THE DIGITAL AGE
AND PARTICIPATING IN POLITICS
Pascaline Lorentz, David Smahel,
Monika Metykova, Michelle F. Wright (Eds.)
Masarykova univerzita Brno 2015
Living in the Digital Age: Self-Presentation, Networking, Playing, and
This book reflects the current issues in today‘s life in society which
are influenced by digital media. In four parts, the book focuses on the
field of online self-presentation and creating an impression; online
networking among young people; digital betting and gaming; and po-
litical participation in the digital era. These topics are described us-
ing the latest research from the fields of psychology, sociology, media
studies, and political science. The book explains and corrects many
preconceived myths regarding the use of the Internet and digital me-
dia, such as online pornography, encounters with strangers from the
Internet, and playing online games.
The authors of this book are members –or connected researchers–to
the Interdisciplinary Research Team on the Internet and Society
(http://irtis.fss.muni.cz/), which covers a number of research pro-
jects focused on the Internet and cyberspace.
This book is intended primarily for researchers, teachers, and stu-
dents who are interested in the themes of life in the digital age. There
may also be benefit for psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers,
and those who work with people who are somehow threatened via the
Internet, such as by online addiction, betting, and so on.
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE Self-presentation, networking, playing, and participating in politics P. Lorentz, D. Smahel, M. Metykova, M. F. Wright (Eds.)
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
ANDPARTICIPATING IN POLITICS
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
ANDPARTICIPATING IN POLITICS
Pascaline Lorentz, David Smahel,
MonikaMetykova, Michelle F. Wright (Eds.)
is publication was supported by the project Assembling an Interdisci-
plinary Team for the Research of Internet and New Media (VITOVIN
CZ.1.07/2.3.00/20.0184), which is co-nanced by the European Social Fund
and the state budget of the Czech Republic.
Dr. Christopher Barlett
Dr. Zaheer Hussain
Dr. Pablo Vicente Sapag Muñoz de la Peña
Dr. Kaveri Subrahmanyam
© 2015 Masarykova univerzita
ISBN 978-80-210-7811-6 (online : pdf)
About the editors .....................................................................................................7
Monika Metykova, David Smahel, Pascaline Lorentz, Michelle F. Wright ..........9
Section 1: Self-Presentation and Impression Management
in the Digital Age
Michelle F. Wright ....................................................................................................13
“Fraped” Selves: Hacked, Tagged, and Shared Without Permission.
e Challenges of Identity Development for Young People on Facebook
Monica Barbovschi, Anca Velicu ............................................................................ 15
e Educational Dimension of Pornography: Adolescents’
Use of New Media for Sexual Purposes
Laura E. Simon, Kristian Daneback, Anna Ševčíková .........................................33
e Role of the Media and Cyber Context in Adolescents’
Pursuit of Popularity
Michelle F. Wright ....................................................................................................49
Section 2: Online Networking among Youths
David Smahel ...........................................................................................................60
Online Communities and Early Adolescents
Hana Machackova ...................................................................................................62
Stranger Is Not Always Danger: e Myth and Reality of Meetings
with Online Strangers
Lenka Dedkova ........................................................................................................78
Children’s Privacy Management on Social Network Sites
Hana Machackova, Martina Cernikova, David Smahel,
Zuzana Ocadlikova ................................................................................................. 95
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Section 3: Gaming and Playing Digitally
Pascaline Lorentz .................................................................................................. 110
Live Online Betting: e Answer to Every Gambler’s Wish
Šárka Licehammerová ...........................................................................................112
e Risks of Online Gambling for Younger Males: Insights
from Czech National Surveys
Anastasia Ejova, Šárka Licehammerová, Pavla Chomynová,
Zuzana Tion Leštinová, Viktor Mravčík .............................................................128
Playing Massively Multiplayer Online Games: A Dangerous
Pascaline Lorentz ...................................................................................................148
Section 4: Participating in Politics
Monika Metykova ..................................................................................................162
Czech Politicians Go Online: Is this e-Democracy or Just
a Campaign Move?
Alena Macková ......................................................................................................164
New Media, Old Inequalities: Technological Fixes, National
Containers, and the Roma
Monika Metykova ..................................................................................................181
Social Media and Diused Participation
Jakub Macek ...........................................................................................................196
Contributors ....................................................................................................... 210
Index ...................................................................................................................... 216
ABOUT THE EDITORS
ABOUT THE EDITORS
Pascaline Lorentz, a Ph.D. in Sociology, investigated the teenage audience
of the video game e Sims® for her doctoral research. She is a Postdoctoral
Researcher working on online gaming at the Institute for Research on Children,
Youth and Family at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic. Granted with
an ENDEAVOUR Research Fellowship in 2011, Lorentz undertook a study
documenting the social environment of the intense practice of virtual world
attachments in Australia. In 2013, she worked on Digital Australia 14 and
Digital New Zealand 14 with Professor Jerey Brand at Bond University,
David Smahel, Ph.D., is a Professor at the Institute for Research on Children,
Youth and Family at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic. He directs the
workgroup “Interdisciplinary Research Team on Internet and Society” (http://
irtis.fss.muni.cz) which researches the social-psychological implications of
the Internet and technology. Current research focuses on adolescents’ and
adults’ Internet use, the risks and online problematic situations for children
and adolescents, the construction of online identities, virtual relationships,
and online addictive behavior. He is the Editor of Cyberpsychology: Journal
of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace (www.cyberpsychology.eu) and he
co-authored Digital Youth: e Role of Media in Development (Springer,
2011). Smahel led a cross-cultural qualitative investigation in nine European
countries within the EU Kids Online III project and he is the author of the
resultant report “e Meaning of Online Problematic Situations for Children”.
Monika Metykova, Ph.D., works as a Lecturer in Media Communications
and Journalism Studies at the University of Sussex. She is also a Senior
Researcher at the Institute for Research on Children, Youth and Family at
Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic. Her research involves media and
democracy, journalistic cultures, migration, and European media spaces and
policy. Metykova is Vice-Chair of the Diaspora, Migration and Media section
of the European Communication Research and Education Association. Most
recently, she co-edited a special issue of Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial
Research on Cyberspace on new media and democracy. Her book Diversity and
the Media is published by Palgrave in 2015.
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Michelle F. Wright, Ph.D., is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for
Research on Children, Youth and Family at Masaryk University, Brno, Czech
Republic. Her research focuses on the contextual factors, particularly familial
and cultural, which inuence children’s and adolescents’ pursuit, maintenance,
and achievement of peer status, along with their involvement in aggressive
behaviors in both the face-to-face and cyber contexts. Another goal of this
research is to understand how families, culture, peer status, and behaviors
impact social, emotional, and academic adjustment, as well as the implications
of youths’ aggression toward public policy.
Monika Metykova, David Smahel, Pascaline Lorentz, Michelle F. Wright
Some of the most pertinent questions those of us living in developed countries
encounter – both as individuals and as members of societies – have to do with
how we live in the digital age. e range of scientic, economic, legal, and ethical
discussions on the issue may, at times, feel overwhelming. Initial scholarly and
policy claims about the revolutionary impact of the internet – on the ways in
which we conduct our everyday lives, relate to one another, develop personality
traits, and exercise our democratic rights – that surfaced in the early 1990s have
gradually become more nuanced as more scientic evidence became available.
is book Living in the Digital Age: Self-presentation, Networking, Playing, and
Participating in Politics seeks to contribute to some of the most up-to-date,
complex explorations of the topic. is volume brings together contributions of
an international group of scholars, most of whom are part of the Interdisciplinary
Research Team on Internet and Society (IRTIS – see http://irtis.fss.muni.cz)
within the Institute for Research on Children, Youth and Family at Masaryk
University, Brno, Czech Republic. is interdisciplinary group of researchers
presents their original research in four inter-related areas: self-presentation and
impression management in the digital age; online networking among youth;
digital gaming and playing; and political participation in the digital era.
e book combines approaches from the disciplines of psychology, sociology,
media studies, and political science. Most chapters are based on new empirical
data; some chapters include theoretical reections on current topics. e
authors mostly used data from European countries, including data from the
Europe-wide project EU Kids Online (see www.eukidsonline.net) and, in one
case, the respondents were American. e chapters are also methodologically
diverse, using both qualitative and quantitative methods: surveys, focus
groups, interviews, and content analyses. We believe that such a diversity of
interdisciplinary approaches, samples, and methods will contribute to existing
debates in our elds and, ideally, spark new avenues for research.
In each of the four sections, authors oer a critical re-evaluation of some of the
most evident presumptions and, in some cases, they venture into more marginal
areas of research to raise new questions. While the ndings that the authors
discuss vary in their generalizability and the populations that they study, the
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
book showcases the results of a long-term engagement with living in the digital
age consolidated under the umbrella of the VITOVIN research project and
the IRTIS team. Living in the Digital Age: Self-presentation, Networking, Playing,
and Participating in Politics is intended primarily for researchers, teachers, and
students of social sciences with an interest in the digital age. It can, however,
also enrich the understandings of practicing psychologists, psychiatrists, and
social workers who, in the course of their work, encounter risks associated with
the internet, for example, in the form of addictions or gambling.
e rst section of the book focuses on issues of self-presentation and impression
management in the digital age. In the rst chapter, Monica Barbovschi and
Anca Velicu link youths’ behaviors to identity development through the online
environment, and reect on the implications of personal data misuse and how
such misuse alters youths’ abilities to create and maintain online identity. In
the second chapter, Laura E. Simon, Kristian Daneback, and Anna Ševčíková
describe the blurred lines between using online pornography for sexual arousal
and sexual education. e authors explain the benets of online pornography
consumption and connect it to youths’ sexual exploration. e third chapter –
written by Michelle F. Wright – explores how digital technologies can be used to
promote youths’ popularity among their peers, and how such utilization relates
to their cyber social behaviors, including cyberbullying and cyber prosocial
behavior. She suggests that cyberbullying perpetration occurs when youths
internalize the media’s encouragement of pursuing popularity.
e next section concentrates on online social networking, whose popularity
has grown signicantly in the last years. is section describes the experiences
of youths in their complexity and connects youth’s online behavior to their
developmental processes. Hana Machackova’s opening chapter describes
“online communities” among early adolescents and illustrates how children
perceive the importance and inuence of these communities. She shows that
communities in which children interact partly online and partly oine have the
most potential benets for youths – members of these communities reported
high levels of support, a sense of belonging, and self-disclosing behavior. In the
second chapter, Lenka De dkova focuses on youths meeting online strangers. She
shows that the media-generated moral panic surrounding this theme is mostly
inaccurate. According to up-to-date research, most youths’ meetings with
online strangers do not result in negative experiences and the typical “online
pedophile” scenario is very rare. She concludes that meeting strangers, both
oine and online, is a natural part of the developmental processes of youths. In
the third chapter, Hana Machackova, Martina Cernikova, David Smahel, and
Zuzana Ocadlikova challenge the still-prevailing notion that youths do not
care about their privacy and disclosures on Social Networking Sites (SNS). e
authors describe how youths manage their privacy by applying dierent types
of control over published information and audiences on SNS. ey conclude
that approaches to controlling privacy boundaries and rules dier dramatically
among youths, depending on their individual preferences, developmental stage,
and digital skills. All three chapters of this section demonstrate how youths’
online and oine lives are interconnected, and demonstrate that youths are
mostly using the internet in line with their developmental needs.
Living in the digital age has brought a spread of globally available and easily
accessible playing and gaming activities, which are the focus of the third section
of the book. e quick spread of online playing and gaming has given rise to
unfounded and exaggerated concerns that are frequently voiced in public
discourses, and the chapters in this section challenge some of these. Šárka
Licehammerová’s chapter explores live online betting – a form of gambling that
is unique to the internet – which has the potential to become a universal tool for
gambling with a high potential for problems due to its wide availability (temporal,
local, nancial, and social) and the exibility in the ways of treating and gaining
rewards. Gambling, and particularly factors that increase the chances of Czech
gamblers’ overinvestment in this activity, are explored in the second chapter
written by Anastasia Ejova, Licehammerová, Pavla Chomynová, Zuzana Tion
Leštinová, and Viktor Mravčík. e authors explore two hypotheses relating
specically to young men – that they are greater risk-takers who enjoy “practicing”
in anonymous environments, and that they are more prone to overspending as a
result of losing track of time during play. e last chapter in this section explores
the playing of Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) and Pascaline
Lorentz shows that there is no tangible relation between the amount of time
played and the possible negative impact on player commitments.
In the early 1990’s, policy makers expected new media to herald a renewal of
democracy, providing a fast and easy way of deliberating on (and, importantly,
remedying) the most pressing issues of the day. Some scholars were quick to point
out the shortcomings of such a technologically deterministic view of society;
yet, modied versions of the argument continue to exist, and the book’s nal
chapter challenges some of these. In her chapter, Alena Macková explores the
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
potential of “e-democracy” in relation to Czech institutional politics, the close–
and, in the Czech context, unique – examination of leading politicians’ online
communication strategies leads to a less than utopian conclusion. New media
has also been scrutinized for its potential role in empowering some of the most
disadvantaged groups in European societies and in changing attitudes to these. In
her contribution, Monika Metykova takes an innovative approach to exploring
how Europe’s largest and most disadvantaged transnational ethnic minority – the
Roma – fares in the context of media policies. She argues that the “old” medium of
public service broadcasting was guided by more citizen-oriented policy goals than
policies related to new media. In the last chapter of the book, Jakub Macek attempts
to answer the seemingly simple questions of why and how ordinary people use
social media to participate in mundane civic and political practices. It appears that
the aordances of new media as such tend to remain in the background, while
collective belongings and social pressures, the practices of “being an audience”, and
the local and national (institutional and other) political contexts are foregrounded
for those engaging in everyday civic and political activities.
To summarize, our book does not provide a comprehensive picture of how we
live in the digital age; such an undertaking would have been overambitious. Our
understanding of changes linked to the everyday use of new media technologies
and their impact on various spheres of individual and collective endeavor are
constantly evolving and, hence, our book provides an interdisciplinary and
methodologically diverse view anchored to a particular time, mostly in the
European context, and partly within the realities of the Czech Republic. e
picture that the book paints is colorful and varied, it challenges many assumptions
of mainstream public and policy discourses, and it provides new insights and
data for scholars. e contributions in the book stress the importance of studying
new media technologies and their use in a range of contexts and environments,
because isolating the “digital” or “online” dimensions of our lives would lead to
unacceptable distortions. Although the research presented here covers a range
of topics, the key ndings point in the same direction: How we live our lives in
the digital age is strongly inuenced by our contexts, such as online and oine
communities, school or work environments, peers, friends, and families, but also
by existing social and political practices and policies. Our online and oine lives
are intertwined and new media technologies should be researched within these
contexts. We hope that our book will contribute to a better, more complex, and
more nuanced understanding of how we live in the digital age.
SECTION 1: SELFPRESENTATION AND
IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT IN THE DIGITAL
Michelle F. Wright
Many of us were raised to be unconcerned about what other people thought of
us. We probably remember our apprehension about meeting new people, and
asking our parents for advice. To which, our parents would usually reply for us
to be ourselves and to not worry about what other people will think. Despite
receiving this advice multiple times in our lives, we quickly realized that
people are typically concerned with other people’s perceptions of themselves.
Sometimes these impressions are accurate, and other times they might not be.
Occasionally, we might even nd ourselves being concerned with other people’s
impressions of ourselves. When this concern develops, we might sometimes
behave in ways to alter others’ impressions. erefore, no matter our parents’
advice, we realize that sometimes others’ impressions make a dierence, and
that it is almost impossible to completely disregard others’ perceptions of
ourselves in many social situations.
