“I’m not a snitch”: Teenage girls, friendship and online safety

Year: 2019

Author: Thompson, Roberta

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The presentation focuses on the ways in which friendship influences teenage girls’ online safety practice. For more than 10 years, social media has been an integral part of young Australians everyday life. Despite young people’s positive claims about social media, girls aged 12 to 14 are more likely than any other demographic to experience cyberbullying and emotional distress in relation to these experiences. Girls this age are also more likely to feel pressured to produce nude images of themselves and therefore, are disproportionately at risk of image-based abuse. The project discussed in this presentation investigated Year 7 and 8 girls’ online experiences and social media with friends as a means for generating a robust understanding of their online problems. The research is particularly salient given intervention campaigns and online safety messages most of which have not focused on gender differences or cohort specific needs.

The research was conducted between October 2017 and November 2018 and focused on the inter-relationship between: i) practices and strategies for establishing an online presence; ii) friendship expectations, norms, and attitudes, and iii) everyday challenges and online difficulties. The project was set within a design-based context aligned to principles of design ethnography and was framed using feminist elaborations of Erving Goffman’s (1959, 1967) work on impression management and strategic interaction. Data was generated over two years at two Southeast Queensland high schools and involved an online survey, focus group discussions, and a design-based project. This presentation draws on data from the online survey contributions of 75 Year 7 girls and focus group discussions of 84 Year 7 and 8 girls. Following Boyatzis (1998) thematic analysis process, a content analysis of the girls’ contributions about friendship and online safety was undertaken, and then these units were used to identify thematic trends in the girls’ online safety practice. Analyses indicate these girls’ enacted online safety practices in relation to friendship expectations of support and local taboos about reporting behaviours. To date, friendship expectations and local norms have not been addressed in online safety campaigns. While further research is needed, project findings highlight the need for gender and cohort specific online safety messages.