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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondDo you care about how you look to other people? We all do to a certain extent, but in every society there are different ways in which people make themselves, as we can call, 'socially visible'. Perhaps the most popular example of social visibility is when deciding what you should look like before leaving the house. Such as what to wear and how to do our hair. One problem we all have, for example, is should we wear the same thing for different audiences we'll encounter during the day? Should we wear the same thing when just hanging out with our own family or when visiting our extended family? What about when going to a meeting with our work colleagues?

Skip to 0 minutes and 43 secondsIn our field sites, many people change several times a day for this reason.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 secondsThe same problem now exists for people from both our field sites with Facebook, since most people have a variety of Facebook friends on the same site. Sometimes the situation could be even worse with tagged photos, which are the photos on view on Facebook that other people have placed there. This is like someone else dressing you up for public display. These are quite familiar issues, but with the rise of social media, there are two new genres that have become especially popular-- selfies and memes. We can think of this as being as communicative as the clothes we choose to wear. In our research, we found that while people post selfies in all our field sites, they may vary considerably.

Skip to 1 minute and 36 secondsFor example, last week we examined some schoolchildren in England. Danny found that on Facebook, there were five times as many group selfies as individual selfies. And most common were ugly selfies, not pretty ones, posted on Snapchat.

Skip to 1 minute and 55 secondsIn the Italian field site, young female teenagers might spend hours preparing themselves for selfies. They would change outfits and try out different makeup styles before shooting some photos. Then they have to edit these and consult with friends before finally uploading a selfie to Facebook. But once they get engaged, the emphasis on visual posting shifts more to showing their relationships to other people. Married women avoid selfies and focus on showing what they do well, such as teaching or craft, and looking after their family.

Skip to 2 minutes and 34 secondsSecondly, let's look at memes. When you think of memes, do you mainly think of images that are just frivolous or trivial? In fact, the most popular kind of meme seen in this research is what we have called the 'moral meme'-- that is a picture with an image or a text that promotes some kind of moral value, such as love, care, friendship, or being courteous towards others. Why do moral memes seem to appear so often? Is it because sometimes it's easier, and perhaps safer, for people to express their ideas through images rather than words? Or because the ideas presented by the moral memes will not be attributed directly to you?

Skip to 3 minutes and 20 secondsAre moral memes a way of gauging whether people share your sentiments or ideas, but not directly? The key point here is that these represent a new way of engaging in public life; which we need to take seriously, as we shall demonstrate further on during this week. So selfies and memes are both new ways in which social media helps expand the ideas of a visual conversation or social interaction. They are shared and commented upon. Some platforms, such as Instagram and Snapchat are primarily visual. In Italy these are used more in metropolitan areas than in a small out of the way place such as Grano. In our comparative study, we came to realise that social visibility is not just about new platforms.

Skip to 4 minutes and 10 secondsWhen and why do people want to be visible or not too visible? In places such as in South India or in Turkey, there have traditionally been restrictions on visibility, especially for women. So instead, we find lots of images of greeting cards with good wishes or film actors and actresses. Instead of showing one's daughter as an image of family life, people may want to upload images of food.

Skip to 4 minutes and 40 secondsIn one way, south Italy and Trinidad are very different. With its carnival culture, there is more emphasis on social visibility in Trinidad, including a new ideal for achieving Facebook fame by going viral. But in Italy, social media is extremely restrained and normative and largely reflects one's social status. In some of our other field sites, the key to understanding social visibility is understanding how this reflects people's aspirations. But as we shall see from our industrial China field site, and from Brazil, this again can be done in very different ways.

‘The look’ – what is social visibility?

In this video we will learn about online social visibility. What has social media added to the traditional ways in which people used to appear in public? We will then look into two of the most popular genres on social media: selfies and memes.

Take a moment to think about how you are visible to others, both online and offline. For example, are there photos of you on social media? Are there any differences between the way you appear online verses offline? Have you ever regretted appearing in a photograph on social media that you posted or were tagged in? Leave your answers in the comments below.

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This video is from the free online course:

Why We Post: the Anthropology of Social Media

UCL (University College London)

Course highlights Get a taste of this course before you join: