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Social media users create and share their own content: from original content such as artwork, video and images to ‘remixed’ content, such as playlists and animated pictures. Young people have become particularly competent in producing and disseminating their own ‘small media’ as part of everyday life.
The far-reaching benefits include:
- Increased literacy
- A sense of aspiration and self-worth
- Getting feedback and validation
- Encouraging experimentation with identity.
Collaborative creative activities are shown to foster connection with others and a sense of community, long or short term.
In a report on the use of mobile devices in Japanese culture, it was shown that sharing and curating multimedia content with a small group of people helped build collective belonging. This is eerily similar to the way in which social media channels such as Twitter, Tumblr and wiki/fan pages work now.
Thanks to the high degree of personalisation, social networking is key to young people’s expressions of identity. A sense of belonging and acceptance, for example of sexual orientation, gender diversity or disability can arise from collective identification with geographically and culturally diverse individuals.
In mental health forums, the connection to online communities is often observed and utilised – for example, in recruiting moderators trusted by members. This is a practice developed as a volunteering opportunity by YouthNet for TheSite.
Young people use social networking to experiment and seek legitimacy for political, sexual, ethnic and cultural identities. This has been well demonstrated in groups of young people exposed to risk of poor mental health, including new migrants, BME groups and young people with long-term rare conditions. Groups like Brittle Bone UK and Action for ME have used online collaboration to connect distant peers. The phenomenon is also apparent in the way young people with mental health problems use social media to express their feelings and seek validation and peer connections.
Civic involvement and connection to decision-making in communities is associated with good mental health. Social networking provides new spaces for civil and political activity. Organisations are increasingly looking to use social networking to engage young people in government and community decision-making. In Scotland, Young Scot, NUS Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament have sought to develop young people’s interest and capacity to engage with civic activities using online communication.