Self-presentation and impression management are not always bad things. In
fact, attending to others’ impressions is healthy and adaptive because it helps
keep our behavior socially acceptable, though sometimes self-presentation and
impression management can be problematic. As people become increasingly
immersed in the internet and other digital media, it is likely that concerns
about what other people think about themselves will extend to their social
interactions through these media. erefore, communication with others in
the digital age oers unique opportunities to present ourselves, and to monitor
and alter others’ impressions of ourselves. is section includes three chapters,
which draw on perspectives from psychology, sociology, feminist theory,
criminology, communication, and media studies to describe self-presentation
and impression management in the digital age. In these chapters, youths,
adolescents, young people, and young internet users are used interchangeably
to refer to children between the ages of 9–16.
e rst chapter, “‘Fraped’ Selves: Hacked, Tagged, and Shared Without
Permission. e Challenges of Identity Development for Young People on
Facebook”, links youths’ behaviors to identity development through the online
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
environment. e stance of Monica Barbovschi and Anca Velicu is that digital
media serve as a playground for youths to navigate developmental issues,
particularly identity building. e particular concern noted by the authors is
“forced identity,” which is reported as being extremely problematic by youths.
Taking an interesting perspective, the chapter reects on the implications of
personal data misuse, and how such misuse alters youths’ abilities to create
and maintain online identity. Barbovschi and Velicu conclude with a call
for researchers to connect privacy issues and personal identity misuses to
youths’ identity development by utilizing a developmental approach and inter-
disciplinary research to investigate the long-term consequences of these issues.
e second chapter, “e Educational Dimension of Pornography: Adolescents’
Use of New Media for Sexual Purposes”, discusses online pornography and its
eect on adolescents’ sexual exploration. Laura E. Simon and her colleagues
argue that new media has changed the way that youths interact with
pornography as new technology allows instantaneous access to pornography
while on the go, with the internet becoming an important place for youths
to seek out pornography in an eort to explore their sexuality. is chapter
describes the blurred lines between using online pornography for sexual
arousal and using it for sexual education. Describing the benets of online
pornography consumption, the chapter focuses on the ways in which online
pornography can interconnect with youths’ sexual exploration.
e third chapter by Michelle F. Wright, “e Role of the Media and Cyber
Context in Adolescents’ Pursuit of Popularity”, describes the preliminary results
from a study focused on understanding how digital technologies can be used as
tools to promote youths’ popularity among their peers, and how such utilization
relates to their cyber social behaviors, including cyberbullying and cyber
prosocial behavior. Another focus of the study is the media’s encouragement of
popularity-related activities, and how such encouragement relates to youths’ cyber
social behaviors. e ndings suggest that there is evidence that cyberbullying
perpetration occurs when youths internalize the media’s encouragement of
pursuing popularity. Similarly, using digital media for antisocial purposes
contributes to cyberbullying.
M. Barbovschi, A. Velicu
“Fraped” Selves: Hacked, Tagged,
and Shared Without Permission.
e Challenges of Identity
Development for Young People
Monica Barbovschi, Anca Velicu
Social Networking Sites (SNS) play an important role in the daily lives of
adolescents by helping them to develop two core developmental characteristics–
identity and intimacy. SNS can also contribute to developing adolescents’
identities by eliciting peer feedback (Valkenburg & Peter, 2011). However,
children’s unpleasant experiences with the misuse of their online personal
information are among the rapidly increasing online risks, as reported by
children ages 9–16 in the Net Children Go Mobile (2012–14) and EU Kids
Online III (2012–14) projects. ese troublesome situations – e.g., dealing
with impersonation through hacked accounts (with the impersonator sending
rude messages to damage reputation) or dealing with slanderous pages created
by peers – pose challenges to young people’s need for creating and maintaining
their online identity in the context of their peer relationships. e types of
problematic situations related to privacy issues and Personal Data Misuse
(PDM) were purposefully chosen to illustrate young people’s challenges for
self-presentation and online impression management as key components of
building identity. is chapter will further reect on the need for revisiting the
research agenda for adolescent identity development in the context of online
personal data misuse.
social networking sites, identity development, adolescent, online privacy,
personal data misuse
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Since danah boyd (2007) wrote about their appeal for young people, Social
Network Sites (SNS) have been on the rise. SNS use has been reported as
the favorite activity for children and adolescents, alongside face-to-face
communication with peers. In 2010, the EU Kids Online survey reported that
61% of young people ages 9–16 had an SNS prole, whereas, in 2013, the Net
Children Go Mobile (NCGM) project showed that 68% of 9–16 year olds had
SNS proles (Livingstone et al., 2011; Mascheroni & Ólafsson, 2014). Facebook1
has been reported as the SNS of choice for children in the NCGM project (2013
In their chapter on the psychological development of adolescents and privacy
online, Peter and Valkenburg (2011) construct a compelling argument for
why we should look at adolescents’ online privacy from a developmental
perspective and how the functions of privacy actually correspond with the
crucial developmental tasks of adolescence. Supporting the call for further
research, this chapter presents the idea that privacy issues and online Personal
Data Misuse (PDM) 2 are potentially detrimental to adolescents’ developmental
tasks, including autonomy, identity building, intimacy, and the development
of a sexual self. Due to space-related constraints, this chapter will focus on
how privacy issues aect adolescents’ identity, such as the construction of
personal, social, and collective selves, without referring to other developmental
tasks. We argue that there is a need to revisit the research agenda of identity
development theories in order to align scientic knowledge with the challenges
faced by adolescents who are building and negotiating identity in the context of
networked privacy (Marwick & boyd, 2014).
Some parallels between bullying and cyberbullying, as well as the connections
between cyberbullying and PDM, are useful for making a case for why the
latter are worthy of attention in the context of identity research. PDM – as
either a sub-set of cyberbullying or another type of cyber-aggression – presents
numerous similarities with cyberbullying, including the same features of the
social web, the possibility to reach wider audiences, the lack of direct contact,
which further limits empathic responses, the permanence of information,
1 For an overview of Facebook functionalities and architecture, see Wilson, Gosling, and Graham
2 Personal Data Misuse (PDM) is dened, for the purpose of this chapter, as using someone’s online
information (including their personal prole) in ways the person did not consent to, with the inten-
tion of doing harm. e types of PDM presented in this chapter were reported as most problematic
by children in EU Kids Online III and Net Children Go Mobile qualitative research.
M. Barbovschi, A. Velicu
and searchability (boyd, 2007; Kyriacou & Zuin, 2014; Storm & Storm,
2006). Other characteristics of online communication, namely publicity and
anonymity, make cyber-scenarios “perceived as worse than traditional ones”
(Sticca & Perren, 2013). In addition, the risk of cyberbullying extends to
young people who would not have been targeted by traditional bullying and,
unlike traditional bullying, cyber-aggression transcends temporal and spatial
boundaries, constantly putting young people at risk, with no safe spaces for
retreat (Kernaghan & Elwood, 2013; Menesini & Spiel, 2012). In addition,
children themselves are less likely to report the abuse for fear of having their
devices conscated (Storm & Storm, 2006). Next, features, such as spreading
rumors, gossip, exclusion, and attacks against reputations and relationships are
common forms of both relational aggression and cyberbullying as well as some
forms of PDM (Jackson, Cassidy, & Brown, 2009). Finally, some cyberbullying
forms of PDM, such as “revenge sexting” or “sexualized cyberbullying” and
slanderous pages, relate more to how one’s image is perceived, whereas other
PDM forms undermine trust and social connections, but with the consequence
of negatively altering how the victim is perceived (Kofoed & Ringrose, 2012).
Sexualized cyberbullying (i.e., a form of PDM that uses the victim’s information
in a harmful way without prior consent) has already been indicated as shaping
the sexual identity construction of girls (Ringrose & Barajas, 2011):
Boys who have pics with no T-shirt are cheered on. Very dierent response
(EUKO, Spain, girl, 15)
Given the multiple connections between bullying and cyberbullying, there are
reasons to consider the possibility that PDM has negative consequences for
Furthermore, in the absence of research on the long-term eects of PDM, we
argue that the negative short- and long-term eects of bullying and cyberbullying
might be similar for PDM. Some of these eects include depression, low self-
esteem, anxiety, suicidal ideation, and psychosomatic problems, like headaches
and sleep disturbances (Olweus, 2012). Self-esteem is most connected to one’s
identity, and lower self-esteem has been consistently linked with cyberbullying
victimization (Patchin & Hinduja, 2010). Recent data suggests that there are
long-term negative consequences of victimization from childhood into young
adulthood, and that these eects include psychological and social aspects as
well as health functioning (Copeland et al., 2013). In addition, other research
has shown that mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression, and
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
conduct problems, relate to cybervictimization, and that these problems can
persist until mid-life in the form of “toxic stress” (Arseneault, 2014).
In this chapter, we build on the theoretical framework of Hill (1983) for
understanding teen behavior in terms of key developmental tasks for
adolescence, specically identity building, as well as on Subrahmanyan,
Greeneld, and Tynes’s (2004) extension of the model to incorporate media
technologies and the online environment as playgrounds where these
developmental processes manifest. We will discuss the necessity of examining
privacy issues and PDM on SNS from an identity theoretical framework as well
as the necessity for developmental psychologists to incorporate digital privacy
issues into research on identity building for adolescents. Several theoretical
lenses will be introduced, including developmental psychology, social
psychology, and media and communication research. Although fascinating, the
legal implications of cyberbullying and PDM are not discussed in this chapter
due to space constraints. However, aspects of how societal pressures and legal
agendas frame the discussion around cyberbullying and the infringement on
privacy rights3 deserve proper attention.
Fraped or fraping is online slang for an individual leaving their Facebook
prole logged in and unattended, thereby running the risk of another person
misusing their account. e word is a combination of the nouns “Facebook”
and “rape.” For the purpose of this chapter, “fraped selves” is used for instances
of misusing accounts (e.g., hacking) or misusing the image of a user (e.g.,
creating slanderous mock pages). Relevant aspects of “fraped identities” will be
illustrated with interview excerpts from EU Kids Online III and Net Children
Go Mobile, based on qualitative data from nine European countries in each of
the two projects.
IDENTITY BUILDING AND PRIVACY ISSUES ON SOCIAL
Identity Building in Adolescence and Identity Performance through
Youth has been described as the state of not quite being and it is marked by
increased insecurity concerning one’s own identity in which partial, temporary
3 At the time this chapter was written, Canada was expected to pass Bill C-13 that would make it ille-
gal for anyone to postor transmit an “intimate image” of another individual without that person’s
consent, which prompted concerns about monitoring, exploitation, and the abuse of personal data
by authorities and commercial entities: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/cyberbullying-bill-inch-
M. Barbovschi, A. Velicu
identities are formed (Bennett, 1999; Miles, 2000; Sibley, 1995). Although
identity building is an individual experience, it does not take place in isolation
as others partake in its construction (Papacharissi & Gibson, 2011). Identity
develops from personal and social processes, and it is one of the key tasks of
adolescence (Adams & Marshall, 1996; Erikson, 1968; Marcia, 1966; Marcia,
1967). Furthermore, the balance between privacy and sociality is central to
identity formation for young people (Papacharissi & Gibson, 2011). From
the sociological perspective, one of the most cited works has been Goman’s
(1958) perspective on self-presentation.
Over the past decade, SNS have become one of the most important venues for
connecting, communicating, and socializing as well as identity building and
self-expression (Bargh et al., 2002; Livingstone, 2008). Rather than projecting a
xed self onto a pre-existing reality, the folding and unfolding of the self on SNS
constitutes a “process of subjectivation” of engaging with oneself and of relating
to others in a continuous process of visibility, recognition, and esteem (Foucault,
1992; Sauter, 2014; Van Krieken, 2012). Social and personal integrative needs are
at the core of gratication, which account for the massive appeal of SNS among
young users (Taddicken & Jers, 2011). As the distinction between online and
oine worlds has become more and more dicult to determine, the two become
bi-directionally interrelated (Subrahmanyam & Šmahel, 2011). SNS have become
venues for young people to construct and express themselves.
Longitudinal research on SNS use, authenticity, and self-disclosure online shows
that these reciprocal eects are mediated by the amount of social capital users
receive as a consequence of their SNS use (Reinecke & Trepte, 2014). Consequently,
those who are more vulnerable, with less social capital and lower levels of well-
being, are less likely to engage with SNS in a way that fosters authentic self-
disclosure and identity experimentation, which is incredibly important during
adolescence (Harter, 1999). Research in other cultural settings has yielded similar
results (Liu & Brown, 2014). PDM, as an extreme form of personal identity
manipulation and violation online, is likely to hold similar eects
In 2008, Hodkinson and Lincoln suggested that “the range of personal and
social functions aorded by sites such as LiveJournal may render the ‘virtual
spaces’ adopted by users comparable to the rst individually oriented physical
space in young people’s lives: the bedroom.” (p. 28) According to EU Kids
Online III and Net Children Go Mobile, young people’s proles are extremely
personal, which keeps the “bedroom” metaphor relevant (Bovill & Livingstone,
2001). ey spend a lot of time grooming their proles, checking who posts and
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
what, receiving and giving “likes” as a form of social currency, commenting on
each other’s proles, and tagging themselves and peers in photos and videos.
Adolescents need validation from peers for peer feedback and reciporcity as
boyd (2007) argues in her article. e “need to be seen,” especially by peers, is
something exacerbated during adolescence and it is at odds with the risk of
privacy issues (Tufekci, 2008).
However, the idea of a re-conversion from individual spaces, like online
journals, as spaces for expressing identity to groups of peers in a process of
co-constructing and negotiating identity goes against Hodkinson and Lincoln’s
(2008) contention that young people favor individual identity expressions. With
the rise of shared and collective spaces, especially Facebook, the importance of
groups and self-presentation, sharing, participating, commenting, tagging, and
posting on other’s walls – a lot of what used to be identity solely controlled by
the user – has been re-allocated to the audience of peers. Friends posting on
each other’s proles or cross-referencing each other (e.g., tagging each other,
giving “likes” to each other’s posts) increase the status of proles in a group of
peers (Luders, 2011). Unlike Goman’s (1959) image of stage-like presentations
of oneself in front of a seemingly passive audience, SNS proles resemble
Marina Abramović’s participatory performance art shows, where the audience
has enormous power when determining the outcomes4. However, the danger
of the audience misusing that power – the hacking of proles and tagging and
posting without permission – were non-existent or rare with online journals.
SNS proles are still experienced as personal spaces, but more people have the
keys to these spaces. As Luders (2011) and boyd (2014) noted, the presence of
others in one’s online life is less ephemeral than the face-to-face one because
comments, “likes,” and posts are there for all to see.
Users do construct fairly accurate representations of themselves in online SNS
proles, although some self-enhancement usually occurs (Back et al., 2010;
boyd, 2007; Waggoner, Smith, & Collins, 2009). Leary and Kowalski (1990)
state that people adapt their self-presentation to “the perceived values and
preferences of signicant others” (p. 41); in that sense, adolescents also adapt
their self-presentation to the perceived expectations of others, especially their
peers, as part of the general desire to be validated (Pasquier, 2008). erefore,
the distinction between social identity (e.g., being popular) and collective
identity (e.g., belonging to a group of peers) is important in the context of
4 We have in mind Abramović’s Rhythm 0 (1974) performance, where the artist tested the limits
of interaction with the audience, assuming a passive role, while the audience took an active and
increasingly aggressive stance towards her: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marina_Abramović
M. Barbovschi, A. Velicu
adolescents building and maintaining SNS proles (Cheek et al., 2014). Toma
and Hancock (2013) linked the building and maintaining of individuals’
Facebook proles with self-armation needs (i.e., process of bringing key
aspects of the self-concept, such as values, meaningful relationships, and
cherished personal traits; see Steele, 1988), satisfying the user’s need for self-
worth and self-integrity. Furthermore, SNS constitute venues for intrapersonal
benets for adolescents in the form of arming self-worth and self-integrity.
