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Advances in Information Science The Effect of Social Network Sites on Adolescents’ Social and Academic Development: Current Theories and Controversies

June Ahn University of Maryland, College Park, College of Information Studies & College of Education, 2117J Hornbake Building, South Wing, College Park, MD 20742. E-mail: ahnjune@gmail.com

Teenagers are among the most prolific users of social network sites (SNS). Emerging studies find that youth spend a considerable portion of their daily life interacting through social media. Subsequently, questions and controversies emerge about the effects SNS have on adolescent development. This review outlines the theoretical frameworks researchers have used to understand adolescents and SNS. It brings together work from disparate fields that examine the relationship between SNS and social capital, privacy, youth safety, psychological well-being, and educational achievement.These research strands speak to high-profile concerns and controversies that surround youth participation in these online communities, and offer ripe areas for future research.

The current tools of teenage communication go by a peculiar set of names. Wall Posts, Status Updates, Activity Feeds, Thumbs Ups, and Profiles are some of the ways that youth today communicate with one another. These tools are features of social network sites (SNS), such as Facebook and MySpace. SNS are part of a suite of Web applications, also called social media, which utilize Web 2.0 principles. The term Web 2.0 defines websites that are designed to: (a) rely on the participation of mass groups of users rather than centrally controlled content providers, (b) aggregate and remix content from multiple sources, and (c) more intensely network users and content together (O’Reilly, 2007). Adolescents use social media in large numbers. For example, a national survey in 2009 finds that 73% of online teenagers use SNS, which is an increase from 55% 3 years earlier (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010). That youth are connected to these global online communities is both a frightening prospect for parents and Received November 13, 2010; revised February 25, 2011; accepted March 2, 2011 © 2011 ASIS&T • Published online 26 April 2011 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com). DOI: 10.1002/asi.21540

educators and an intriguing area for social science research. For example, educators and parents in the United States face difficult quandaries concerning students and SNS. Many scholars suggest that students learn in new ways using social media and that educators should embrace these new platforms (Ito et al., 2009; Jenkins, 2006). Nevertheless, most school districts block access to SNS (Lemke, Coughlin, Garcia, Reifsneider, & Baas, 2009), while parents remain fearful about safety and effects on their children’s social development. Teenage youth are a unique population of SNS users. They are among the first to have grown up entirely surrounded by communication technologies. Teenagers are also in a period of rapid development, growth, and maturation. Research about social media effects on youth promises to contribute significantly to the concerns of adults who mediate access to these online communities. In this article I consider several key controversies around youth participation in SNS and review relevant research that begin to inform these debates. I first consider the theoretical considerations that arise when one focuses on SNS effects on youth. To search for effects engenders particular orientations toward causal theories and methodologies. However, prior research on media effects consistently shows that technology alone cannot be hypothesized to affect human outcomes. Instead, a social informatics approach that examines the interaction between technical features of SNS communities and how teenagers adopt SNS is needed (Kling, 2007). Working from a concrete epistemological framework, I then define SNS and describe studies that capture how...
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