Social Media, family, and young people

Ranjana Das and Paul Hodkinson – University of Surrey – Affective coding: Platformed subtleties in new fathers self-disclosure strategies around mental health

Drawing on qualitative interviews with 15 new fathers struggling with postnatal mental health difficulties, we focus in this paper on the role of digital platforms in their approaches to disclosing these issues. We introduce the idea of “affective coding” – a deliberate, yet subtle way of working with, within and against platform architecture to encode narratives of disclosure and seek camaraderie and support. These range from using like and retweet buttons (on the disclosure of others, or general posts about mental health, for example) to signal for help, to posting wildly positive status updates about today that are subtly coded with references to darker yesterdays. Such strategies, we suggest, make use of social media algorithms to achieve visibility on the newsfeeds of friends without explicit disclosure. And such affective practices involve imaginings of the ideal listener, anxious anticipations of response or support and, sometimes, intense disappointment when they are not forthcoming; coded affect may not be decoded as such. We build upon theorisations of networked affect (c.f. Papacharissi, 2010), to cast our attention to seemingly small but affectively weighted and expensive acts of subtle disclosure online which reveal agentic attempts by men to bypass hegemonic masculinities and structures of silencing around male mental health difficulties. We note that the subtle nature of affective coding means it does not leave easy digital traces and does not therefore lend itself “big data” word-sifting approach, or necessarily lead to desired affective outcomes for these men. And yet, affective coding – through its very nature of working with/in platformed architecture and algorithms – occupies the liminal space, we argue, between non-disclosure and disclosure, and between silence and articulation. This finding on affective coding as affectively weighted subtle acts of digital engagement, we suggest, is critical for self-disclosure research, for this might form an integral part of people’s coping strategies in platform societies.

Lina Eklund and Helga Sadowski – Uppsala University – Doing Intimate Family Work via ICT: Affordances and Resistance Strategies

New social structures such as networked individualism (Wellman 2001; Castells 2002), combined with the ubiquity of ICTs, are reshaping the ways families create intimacy both within and across households. Based on interviews with multigenerational Swedish families, this empirical study focuses on doing intimate family work, and in particular emerging family communication patterns and the role of digital technologies in this work.

Drawing on the concept of affordances—as structures realized in individual action—we understand the emerging social structure of networked individualism as a key affordance of digital communication technology. Drawing on this theoretical framework our analysis focuses on what happens in the interplay of agency and structures as people do intimate family work.

Our results discuss: 1). How family intimacy is done in the framework of networked individualism, which has the individual, not the family, as the basis for communication. 2) What norms and obligations evolve in this context. We discuss how dissociations between family members are caused by a lack of emotional reciprocity and how digital accessibility can function to compensate lack of communication initiatives. 3) How the interviewed family members construct value in various communication technologies, based on social affordances of various communication technologies. 4) Lastly, we discuss resistance strategies to networked
individualism: cases where family members strive, with and without technology, to overcome individualizing forces in favour of family as a group.

Our contribution lies in providing empirical data that explore how families do intimate family work in a digital society, where we analyse the interplay of individual agency and family structures, and highlight the limits of networked individualism.

Murray Goulden – University of Nottingham – Family life and the smart home

The home has long been recognised as a protected space for family (Mallet 2004). Nevertheless, as a site of care, socialisation, and consumption, it has drawn the attentions of external institutions, attentions often met with resistance. The legacy of these border skirmishes can be seen today in the delicate relationship between the liberal state and the home. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a most contemporary legislative regime, which sets out the legal relationships between institutions and individuals around digital data, purposefully retains a ‘household exemption’ clause which leaves domestic data practices beyond its reach.

My work is exploring the intervention of platform capitalism in this space, leveraging Internet of Things technologies to create the ‘smart home’, in which networked objects collect and process data on occupants and their practices. Most recently I have studied the family accounts offered by Amazon and Google, in order to ask how what these ‘platform families’ tell us about the broader effort to incorporate the home into the digital economy, and what the implications of this might be for both the doing of everyday domestic life, and how we understand home and family.

My talk will present early findings from my next study – an ethnography of families encountering the smart home for the first time. The work will focus on how domestic practices are reconfigured in this space, particularly those managing the domestic space and coordinating family activity. I will ask what these changes mean for the distribution of agency amongst family roles, and the mediating role of the platform operator. Underlying this is a question of how the social here – as domestic practices, roles and hierarchies, becomes ‘torqued’ (Bowker & Star 2000) by the process of translating it into machine codable forms for the purpose of valourisation.

Mark Wong – University of Glasgow – Socially ‘withdrawn’? Examining the sociality of young people ‘hidden’ in the bedroom in the digital age

There have been enduring debates of the concept of “the social”, in which the nature and meanings of interpersonal connections have been contested. Classic social theories emphasise physical, face-to-face contacts are quintessential to human connectedness. The digital age, however, has had important implications to the understanding and experiences of the social. This paper reflects on how human interactions are diversified by “deep mediatisation” and technology becomes an increasingly crucial dimension of sociality.

Considering this contentious debate with an instrumental case, this paper presents a qualitative study on young people who physically shut themselves in the bedroom for months and years on end. This emerging phenomenon is commonly referred to as “hidden youth” in East Asia. Hidden youth are typically assumed as “withdrawing” from the social by self-seclusion and living in isolation. This paper challenges this reclusive depiction and critically examines hidden youth’s sociality and sense of connectedness based on their lived experiences.

This paper presents insights from the first study of this phenomenon in the UK/Scottish context, while studying this comparatively across two sites. 32 interviews were conducted with Hong Kong and Scottish youth “hidden” in the bedroom from 3 to 48 months. This study draws on theoretical debates across disciplines (Digital Sociology, Media Studies, and Science and Technology Studies) to shed light on emerging constructions of sociality in the digital age. Hidden youth’s sociality was found to be more nuanced and interconnected than previously assumed. A range of digital platforms allow youth to experience social connectedness in diverse ways, especially through large, loosely-knitted communities online.

This paper argues that young people may become attached to digital networks to seek solace and solidarity inside the space of their bedrooms augmented by technologies. The significance and experiences of online interactions, especially for socially marginalised youth, are critically discussed in this paper.