Peter and Valkenburg (2011) construct a convincing argument about why we
should consider adolescents’ online privacy from a developmental perspective.
ey adopt Westin’s (1967) functions of privacy and link these to aspects of
development through the acquisition of specic skills, including: a) the function
of personal autonomy, enabled by privacy, is linked to adolescents’ development
of autonomy through practicing individuation, which is the ability to function
in aloneness, b) the self-evaluation function of privacy serves the task of identity
formation (Erikson, 1968) and of achieving a feeling about who they are, which
can be accomplished through online performances to incorporate the responses
of peers, c) the function of establishing limited and protected communication
through mutual self-disclosure spaces is linked to the developmental task
of building intimate relationships, which can happen through establishing
boundaries between trusted and not-trusted others, and d) nally, the function of
emotional release can be linked to the task of developing the sexual self through
sexual self-exploration enabled by online communication. In this chapter, we
take a look at the darker facet of developmental tasks and how these can be
hindered through breaches of privacy and personal data misuse.
Privacy and Controllability
Privacy has been dened as “the selective control of access to the self” (Altman,
1975, p. 24). Furthermore, boyd (2008b) explained that privacy “is about the
sense of vulnerability that an individual experiences when negotiating data”
(p. 14) and “a sense of control over information, the context where sharing
takes place, and the audience who can gain access” (p. 18). e concept of
audiences and the public are central aspects to privacy as degrees of access
might vary accordingly. More and more, the personalized readership enabled
by customized privacy settings is linked to increased individual control over
who has access to one’s information, including who can read or comment on
SNS proles. boyd (2008a) discusses “networked publics,” invisible audiences,
and collapsed social contexts as key aspects of SNS, with social convergence
occurring when disparate social contexts are collapsed into one, resulting in lost
control over how personal information is shared. For instance, adolescents and
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
their peers nd it weird when parents or other adults befriend them, perceiving
this as an unwelcomed intrusion into their social life; however, they still hold a
high need to control others’ impression of the self. boyd (2014) further argues
that teens develop contextual norms around privacy and identity in opposition
to the adult perception of privacy as xed.
Personal information is the currency of social hierarchy and connectivity and
young people are willingly oering it in their exchanges with peers (boyd,
2008b). e Facebook newsfeed works as a catwalk for endless runs of self-
promotion; it makes everything accessible and immediately visible, exposing
what was once “secure through obscurity” (p. 15). Users quickly adopted
newsfeed functionalities to purposefully broadcast information to their friends’
newsfeed. Young people, in particular, have enthusiastically adopted the
intended audience broadcasting function of social networks as one of the main
uses they assign to SNS: communicating and sharing information with peers,
as reported widely by children in both the EU Kids Online and Net Children
Go Mobile projects.
Personal Data Misuse
SNS use has been linked to increased social self-esteem and emotional well-
being, and they also represent safe venues for identity explorations (Valkenburg
& Peter, 2008; Valkenburg, Peter, & Schouten, 2006). Nonetheless, these are
also places where relational aggression, such as cyberstalking, harassment,
and reputation damage, occur (boyd & Ellison, 2008). Among the eects
of cyberbullying and online aggression, negative emotions, self-harm, and
feeling “anger, powerlessness, sadness, and fear” have been documented (Ho
& Mitchell, 2009; Price & Dalgleish, 2010). e reported powerlessness and
loss of self-esteem as a result of humiliating episodes are relevant for issues
related to privacy and PDM because they involve the loss of control over how
one’s identity is handled or directly threaten the sense of self (Olweus, 2012;
Menesini & Spiel, 2012). In their analysis of “digital stressors” for young people,
Weinstein and Selman (2014) identied impersonation through hacking and
fake accounts, and public shaming and humiliation through slander and
forwarding nude pictures as some of the most severe forms of online stressors,
with young people rating these stressors as the most damaging and problematic:
Because you have heard about a lot of those ‘hate sites’ and things like that.
ere are many, so if they put up a picture, and someone says something, then
others say that you should block that user, because they are ‘haters’... Yes, it is
like a person that apparently hates a person so much that they make a prole,
M. Barbovschi, A. Velicu
where they write nasty things about the person and puts up pictures and says,
take a look at this fat ugly bitch, she is so disgusting and things like that. And
... I get really sad inside because... why do you do something like that?
(NCGM, Denmark, boys, 14–16)
Interactions on SNS can be marked by a lot of “boundary turbulences”
when users fail to establish eective boundaries and collective privacy rules
(Petronio, 2002). Moreover, misuses of personal information (e.g., sharing
without permission, hacking an account) violate the rules of privacy related
to permeability and ownership (i.e., how much control co-owners have over
co-owned information). e strategy of “building fences,” such as the friends-
only privacy setting, does not work when the perpetrators are supposedly
already trusted “friends” (Tufekci, 2008). Control over one’s environment,
and approval and acceptance of others are crucial for maintaining self-esteem,
which is a component of personal identity (Valkenburg & Peter, 2011). In many
situations, young people experience a lack of control:
Girl: ey created a Facebook page that was against me.
Interviewer: I see, so you could see it.
Girl: ey took photos where I was joking with my friends, with weird faces,
and this was the image of the prole, of the page, and then it was full of
oensive messages. e teachers forced them to delete the page, but it took
them some time.
(EUKO, Italy, girl, 14–16)
However, various types of privacy misuses might have dierent consequences
on identity development, depending on individual factors and the severity of
the act. Although the adult perception of the damaging acts might correspond
to the actual damage as experienced by young people (e.g., tagging someone
in a picture may be less harmful than the hacking of proles), newer and
more sophisticated types of relational aggression on SNS, such as tagging
someone in (or creating) slanderous proles or mock pages, should be given
proper research consideration. Children in both the EU Kids Online III and
Net Children Go Mobile projects5 reported numerous examples of privacy
issues and PDM, which, as we contend, are damaging to identity construction
and self-presentation. Privacy issues and PDM are also damaging to other
developmental tasks, including autonomy (through individuation), intimacy
5 For detailed reporting on the qualitative data collection, methodology, and analyses, please consult
Šmahel and Wright (2014) for the EU Kids Online III project, and Haddon and Vincent (2014) for
the Net Children Go Mobile project.
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
(through selective self-disclosure and limited protected communication), and
sexual self-exploration (through emotional release).
Shared or Tagged Without Permission
Youth in the EU Kids Online III and Net Children Go Mobile projects talked
about peers sharing or tagging photos or videos of themselves on Facebook
without their permission. ey expressed negative feelings about these
experiences, the perceived intended hurtful nature of the act, and the degree
of controllability the young person had over the situation once their image was
used in a way that they did not consent (e.g., the peers refusing to remove the
photo or the tag when the youth requested they do so).
We were in the train and browsed through a gallery of a mobile and then we
found a video. We paused it at a special position where the person was in a
funny pose and made a screenshot. en we posted this in our class chat, but
the person was not amused about that [smirks]. It happens a lot that we make
a video in the class and then post them in WhatsApp groups.
(NCGM, Germany, boy, 13)
One of the most harmful ways to share private information about others is
“revenge sexting” as a form of gendered and “sexualized cyberbullying” or
public shaming and humiliation through forwarding nude pictures, where
boys usually disseminate nude pictures of ex-girlfriends to larger audiences of
peers (Barbovschi, 2014; Livingstone & Brake, 2009; Ringrose & Barajas, 2013;
Weinstein & Selman, 2014):
ere was this girl and she had… Yeah, she was a friend of mine, and she
sent a naked picture to her boyfriend. And she told us her Facebook password
at the party that was going on at the moment in my house. And some of my
friends went to her Facebook prole a few months later, and there they found
out about this picture. And then the girl was bullied…
(EUKO, Belgium, girl, 16)
Some of the consequences of revenge sexting are detrimental to both self-image
(e.g., feelings of shame, humiliation, de-valuation) and collective identity (e.g.,
belonging). Gender dierences are relevant for this type of bullying, with girls
being bullied, excluded, ridiculed, treated as outcasts, and, in many instances,
subjected to victim-blaming, in addition to the damages to reputation they
suer (Cassidy et al., 2013; Ringrose, Harvey & Livingstone, 2013):
Pf, well…it’s not really bullying, because this girl, well…she’s responsible for it.
(EUKO, Belgium, girl, 15)
M. Barbovschi, A. Velicu
Boys are not excluded from serious violations of how their image is used, such
as a case described by a German girl, although those violations are more oen
perceived as “just pranks” in the case of boys whereas girls still have to conform
to norms of public morality:
And we have it quite oen in school that the boys sit on the toilet and others
crawl to their WC cabins and take pictures which they send to their friends
via WhatsApp or post them on the internet or on Facebook … Some of them
cry when they see that they are on the internet.
(NCGM, Germany, girl, 11)
Hacked, Misused, and Impersonating Accounts
Other problem area that children reported having negative feelings about was
misused, hacked, and impersonating accounts, which encompassed a variety
of situations, including a hacked account of the child or a hacked account of
child which was then used to send rude messages to peers (Barbovschi, 2014).
In addition to the damages to reputation the former can bring, the latter also
has detrimental eects on existing relationships with peers. In addition, the
creation of “mock pages” as a slanderous act that entails peers impersonating
the prole of one child with the intent to hurt by mocking and ridiculing her/
him was another practice reported in Net Children Go Mobile (Haddon &
Numerous children reported having their accounts hacked, trashed with rude/
ugly pictures and songs, and rude messages sent on their behalf to their friends.
What diers from hacking in the case of impersonating accounts is that they
do not require breaking into another person’s account, as the perpetrators can
set up a Facebook page or a fake prole (i.e., a “mock page”) and ll it with
unattering information (either real or modied) for discrediting and trashing
the image of the targeted person, which elicited young people’s feelings of
frustration and powerlessness over the lack of control of these situations:
Well they were downloading my picture and I could see they were and they’d
put it on their proles.
… And once, a girl pretended to be me and created a Facebook with my pictures
and name. And since then I don’t have it.
(EUKO, Romania, girl, 12)
Girl: ey steal your photo and paste it with a naked body. ey leave your
head, so it is your face. So, it seems as if it were you... at is, they take a photo,
they take the face and they paste it onto someone else.
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Interviewer: And then what happens to that photo?
Several girls: ey upload it on the internet and everybody can see it.
Girl: ey can post it anywhere! It could be in an advert, on Tuenti, on FB,
your friends would see it… it stays up there, and it is bad because it is you
(EUKO, Spain, girls, 9–10)
In another instance, girls talked about the practice of popular girls creating
“ugly pages,” which are mock pages where they post pictures of peers they
consider less attractive:
Yes, on Facebook, they have, for example, a page ‘Prettiest teenager in Belgium,’
and then they post pictures of not so pretty girls on this page, and they bully
(EUKO, Belgium, girl, 14)
Children spoke about the emotional damage of these acts in words such as “die
of shame,” being “shattered,” feeling “very upset or sad,” and “suer a lot.” C oping
strategies reported by children are a reection of the dierent degrees of ability
to handle the negative experiences, varying from adaptive coping strategies
to life-altering responses, such as changing schools or moving to another
city (Barbovschi, 2014). Hacked accounts used to spread rude messages can
cause severe damage to interpersonal relationships by undermining reciprocal
intimacy among supposedly trusted peers:
Yeah, for example, when you are on Facebook or MSN, and you receive a
message. And then suddenly, this is like some kind of hate mail, and it says
things like ‘you are a stupid bitch’ or these kinds of things. And then the next
day you ask the person about this hate message, but then she says ‘no, I don’t
know anything about it.’ And then you don’t know what to believe.
(EUKO, Belgium, girl, 12–13)
Privacy, including the one constructed on SNS, is a necessary condition for
the successful accomplishment of various developmental tasks in adolescence
(Peter & Valkenburg, 2011). Acquiring a healthy sense of self might be severely
undermined by attacks to one’s personal online image. e extent of the damage
is yet to be assessed. e attacks on someone’s identity poses threats not only to
their sense of self-worth and self-esteem, but these attacks also threaten one’s
social and collective identity dimensions. is occurs because these attacks
potential damage one’s relationships and ways of belonging. ese particular fears
about fraping reveal adolescents’ preoccupation with maintaining their identity
M. Barbovschi, A. Velicu
both socially (how they are perceived by friends) and collectively (belonging).
Such situations are by no means perceived as trivial, since the online and oine
worlds are interconnected, with the main concern of young people being the
damage done to their “oine life” (e.g., reputation, existing relationships). Cases
of young people experiencing severe traumas (e.g., depressive episodes, suicidal
ideation, changing schools, moving away) are all indications of the attacks on
the self; however, no research on the links among privacy issues, PDM, and the
sense of selood and personal identity has yet been undertaken. Moreover, the
constant fear of relational aggression that young people risk experiencing is
building toward a climate of mutual apprehension and mistrust:
You have to trust the other person. Because at the end of the day, if we all
start thinking that if I send this maybe that person will play a rotten trick
on me; if I end up thinking about all the bad stu then I can’t just live my
life. You can’t ever relax.
(NCGM, Spain, girl, 14–16)
Cyberbullying research has shed some light on the damaging eects of online
relational hostility (Ho & Mitchell, 2009; Price & Dalgleish, 2010). However,
much of this research captures the short-term eects utilizing cross-sectional
designs. Moreover, as Weinstein and Selman (2014) note, we cannot be sure
that what young people report are in fact the most detrimental to personal
and relational growth, as many situations might be underreported due to a
normalization of otherwise important issues (e.g., the demarcation between
“just pranks” or “severe misuse”). In the EU Kids Online III and Net Kids Go
Mobile projects, children were asked to report unpleasant online situations,
without having enough time to establish a deeper rapport with the researchers.
is might have impeded deeper levels of personal disclosure. Finally, the
issues around misuses of personal data in what Marwick and boyd (2014)
call the “networked privacy” of young people calls for a re-conceptualization
of its potential harms. Young people might actually build resilience through
experiencing these challenging situations and actually become equipped for
managing stress later in life or they might consider such mistreatments as
a “passing ritual” for accessing a group of peers (Bonanno, 2005). However,
the long-term detrimental eects on physical and mental health into young
adulthood, such as the accumulation of “toxic stress,” have recently been linked
to childhood experiences of cyberbullying.
As Elliott (2014) contends, there are powerful cultural conventions which
shape self-identity in relation to public expectations. In the same way, the new
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
“technologies of the self,” including those fostered by online communication,
oer new opportunities and challenges for the way young people shape and
negotiate their personal, social, and collective identities. e degree that the
context of peer sociality has dramatically changed to incorporate social media
in large scale, extensive ways, adolescents’ identity as co-constructed in this
context and the implications for young adult life are research questions yet to
be answered (Schachter, 2005).
Although there is no research to date connecting privacy issues and PDM with
identity development in adolescence, there is sucient corollary evidence
which indicates the need for thorough investigation. In this chapter we argued
for the need to look at privacy issues from an identity development perspective
in order to incorporate negative experiences that adolescents face online at
increasing rates. We further welcome researchers in the eld of developmental
psychology to incorporate digital privacy issues in their research on adolescent
identity through exible designs and models, which accommodate “dynamic
systems.” However, delegating the topic to just one eld is a limitation and
instead there is a need for inter-disciplinary research on identity to investigate
the long-term eects of PDM on personal identity and other developmental
tasks in adolescence.
e rst author would like to thank Moin Syed for asking the question which prompted
the writing of this chapter. e rst author also acknowledges the support of the
VITOVIN project (CZ.1.07/2.3.00/20.0184), which is co-nanced by the European
Social Fund and the state budget of Czech Republic.
