Facebook and Social Presence in Jamaica

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - June 5, 2012

STREAMING: Volume 1; #Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles, written by Dr Marcia Forbes, analyses the responses from research participants in four countries – Jamaica, Dominica, USA and Trinidad – to give deep insights into youth culture, the concept of mobility and the social ecologies of virtual spaces. The following is the last in a series of excerpts from the book to be published in Caribbean Journal.

Facebook & Social Presence

By Marcia Forbes, PhD

What is clear in the feedback from Jamaican youths is that Facebook is a valid medium for communication and that the absence of physicality, while emboldening many of them to take on ‘loud’ identities, does not entirely deprive them of social presence or the ability to transmit emotions via this hugely popular social network.

“Social presence refers to the extent to which a medium is perceived as conveying the actual physical presence of the communicators.”[i] Although “the flesh” is missing, an ever-expanding range of emoticons helps to communicate mood and general emotion online. The richness of Facebook in terms of the wide variety of options it presents – such as the ability to post pictures, links to videos and other content, as detailed earlier – allows youths to get to know each other and to share in profound ways.

Oversharing via Facebook

While there are many pluses to Facebook and the ways sharing can foster sociability, there is also a downside. Facebook can become addictive and it can also lead to ‘oversharing’. Many youths now live their private lives in public. Facebook can open youths to bullying, online or in real life, as well as stalking (again online or in real life). What happens on Facebook does not stay on Facebook.

Similar to real life where caution has to be exercised for one’s own protection, so too online users have to be more sensitive to personal security. Facebook, however, privileges making information public and sharing more. When this is coupled with the network’s seeming propensity for inadvertent privacy leaks, potential problems become evident. Then there are the challenges of grasping the numerous on-going Facebook changes. Many youths express difficulty in keeping up and knowing how to protect their information.

Cyberbullying – More in Volume 2

The virtual absence of discussion about cyberbullying (outside of girls’ quarrels) and stalking in this chapter may be regarded as an omission on my part. Truth is, these issues came up for discussion across many groups as well as in interviews, with several examples of the different ways in which they occur. Cyberbullying and stalking do, however, extend beyond Facebook to life online in general.

Admittedly, Facebook and its dominance among youths make it a prime site for such activities. Nonetheless, an author always has to make tough decisions about what to include in a book. Exploring these issues when examining the performance of identity online seems more appropriate; they will therefore be addressed in a chapter tentatively titled, “Online Performance” or “On Stage Online” in the next volume of this two-part body of work.

Stalking and bullying behaviors may or may not reflect an individual’s “normal” modus operandi or offline identity. Nevertheless, what they do reveal are specific types of online performances.

Lifestyles Configured by Apps

The wise Bard recognized that “all the world’s a stage” – whether that world is on or offline. Admittedly, Shakespeare could not have imagined that a cyber-world would come to exist in tandem with the physical world. Neither is he likely to have envisioned a mobile world where space and time are collapsed and lifestyles are configured by apps. As Zuckerberg noted via live-streaming of f8 as he promised “all your apps” and “a new way to express who you are”: “Facebook exists at the intersection between technology and social issues.”[ii]

This book, the first of a two part series, is available in hard copy as well as various eBook formats. Download your Kindle copy here. STREAMING is also available here.

[i] Yuliang Liu, “What Does Research Say about the Nature of Computer-mediated Communication: Task-Oriented, Social-Emotion, or Both?” in Electronic Journal of Sociology ISSN: 1198 3655. Retrieved on November 23, 2011.

[ii] Mark Zuckerberg, https://f8.facebook.com/ Retrieved on November 26, 2011.


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