Co-Constructing Identities through Digital Traces: Scrolling Back on Facebook with Young People

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 09:15
Oral Presentation
Brady ROBARDS, Monash University, Australia
For many young people, entire lives are played out through, made visible on, and archived across social media. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are not just channels of communication and connection, but they have also become important sites of memory, reflection, and nostalgia. These ‘digital traces’ of lives are often co-constructed by peers (through tags, comments, likes, erasures) and also through the algorithms that order news feeds, privilege certain posts, and shape disclosures. These socio-technical, collectively produced digital traces can reveal rich life histories. This paper draws on qualitative research with young people in their twenties who had been using Facebook for more than five years (n=34). Interviews involved ‘scrolling back’ with research participants through their Facebook Timelines to reveal changes in disclosure practices over time, to reflect on Facebook as a record of life, and crucially for this paper, to explore how the digital traces inscribed onto the Facebook Timeline are collectively constructed and shared. While Facebook is just one trace with limitations among other personal histories (such as curriculum vitae, photo albums, and diaries), and also exists within an increasingly complex ‘polymedia’ landscape (where audiences are segregated and disclosure practices differ across social media platforms), this study points to the enduring significance of Facebook as a site of collectively co-constructed memory and identity-work.