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L. E. Simon, K. Daneback, A. Ševčíková
e Educational Dimension of
Pornography: Adolescents’ Use of New
Media for Sexual Purposes
Laura E. Simon, Kristian Daneback, Anna Ševčíková
In this chapter, we discuss the role of online pornography use in adolescents’
sexual lives, and its eects on young internet users. e review of research
indicates that online pornography may have a multifaceted function. While the
most common denition of pornography stems from its purposeful intention
to increase sexual arousal, there is emerging evidence that adolescents
deliberately access these materials online not only for sexual arousal but
also for sex education. Furthermore, we show how the line between pleasure
and sex self-education can be blurred. anks to online pornography use,
adolescents may learn what sexually excites them and how they respond to
various sexual stimuli. Finally, we argue that online pornography should not
be framed by negative discourse suggesting that it is unsuitable for adolescents.
e positive value of online pornography use seems to be worth considering
when providing the younger generations with sex education.
youth, sexual explicit material, sex education, internet
In June 2013, Google Glass, a wearable computer with a head-mounted display,
was still a year away from mass market consumer release (Li, 2013). But the app
development company, MiKandi, had already unveiled the rst Google Glass
app for viewing pornography (Oremus, 2013). Called “Tits and Glass,” the app
would allow Google Glass users to see pornography discretely, and it amassed
over 10,000 hits on its website in its rst day, inspiring a urry of articles
discussing its controversial release in newspapers, magazines, and blogs. e
relationship between pornography and technology, already long and close, had
just taken a step forward.
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Although the coupling of pornography and technology is nothing new, the
advent of the internet has brought with it new levels of availability, aordability,
anonymity, acceptability, and aloneness (Barak & Fisher, 2001). In particular,
new digital media has changed the way we interact with pornography; we can
now use our internet-capable mobile phones to access pornographic websites,
forums, video sharing services, and apps. According to ndings from the EU
Kids Online II survey, it is apparent that online platforms are among the most
accessed sources of sexual materials, with 14% of adolescents aged 9–16 using
technology compared with 12% who viewed these materials on television,
lms, or video/DVD, and the 7% who viewed sexual materials in magazines
or books (Livingstone, Haddon, Görzig, & Ólafsson, 2011). However, thanks
to the explosion of handheld devices, one can reach pornographic content in a
moment’s notice on the go during the commute, at home, in private, or amongst
friends or partners. New media has changed the experience and social context
is is especially true for the digital generation or so-called digital natives,
those adolescents who have grown up using the internet and its new interactive
social media (Székely & Nagy, 2011). Having learned to type on keyboards
and touch screens at an early age, today’s young people have become skilled
internet users with a unique relationship to digital media. It is both a reality
and a priority for adolescents to use the internet in their daily lives (Lenhart,
Ling, Campbell, & Purcell, 2010). Adolescence is also a period of development
associated with sexual maturation, exploration, and risk-taking, and young
people in their teenage years are likely to be interested in gathering sexual
experiences and information (Löfgren-Mårtenson & Månsson, 2010; Ševčíková
& Konečný, 2011; Suzuki & Calzo, 2004). With their reliance on the internet, it
has become an ideal place for young people from dierent corners of the world
to seek out sexual content without having to broach the intimate subject with
family, friends, or educators (Kendall, 2012; Moran, 2000). Indeed, adolescents
report accessing online pornography both intentionally and unintentionally
(Dombrowski, Gischlar, & Durst, 2007; Wolak, Mitchell, & Finkelhor, 2007).
ey use the internet to consume sexual content more than using other media
sources, and they oen consider sexual content on the internet to be their
preferred use of viewing (Häggström-Nordin, Sandberg, Hanson, & Tydén,
2006; Livingstone, Haddon, Görzig, & Ólafsson, 2011).
Research scholars are aware on adolescents’ us e of new media for sexual purposes,
and in the last couple of decades there has been a signicant amount of research
conducted on online pornography consumption (for a review, see Döring,
L. E. Simon, K. Daneback, A. Ševčíková
2009). However, this subeld of online sexual activities (OSA) research has also
overwhelmingly focused on the risks and negative consequences of adolescents’
exposure to pornography, oen problematizing adolescents’ sexuality and
internet usage. Furthermore, few studies have explored the potentially positive
eects of adolescents’ use of new media to access pornography, including why
and how adolescents might consume such explicit sexual material. Yet, some
insight comes from the sex education OSA subeld, where there is preliminary
evidence that young people also use explicit online sexual material for
benecial sexual information and education (Löfgren-Mårtenson & Månsson,
2010). us, it is worth exploring the division of these two activities that are
seemingly considered separate, with varied harmful and benecial eects. e
aim of this chapter is to examine the research on adolescents’ use of online
pornography, with an emphasis on the potentially positive connection between
adolescents’ use of pornography and sexual learning. Specically, we aim to
address questions about how adolescents use pornography, in which ways
pornography can be educational, and how consuming pornographic content is
interconnected with sex education. We will begin by discussing the academic
denitions of pornography, then evaluate relevant research, and, in conclusion,
determine which denition of pornography is most appropriate considering
the ndings in the eld. We will also consider the consequences of regarding
adolescents’ use of online pornography as problematic and/or benecial in a
society that is becoming increasingly dependent on digital technology.
Our conception of pornography has important consequences for how
we design and interpret studies about sexual content. It is important for
researchers to establish a denition early in their investigations, and to keep it
consistent throughout the research study, so that the meaning of the term can
be communicated to participants and to the readers of any manuscripts. Such a
strategy maximizes validity and aids in reliability. Unfortunately, pornography
has not always been clearly dened in the research literature to date.
ere has been disagreement and disappointment that pornography is so
generally ill dened in the eld (Rosser et al., 2012). Some studies have even
adopted the phrase “sexually explicit material” or “sexually explicit media”
(both abbreviated as SEM), instead of pornography in order to disassociate
any discussed sexual content with existing political or negative connotations.
However, most studies still appear to use the terms SEM and pornography
interchangeably, which we will also do in this chapter (Hunt & Kraus, 2009;
Luder, Pittet, Berchtold, Akré, Michaud, & Surís, 2011; Rosser et al., 2012).
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
For those studies that dene SEM or pornography, most also associate the
denition with both a type of content and a purpose. For example, Peter and
Valkenburg (2011) dene online pornography as “professionally produced
or user-generated pictures or videos (clips) on or from the internet that are
intended to arouse the viewer” (p. 1015). Similarly, Morgan (2011) denes
sexually explicit material as “media portraying images of exposed genitals and/
or depictions of sexual behaviors that are intended to increase sexual arousal”
(p. 520). Carroll, Padilla-Walker, Nelson, Olson, Barry, and Madsen (2008)
also see pornography as being media that is purposefully intended to increase
sexual arousal. Pornography is sexually explicit content, with slight variations
in the type of content, intended to arouse and this conceptualization is
consistent with other studies (Lo & Wei, 2005; McManus, 1986; Owens, Behun,
Manning, & Reid, 2012). ere is some reliability, but pornography is narrowly
understood as a tool to arouse the user. As we will discuss later in this chapter,
this can be a limiting description as it excludes sexually explicit content that
may hold a dierent purpose or it can be used for functions dierent than
arousal, especially in adolescence.
Few studies have dened pornography solely based on its content and not its
purpose. For instance, Goodson, McCormick, and Evans (2001) dened SEM
as materials “that either show clear pictures of, or talk/write about sexuality
using sexual vocabulary” (p. 105). While this appears to be a denition that
does not stipulate a dened purpose, the authors explain “the phrases ‘use of the
internet for viewing sexually explicit materials’ and ‘use of the internet for sexual
entertainment’ will be used interchangeably throughout the text.” Ultimately, this
ties SEM to an entertainment function, which may exclude more arousing, social,
or educational uses. However, Häggström-Nordin et al. (2006) dened SEM more
openly as “meaning textual, visual, or aural material that depicts sexual behaviors
or acts, or that exposes the reproductive organs of the human body” (p. 386).
Denitions lacking a specic purpose can also be found in studies employing
adolescents that were conducted by Peter and Valkenburg (2009) and Braun-
Courville and Rojas (2009). Ultimately, it is this more general and content-based
denition that we will employ going forward as it keeps the purpose and use of
pornography open to new research ndings and broader interpretation. is also
allows us to discuss dierent pornography as holding varied functions, especially
when used by young internet users, such as adolescents.
THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF PORNOGRAPHY
To date, the focus of the literature has been on investigating the negative eects
of adolescents’ use of new media for sexual purposes (Döring, 2009). e use of
L. E. Simon, K. Daneback, A. Ševčíková
pornography at a young age has been tied to feelings of depression and anxiety,
stereotypical and negative body image, sexual callousness, the adoption of less
progressive gender role attitudes, more permissive sexual norms, sexual activity,
and even risky sex (Braun-Courville & Rojas, 2009; Brown & L’Engle, 2009; Lo &
Well, 2005; Löfgren-Mårtenson & Månsson, 2010; Mattebo, Larsson, Tydén, Olsson,
& Häggström-Nordin, 2012; Philaretou, Maoufouz, & Allen, 2005; Zillmann, 2000).
Prior research has shown that the link between pornography use and negative
outcomes is not straightforward, and instead it is conditioned by factors
ranging from predispositions to cognitive, emotional, or excitative responses
to sexual media (Valkenburg & Peter, 2013). For instance, the liking of sexually
explicit material or perceiving these materials as realistic leads to young
internet users’ perception of women as sex objects or the development of more
recreational sexual attitudes (Peter & Valkenburg, 2006; Peter & Valkenburg,
2009). Similarly, the perceived utility of observed sexual material (e.g., sex on
the internet gives you valuable information about sex) is associated with the
adoption of more instrumental attitudes toward sex (e.g., sex is just a game or
sex is primarily physical) (Peter & Valkenburg, 2010).
However, a closer look at research ndings that document the socially
undesirable outcomes of pornography use at a young age suggest that the main
condition for the negative impact of sexually explicit materials on psychosexual
development is frequent exposure to these materials. More precisely, heavy use
of pornography, which is more common among boys than girls, precedes these
unwelcome eects (Peter & Valkenburg, 2009; Peter & Valkenburg, 2010). is
indicates that adolescents who are negatively aected are overwhelmed with or
overexposed to pornography. is might lead to a lack of additional sources of
sexual information that would balance the content mediated via pornography
websites. However, not all adolescents are heavy users of online pornography
and little seems to be known about their motives of consuming these materials
(Ševčíková, Šerek, Macháčková, & Šmahel, 2013).
PORNOGRAPHY’S POSITIVE USES AND EFFECTS: THE OTHER
SIDE OF THE STORY
Despite a eld focused on the negative eects of online SEM use, there is now
some research pointing to some positive eects associated with adolescents’
use of online pornography. ese ndings are mainly borne out of in-depth
interviews and focus groups conducted with pornography users, which
valuably allows those users to express their thoughts and feelings about SEM in
their own words (Hardy, 1998). ese feelings are oen mixed and even critical
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
of the very pornography they nd useful. e benets of pornography use also
do not appear to be universal; they can vary based on adolescents’ age, gender,
or sexual orientation. However, the initial evidence in the literature suggests
some common benets of online SEM.
Most denitions of pornography include the stipulation that its purpose is one
of sexual arousal. Finding that pornography can be arousing in positive ways
is supported by the literature. For example, Boies (2002) reported that 82% of
a sample of college students found pornography sexually arousing. Increased
sexual functioning and sexual pleasure was associated with positive opinions
of pornography, particularly among male participants (Hald, 2006; Hald &
Malamuth, 2008). Women have also positively connected pornography with
feelings of arousal and that mainstream pornography gave them the feeling of
being allowed to be more sexually active (Ciclitira, 1998). If the pornography
was watched in the context of a sexual or romantic relationship, it could also
be mutually arousing or exploratory (Smith, 2013; Löfgren-Mårtenson &
Månsson, 2010). Young Swedish girls, with an average age of 17, expressed in
focus groups that watching pornography with a partner could be inspirational
or beautiful (Mattebo et al., 2012). Indeed, a social or emotional use of
pornography can have a surprising benet – one that may be separated or even
connected to pornography’s arousal function.
ere is also evidence – in both the pornography and sex education OSA
subelds – of SEM being used for informational purposes. It might be
reasonable to expect that adolescents who undergo substantial psychosexual
changes seek out pornography due to an insuciency of formal sex education.
However, there are few studies on the motives of online pornography use and
their interconnection with the availability of formal sex education that would
conrm this hypothesis (Kubicek, Beyer, Weiss, Iverson, & Kipke, 2010). In
addition, studying this assumption is problematic due to cross-country
dierences in the content of curriculum-based sex education (Kirby, Laris,
& Rolleri, 2007). Even though there is a trend that the formal sex education
provided in Euro-American countries emphasize heterosexuality, the biology
of reproductive organs, having sex for procreative reasons, and the privilege
of abstinence, the lack of its quality may not be clearly associated with using
the internet for educational reasons (Fields, 2008; Jarkovská & Lišková, 2013;
Moran, 2000). For instance, even young adults from Sweden, the country
known for its elaborate and long tradition of formal sex education, were found
to treat the internet as a source of information about sexuality (Daneback,
Månsson, & Ross, 2012). However, what seems to be clear is that, in comparison
L. E. Simon, K. Daneback, A. Ševčíková
to curriculum-based sex education, online pornography provides adolescents
with qualitatively dierent information, which will be outlined later (Kubicek
et al., 2010; Löfgren-Mårtenson & Månsson, 2010; Smith, 2013).
Generally, a growing number of studies suggest that adolescents who use
pornography more frequently are more likely to associate it with educational
value and utility, even if it is also acknowledged to sometimes be unrealistic
(Löfgren-Mårtenson & Månsson, 2010; Lou, Cheng, Gao, Zuo, Emerson et al.,
2012; Tsitsika, Critselis, Kormas, Konstantoulaki, Constantopoulos et al., 2009;
Peter & Valkenburg, 2010; Häggström-Nordin et al., 2006). Indeed, adolescents
appear critical of the SEM that they consume; they are capable of acknowledging
its positive functions while also understanding it to be stereotypical or objectifying
(Löfgren-Mårtenson & Månsson, 2010; Smith, 2013). Despite its shortcomings,
online pornography is sought out by some adolescents because it might still
be a valuable source of sexual information (Sabina, Wolak, & Finkelhor, 2008).
is result was also found in a study of online pornography use among Czech
adolescents (ages 11–17) (Ševčíková & Daneback, 2014). More than one third
of these adolescents accessed pornographic websites due to the need to learn
something about sex; boys were twice as likely to do so.
Pornography was perceived as a more useful and anonymous source of
information than magazines or formal school-based sex education (Löfgren-
Mårtenson & Månsson, 2010; Kubicek et al., 2010). Information about
sexual acts and behaviors was the most common type of information cited
by adolescents when asked about what they specically had learned from
pornography. Adolescents used pornography to nd new sexual positions they
could try later, and young Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) specically
cited pornography as a valuable way to learn about the mechanics of anal
sex (Kubicek et al., 2010; Kubicek, Carpineto, McDavitt, Weiss, & Kipke,
2010; Mattebo et al., 2012). Additionally, in another study, men more than
women viewed online pornography as being useful for generating sexual
ideas, new techniques, and tricks, indicating a gender dierence in this type of
pornographic self-education (Smith, 2013). However, women reported nding
sexually explicit material to be informational in a more abstract or general
sense. Sexually explicit online text (sometimes referred to as erotica but
tting our denition of pornography) could allow women to learn about their
sexuality alone and without needing a partner (Wilson-Kovacs, 2004; Attwood,
2005). It could also allow them to evaluate or learn about sexual behaviors
without having to physically engage in them oine (Smith, 2013). Löfgren-
Mårtenson and Månsson (2010) provide another example of the uniqueness of
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
information that adolescents can gain thanks to online pornography: watching
sexual websites with their peers allowed them to observe their own and others’
reactions to the actors’ and actresses’ behaviors, appearances, and bodies.
Apart from learning about sexual positions and specic behaviors from
pornography, adolescents have also described learning more broadly about
their own sexual desires from watching or engaging online SEM. For example,
those young MSM who searched for information about anal sex or sex between
men had meaningful experiences in the exploration of their own sexual
orientation (Kubicek et al., 2010). Pornography might not be the best source of
information – again, aws like a general lack of realism, were acknowledged–
but it could be accessed anonymously and privately and could provide self-
education not oen discussed in formal sex education curricula. us,
pornography does not always have to be wholly realistic to provide adolescents
with emotional and personally valuable sexual information. However, amateur
pornography was seen by some as a better option for online sex self-education
than more mainstream SEM (Smith, 2013); it was regarded as being more
realistic and representative of oine sex. Women, in particular, discussed
amateur pornography in terms of being liberating and even feminist, allowing
women to learn about diverse sexual experiences and express their sexuality
similarly in the oine world (Smith, 2013; Attwood, 2005; Ciclitira, 2004).
us, the benets drawn from pornography can be quite specic to the type of
pornography in question and the user viewing or otherwise engaging with it; in
other words, context matters. However, it is necessary to acknowledge that the
type of pornography adolescents access online remains largely unknown and
future research should devote more attention to this issue.
