Min masteroppgave: The Other Side of the Screen – Simultaneously maintaining online and real life social relationships

How is social media production in social situations experienced? In my masters thesis I explored how individuals with different levels of social media use described their relationship to social media production amongst others.

Would you be offended if someone took a selfie with you during your conversation? What if somebody posted a photo with you from your brunch and wrote a caption using the hash tag #BFF4EVER? Would there be substantial social value to the social media post, irritation over the superior social interaction being interrupted by social media production, or could it even be considered a natural and unremarkable occurrence in modern day social life? These were the questions that shaped the epistemological concerns of my masters’ thesis. 10 informants were interviewed about how they used and understood social media production that occurred whilst being social with others. The participants had different levels of use per their own definition, ranging from little use to above average use. The participant’s general understandings and their specific description of social media use was relative to they normatively legitimized and criticized personal use. First I will present how social media production was defined in this thesis.

Illustration: Solveig Wiland Gruenke

Social media production
To explore the concept of social media production in social situations, it was necessary to define what kind of social media is relevant to this thesis. Social media is a collective term without a standard textbook definition. Social media is often defined by how it compares and contrasts with a traditional understanding of media. These definitions can be contradictory and even confusing. Hence, I used a temporary definition of social media production for my thesis that could be summarized as: Social media production is the production of content that reaches more than one other user on social media sites or applications with synchronous relations. The content can be communicative in nature but not be created for the sole purpose of being communicated to only one specific user. The participants who were active on social media could not produce content that was for commercial purposes. I also excluded points of contention about social media that involved criminal behavior, like child pornography, bullying, as well as social media activity that was for the purpose of procuring a romantic partner. After interviewing the participants with varying degrees of use there were several central findings about how social media production in social situations were experienced by the participants.

Sociality and social media
I gathered the most prevalent ways in which a social media production and social media is experienced as socially significant in general to better understand social media as social framework. The different users all experienced how social media was an encompassing presence in modern day life. The frequency of social media activity was relational to how the participants considered their own content and use and the use and content of others. This use had direct implications for how social media could function as an extension of social life. I used these understanding of social media as a substantial social framework for some of the users, as a foundation to better understand the responses and reactions to social media production when they occur in specific social situations.

Production process
I analyzed the social media production process and the participants’ emotional responses and their reactions to the act when it occurs in specific social situations. I argued that the way participants experienced the process of production was dependent on their understanding of social media’s social significance and legitimacy as a social frame. The participants that one could argue valued social media as a social frame with certain expectations and rules, could spend quite a bit of time on the social media production, and also incorporate it into their social interaction. The users that viewed social media production as insignificant compared to the real-life social framework, experienced social media production by others as disruption in real-life social interaction. These emotional effects elicited coping strategies and responses to save each other’s face, including the participants in the interactions that were producing content whilst with others and the ones experiencing others producing content. The active users pretended that they had not become distracted if they were producing content and had an ironic distance to the production if it was pointed out. When losing face, the participants that felt ignored in the social situations would also try to jokingly point out the absurdity of choosing to produce content and not engage in the superior socially significant real-life social situation. The participant’s justifications for these reactions and responses and their personal use are significant for how they value social media in social interaction. I also explored how the participants implement their understanding of social media to normatively explain their and others social behaviors.

Illustration: Solveig Wiland Gruenke

Criticizing and legitimizing personal use
I attempted to include how the participants normatively legitimized and criticized social media production. That social media was shared and public, made it both legitimatizing for real-life social relationships, but also a source of contention. The content described by the participants was exclusively based on individual users’ personalities and their lives, and often the participants would take umbrage with how elements of social life were shared with more people that were not actually present for the real-life social situations. These arguments for and against social media production were more removed from the social interaction itself and revolved around using social media itself and how social media is structured. Social media was often portrayed as more of an overarching cultural symptom and not necessarily indicative of issues related to a social interaction. Social media was upheld by some of the participants at the same level of superficiality as real-life social interaction. The fact that artifice and elaboration of personal and social life were occurring on social media was not exclusive to social media but symptomatic of human nature for the participants. The more macro- level implications of social media production in social situations could be part of how the participants experience social media as socially significant, how they experience social media production in social situations and how they respond and react to it, and also how they legitimize and criticize personal use. The way in which social media itself was often attributed to more of the social responsibility than the actual individuals in the interaction, which could be indicative of how further research into social media and social media productions social significance should be fashioned.