Effects of Social Media on Youth Culture – Historical, Social and Cultural Framings in the Construction of Ideological Meaning and Control.

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The aim of this analysis is to critique and investigate the way social media affects youth culture, in terms of ideology, social, cultural and historical framings; as well as the way it creates meaning and control.
One could argue that, the opinions of people affect and construct their identity and ideology. This is because people including youth, could be said to construct their lives according to what they think, which in turn metamorphoses into identity. Social media now plays a major role in the lives of young people, and affects the way they communicate with other individuals. Using platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and blogs, I hope to discuss their role in ideological meaning and control.
Social media outlets provide an avenue for youth to interact, but within a framework that influence perceptions and attitudes, which ultimately structure youth practices via popular culture. It could be argued that, they create a change in the perception of ideology (by offering youths the ability to reach wide audiences). I shall be arguing that youths have been transformed into anti-social beings, as a result of the virtual world presented to us by new media.

Using concepts and propositions from Fernback, Lessnoff, Turkle and McLuhan amongst others, I aim to highlight the influences social media has created on ideological meaning and control, in context to youth.

In a complex society, there are several cultures, which develop within a dominant value system. This system is never homogenous; instead, entails constant modifications and adaptations of dominant ideas and values (Brake 1985: 6). The introduction of social media to youths has brought about both positive and negative effects on youth culture. It has enhanced communication by making it more convenient. Friends do not have to me meet face-to-face to communicate but can now do it from far distances. According to Lievrouw (2011: 222), the rise of new media has led to shifts within communication. Kear (2010: 31) argues that ‘A significant difficulty with online communication is that participants don’t always get a very good sense of other people in the group’. It can be argued that, although social media allows youth to communicate with friends and family, it has in turn transformed us into anti-social people. In the present day, cyberspace has invaded the minds in public (Simmons 1995: 147). This is because, as portrayed by the media, it has presented us with a virtual world in which, we are limited, told what to do and presented with representations about what is eligible and trendy. Stuart Hall suggests that, ideas are dependent on effects of the conclusively determining level in the construction of society (Morley and Chen 1996: 29). It could be said that the social media has conditioned the minds of youths to accept this platform into our norms.

MDG : Afghan social media summit

Due to this, youths are perceivably deprived of the opportunity of experiencing the actual world for themselves, interacting with real life people and getting genuine reactions. Brake (1985: 6) defines youth culture as the way adolescents live, and the norms and values they share.

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Social media challenges our ideological meaning and control. McLellan (1986: 1) argues that ideology is the most unique concept in the field of social science, and questions the originality of our most important ideas. In the individual within the collective, the virtual ideology and the realization of collective principles controls and constructs lifestyles. Jan Fernback illustrates ‘cyberspace as an arena of power (1997: 36)’. It could be said that language in communication is a means of symbolic exchanges underpinned by power relations between the speaker and the addressee. Thus in it’s imperceptible form, ideology continues to reign not only over the mainstream media, but in cyberspace and popular culture determining our choices in taste, class and other impositions in the social scene.

According to Athique (2013: 197), ‘The internet has become a major forum for social debate (reflecting public opinion)’.
It can be argued that, youths now capitalise on the availability of a virtual stage created by social media for communication, to create unreal online profiles aimed at impressing audiences.
Dijk defines the mass society as ‘a social formation with an infrastructure of groups, organisations and communities (‘masses’) that shapes its prime mode of organization at all levels (2006: 32)’. He furthermore states that this society developed at the time of the industrial revolution, as a result of large numbers of people gathering in public places (2006: 32). Youths have observably transformed from a mass to a virtual society, as a result of the prevalence of social media on communication.
Technologies themselves are creating changes in the perception of identity (Hine 2000: 20). Consequently a massive cultural transformation among youth is being realised due to the impact of new media and social networking. Historically, social media did not exist and youths would not construct their ideologies using social networks. Indeed ‘youth’ has never been about the individual self and how it relates to similar identities in the same demographic, but its exaggeration has never been more pronounced amid the loudness of social media seemed to be driven chiefly by young people sharing everything from likes to dislikes.