BLURRING THE LINES: PORNOGRAPHY AS A SOURCE OF PLEASURE
OR SEX SELFEDUCATION?
We have described, despite researchers tending to sensationalize the negative
eects of adolescents’ use of online pornography, the positive aspects to SEM,
including the educational value. Negative and positive uses of pornography can
also intermingle; adolescents can think of pornography as being both positive –
arousing, entertaining, etc. – and negative – possessing negative gender roles, a
lack of realism, etc. – and it can still provide valuable educational information.
is blurring of the line means that adolescents’ sexual scripts for pornography
may be more complex and context-specic than previously thought.
Gagnon and Simon’s (2005) sexual scripts theory describes how we process
sexual information, both culturally and individually. Our cultural sexual
L. E. Simon, K. Daneback, A. Ševčíková
scripts – metaphorical “how to” manuals for sexual behavior – are formed based
on repeated exposure to cultural information; adolescents who continually
encounter representations in the media depicting pornography as shameful tend
to adopt this information themselves. It is also not uncommon for adolescents
to begin to form sexual scripts in formal school-based sex education classes,
where the curricula may set norms for what sexual information is acceptable
to discuss or even what sexual positions or relationships are deemed normal.
Even though there are attempts to change school-based sex education and
expand the topics, pornography in sex education seems to still collocate with
child pornography and other negative outcomes or it is perceived as a topic that
should not be included in the curricula (Fiová et al., 2009; Rasmussen, Rofes,
& Talburt, 2004; Weaver, Byers, Sears, Cohen, & Randall, 2001). However, the
aforementioned body of research studies has shown how adolescents’ scripts
can change when exposed to sexual information on the internet, including
pornography. In this way, cultural scripts can shi over time when information
changes in large-scale ways, which can happen quite quickly with interactive
and social media. e amateur pornography movement is relatively new, yet
adolescents already describe it as providing benets that can dier from other
types of pornography. In this way, our cultural sexual script for pornography
may need to change in the research literature as well; going forward, it may be
useful to see how pornography can be used for a variety of functions, not just
sexual arousal, and how it can be interpreted based on its specic content and
the users’ own needs and interests.
It is especially important that we revisit the cultural script attached to online
pornography, considering that adolescents seem to be grappling with their own
assessment of pornography. For female adolescents in Löfgren-Mårtenson and
Månsson´s (2010) study, pornography was described as “creating ambivalence
and dierent emotions, from arousal to fear and agony” (p. 45). Similarly,
young men in the same study felt that pornography could hold a range of
messages, inspire a number of dierent feelings, and ultimately make some
people happy and others disgusted. Ambivalent feelings may develop based on
adolescents’ feelings and dier depending on their use of pornography; they
might feel positively about the information they learn yet negatively about
their use of pornography for arousal or the content they are viewing. Indeed,
when adolescents describe the functions of pornography as overlapping, this
suggests a more complex sexual script than pornography being simply for
arousal. Indeed, Smith (2013) interviewed a 19-year-old college student in the
United States. She described her introduction to online pornography as such:
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Once I felt like I kind of knew the basics [of anatomy] then I was just like
this is fun anyway. You know it got me turned on and stu so... I think
when I rst started looking [SEM] up, it was for information. I started
using the pictures even for pleasure and masturbating and stu. And then
I got into the videos for kind of the same informational purposes and then
going from there again into pleasure ... (p. 69–70)
She described how two dierent functional uses of pornography blended
together. Pornography was not just about arousal; she also sought out SEM
for sex self-education, and this could encompass dierent materials, including
pictures and videos.
e ndings from the qualitative study document how pornography enables
adolescents to access not only practical information about how to have sex but
also learning about what excites them. In other words, arousal as an outcome of
watching pornography may include a component of sex self-education. In addition,
the extent of information they receive from watching pornographic media seems
to be even broader. Smith, Gertz, Alvarez, and Lurie (2000) found that 63% of
websites adolescents encountered trying to nd sexual health information was
actually categorized as pornography. While it may be more likely that some websites
are used for sexual arousal purposes and others for sexual health information, it is
imprudent to think of these categories as mutually exclusive. What is, therefore,
categorized as pornography – thereby being associated with more shameful and
negative connotations – and what is categorized as sex education material – which
can be positively promoted to adolescents – has important implications for sex
educators, clinicians, parents, and adolescents themselves.
In a society where the sexual script surrounding adolescent sexuality has
been one of fear, silence, and shame, it is a priority to shield young people
from sexual content deemed inappropriate (Jarkovská & Lišková, 2013;
Moran, 2000; Tarrant, 2010). is aects not only the ocial availability of
pornographic websites, which adolescents under the age of 18 are supposed
to avoid by clicking conrmation that they are not of legal age, but also the
content of school-based sex education which seems to exclude pornography
consumption from adolescent sexual life (Fiová et al., 2009; Weaver et al.,
2001). Additionally, parents report being very concerned with the online
sexual content their children encounter, sometimes employing internet lters
(Mitchell, Finkelhor, & Wolak, 2003). Considering this widespread concern,
it is important to acknowledge that some adolescents deliberately access
L. E. Simon, K. Daneback, A. Ševčíková
pornography online for various purposes, ranging from pure curiosity to a
need to learn about body responses to sexual stimuli or how to have sex. While
the research eld, primarily media psychology that is studying the undesirable
eects of sexual media, has been decidedly negative; there are positive aspects
to adolescents’ use of online SEM, including educational functions. As it is
likely that more parents and educators would want adolescents to be able to
access benecial sex educational material, this may complicate the cultural
script attached to online pornography and the measures we take publicly to
deter adolescents from accessing online SEM. Of course, whether parents and
educators consider explicit sexual content to be a worthwhile educational tool
in general is a subject worth greater discussion. Acknowledging the negative
eects that pornography may have on adolescents’ psychosexual development,
especially when pornography is used to an increased extent; the discussion
should begin with questions about how to provide adolescents with information
that would satisfy their curiosity about their body responses to various sexual
stimuli or about how to have sex. Last but not least, acknowledging that
adolescents, both girls and boys, access pornography on the internet promotes
the question of how to enhance the critical evaluation of mediated content.
is chapter has reviewed the evidence for adolescents’ use of online
pornography. While it is clear that many young people use SEM to be sexually
aroused, this is not its only function. Indeed, SEM can also be used benecially
in the context of a social relationship and to provide adolescents with
educational information about the mechanics of sexual positions, information
about sexual orientations, and sexual diversity. Indeed, pornography can even
be used to achieve dierent purposes simultaneously, blending the dierent
functionalities of online SEM. Some adolescents have also shown that they
are savvy users, capable of criticizing online pornography for the aspects
they deem unrealistic or negative; this can also occur among adolescents who
simultaneously hold positive opinions about online pornography. Considering
this nuanced view and functionality of online pornography, we nd it useful
to continue to utilize and promote. Häggström-Nordin, Sandberg, Hanson,
and Tyden’s (2006) more general denition of pornography stipulates that
pornography consists of explicit sexual content without dening its purpose.
By adopting a denition that is more open to interpretation, we believe that
researchers will be able to investigate adolescents’ use of pornography in a
more exploratory and useful manner without defaulting to sensationalism
and the negative sexualization of adolescents’ online experiences. As digital
technology continues to change, the context surrounding pornography will
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
as well. Immediately aer the development of the rst pornography app for
Google Glass, Google banned the development of apps that promote explicit
sexual content (Oremus, 2013). However, it is not likely that Google will be able
to keep pornography o Google Glass for long. Adolescents may someday grow
up being able to watch pornography with a head set; thus, it is imperative that
we fully investigate how adolescents’ experiences with SEM can be potentially
harmful and/or helpful. In addition, we should investigate the contexts where
the educational dimensions of SEM are considered benecial or awkward.
e authors acknowledge the support of the VITOVIN project (CZ.1.07/2.3.00/20.0184),
which is co-nanced by the European Social Fund and the state budget of Czech
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M. F. Wright
e Role of the Media and Cyber
Context in Adolescents’ Pursuit
Michelle F. Wright
Although adolescents have fully embraced digital technology, little is known
about how such technology might be used as a tool to promote their popularity
among their peers, and whether utilizing technology to become more popular
relates to their cyber social behaviors. Furthermore, little attention has been
given to whether the media’s encouragement of popularity-related activities has
a role in adolescents’ cyber social behaviors. To this end, this study examined
the media’s encouragement of popularity (i.e., social preference, perceived
popularity) among adolescents and their usage of the cyber context to boost
their popularity in relation to their cyber social behaviors. e participants
were 817 seventh graders from the United States. Findings revealed that the
media’s encouragement of perceived popularity and adolescents’ usage of
the cyber context to be social and antisocial each related positively to cyber
aggression perpetration. In addition, using the cyber context to be antisocial
was linked negatively to cyber prosocial behavior. On the other hand, the
usage of the cyber context to be prosocial was associated with cyber prosocial
behavior. No other relationships were found among the variables examined
in this study. e discussion highlights the important role of the media and
technology in adolescents’ lives.
popularity, adolescent, cyber context, cyberbullying, cyber aggression, cyber
Early adolescents (ages 11–14) have some of the highest rates of cyber aggression.
erefore, attention has been dedicated to understanding the risk factors
associated with the perpetration of these behaviors. Some literature has focused
on the role of adolescents’ peer status in their perpetration of cyber aggression
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
(e.g., intentionally humiliating, intimidating, or threatening someone who
nds these behaviors oensive and disrespectful). Eder (1985) conceptualized
peer status as consisting of adolescents’ social positions within their peer
group, and it can either consist of lower levels of peer status (i.e., rejection,
unpopularity), average levels of peer status, or higher levels of peer status (i.e.,
high perceived popularity, high social preference). Findings from one of the
few studies to examine this topic revealed that high perceived popularity was
linked positively to cyber aggression perpetration, but it was related negatively
to cyber prosocial behavior (Wright, 2014). On the other hand, Wright found
that high social preference was associated positively with cyber prosocial
behavior, and it had a negative relationship with cyber aggression perpetration.
Despite these relationships, little attention has been given to whether the cyber
context might be used as a tool to advance adolescents’ peer status at school.
Furthermore, the media might also serve a role in transmitting ideas about
popularity to adolescents, which could then relate to their engagement in
dierent cyber behaviors to either promote or enhance their peer status. To
address these gaps in the literature, this study had two aims. For the rst aim,
adolescents’ perceptions of the media’s encouragement of being popular were
examined in relation to their cyber social behaviors, including cyber aggression
perpetration and cyber prosocial behavior. e second aim investigated the
dierent ways that adolescents utilize the cyber context in an eort to become
more popular among their peers at school, and whether using the cyber context
in these ways relates to their engagement in cyber social behaviors.
POPULARITY AND CYBER SOCIAL BEHAVIORS
Researchers have conceptualized of two distinctive forms of popularity,
including perceived popularity and social preference (Coie, Dodge, & Coppotelli,
1982; LaFontana & Cillessen, 2002). Perceived popularity refers to adolescents’
reputational labeling of peer status rather than their likeability (Cillessen &
Mayeux, 2004). Perceived popularity is characterized by social prestige and social
centrality in the peer group, but these adolescents might not necessarily be liked
by their peers. In contrast, social preference is an indicator of likeableness, and it
is characterized by social acceptance (Coie et al., 1982). In the face-to-face context,
each popularity type is dierentially associated with aggression and prosocial
behavior (e.g., behaviors that involve a concern for the welfare of others, and
includes behaviors such as helping one’s peers and cheering peers up when they
feel down). Researchers have consistently found positive relationships between
perceived popularity and relational aggression (e.g., harming another individual
by damaging their relationships or peer status, rumor spreading, friendship
manipulation, and ostracism) (Crick & Grotpeter, 1995). is research has also
M. F. Wright
found negative relationships between social preference and relational, and overt
forms (e.g., aggression in which the adolescent causes physical harm, verbal harm,
and/or destruction of a peer’s property) of aggressive behaviors (LaFontana
& Cillessen, 2002; Prinstein & Cillessen, 2003). Social preference is associated
with prosocial behavior, but the relationship of perceived popularity to prosocial
behavior is more mixed, with some studies nding positive associations and
others nding negative relationships.
Despite adolescents’ high technology consumption, little is known about the
relationship of both popularity types to aggressive and prosocial behavior in the
cyber context. e necessity for such research is even more important as the
association of perceived popularity and social preference with aggression and
prosocial behavior becomes stronger in adolescence (Cillessen & Mayeux, 2004;
Xie et al., 2002). us, adolescents’ high technology usage coupled with their
desire to pursue a high peer status might lead them to utilize these technologies
to help advance their social standing. Few studies have focused on the role of
popularity in adolescents’ social behaviors in the cyber context. Similar to the
relationships found in the face-to-face context, these studies reveal that perceived
popularity is related positively to cyber aggression perpetration (Schostall &
Cohen, 2011; Wright, 2014). Less attention has been given to cyber prosocial
behavior and social preference, and the only study to investigate these variables
found similar results as the face-to-face context. In particular, cyber prosocial
behavior was associated positively with social preference, and social preference
was related negatively to cyber aggression perpetration (Wright, 2014). is study
also found that perceived popularity was not linked to cyber prosocial behavior.
Although these studies provide a foundation for understanding the association
between popularity types and cyber social behaviors, nothing is known about
whether adolescents utilize technologies to become more popular within their
peer group. In the literature on the face-to-face context, research links children’s
and adolescents’ perceptions of what makes a girl or a boy popular to their
aggressive behaviors. Xie et al. (2006) found that children and adolescents who
believed that deviance contributed to popularity had higher ratings of aggression
as reported by teachers and peers. us, it might be reasonable to expect that
adolescents’ perceptions of their activities in the cyber context contribute to their
popularity and relate to their cyber social behaviors.
MEDIA AND CYBER SOCIAL BEHAVIORS
e media has been implicated as impacting a variety of adolescent behaviors,
including smoking, cooperation with police, sexuality, and eating (Dirikx & Van
den Bulck, 2014; Mastronardi, 2003; Tanski, Stoolmiller, Gerrard, & Sargent,
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
2012; McCabe, Ricciardelli, & Finemore, 2002). e eect of violent media
content on adolescents’ behaviors and attitudes is perhaps one of the most
controversial topics in this research area (Brown & Bobkowski, 2011). e results
of longitudinal studies do link aggressive behaviors in emerging adulthood to
childhood and adolescent exposure to violent television content (Huesmann,
Moise-Titus, Podolski, & Eron, 2003; Johnson, Cohen, Smailes, Kasen, & Brook,
2002). Intervention eorts have also indicated that aggression was lower among
third and fourth graders who participated in a six-month program designed to
reduce television viewing (Robinson, Wilde, Navracruz, Haydel, & Varady, 2001).
Other research focuses on violent video games as another type of media which
impacts aggressive behaviors. e research on this topic indicates that exposure
to violent media content through aggressive video game play relates to aggression
and violence in the real world and through electronic technologies (Anderson,
Gentile, & Buckley, 2007). Such linkages occur across experimental, longitudinal,
and correlational studies, and among dierent samples, including children,
adolescents, and adults (Gentile et al., 2009). Although the media might impact
adolescents’ behaviors and attitudes, it is unclear whether it might also play a role
in their pursuit of social standing in the peer group. e media might transmit
ideas about popularity to adolescents, and these ideas might become internalized
and serve as a foundation for the types of behaviors and characteristics which
lead to popularity in the peer group.
is present study had two goals: to address gaps in the literature concerning
the role of the media and the cyber context in adolescents’ pursuit of popularity,
and their relationship to adolescents’ cyber social behaviors. For the rst goal,
the pressure to be popular conveyed to adolescents by the media was examined
in relation to cyber social behaviors, including cyber aggression perpetration
and cyber prosocial behavior. e second goal investigated the cyber behaviors
and characteristics adolescents associated with being more popular in their peer
group, and how these perceptions were related to their cyber social behaviors.
