Social Media - Issues and Challenges in Teen Online Relationships

The Hanging Out On-line Project is a two-year research project that investigates the relationship between social media and gender-based violence among Canadian teenagers.

Dr. Rena Bivens, Adjunct Professor at the Pauline Jewitt Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies at Carleton University, explores how the on-line world, and Facebook in particular, is gendered as a platform and how teens engage with it.

The “We Aren’t Dating Until it’s Facebook Official” workshop explored issues including Facebook hacking and consent, the conflict between a corporate platform like Facebook, society's desire for social responsibility and the ways in which on-line lives are deeply embedded in our off-line lives.

According to Dr. Bivens, our first challenge is to understand that our “on-line” lives are not separate from our “off-line” lives. In fact, the terms on-line and off-line are themselves problematic, since they enable us to think of them as separate.

Dr. Bivens relates this to the fact that people are often surprised that racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia (including the rape 'joke' pages on Facebook) exist on Facebook. It suggests we (and youth in particular) are not aware of the impact of what we say and do on-line.

Another important task is to incorporate on-line contexts into healthy relationship programming. For example, how does the concept of “bystander intervention” translate to Facebook? Should interventions be done differently on-line? How can we support youth to recognize how technology can be used to exercise power and control in a relationship? For example, abusive partners can use their cell phone for cyber-bullying, sexting, and constant demands to respond to their texts. Photos posted on Facebook can trigger intrusive questions about a victim’s activities, behaviour, or clothing.

Violence prevention programs must stay abreast of social media trends in order to better understand its implication for the relationships and interactions of teens. After all, one of the best ways to engage with youth is to speak their language. Given the dominant influence of social media in young people’s lives, using Facebook and other on-line media can be an effective language for communication.

Dr. Bivens will soon be launching an on-line forum where you will be invited to continue this discussion, find learning resources, provide feedback, and share ideas through an interactive survey and other tools.