Selfies, Snapchat and sassy ladies: a teen’s guide to social media

Lucia Hagan

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Facebook is over

There are only two types of social media anyone my age uses: Snapchat and Instagram. Snapchat is for giving everyone a constant insight into your life, without it being as annoying as posting loads of videos and photos on to Instagram (Snapchat posts disappear). Instagram is basically the same thing, except your uploads are more spaced out. The only people I know who use Facebook are my parents; mostly it’s a place where people dump their non-Instagram-worthy pictures every couple of months.

I use YouTube quite a lot, usually to watch makeup tutorials, but I always end up clicking through different videos until I end up on a weird conspiracy theory (usually Shane Dawson’s web series, where he covered the killer clowns). That’s when I know it’s time to stop.

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The Unspoken Rules Kids Create for Instagram

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In one focus group I held recently with seventh-grade girls in an affluent suburb, all the girls were avid Instagram and Snapchat users. It was clear that they understood the dynamic of presenting a persona through the images they posted. It was also clear that they had a definite set of “rules” about pictures.

Aware of their privileged socioeconomic status, they talked about how it would not be O.K. to share vacation pictures of a fancy hotel. They used an example of a classmate who had violated this rule. Like many unspoken social rules, this one became vivid to these girls upon its violation.

As part of a school project, the girl had displayed pictures from a vacation at a foreign resort. Her classmates considered that an immature form of “bragging.” They said other kids had gone on even “better trips” or lived in “amazing houses,” but “knew better” than to post about it.

The same girls identified another peer as “too sexual,” a judgment that some of their parents even encouraged. A few of the girls said that their moms did not want them to hang out with her because she “acts too sexy.” One of the girls expressed this very sentiment in a group text that included the peer in question, causing hurt feelings and conflicts.

 

Donald Trump, the First President of Our Post-Literate Age

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But all this focus on fake Facebook news obscures a much bigger story about the way social media — the endless public opining and sharing of information — is reshaping politics. Even if you’ve never given much thought to its meaning, you’ve probably heard someone say “the medium is the message,” the famous dictum of media theorist Marshall McLuhan.

But what does that mean, and what does it mean specifically for the 2016 election? A possible answer can be found in the work of Walter J. Ong, a Jesuit priest and a former student of McLuhan’s at St. Louis University. In his most famous work, “Orality and Literacy,” Ong examined how the invention of reading and writing fundamentally changed human consciousness. He argued that the written word wasn’t just an extension of the spoken word, but something that opened up new ways of thinking — something that created a whole new world.

The easiest way to grasp the difference between the written world and the oral world is that in the latter, there’s no way to look up anything. Before the invention of writing, knowledge existed in the present tense between two or more people; when information was forgotten, it disappeared forever. That state of affairs created a special need for ideas that were easily memorized and repeatable (so, in a way, they could go viral). The immediacy of the oral world did not favor complicated, abstract ideas that need to be thought through. Instead, it elevated individuals who passed along memorable stories, wisdom and good news.

And here we begin to see how the age of social media resembles the pre-literate, oral world. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other platforms are fostering an emerging linguistic economy that places a high premium on ideas that are pithy, clear, memorable and repeatable (that is to say, viral). Complicated, nuanced thoughts that require context don’t play very well on most social platforms, but a resonant hashtag can have extraordinary influence. Evan Spiegel, the chief executive officer of Snap Inc., grasped the new oral dynamics of social media when he told the Wall Street Journal: “People wonder why their daughter is taking 10,000 photos a day. What they don’t realize is that she isn’t preserving images. She’s talking.”

How Instagram Opened a Ruthless New Chapter in the Teen Photo Wars

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Rob: Okay, so we’re about a month in. Have you found anyone seriously using Instagram Stories? Has anyone switched from using Snapchat Stories to Instagram Stories? You are my informant for this.

Rob’s [Teenage] Brother: I don’t really feel like anyone uses their Instagram story—people use it, but not as much as they use their Snapchat story. With Snapchat Stories, they have the expectation that their friends will see it, but with Instagram, you can’t really trust that it’s just your friends who will be seeing it.

Rob: So how often do you check people’s Snapchat Stories?

Rob’s Brother: Twice a day. But I don’t usually go to the stories section—when I open Snapchat, I don’t check stories every time.

Rob: Can you give me an example of what an average Snapchat use is? You open the app, and what happens?

Rob’s Brother: I think the generic Snapchat exchange is an exchange of selfies to keep a streak going. I find that Snapchat conversations involving pictures don’t really involve actually a … conversation. It’s just, like, exchanging pictures.

Instagram Stories: who cares about your commute or cleansing routine?

instagram stories

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I don’t hate Instagram Stories, but Instagram Stories hates me.

I also don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such brilliant friends in life, but, equally, I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve their banal videos of facial cleansing routines or them making a peace sign on a busy road as a lorry roars by or a macro shot of a bug they found in the bathroom.

This is what I’ve had to witness since Instagram introduced its clone of Snapchat’s Stories – a section that lets users posts pictures and videos that are only available for 24 hours.

Why I love Snapchat

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The history of social apps has almost entirely been about taking linearly time sorted feeds of user content and turning them into a combined newsfeed experience unique for every user: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram. This has created a perverse environment where users are thrust into a social-proof arms race: they want to share cooler and more awesome stuff than their peers. Facebook turns into posts about job promotions, exotic vacations, kids’ accomplishments. Twitter is a competition to write the most retweeted witticisms. Instagram is the 9th circle of hell where everyone feels inadequate about their photos of bottle service, Michelin star dining and helicopter rides.

Snapchat removes this. There’s no combined feed. If someone wants to look at your shit, they have to click on you. There’s no public view count, follower count, likes count, or any other social dick-measuring contest. You can just put whatever you’re doing on Snapchat; if people don’t like it, who gives a fuck, you’ll never know. There’s no expectation of balling out 24/7.

Consequently, on Snapchat I’ll post to my daily Story almost twice as much as I’ll post to Twitter and Facebook combined to reach only a fraction of the number of people. The cost of content creation is extremely low, and Snapchat makes it fun to think about what aspects of what I’m doing every day might be cool for other people to see.

 

Snapchat frees sex abuse survivors to talk

SnapChat filters

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Staring into the lens, the survivors have found themselves able to speak candidly, without fear of identification or repercussions.

Yusuf Omar, the mobile editor at the Hindustan Times has been using the filters to disguise the faces of women he interviews, while still allowing facial expressions to be visible.

“Eyes are the window to the soul,” says Yusuf. “And because of the face-mapping technology that Snapchat uses to make these filters work you don’t lose that.

“The dragon filter one of the girls used actually exaggerated them, so you can clearly see her expressions as she speaks.