It was hypothesized that the media’s encouragement of adolescents to be
perceived as popular would relate positively to cyber aggression perpetration and
relate negatively to cyber prosocial behavior. Opposite patterns were expected
for the media’s encouragement of social preference. Such encouragement would
negatively relate to cyber aggression perpetration and be positively associated
with cyber prosocial behavior. Although the literature is not yet available on
the cyber behaviors and characteristics adolescents associated with popularity
in their peer group, some hypotheses were generated to guide this second
M. F. Wright
aim. Guided by the research on perceived popularity and social preference,
it was expected that more negative behaviors would be associated with cyber
aggression perpetration, whereas more positive behaviors, linked more with
social preference, would relate to cyber prosocial behavior (LaFontana &
Cillessen, 2002; Prinstein & Cillessen, 2003).
e participants were 817 seventh graders from seven large middle schools
(grades 6–8) in the Midwestern United States. ere were 412 girls and 405
boys included in the study. Ages ranged from 11–13, with a mean age of 12.19.
Emails were sent to principals of 10 middle schools, which described the
study, what students would be expected to do, and the importance of students’
participation. Of the 10 principals, seven responded that they were interested
in having their school be part of the study. A meeting was set up with the
principals and seventh grade teachers. In the meeting, the purpose of the
study and what adolescents would be expected to do if they were to participate
was discussed. at same day, classroom announcements were made and the
adolescents were sent home with a parental permission slip. Of the parental
permission slips sent home, 817 came back with consent.
Data collection took place over six weeks. Before the measures were
administered, adolescents provided their assent to participate in the study.
None refused to participate and only six were absent on the initial day of data
collection. e three schools with missing students each had one make-up day,
and all six missing students lled out the questionnaires on this day.
e measures were administered in the following order: demographic
information questionnaire (e.g., age, gender), self-reported cyber aggression
perpetration, the pressure they felt to be popular from the media (i.e., Popularity
Pressure Conformity Measure), and what makes someone popular with their
peers (i.e., Popularity Perceptions Measure).
Self-Reported Cyber Social Behaviors
Adolescents rated thirteen items concerning how oen they engaged in cyber
aggression perpetration (nine items; e.g., Spread untrue and bad rumors about
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
another peer online or through text messages) and cyber prosocial behavior
(four items; e.g., Cheer other peers up online or through text messages) on a
scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (all of the time) (Wright, 2014). Cronbach’s alphas
were .91 for cyber aggression perpetration and .86 for cyber prosocial behavior.
Popularity Pressure Conformity
Before completing this measure, adolescents read a description of social
preference and perceived popularity. is measure asked adolescents how
much pressure they felt to be popular by the media (e.g., television, magazines,
and books). e following stem was included for all items: “e media (e.g.,
television, magazine, books) encourages me to… in order to be popular.”
Adolescents picked how oen the media encouraged them to be socially
preferred (two items; e.g., be nice to my peers so that I can be popular) or
perceived as popular (three items; e.g., wear certain clothes so that I can be
popular). Adolescents rated the ve items on a scale of 1 (totally untrue) to
5 (totally agree). e media’s encouragement of perceived popularity had a
Cronbach’s alpha of .88 and social preference had a Cronbach’s alpha of .83.
is measure described behaviors or characteristics that were carried out
to make someone popular with their peers at school. All the behaviors and
characteristics were oriented to the cyber context. Adolescents rated 21 items
on a scale of 1 (very unpopular) to 5 (very popular). ere were four scales
for this measure, including sociability (six items; e.g., receiving a lot of text
messages), antisocial (six items; e.g., calling peers mean names online or
through text messages), prosocial (four items; e.g., helping peers out online or
through text messages), and technology access (ve items; e.g., having access to
all the latest electronic technologies). Cronbach’s alphas were .89 for sociability,
.90 for antisocial, .90 for prosocial, and .86 for technology access.
Correlations among Cyber Social Behaviors and Popularity Pressure
Table 1 displays the results of the pressure to be popular from the media in
relation to cyber aggression perpetration and cyber prosocial behavior. Results
indicate that the pressure to be perceived as popular from the media is related
positively to cyber aggression perpetration. However, the pressure to be
socially preferred from the media is not associated with either cyber aggression
perpetration or cyber prosocial behavior.
M. F. Wright
Relationships among cyber social behaviors and popularity pressure from the media.
1 2 3 4
1. Media – Perceived Popularity ---
2. Media – Social Preference .39*** ---
3. Cyber Aggression Perpetration .31*** -.04 ---
4. Cyber Prosocial Behavior -.01 .10 -.02 ---
*** p< .001.
Correlations among Cyber Social Behaviors and Popularity Perceptions
Table 2 presents the correlations among cyber social behaviors and the four
factors of popularity perceptions. e factors of sociability and antisocial
were related positively to cyber aggression perpetration. e sociability factor
was associated positively with cyber prosocial behavior. e antisocial factor
was related negatively with cyber prosocial behavior. On the other hand, the
prosocial factor was associated negatively with cyber aggression perpetration,
but it was related positively to cyber prosocial behavior. e technology factor
was not associated with any type of cyber social behavior.
Relationships among cyber social behaviors and popularity perceptions.
1 2 3 4 5 6
1. Sociability ---
2. Antisocial .46*** ---
3. Prosocial .25*** -.26*** ---
4. Technology Access .54*** .21*** .27*** ---
5. Cyber Aggression Perpetration .14* .34*** -.21** -.10 ---
6. Cyber Prosocial Behavior .20* -.23*** .31*** .09 -.02 ---
* P< .05. ** P< .01. *** P< .001.
is study investigated adolescents’ perceptions of popularity and the popularity
pressure they felt from the media in relation to their cyber social behaviors,
including cyber aggression perpetration and cyber prosocial behavior. Results
from this study contribute to a growing body of literature on the role of the
media and the cyber context in adolescents’ social standing among their peers.
Furthermore, the present study also provides some additional understanding
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
to how out-of-school activities, like the media, the internet, and mobile phones,
impact in-school behaviors and the pursuit of popularity.
Supporting the study’s hypotheses, ndings from the present study suggest
that the media does have a role in pressuring adolescents to pursue perceived
popularity, and that this pursuit relates to cyber aggression perpetration. Such
ndings are consistent with the literature, revealing linkages between cyber
aggression perpetration and perceived popularity (Schostall & Cohen, 2011;
Wright, 2014). e results concerning the media’s encouragement of social
preference are not too clear as no relationships were found between this form
of popularity and either of the cyber social behaviors. Wright (2014) found
that social preference was related positively to cyber prosocial behavior and
associated negatively with cyber aggression perpetration. us, it was expected
that the pressure to be socially preferred would relate positively to cyber
prosocial behavior. A possible explanation for the non-signicant ndings
might be that the media does not always encourage adolescents to behave in
certain ways to become socially preferred in their peer group. e media might
focus more on encouraging adolescents to pursue perceived popularity as it is
the most socially central and highly visible form of popularity (Parkhurst &
Hopmeyer, 1998). erefore, ideas about the conformity to be popular might
include more aggressive behaviors rather than prosocial behavior.
Another important contribution of the present study is the nding concerning
the cyber behaviors and characteristics adolescents associated with popularity in
the peer group, and their associations with cyber social behaviors. e factors
of sociability and antisocial behaviors were both related positively to cyber
aggression perpetration. e antisocial factor encompassed more aggressive
behaviors and the sociability factor included characteristics that represented
being socially central, both of which are characteristics of perceived popularity
(LaFontana & Cillessen, 2002; Prinstein & Cillessen, 2003). erefore, the linkages
of these two factors to cyber aggression perpetration are not surprising as these
factors represent two core elements of perceived popularity. e antisocial factor
was related negatively to cyber prosocial behavior, whereas the sociability factor
was associated positively with this behavior. In the literature, some studies nd
that there are positive relationships between perceived popularity and prosocial
behavior, whereas others reveal a negative relationship (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer,
1998; Prinstein & Cillessen, 2003). Perhaps, dierences in such ndings in the
literature might be attributed to adolescents’ perceptions of the dierent functions
of popularity-related behaviors. In particular, sociability might relate to prosocial
behavior among adolescents, whereas antisociability might not. Due to these
M. F. Wright
perceptions, some adolescents might believe that perceived popularity is more
related to sociability, and others might view this form of popularity as being more
linked to antisociability, which could potentially contribute to their dierential
endorsement of prosocial behavior. Using technology to act prosocially in
order to become more popular was hypothesized to be more related to social
preference than to perceived popularity (Parkhurst & Hopmeyer, 1998). us, it
was not surprising that the prosocial factor was associated negatively with cyber
aggression perpetration, and positively related to cyber prosocial behavior. e
technology factor was not associated with either form of cyber social behavior.
is was surprising, as spending power relates to popularity (Adler & Alder,
1998). However, the literature does not indicate whether the characteristics
associated with popularity are dierentially related to social behavior. at is, it
might be that spending power or having access to the best technology is related
to popularity, but that it is not associated with aggressive or prosocial behaviors.
Future Directions and Limitations
is study provided an initial investigation of the media’s and the cyber context’s
role in adolescents’ popularity among their peer group. However, there are a few
futures directions and limitations that should be noted to advance the eld’s
knowledge of this topic. For instance, more research should be undertaken
utilizing interviews and focus groups to understand the media’s pressure on
adolescents to be popular, and whether such pressures convey messages that are
associated with dierent forms of popularity. is is especially important when
it comes to social preference as there were no signicant relationships between
this type of popularity and any cyber social behavior. A fruitful step for this
research might be to content-analyze various teen television shows, magazines,
and books to understand the extent to which popularity themes are conveyed in
these sources, and to dierentiate these themes based on the popularity subtypes.
One limitation of this research was that the analyses relied solely on bivariate
correlations. e present study was conducted concurrently, which does not allow
for an understanding of the longitudinal relationships examined in this study. Such
a method will allow for a better understanding of the developmental signicance
of the media’s eects on children’s and adolescents’ pursuit of popularity. Follow-
up research should incorporate longitudinal designs in order to understand the
temporal ordering of these relationships. For example, this research design might
be able to identify an age in which children are most exposed to the media’s
endorsement of popularity, and whether such endorsement relates to popularity.
It also might be likely that children and adolescents who are already popular seek
out media with messages endorsing the pursuit of popularity. erefore, more
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
advanced techniques should be used in order to control for adolescents’ current
perceived popularity and social preference.
e present study provides one of the rst investigations aimed at understanding
the media’s popularity pressure and adolescents’ perceptions of utilizing the cyber
context to boost popularity. Furthermore, it is one of the rst studies to examine
adolescents’ perceptions and popularity pressure in relation to cyber social
behaviors. Such examinations are important as researchers are recognizing the
prominence of the media and technology in adolescents’ lives, and thus such tools
might be used to facilitate their social standing among their peers at school. e
present study revealed that adolescents feel pressure to be popular, particularly
perceived popularity, from the media and that this pressure relates to cyber
aggression perpetration. In addition, results also suggest that adolescents utilize
the cyber context to become more popular in their peer group at school, and that
the dierent ways they use technologies relate to their cyber social behaviors. is
study has implications for clinicians and researchers concerned with identifying
adolescents at risk for cyber aggression perpetration as well as those individuals
interested in helping to promote positive interactions in the cyber context.
is work was supported by the project, “Employment of Best Young Scientists for
International Cooperation Empowerment” (CZ.1.07/2.3.00/30.0037), and co-nanced
by the European Social Fund and the state budget of the Czech Republic.
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LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
SECTION 2: ONLINE NETWORKING AMONG
In recent years, online social networking has grown rapidly in popularity.
Social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and many others, have
become important among youths and also adults. But social networking takes
place in dierent online places, such as school information systems, discussion
boards, various web sites, etc. However, similar to the oine environment,
social networking also includes both positive and negative experiences. at
is the focus of this section.
In the rst chapter of this section written by Hana Machackova, we focus on “online
communities” among early adolescents aged 11–14. e chapter illustrates how
children perceive the importance and inuence of these communities in terms
of the provided support, sense of belonging, and opportunities for self-disclosure.
e author dierentiates communities where children interact only online,
partly online and partly oine, and mostly oine. Interestingly, it seems that
communities with mixed and balanced online and oine contacts bring the most
potential benets to youths. Members of these communities reported high levels
of support, a sense of belonging, and self-disclosing behavior. On the other hand,
the only online communities probably lack stability and inuence in children’s
lives. e author concludes that there are several important factors besides the
developmental stage which intervene in the process in which online communities
inuence children’s development, like socio-psychological characteristics or the
character of the oine environment, such as family or peer relationships.
Within online communities and social networking, youths also sometimes meet
“online strangers” who are known only from the internet, which is the focus of
the next chapter written by Lenka Dedkova. e author shows that the media
moral panic surrounding online strangers is widely inaccurate. According to
empirical evidence, most youths’ meetings with online strangers do not result
in negative experiences. And in the cases where they do, there is almost no
correspondence to the media’s online pedophile scenario. Also, in contrast to
the media portrayal, youths’ meetings with online strangers typically happen
in adolescence, not in childhood. e author concludes that meeting strangers
is a natural part of the developmental and social processes.
e third chapter of this section written by Hana Machackova and colleagues is
focused on youths’ privacy management on social networking sites. It explains
how youths balance their disclosures and manage privacy boundaries within
social networking sites, online communities, and while communicating with
both friends and online strangers. Based on the opinions and experiences
of European youths, the authors pointed out how the specic aspects of the
online environment intervene in the process of privacy management on Social
Networking Sites (SNS). e authors challenge the still-prevailing notion
that youths do not care about their privacy and disclosures on SNS. ey
describe that awareness of the potentially risky features in SNS is embedded
in youths’ online praxes: youths manage their privacy by applying dierent
types of control over the published information and the online audience. e
authors conclude that approaches to controlling privacy boundaries and rules
dier dramatically among youths, depending on their individual preferences,
experiences, developmental stage, and digital skills.
We can conclude that these sections contribute to the understanding of online
social networking among youths. e chapters reveal that youths, while social
networking and participating in online communities, have both positive and
negative experiences. Even the same online experience, such as meeting an
online stranger, can have various positive and negative aspects. All three
chapters also demonstrate that youths’ online and oine lives are strongly
interconnected (Subrahmanyam & Smahel, 2011). For example, meeting
people online is a natural developmental need for youths, and privacy borders
are also oen similar in both the online and oine environments. It seems that
youths use online networks in line with their developmental needs – and the
online networks can be both a very useful and a somewhat problematic tool.
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Online Communities and Early
e chapter focuses on the role of online communities in the lives of early
adolescents. is developmental stage is typical for many changes, including
identity development as well as the expansion of social life beyond family
boundaries. Children gain new experiences in new social groups, which
introduce them to diverse attitudes, opinions, and behavioral patterns.
Currently, one of these new groups can take the form of an online community
(i.e., a group of people who regularly interact in a specic place on the internet).
In the chapter, current knowledge about online communities is reviewed and
processes by which online communities may aect children’s development are
described. Specic focus is given to the form of interaction with community
members: whether it is only online, partly oine, or mostly oine. Using the
sample of Czech early adolescents (aged 11–14), empirical evidence depicting
the character of community membership and how it diers across the three
types of communities is presented. Findings show that online communities
with partly oine contact are most distinct – they are typical for the highest
sense of belonging but also the highest perceived inuence on children´s
behavior and attitudes.
online communities, online and oine interaction, early adolescence
Online communities are new online social environments in which
contemporary youth participate. “Online communities” designate groups of
people who regularly interact through some specic virtual environment, such
as web sites, blogs, or social network sites. Based on previous studies, we know
that membership in online communities may be connected with potential
risk (e.g., in the form of negative inuence on attitudes or behavior) but can
also bring many benets (e.g., the opportunity to gain support or a sense of
belonging) (Černá & Šmahel, 2008; Giles, 2006; Machackova & Blinka, 2009).
