Instagram, Social Media, and the "Like": Exploring Virtual Identity's Role in 21st Century Students' New Socialization Experience
Personal technologies and social media use have changed the socialization experience of our 21st century learners. As learners have a new, embodied, virtual identity that is an omnipresent force within their social interactions, this study sought to examine how virtual identity influences student relationships both within and outside of a school context. This study also explored how personal technologies and social media use have influenced learners’ perceptions of their own 21st century learning. Using a qualitative inquiry, purposeful sampling was employed to recruit 6 participants between the ages of 15 to 19 to examine their social networking site use and education experience. Data were collected from single, one-on-one semi-structured interviews in which participants discussed their experiences using social media. Data were also collected from the teens’ personal Instagram accounts, and a personal reflexive researcher’s journal was kept for triangulation of data. Open and axial coding strategies alongside constant comparative methods were used to analyze data. Participants shared how they and their peers use social media, the pressures and expectations from other users, social media’s influence on peer relationships, and how social media influences their choices in the physical realm. All 6 participants explained that their teachers do not talk to them about their social media use, and even offered critiques of the school system itself and its inability to prepare students for the new realities of a digital world. This study concludes that while social media is very influential on students’ socialization, educators should be more concerned about the lack of guidance and support that students receive in school in terms of appropriate social media use and the navigation of virtual identity.