Journal article

Young people and Facebook: what are the challenges to adopting a critical engagement?

1 Jun 2013


This article presents findings from a recent study into the ways young people are engaging with the social networking site Facebook. It draws on a qualitative, small-scale study with six 13 and 14 year old girls who have been using Facebook daily for two years. It aimed to explore the nature of their critical understanding of the medium in ways that have been obscured by research and popular discussion that assume a simple dichotomy between ‘digital natives’ and others. In order to analyse results, Foucault’s theory of discursive formation is used as a framework through which the motivations behind the behaviours presented might be understood. Results suggest that there are a number of factors that make critical engagement difficult in this context. First, coupling the highly visual nature of the medium with an essentially ‘invisible audience’ made participants anxious about ‘fitting in’ to the discourse, which ultimately limited the scope of their use. Second, because social networking is strongly linked with identity presentation critiquing the medium would require an analysis of personal identity. Finally, to critique the site requires the individual to stand ‘outside’ the discourse, which essentially counters the reason for using Facebook. The article concludes by making some suggestions for future educational programs that aim to develop critical engagement with social media.

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