But, as most prior studies on online communities focused on the population
of older adolescents or adults, we lack knowledge about the role of these
communities in younger children. is chapter aims to ll this gap and focuses
on community members in early adolescence.
Early adolescence is a sensitive developmental stage between ages 11–14.
While still nested in the family, early adolescents are becoming more involved
in and inuenced by other social groups. is can shape the development of
their attitudes, behavior, and overall self-concept (Schave & Schave, 1989).
In current “digital society”, online communities can also become one of the
inuential groups in children’s lives. But the role of online community diers
in relation to several factors. Considering that the online social life of youth is
oen interconnected with the oine one (Subrahmanyam & Šmahel, 2011),
I aim to dierentiate between three types of online communities based on
the types of interaction with members: online communities with only online
contact, with some oine contact, and with predominant oine contact. Based
on existing knowledge and a theoretical framework depicting the process
upon which online communities can become a signicant part of children’s
lives, I will examine data from Czech, early adolescent members of online
communities. My aim is to illustrate how children perceive the importance
and inuence of these communities in terms of the provided support, sense
of belonging, opportunities for self-disclosure, and perceived personal change
due to community membership.
ONLINE COMMUNITIES: DEFINING THE CONCEPT
In last two decades, online communities have spread throughout cyberspace
and have become an integral part of the online social life of millions of
internet users. In the Czech Republic, a country in which the data analyzed
in this chapter originates, 27% of internet users older than 12 visited an
online community in 2007. e members were most oen youth: half of the
users aged 16–19 and 37% or the users aged 12–15 (Šmahel, 2008)6. Online
communities exist in multiple forms (Porter, 2004; Smith & Kollock, 2005),
varying in size (with dozens, hundreds, thousands, or millions of members),
form of member interaction (a/synchronic, in/frequent, strictly online, or also
oine), or in topics and goals. Some are explicitly centered on a specic theme,
such as communities of gamers, movie fans, or people with a specic hobby,
while some simply emerge in an online place where people meet, for example
6 It is important to mention that these data are a bit outdated. For comparison, we can consider
ndings from America, where 15% of internet users (across all ages) visited online communities in
2007, and 17% did so in 2012 (Lebo, 2013).
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
on social network sites or discussion forums. What all these environments
have in common is the label “online community” (sometimes also “virtual” or
“cyber” community), applied by their founders, their members, or researchers.
But use of the term “community” for the online environment has been vastly
contested and its appropriateness is still in dispute (e.g., Fernback, 2007;
Watson, 1997; Yuan, 2012). e reason for this controversy stems mostly
from the discrepancies between the perceptions of the virtual environment
and the traditional conceptualization of community, which denoted a close-
knit group of people living in a specic location; mutually sharing trust, a
commitment, and a sense of belonging; and pursuing similar goals, norms, or
morals. is seemed to contradict the nature of online (“virtual”) groups and
relationships, which, compared to oine ones, were sometimes perceived as
weak, decient, articial, or not real. But in reality, many members feel a strong
connection to their online community. For example, half of American online
community members felt as strongly about online communities as about their
oine ones (Lebo, 2013). Moreover, many researches also considered overall
declining engagement in “traditional” communities and argued that the
online communities present new possibilities to re-connect with social life in
the neighborhood as well as to spread one’s social network beyond the local
horizon (Hampton & Wellman, 2003). is view diminished the importance
of “local” in terms of space and emphasized the “social” aspects of community
existence. Online communities then could be taken as a symbol of current
societal connections: transgressing boundaries and connecting dierent – yet
common – people who interact in seemingly boundless cyberspace. is is
why, for some, online communities represent the decline of society, while for
others they signify its unstoppable further development.
is conceptual struggle, combined with the notion of multiple community
forms (which can’t be easily covered by a single denition) resulted in a
variety of denitions of online communities. Some prior studies utilized broad
denitions, which cover only the basic aspects of the online community. is
would be, for example, Ridings, Gefen, and Arinze’s (2002) depiction of online
communities as “groups of people with common interests and practices that
communicate regularly and for some duration in an organized way over the
internet through a common location or mechanism” (p. 273). Other denitions
were more selective, focusing and specifying one or more attribute necessary
to label the online group as a community (for dierent approaches, see
Blanchard, 2007; Lee, Vogel, & Limayem, 2003; Porter, 2004; Ridings & Gefen,
2004; Smith & Kollock, 2005). Among the most oen used attributes needed
to dene an online community belong the following. Members of an online
community must, to some extent, sustain an online form of interaction; but,
they can also meet oine. ere should be rather regular interaction within
the community. Members should share some common discourse, norms,
informational, or emotional support, and pursue common goals and interests.
And, members should feel the sense of the virtual community, i.e., “feelings
of membership, identity, belonging, and attachment to a group that interacts
primarily through electronic communication” (Blanchard, 2007, p. 827).
Inevitably, every researcher must choose which denition and which attributes
are most suitable for his or her research goals and questions. e empirical
ndings presented later are based on a more broad operationalization of online
community as a specic virtual place where people of similar interests or opinions
regularly interact and exchange information or materials. Besides this, I will
also specically focus on one specic attribute: the form of interaction with
community members, ranging from purely online to predominantly oine.
WHAT MAKES ONLINE COMMUNITIES SO DIFFERENT?
As described above, sometimes the label “virtual” or “online” for a community
might be misleading, suggesting that they are ephemeral or unreal. But similar
to oine ones, we can observe rich social life within these communities. e
members interact, communicate, and share information, materials, interests,
goals, and support. Nevertheless, despite these similarities with oine
communities, there are also some specics which make online communities
unique social environments.
Overall, online communities bear specics which have been recognized in
online communication, foremost the lack of non-verbal cues in communication
(i.e., absence of tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.) (Bargh &
McKenna, 2004). While interacting, the members do not see or hear each other,
and rely only on written text, sometimes accompanied by emoticons or other
signs and symbols (e.g., pictures, implemented audio or video, or hyperlinks).
is can be limiting for self-expression and mutual understanding, but, at the
same time, it can also increase control over members’ self-presentations, as these
“limits” can help to overcame constraints present in oine communication
(caused, for example, by lower communication competencies).
e members also can stay, or at least they perceive to be, relatively anonymous,
and usually interact while at a mutual physical distance. is perceived
anonymity is connected to the disinhibited behavior of members, be it in its
benign (increased self-disclosure and support) or toxic (increased hostility)
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
form (Suler, 2004). Moreover, due to anonymity and distance, community
members may have no relation and awareness of one’s oine social circle and
behavior and vice versa. us, oine friends and family do not have to know
anything about the online community and one’s behavior and image within
that community. In result, the anonymity and distance can decrease the fear of
the possible consequences of a member’s behavior within the community.
e information within the community (and also the whole community as an
online platform) is accessible and relatively stable. If the community is alive, it
can be accessed by members at any time from any internet connection (Smith
& Kollock, 2005). Moreover, online communities enable the members to store
and share information and materials, including past conversations and events,
creating and sustaining a specic discursive environment centered within
community topics. us, although seemingly ephemeral, an online community
may be very real, immediately accessible, and even more stable than an oine
community, in which common history can more easily be forgotten or is
usually less accessible.
Finally, accessibility is important not only in terms of immediate access, but
also with regard to the “spatial” and “social” dimension. An online community
could potentially be visited by anyone, regardless of the location. It also is open
to all regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, education, beliefs, opinions, etc. Of
course, every online community has a specic discursive framework and it is
an open question as to how the newcomer will t in, even when these attributes
are not immediately recognizable (Williams, 2009). But, if he or she connects
with the community on a basic level (e.g., they share the same interests, goals,
or attitudes), those others characteristics, which might limit interaction in the
oine world, are mitigated online.
All these attributes vary across specic spaces (and platforms) on which
online communities exist, based on their “technical” setting, but also their
overall community rules, preferences, and discourse. For example, some
communities enable the deletion of some information, while others forbid
it. In some communities, members may use live video-chats; in others they
prefer asynchronous bulletin board messages. Or, while blog communities
oer a high degree of anonymity and “protected space” (Rains, 2012), if the
community functions on an online social network site, members are usually
highly identiable (Papacharissi, 2010).
Online Community and Oine Interaction
One of the crucial attributes of online communities is whether members sustain
only online or also oine relationships. I mentioned earlier that with ongoing
social change the emphasis on “local”, including the physical contact of community
members, has decreased. But this is not to suggest that the oine aspect has lost
its importance. Due to the current high penetration of the internet, many online
communities connect people who are in physical proximity (Wellman, Boase, &
Chen, 2002) or rather easily reachable. Currently members of plenty of online
communities (almost half of them in America; Lebo, 2013) also interact oine,
which blurs the distinction between online and oine communities. Many
online communities emerge as another dimension of an oine community like,
for example, online communities of people living in the same neighborhood
(Hampton & Wellman, 2003). In other cases, some “purely” online communities
extend the social life into the oine environment, for example, by organizing
oine meetings with members (Machackova & Blinka, 2009).
Some previously mentioned attributes, especially those connected to anonymity,
are typical mostly for communities in which members interact exclusively
online, but do not apply for others. e form of contact can have substantial
impact on how the members perceive the benets of the membership and how
they behave within the community. Oine contact can result in decreased
control over self-presentation and limit behavioral freedom (i.e., behavior
disconnected from oine norms and roles as described above). is is why
some members may refuse to cross the online/oine boundaries (Matzat, 2010).
On the other hand, oine interaction can strengthen and deepen social ties,
and help increase mutual knowledge, trust, and overall joy from community
visits. is is a reason why others strive to extend and sustain community
life also oine (Machackova & Blinka, 2009). us, despite the fact that the
criterion for oine contact is no longer necessary, it still is one of dening
attributes in the description of an online community, and an important factor
in the assessment of the role of online community in members’ lives.
ONLINE COMMUNITY AS A SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT FOR
e role of online communities should be also assessed with regard to the
factors related to the members: their individual characteristics and the specics
of their oine environment. ese factors shape the motivation to join the
online community, the character of participation, and, consequently, the role of
the community in the member’s life. is chapter focuses on a single individual
characteristic: the developmental stage of community members.
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Specics of Early Adolescence
Early adolescence, occurring approximately between the ages of 11 and 14, is a
sensitive developmental period. According to Erikson’s developmental theory
(1968), early adolescence is the stage in which the crisis between industry and
inferiority (based on experiences in new social environments outside family,
mostly school) should result either in the sense of competence or the sense
of inferiority, while the new battle between establishing identity versus the
confusion of roles begins. Early adolescence is, therefore, typical for behavioral,
emotional, cognitive, psycho-social, and physical changes. It is a time of
increased psycho-social vulnerability accompanied by increased emotional
and behavioral uctuations. Children are searching for and experimenting
with their identity, which is connected to increasing social experiences within
groups outside the family circle, most notably peers. ese groups can become
inuential reference social groups in which children search for acceptance
(Schave & Schave, 1989; Steinberg & Morris, 2001).
Early adolescence is thus a stage in which “outside” social inuences can shape
the ongoing changes in children’s personalities. Dierent social groups present
early adolescents with examples of dierent types of behaviors, introduce them
to opinions and attitudes which can dier from those socialized in the family,
and oer them an opportunity to gain a sense of belonging. Early adolescents
seek new experiences within these groups and strive for their approval and
acceptance, which might lead to dierent outcomes: some groups can help
children gain sucient self-esteem and positive self-concept; others have the
opposite eect (Shave & Shave, 1989).
e Role of Online Communities
Online communities can become one of the social environments within which
children interact. Based on previous ndings, we can assume that a substantial
part (in fact, more than a third; Šmahel, 2008) of early adolescents visit online
communities. But we do not have sucient empirical evidence about the role and
importance of these communities for early adolescents, since most studies were
conducted on older populations. Moreover, psychologically oriented research
on the younger population has been oen focused on risky communities, such
as communities devoted to eating disorders or self-harm (Černá & Šmahel,
2009; Giles, 2006; Whitlock, Powers, & Eckenrode, 2006), and less oen to
more common communities, such as communities of practice or interest (e.g.,
fan online communities; Machackova & Blinka, 2009). Nevertheless, previous
studies provide important insight into the role of online communities, albeit
valid mostly for older adolescents. Considering the overall existing body of
knowledge, I will outline the processes upon which an online community can
become one of the inuential social groups. e next few paragraphs will oer
a theoretical approach to the examination of the role of online communities in
the lives of early adolescents. But, because we lack sucient empirical evidence
to support these hypothesized processes, this is just a hypothetical framework,
which guided the empirical research presented here.
Online communities can provide information and materials on a variety
of topics: civic issues, religion and beliefs, or healthy lifestyles. As there are
countless online communities, there is also a myriad of possible new information,
presented attitudes, or interaction styles. is sea of new information can be
very attractive for early adolescents, who reach beyond their family, test new
social waters, and seek new information (Shave & Shave, 1989). In online
communities, they can encounter alternative views and behavior than those
socialized within their family. But simple exposure to such new environments
does not equate to inuence. e importance of the community would depend
on the extent to which children identify with the online community.
is process could be built upon regular contact and visits to the (ever-present
and ever-accessible) online community. In time, children can develop a sense
of belonging, a necessary component in the social lives of early adolescents who
need to belong and be accepted within social groups. is can be encouraged
by support provided by community members. While sometimes distance and
anonymity can lead to hostile behavior, it can also underlie increased support
(Suler, 2004), which has been found in many online communities (Baym, 2007;
Watson, 1997). Moreover, the online environment is typical for increased self-
disclosure, especially in the relatively anonymous environment (Rains, 2012).
If we consider early adolescence as a stage with the increased need to t in, such
support or positive feedback to disclosures can contribute substantially to the
development of a sense of belonging in the community. According to Czech
data, these processes – i.e., increased positive feedback from others, sense of
belonging, and bringing new information – seem typical mostly for adolescent
and youth members (until age 26), while disinhibition within the community
is relatively high across a wider age range (up to age 50) (Šmahel, 2008).
Upon these processes, children may become members of the community and
start to internalize some of its norms and attitudes, and replicate behavior in
the online community also oine. Generally, they may develop a social identity
(Tajfel, 2010; Turner & Reynolds, 2012) connected to this community. is
can be very benecial: children can nd a safe group, which helps them self-
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
disclose, build a positive self-image, consider dierent opinions and attitudes,
and oer a much needed sense of belonging. But this exact process can have
both positive and negative consequences for overall development. Risky online
communities – for example communities supporting eating disorders, self-harm
communities, or extremist communities (Černá & Šmahel, 2009; De Koster &
Houtman, 2008; Giles, 2006) – are also typical for the prevailing support for
members’ attitudes and behavior – yet, these would be considered harmful. In
many cases, it is dicult to assess whether an online community is benecial or
risky. In this assessment, one aspect to consider is the extent to which people in
a community are distinct from those in the oine environment, and the extent
to which a child behaves dierently in the online community compared to the
oine environment. Although such questions still do not provide a denite
answer to the possible inuence of the community, they help assess the role of
the online community as compared to oine conditions.
ONLINE COMMUNITIES IN EARLY ADOLESCENCE: EMPIRICAL
In this sub-chapter, I aim to empirically assess the role of online communities in
the lives of early adolescents. I described that online community can oer example
of attitudes, opinions, and behavioral patterns, which might inuence a child’s
identity and behavior within it, but can also be extrapolated to the oine world. But
such process can vary signicantly across dierent types of online communities.