A major problem with the use of social media by youth is how we strive to find consent and approval online by constantly updating profiles to enhance our virtual profile. This particular issue is at the center of effects triggered forth by new and social media as young people immerse themselves in the thick of the virtual world to a point where their touch with reality is almost secondary and dependent on how the virtual unfolds. There certainly is more to the undercurrents shaping youth behaviour in digital spaces than is clearly apparent and understanding the diffusion of ideology and how profits always triumph over principles might help to elicit some meaning and sense to the deluge of youth practices influenced by new media. Fernback (1997:37) attempts to give it perspective explaining cyberspace as ‘popular culture’ itself.

Its very natives create Fernback’s narratives in digital space as a ‘cultural memory’ (1997: 37) that serves as both a reminder and a replication of our lived lives and experiences. Today we are constantly taking ‘selfies’ and updating profiles to fit in. Social media has offered youths the power to communicate with whom they wish to, and at any given period of time. Susan Douglas hypothesizes that, the Internet will give birth to a new buzzing public arena (2013: 104) One would critique that, although social media has given youth power, it has made us more ignorant of our immediate world as a result. The media now plays a major role in identity formation, and influences the way the present day youth perceive the world. Crawley and Mitchell (1994: 27) suggest that, the media is now an important feature of social life.

Although youth is a construct of culture, it is greatly influenced by social media. In other words, youth can arguably be termed as an evolution of social media culture, because both social media and culture affect the creation of youth. In other words, youth can arguably be termed as an evolution of social media culture, because both social media and culture affect the creation of youth. Jones states that ‘culture is ordinary: that there is not a special class, or group of men, who are involved in the creation of meaning and values’. (1982: 3).
A modern day person who was brought up without the influence of any of the two parties might be seen as an anomaly by this society. Social media connotes signs, which attract youth. It converts a natural process like communication into a virtual process.

The invention of social media has brought about alterations in ideology. The virtual world presented by this media sells the idea to youths that they must partake in it. It has done this by providing services like communication and entertainment, in which young people crave and enjoy. Overtime, youths have adopted this practice into their culture and lifestyle, and think their lives would be different without it. Youths feel the need to check their mobile phones whenever they wake up from sleep, for updates from various social media arenas. This has led to addiction of social media. Lessnoff states that ‘Man was born free; and everywhere he is in chains (1990: 108)’.

Social media networks provide opportunities for youths to escape from reality and express themselves elsewhere. Due to this, youths would rather play online games while depressed, than engage in a conversation with friends and family. People can be led away from in-person encounters by the internet (Chen, Boase Wellman 2002: 82). The media portrays that; youths feel the need to engage with friends, via social media, rather than in person. In the film ‘Cyberbully’, a youth is youth is excited about the gift of a computer and goes online to interact with her schoolmates on it. Virtual space is constructed and recycled by the society (Fernback 1997: 37). Without the presence of people, especially youth, virtual space would be non-existent. In other words, the survival of online platforms is dependent on people, especially youths. Tools and facilities like the ability to share videos and tag friends, created by social media stages such as Facebook, make youth even more interested in this platform. Young people in turn perceive this as an adventure and it continually develops into an addiction. As an effect, youths now lack the ability to maintain interesting conversations physically without the influence of social media. According to McLuhan, ‘Personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology (1964: 7)’. Young people seek different avenues to meet and interact with new people. Social media can be seen to present youths with the ideology that; they do not need to go out into the public, for this purpose. Over the years, the Internet has experienced a widespread expansion, with more individuals going online (Watts 2002: 1). It does this by offering them a wide and global audience, where they do not travel to meet other people. This opportunity makes young people get influenced by ways of life outside their known demographic. As a result of this, the modern day ‘youth culture’ is a product of globalization.

Girl on phone with social media chalkboard

Entertainment plays a vital role in ideological meaning and control within youth, as a cultural entity. Music as a brand of entertainment is perceived to have the ability to greatly impact it’s audience. Athique outlines that; audiences create particular structural forms in relation to the media around it (2013: 54).

