Another facet of my research focuses on social media and the role it plays in identity construction, impression management, and the social construction of reality. This research falls along several lines of investigation, each looking at a different facet of social media use.
Social Media and Risk Perception
This line of research focuses on the role that social media play in people’s perceptions of high-risk behaviors and their tendency to engage in high-risk behaviors, particularly in U.S. national parks. A first research study, carried out with Laura Rickard and Olivia Reese (MA, UMaine, 2022) examined how Instagram posts that featured high-risk behaviors framed those risks in their captions. This study was presented at the 2021 Annual Meeting of the Society for Risk Analysis. A second research project examined how social media influencers versus social media peers influenced people’s risk perception and behavioral intents when it came to objectively risky behaviors carried out inside U.S. national parks. This study was presented at the 2023 convention of the International Communication Association.
Social Media, Impression Management, and Agency
My interest in this specific area began with he explosive growth of the social media platform Facebook, which resulted in a multi-study research project that investigated how young African American adults use Facebook as an impression management tool.
Some years later, I returned to the idea of impression management. This time, however, I connected it to the idea of agency in social media use. The first research project in this line of work is entitled “Degrees of Freedom: Exploring agency, narratives, and technological affordances in the #TakeAKnee controversy.” This project investigates the nature of user agency on various social media platforms and the extent to which this agency is constrained and/or enabled by the technological affordances of each platform. This research question is addressed using the narratives that came out of the #TakeAKnee controversy as a case study. Preliminary findings were presented at the 2018 PCA/ACA conference. This work appeared in Social Media + Society.
In 2019, I presented my latest research on the influence of corporations on political narratives created on social media at the PCA/ACA convention in Washington, DC.
Recent work into agency and influencers, a research project carried out with a graduate student, Aysha Vear, was presented at the 2021 AEJMC conference and is currently under review.
Social Media, Democracy, and the Public Sphere
Constructing Digital Cultures: Tweets, trends, race, and gender came out early 2018. Constructing Digital Cultures examines how user-generated narratives on Twitter renegotiate dominant ideas about gender and race. Using an in-depth, qualitative examination of individual tweets, the different kinds of dialogue that characterize the platform, and various ways in which people connect, Constructing Digital Cultures provides insight into the nature of digital culture produced on Twitter and the platform’s potential as a virtual public sphere. This volume investigates arenas of discussion often seen on Twitter—from entertainment and popular culture to politics, social justice issues, and advertising—and looks into how members of ethnic minority groups use and relate to the platform.
The idea for the book came out of the unprecedented takeover of Twitter by shows featuring African American female leads, such as Empire and Scandal. This prompted an investigation into how fans of these shows utilize Twitter for collaborative meaning-making, and how this contributes to cultural understandings of race and gender.The findings from this investigation were presented at the 2016 PCA/ACA conference.
At the 2018 ICA conference in Prague, Czech Republic, I organized a panel entitled “Can you hear me now? Marginalized voices on social media”. The panel featured Brooke Foucault Welles, Sarah Jackson (Northeastern University), Summer Harlow (University of Houston), and Gwen Bouvier (Maynooth University, Ireland), and addressed current issues facing research into marginalized groups on social media.
In 2020, I collaborated with Gwen Bouvier from the Zhejiang University in China to co-edit a volume that further examined the extent to which Twitter can serve as a public sphere. “Twitter, the public sphere, and the chaos of online deliberation” appeared with Palgrave MacMillan and features 11 chapters that examine the nature of interaction and communication on Twitter. As opposed to my 2018 book, this volume takes a less celebratory approach, focusing on how the communication on Twitter can be chaotic, uncivil, and highly affective, and shedding light on how Twitter’s main contribution to democracy is its ability to connect people.
Social media platforms and interracial dating preferences
A recent research project, undertaken with Giulia Ranzini from VU Amsterdam examines how racial dating preferences interact with people’s behaviors on Tinder, the popular dating app. This research was presented at the 2019 ICA conference in Washington, DC and appeared in Communication Research Reports in 2020. A follow-up study was presented at the 2021 ICA conference and was published in Computers in Human Behavior.
In March 2023, I gave the keynote for the annual conference of the Connecticut Association for Adult and Continuing Education in Groton, CT. The keynote, entitled “community-building and dialogue on social media: Examining democracy in the 21st century,” addressed the threat and opportunities presented by social media platforms. More information about the keynote and the conference can be found here.
In January 2023, I was a guest on an episode of Maine Calling. In this episode, we talked about how to find common ground in polarized times. The episode can be found here.
In February 2022, Jessica Brandt (policy director at the Brookings Institution) and I spoke to WERU Community Radio about how Facebook and Democracy coexist. You can list to the conversation here.
In March 2022, I spoke to the Connecticut Association of Adult and Continuing Education about the intersection between democracy, dialogue, and civility in an era where most of our conversations take place through social media platforms.
On January 11, 2021, I was a guest on Maine Calling, Maine Public Radio’s talk show, to discuss the polarization that characterizes the United States, and what we can do to remediate this. You can listen to the episode here.
In November 2020, the ZDF interviewed me for a segment on cancel culture. The item (in German), was uploaded to their YouTube channel. You can view it here.
On March 7 & 8, 2019, I will be visiting the Centre for Media Studies at the University of British Columbia to give a guest lecture on Twitter and the commodification of political narratives. More information on the event can be found on the Centre’s website.
On March 5, I appeared on Maine Calling to discuss social media shaming. You can find the episode here.
On January 30, 2019, I appeared on Maine Calling to discuss the recent scandals surrounding Facebook. Fellow guests were Rich Brooks and Amanda O’Brien. You can find the show here.
Starting in November 2018, I am part of the Maine Humanities Council “World in your library” speaker series. This program features Maine-based speakers, and my talk will center on social media and democracy.