Here, I will specically focus on the moderating eect of the type of interaction
with community members and compare the three aforementioned types of online
communities. First are Only Online communities, i.e., those in which children
interact with other members only online and do not meet in real life. Second are
Partly Online and Partly Oine communities, in which children interact with
some members only online and with others also oine. ird are Mostly Oine
communities; i.e., those in which children interact with most members oine (but
still they sustain online contact). erefore, I ask how children in dierent types of
online communities perceive the benets and consequences of their membership.
Specically, whether these communities are similar or distinct from the oine
environment; if they provide support, opportunity for self-disclosure, and a sense
of belonging; and whether children perceive that they changed in attitudes and/or
behavior due to community membership.
To answer these questions I utilized data from a national survey conducted in
the Czech Republic7 in 2012. We asked children whether they are members of
7 Project RIUDaD funded by the Czech Grant Agency.
an online community, which was described as follows: “On the internet there
are a lot of places where people of similar interests or opinions meet. Sometimes
these people make groups to which their members come back regularly,
they oen use a nickname, know each other, talk to each other or exchange
information or materials. ey can meet e.g., on discussion forums, blogs,
chats, or in games. Do you personally visit such a place or group regularly?”8
Membership in Online Communities
In our sample, 50% of early adolescents (N=857; 50% girls) indicated that
they are members of an online community. From these, 16.5% interacted with
members “only online”, 46.8% interacted “partly online and partly oine”,
and 36.6% “mostly oine”. In mostly oine communities, girls were a bit
more prevalent (56%), while boys were more oen members in only online
communities (58%). Almost no gender dierences were found in partly oine
communities. All types of communities showed similar age trends: older youth
were members of communities more oen than younger ones.
e importance of community in children’s lives can be indicated by several
aspects. e frequencies of visits and the length of membership may reect
whether these communities are part of the everyday life of children. ere were
some dierences, with only online communities being visited on a daily basis
by 65% of their members, partly oine by 79%, and mostly oine by 67%.
Moreover, partly and mostly oine communities were in most cases part of
children’s lives for more than a year, while this applied only for 40% of only
online communities (see Figure 1).
Online communities can be connected to the oine environment (as we can
presume in the case of mostly oine ones), but they can also present a new
and distinct social environment. We asked respondents to what extent they
perceived their own behavior within the community as dierent from behavior
in other settings (e.g., “In this group I behave very dierently from how I behave
among people I know personally”). According to our expectations, the only
and partly online groups both reported higher levels of such behavior than
the mostly oine group. More surprisingly, when we asked if they perceived
members as dierent compared to people in their oine environment (e.g.,
“e members are very dierent from people I commonly meet in person”),
there were no signicant dierences between the three groups.
8 e initial results, including measurement and analytical details, are available here: http://irtis.
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
I described that the online communities can provide many benets, such as a
sense of belonging, perceived support, and the possibility for self-disclosure
within the community. ese factors can fulll the developmental needs of early
adolescents and also underlie the process of identication with the community.
For perceived support (e.g., “ey are willing to help me”), oine contact seems
to be crucial, as the two groups with oine contact both reported higher levels
than the only online group. It is possible that on average, the strictly online
environment is not sucient to provide as much feeling of support when
compared to oine ties. It was a bit surprising that the only online group also
reported lower levels of self-disclosure (e.g., “I talk also about very personal
issues”) than the partly oine group; yet, they did not dier signicantly in
this regard from the mostly oine group. Finally, sense of belonging (e.g., “I can
belong to the group”) was highest in communities with partly oine contact.
It seems that the online dimension of these community types still oers some
(maybe necessary) distance and possibility for control over self-presentation,
while some regular oine contact can strengthen the ties and oer more
chances to feel accepted.
us, these ndings suggest that respondents meeting community members
partly online and partly oine benet most from membership in the online
community, as they reported the highest levels of a sense of belonging as well
as higher levels of perceived support and self-disclosure than in the only online
group. It seems that the balanced combination of online and oine contact
enables the most trust and still oers a safe environment to encourage self-
disclosing behavior. But, they also behaved more dierently in the community
than the mostly oine group. e only online group also inclined more to
behave dierently within the group than the mostly oine group, but also
perceived less support. erefore, while this environment probably oers a
change to exert dierent opinions and behavior than the oine one, this is not
rewarded as much by provided support.
Finally, we also asked how the respondents themselves evaluated possible
personal change in their attitudes or behavior due to the membership in the
online community (e.g., “anks to this group, I started to behave dierently
from before in everyday life”). e partly oine group reported the highest
average of perceived personal change. Also considering previous ndings, this
can indicate that belonging in a community with both online and oine contact
could be most inuential on children’s development, as members of this type
of community also reported higher levels of support, sense of belonging, and
self-disclosure, which all can underlie identication with the community as a
social group. To test this presumption, we also conducted separate analyses in
which we accounted for single eects of all these factors and examined their
association with personal change. In only online communities, personal change
was positively linked with distinct behavior of respondents and members; in
partly oine and mostly oine communities, it was linked also with increased
sense of belonging and self-disclosure. erefore, while these latter two factors
might underlie behavioral change in members of communities with some
oine contact, this might not be the case for purely online communities.
Online communities are new social environments which contemporary children
visit. In this chapter, I focused on the importance of online communities as
perceived by early adolescents, an age at which children undergo signicant
changes in terms of identity development (Erikson, 1968) and enlarge their
social experiences within diverse groups (Shave & Shave, 1989). Acknowledging
that the online community is an umbrella term for many dierent online places,
this chapter was focused on one specic attribute: the form of contact with
community members, specically only online, partly oine, and mostly oine.
e ndings showed that half of Czech early adolescents participated in some
kind of online community. Most oen, they participated in a community where
Figure 1: e average length of membership in an online community.
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
they sustained some kind of oine contact with other members, while strictly
online communities were visited by less than a h of all community members.
Based on our ndings, it seems that it is the community with mixed and balanced
online and oine contacts which brings the most potential benets. Members
of these communities reported high levels of support, a sense of belonging, and
self-disclosing behavior. But, they also reported the highest levels of behavior
distinct from the oine environment and the highest perceived personal
change due to community membership. ese mixed communities seem to
provide both a safe online environment, which enables members to control
their expressions and self-presentations, and an environment where they can
still strengthen and sustain the ties via oine meetings.
On the other hand, the only online communities probably lack such stability
and inuence in children’s lives. According to our ndings, they were rather
new environments in children’s lives, visited by most for less than a year.
Although they oer a chance to practice dierent behavior and meet people
distinct from their oine environment, they fail to provide as much support
and sense of belonging. ey might urge personal changes due to the possibility
to perform distinct behavior and meet distinct people, but, probably because
of the barrier between children’s oine environment and online communities,
even an increased sense of belonging does not lead so oen to the extension of
the identity and behavior within the community to other contexts.
In the case of predominantly oine communities, we can speculate that most
of them emerged due to existing oine ties, which were simply extended
to the online environment. erefore, it is not surprising that the behavior
of members within such communities is not distinct from the oine world.
Yet, they also do not provide much sense of belonging. is could be because
these communities are formed within specic existing environments (e.g., a
class) typical for the mixed quality of relationships, while the partly online
communities can more oen be based on the selection of specic groups (or
at least people to interact with oine), who share similar interests and views.
Among these, children can feel more accepted, because the common link can
be the most pronounced part of community relationships.
e aim of this chapter was to shed more light on the role of online communities
in early adolescence. Still, many questions remain unanswered. ere are other
important factors besides developmental stage which intervene in the process
in which online communities inuence children’s development, like for example,
socio-psychological characteristics (including personality traits, self-esteem, self-
concept, and social competencies) or the character of the oine environment
(quality of relationships with family and peers, or overall living conditions).
Moreover, I focused only on the character of ties with community members, yet
there are other important attributes of communities: the topic, discursive nature,
or even platform on which they exist. Finally, I also focused on the perceived role
in the children’s lives, but did not capture its character. Considering the perceived
inuence, are partly oine communities benecial or do they present potential
harm? We measured potential behavioral change, but the character of such change
was not assessed in this study. is aspect is of great importance but also of great
methodological complexity, which will pose a challenge for future studies.
e author acknowledges the support of the VITOVIN project (CZ.1.07/2.3.00/20.0184),
which is co-nanced by the European Social Fund and the state budget of the Czech
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LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
Stranger Is Not Always Danger:
e Myth and Reality of Meetings
with Online Strangers
is chapter deals with the topic of face-to-face meetings with people known
only from the internet. First, the popularized picture of online strangers as
online pedophiles searching for children on the internet is presented and
contradicted to empirical evidence from actual internet-initiated sexual crimes
with minors. Next, the chapter focuses on ndings from the general population
of young internet users and shows the typical meetings with online strangers
as an activity which mostly happens among adolescent peers and only in a
minority of the cases results in negative outcomes. Lastly, the focus shis to
a description and discussion of the nature of such negative experiences based
on both quantitative and qualitative data. e consequences of the inaccurate
media portrayal of online strangers are also discussed, as well as future
directions for research in this area.
meeting online strangers, cybergrooming, face-to-face meetings
Face-to-face or “oine” meetings with so-called online strangers (i.e., with
people known from the internet one has not met before) is considered one
of the most risky online activities in which children and youth may engage
(Fleming & Rickwood, 2004; Livingstone, Haddon, Görzig, & Ólafsson, 2011).
is is reected in the high proportion of parents reporting such concerns
in the United States (53% of parents were very concerned and another 19%
somewhat about their children’s interactions with online strangers; Madden,
Cortesi, Gasser, Lenhart, & Duggan, 2012) as well as in Europe (60% of parents
reported being mostly concerned about their children being a target of online
grooming; European Commission, 2008). It makes perfect sense – online
activities happen, according to the denition of “online” (i.e., in a virtual
space), where youth are physically distant from other internet users, oen in
their homes and under (at least some) supervision by parents. Oine meetings
with online strangers, on the other hand, start as online activity, but then move
to the physical world, where we are all more vulnerable – especially when
compared to the relative safety of being online in one’s own home.
Concerns over youth safety in meetings with online strangers include mainly
the fear of sexual or physical abuse, and these concerns are widely supported
by highly publicized cases of online pedophiles or cybergroomers. Empirical
evidence, however, shows a dierent picture: negative experiences from
meetings of online strangers are not common and do not correspond to the
media coverage. In this chapter, I will focus on this discrepancy between the
popular portrayal of cybergrooming and reality, and present an alternative
picture of meetings between online strangers that is grounded in empirical data.
To understand this discrepancy, it is important to rst describe how the media
present the problematic of online pedophiles or cybergroomers, therefore it is
a subject of next section.
Media Portrayal of Cybergrooming
In general, presentations of any problem in the media are very important
because they shape the perceptions of the general public as well as the
professionals who can then be requested to propose and implement prevention
and intervention strategies. Misguided portrayals in the media can thus lead
to misguided policies that target mistaken issues and/or populations. It is,
therefore, important to compare the media coverage of meeting strangers with
When we search for information about meeting online strangers, terms such
as “cybergroomers”, “online pedophiles”, and “online predators” are common.
Marwick (2008) argues that the online pedophile issue has expanded from a
few sensationalized media cases into widespread and disproportional moral
panic. Based on the usage of the phrase “online pedophiles” in articles in
popular U.S. press between January 1995 and February 2008, she showed how
the term became popular in 2007 when 457 articles were found as opposed
to 58 in 2006 and only 12 in 2005. She links this spike to the reality show “To
Catch a Predator”9 and a few cases of teens being sexually abused by people
met through the social networking site MySpace (see Marwick, 2008 for more
details). Similar moral panic, even though based on dierent cases, could be
9 In this reality show, volunteers pretended to be minors and set up a meeting with an online stranger
for sexual purposes; the stranger was then publicly exposed and arrested by the police.
LIVING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
identied also in Europe (Facer, 2012). is wide media coverage led to a
generalized fear of a very specic online stranger both in the U.S. and Europe–
an adult man with pedophilic sexual orientation who uses the anonymity of
the internet to search for unsuspecting children while pretending to be their
age, and then manipulates them to meet him oine where he can sexually
abuse them (Fleming & Rickwood, 2004; Marwick, 2008; Wolak, Finkelhor, &
Wolak, Finkelhor, and Mitchell (2004; see also Wolak, Finkelhor, Mitchell,
& Ybarra, 2010) conducted a study to address whether this popular picture
of online pedophiles corresponded to reality. e National Juvenile Online
Victimization (N-JOV) study focused on internet-initiated sex crimes with
juvenile victims. Using stratied sampling from law enforcement agencies
in the U.S., they were informed about 1,723 cases of internet-related sex
crimes, from which another subsample was randomly selected. is process
produced a sample of 129 internet-initiated cases. Most of these cases (73%)
were completed crimes (with charges such as sexual assault or the production
of child pornography), the rest fell under attempted crimes. e study then
focused on the characteristics of victims and oenders in these cases, as well
as on the case stories. ese are the most important ndings which can be
compared to the aforementioned media portrayal of online predators: 1) most
victims (99%) were between the ages of 13 and 17 (76% between 13 and 15), 1%
was 12 years old and there were none younger; 2) oenders were mostly male
(99%) and aged 26 or older (76%) with almost half more than 20 years older
than the minor (47%); 3) only 5% of oenders pretended to be their victim’s
age; 4) most oenders (80%) openly discussed sex with their victims during
online interactions; 5) most oenders and victims met oine (74%) and most
of those more than once (73%); and, 6) only 5% of cases involved violent
oenses (mostly attempted or actual rape).
ese gures show that, in a typical case, the minor knew who he/she was about
to meet (e.g., the age of the stranger) and knew about and agreed to sexual
activities with the stranger, resulting mostly in statutory rape because the
victims were under the legal age of consent. In half of the cases the investigators
even reported that the minor was in love with the oender.
is already shows a dierent picture from the one presented in the media:
oenders (mostly) do not lie about their age, nor their motives, and the minors
are willingly (albeit illegally) engaging in sexual activities, possibly because,
from their perspective, they are in a romantic relationship with the oender.
Further, the age range of the victims in this study shows that oenders were
not pedophiles (i.e., interested in prepubescent children); rather, their sexual
orientation might better be described as hebephilia (i.e., attraction toward
adolescents). Since adolescents are sexually mature, this preference does not
represent deviant orientation (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), even
though it does not conform to accepted social and legal norms in Western
Wolak et al. (2004) also explain that the internet is not such a convenient
space for pedophiles to look for children. Children usually do not engage in
interactions with strangers with the frequency of older youth (e.g., Livingstone
et al., 2011), because they are not yet interested in searching for relationships
or romance (DeLamater & Friedrich, 2002). ey also tend to have more
restrictive or supervised access to the internet (both at home and at school)
and they are generally more discouraged from interacting with strangers
than adolescents (Livingstone et al., 2011). Further, when children encounter
something online that makes them uncomfortable, they are more likely to
inform parents or another authority and stop the activity when compared to
adolescents (Livingstone et al., 2011). is environment is also not friendly
toward impulsive and violent oenders, as establishing the relationship with a
youth typically requires time and patience (Wolak et al., 2004).
When we recall the online pedophile portrait in the media, we can see that
in this sample (i.e., the sample of actual criminal internet-initiated sex crime
cases with minors), there was not one that would t this popular image. Rather,
there were cases of adolescents willingly meeting with adults for the purpose of
a relationship with a sexual component. However, it is extremely important at
this point to state at least two qualications.
First, this does not mean that pedophilic individuals cannot try and sometimes
even succeed in nding vulnerable children on the internet. Aer all, there
have been several such documented cases (see Facer, 2012; Marwick, 2008).
Second, the predominant picture of a minor meeting an adult on the internet
for the purpose of romantic and sexual relationship formation should not be
understood as a positive message, per se. Surely, when we compare such a
meeting with an assumed pedophile reaching out to sexually abuse children, it
seems that we can exhale with relief that this is an extremely rare reality. But,
adolescents forming sexual relationships with (oen quite older) adults also
represent a major concern because of the inevitably unbalanced dy