported to post on a weekly basis. Interestingly, even though male respondents were significantly less likely to take selfies, they were significantly more likely to report to enjoy seeing selfies, and think that seeing selfies helps increase understanding toward that person. Regarding social comparison upon seeing friends’ selfies, respondents were more likely to compare themselves to a friend of the same sex, as opposed to comparing to a friend of the opposite sex (50% vs. 15%).

Preliminary results from the qualitative interviews reveal differential acceptance of selfies-status-update, depending on the nature of the photographs. Posting selfies taken with friends were socially acceptable and encouraged, while posting ‘solo’ selfie requires more caution. ‘Solo’ selfie (i.e. selfie taken alone) is socially acceptable as long as it contains contextual clues that communicate some activities/updates of the subject to the viewer. However, if the solo selfie focuses exclusively on the subject without giving actual ‘updates’, or if the selfie posted is irrelevant to the verbal status update, these are then perceived as self-centred and disliked by the viewer. Nevertheless, over-sharing of selfies on its own is unlikely to affect the viewer’s perception of their friendship. The evaluation of friendship still largely depends on two-way interaction between the subject and the viewer, rather than on the mediated quasi-interaction (Thompson, 1995) of viewing status updates.

Future Work: 
A cluster analysis will be performed to classify survey respondents into several prototypes based on their photo- and selfie-sharing behaviors on Facebook. Interview results will be analyzed in greater depth. Together, findings shall paint a fuller picture of the role that selfies play in ordinary young people’s everyday communication on Facebook.

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co.

Feinstein, B. A., Hershenberg, R., Bhatia, V., Latack, J. A., Meuwly, N., & Davila, J. (2013). Negative social comparison on Facebook and depressive symptoms: Rumination as a mechanism. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 2(3), 161-170. 

Thompson, J. (1995).The media and modernity. Cambridge: Blackwell


Tuesday July 28, 2015 10:31 - 12:00
(7th Floor) Room TRS1-129 (Ted Rogers School of Management) 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5G 2C3

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