A social media platform such as YouTube offers the opportunity for a host of entertainment – related content to be uploaded onto it. Youths then influenced after coming into contact with some of these texts. In music videos like ‘anaconda’ by ‘Nicki Minaj’, women are represented as entities of the male gaze and pleasure. This presents youth with the ideology that women are objects of sexualisation, and could be treated in such manner. Ideology can be defined as the set of symbolic forms and meanings that serves to establish and sustain relations of domination (Thompson, 1990 in Sarikakis and Thussu 2006: 1). Youths are now presented with this sexist ideology for experimentation.
In both its character and presentation, music itself has spurred a major commercialist movement bent on commodifying youth. Its employment and profusion in adverts and every sphere of life connotes more than a significance expressed through signs, symbols and icons as well. One model of fashioning by music, into an ideological tool can be seen in the Hip-hop culture whose very rise from the sidelines to the mainstream reflects how popular culture continues to be the product and manipulation of a consumer based tradition. Musicians like ‘50 Cent’ do not just embody the image of the quintessential rapper raised and made from the ‘streets’ but also convey a sub-cultural lifestyle representing ‘youth’, street style and ‘ghetto’. Social media has arguably provided a stage for musicians to showcase and advertise their lifestyles to the public, via music videos. The concept of a network society offers the rethinking of the communication, and taking into notice, the changes occurring within our life and culture (Stevenson 2002: 185).

Exemplifying a struggle of strategies from the establishment and tactics by repressed and weak subjects, the ultimate exposition of style elicited via difference from hip-hop illustrates a form of symbolic resistance that makes a mark.
Using YouTube as a social media platform, musicians sell concepts and perceptions of ideal cultures and lifestyles. In the music video ‘We Found Love’ by ‘Calvin Harris’ and ‘Rihanna’, director Melina Matsoukas portrays a carefree, dangerous and careless lifestyle of youth. Ideology has to do with ideas that authenticate the authority of the ascendant social class (Devereux 2003: 98).
Crane suggests that ‘the dominant culture is always presented as the culture, the reference point for the society as a whole (1992: 87)’. This video reinforces the idea to youth that sex and drugs need to be adopted into their culture for an exciting life. Howitt outlines that ‘The outside world is no longer a mystery but it is bewildering (1982: 4)’. As a result, youths are now perceived to be influenced by this new world and attempt to imitate these lifestyles.

The emergence of social media has led to the establishment of various platforms for communication and engagement. Amongst them are blogs. Blogging has encouraged more participation by people in the Internet (Hall 2008: 114). This platform engages youths in interactions and offers the opportunity for youths to share experiences with other people within their demographic. According to Grossberg, Wartella and Whitney, representation means “re-presentation” – ‘to represent something means to take an original, mediate it, and “play it back” (1998: 179)’. Unlike old media forms, social media resents ordinary youths with the opportunity of ‘prosuming’ for targeted audiences. Social media via blogs offer youths the chance of representing other young people and constructing their ideology. The process of individuals presenting lifestyles and opinions derived from personal experience, constructs the ideology of audiences, which in this case are youths. ‘Identities are not unified, solid and stable, but is maintained, changeable and often contradictory (Miller 2011: 161)’
As a result of constant interaction with culture over time, audiences decode signs and symbols to create meaning (Baran 2007: 432). In other words, messages published on blogs have the power to alter ideology within ‘youth’.
In order to understand the structure of the modern society, the information age presents new concepts and ideologies (Castells, 2010 in Fuchs 2014: 71). Due to the process of sharing personal thoughts and ideas online to a specific audience, youths now knowingly or unknowingly adopt certain cultures into their own. Elliot (2009: 144) brings to light that, although actions by individuals may appear impulsive, people also inculcate cultural dispositions.

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This analysis has explored the way social media influences and impacts youth culture and ideology.
It has enhanced communication among youths and provided a more convenient avenue for interaction. Nevertheless, social media has arguably made youths more anti-social, due to the availability of virtual platforms.
Through means like blogging, youths have been influenced in terms of ideology and culture. YouTube has offered musicians a platform to upload content, which portray several connotations.
As a result, youths are arguably deprived of the chance of encountering the physical world.

The digital revolution has brought about a shift from a mass to a virtual society.
Social media has led to youths vying to fit in, as well as seeking online approval by friends and peers. As a way of seeking friendship, youths engage in this platform. Social media can in turn be seen to present youths with the idea that, they do not need to go into the public for this purpose. It does this by providing a wide audience for youths to interact globally.

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