Teenagers on Facebook: Exploitation and Growing Up

Sonia Livingstone’s essay, “Taking Risky Opportunities in Youthful Content Creation: Teenagers’ Use of Social Networking Sites for Intimacy, Privacy and Self-expression” had many important focuses, but I found her points about the negatives of teenagers on social networking sites to be of the most relevance. The concerns of online teenage self-portrayal, and their lack of shame or privacy sensibilities, are all issues that existed when this essay was written, and continue to exist today. These issues were all demonstrated in a Facebook group that was titled, “Dress Your Age, You 12 Year Old Wh*re”.

I do not think that this Facebook group exists anymore, but it was a group that dedicated itself to the shared disdain over the inappropriate online self-representations of teenage females in little clothing or provocative poses. The group members communicated their dislike through the posting of photos and comments. This group existed 4 or so years ago, and it consisted of a community of Facebook users who congregated around their collective outrage over how young females chose to exploit their bodies in their Facebook photos. It is an example of a how a feature on a social networking site became a medium used to illuminate the adverse relationships many teenage girls were creating with the same social networking site. In this way, it was an internal critique of its influences.

This group was extreme in not only their title, but also their paradoxical exploitation of these young girls and their photos. The popularity of social networking sites has indeed challenged privacy concerns and the traditions of shame and discretion. These online sites have led to concerns about what ‘identities’ teenagers are presenting to friends and strangers. However, Facebook groups such as this also point to cyber bullying. Public disapproval of how young Facebook users are sharing their bodies with the site, permits these unaware individuals to be presented before the group for uncensored critique and ridicule. Neither issue is to be condoned. Both issues were constructed from one social networking site, and one was conceived as a response to another.

One of the downfalls of online social networking is also one of its positives: the availability of creative freedom. Unfortunately, with these online social networks, teenagers are given the chance to take ‘risks’, as discussed in class, and to offer themselves up to scrutiny and critique. Contrary to Livingstone’s notion of ‘extended youth’, I believe social networking sites force adolescents to grow up at an accelerated rate as they try to achieve the coveted status of older users, and as they expose themselves to harsh judgment from ‘friends’ and strangers.



  1. While exploitation is a risk in social networking, the problem of accelerated sexual maturity is not rooted within social media. While younger users will see more adult teenagers’ pages and perhaps mimic them, the idea of sex appeal is more apparent in other forms of media. For example, music videos and reality TV set up examples of poor behaviour and often scantily clad females. Even flipping through a magazine, one is visually bombarded with ads based in sexuality. Social networking is more of a platform for expression and/or exploitation than of an instiller of sexual identity.

  2. I think all of these comments are extremely thought provoking. Especially having read the essay we talked briefly about in class. If you were fortunate enough to take ENGL 330A with Professor Katherine Acheson you would have read Stephen Greenblatt’s essay “Renaissance Self-Fashioning: from More to Shakespeare”. I have only read the section pertaining to Sir Thomas More, however I assume the ideas about self-fashioning are universal. Basically, Greenblatt focuses on a few major literary figures and examines the means in which they construct their own identity and public personas throughout their work. Greenblatt believed that these “identities” were constructed based on what was socially acceptable at the time. (I.e. the authors would construct public images that coincided with what was ethical and moral. I guess it was kind of like self promotion through art). I think this renaissance self-fashioning is extremely relevant today. Instead of seeing it within paintings and stories, we are seeing it online in blogs and profiles. It is interesting to see how we have this obsession with creating our own public identity, or rather using the technologies available to us to establish this carefully constructed image of ourselves. Compare these thoughts to the aspects of narcissism we discussed in class. Perhaps “facebookers” aren’t being 100% narcissistic when they post 100’s of photos of themselves online in profile pictures and photo albums. Perhaps they are establishing their own sense of public identity. Famous authors did it hundreds of years ago…. so it makes me wonder if newer technologies and the availability of social networking sites and blogs has created the opportunity for everyone to establish an identity they have carefully constructed for themselves. (An identity that is based on what is currently acceptable in society). I think this applies to Sophiapelka’s post in the sense that sex appeal is apparent in many forms of media, therefore it has almost become a social norm within society.

  3. I’m glad to see Professor Acheson also champions Greenblatt’s “self-fashioning” concept. It really fits with rcl12’s original post,and sophiapelka’s as well–both these young teenagers and those reacting against them are fashioning identities for themselves in the context of (as sophiapelka points out) a society where the media inundates us with images of sexuality. And as kairos88 points out, more than ever, our social networks are sites of performance.


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