Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondAt the other end of the age scale, we worked with four secondary schools. And what we found was that teenagers now make extensive use of Twitter for behaviour such as taunting each other.

Skip to 0 minutes and 14 secondsNow the ages from 13 to 17 are difficult especially for girls associated with low self-esteem, and issues such as a self-cutting or anorexia. Now while we didn't find that social media makes these problems worse, it was clear that this is now the place where a lot of this negative social interaction actually happens. So along with the pupils, we made a film about an example of this behaviour, which they call Twitter Beef.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 seconds"Beef" is like a slang word for fights. But because it's very public, Twitter, especially year 11, because our year 11 people, when they have an argument, someone will be like, oh, they're arguing again.

Skip to 1 minute and 0 secondsAnd the whole conversation comes on Twitter, and loads of people start favouriting it and replying to that tweet.

Skip to 1 minute and 16 secondsIt can explode quite quickly

Skip to 1 minute and 28 secondsSo our research led to rather different conclusions from the main literature on cyberbullying. Because if you start with "bully", then you try and look for identifiable characters, such as the victim, or the perpetrator. Now while they exist, we found a more kind of general genre, where people some day would be in one role, and then they might move to another role. So we'd suggest that maybe you'd get more effective policy if you looked at this wider pattern, rather than trying to find apparently identifiable characters. These two examples show that it is possible to use our research for practical purposes.

Skip to 2 minutes and 10 secondsBut our main goal is education, so that we can all gain a better understanding of the use and consequences of social media.

Practical uses of our research 2: the school

As a result of the research we also hope to change the perception of the difficult problem of taunting at schools by arguing for the need to:-

  • Shift the focus from identifying ‘victims’ and ‘bullies’ to understanding the wider context of taunting at schools.

  • Examine the the specific consequences of social media such as the use of ‘indirects’ (messages that don’t specify the person they are directed at), the ‘hiding behind a screen’ and the expansion of such behaviour from the playground to the home.

  • Understanding that although the use of social media has these consequences, this is mainly a displacement of problems onto social media. Social media has changed but may not increase this problematic behaviour.

Can you think of any other examples where you hope the study of social media could be put to practical use? Please use the comments section to let us know.

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Why We Post: the Anthropology of Social Media

UCL (University College London)

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