Social Media Culture Research


Two articles by Emily Friedlander played a strong part in directing my initial exploration of this concept. I found her ‘Social Anxiety’ column whilst researching Amalia Ulman.

In her article about Ulman’s project she managed to put into words what was one of the motivations behind my idea that until then I hadn’t been able to pinpoint: the culture of self definition and portrayal of identity through consumption. The clothes we wear, the drinks we buy, the food we eat, the coffee shops we visit; snapshots of all of these conjure a narrative about our lives.

“At the end of the day, there’s nothing all that out of the ordinary about @amaliaulman; in a space where everybody is projecting some sort of fantasy image, her own fantasy projection seems entirely within the realm of possibility.”

I am interested in both how individuals decide what to post in order to direct this visual narrative, like windows into their lives, and in turn attempt to control others perceptions of them. Secondly I am interested in how an audience reads an image, how the poster, context and many other factors can effect the reactions, and in turn how these viewers may label or categorize people based on what they share.
Stereotyping and quick judgements are natural human psychological coping mechanisms. These mental shortcuts are a combined result of memory and experience. For example when we see someone in a police officers uniform we instantly know that they are (hopefully…) a police officer, a figure of authority, someone we could ask for help. Of course we make much more complex judgements about people around us every day, based on their appearance, speech and behaviour in relation to our own opinions.
Social cliques and subcultures have always existed but in the context of social media the act of self-categorization has become far more common. Where previously a term like ‘goth’ or ‘jock’ would have been used by others about you, individuals are voluntarily identifying themselves as ’emo’, ‘nerd’, or even ‘basic bitch’.

The article that followed was an analysis of the slang term ‘basic’, or more specifically ‘basic bitch’. Wikipedia’s definition for this term is:

“Airhead, also known as ghetto prep, popular, basic bitch, or simply basic, is a slang term in American popular culture used to pejoratively describe women (usually white) who like only mainstream products, trends, or music.”

This term has become something of a  internet phenomenon (totally unbeknownst to me I will admit) and is frequently used as an insult or dismissal of someone or something. Yet many people have began to self-identify as ‘basic’. I won’t go into a minute analysis of why this behaviour exists because ultimately Friedlander does a very good job of that herself in the original article.
I would like to explore this aspect of the topic by producing my own visual narrative that attempts to embody one or more of these stereotypes. I will consider doing this through websites such as Instagram or Polyvore, as well as physically using assemblage techniques (inspired by Joseph Cornell) or photographing sets of images on a pin board/peg line etc.
This will require me to think up character profiles and research via Instagram and other social media how to portray these through images.

As I have been considering creating my own ‘false’ Instagram profile I decided to do a little research into how to gain popularity quickly. Initially I browsed the site to see what kinds of images were trending. Fashion, food, fitness, travel, pets, makeup, selfies and coffee seem to be popular. I then Googled “how to get insta-famous” and found plenty of resources with advice on what to do -and not to do – to start bringing in the thousands of followers and likes that so many seem to desire. Some of the tips I managed to glean were:

  • Your bio is the first thing people see – make it interesting, individual and snappy
  • Leave minimum 6 hours between each post
  • Build a profile and several posts before promoting yourself
  • Monitor popular times for posting e.g. posts in the evening when people are winding down and spending time online will gain more attention than posts at 9am
  • Network by liking and following content similar to your own
  • Use popular but unique hastags. Posts with #girl will get lost, similarly so will obscure hashtags like #blueoystercultaremyfavouriteband. Don’t over hashtag posts – it seems desperate.
  • Create a narrative. Imagine these images are technicolour windows into your perfect life, film stills if you will. Give followers a story. Make it relatable yet desirable.

Useful tips on the mysterious Instagram unwritten code of conduct I reckon.

I will continue this Intagram research by distributing a short survey about how my peers use a perceive social media sites, as well as making notes about real profiles and anaylsing them.


While walking down the MySpace memory lane that triggered my idea for this project I also recalled another website that I used to use regularly: Polyvore.
Polyvore is a predominantly fashion-centred website where users can create their own sets: a digital collage, moodboard even, usually featuring an outfit plus accessories and photos or logos that relate to the outfits style or purpose. Some use it to put together outfits featuring clothes they already own, some to build a dream wardrobe, some simply to record what they wore that day. Whereas websites such as allow users to share photographs of their personal style and outfits, Polyvore is more of a sharing practice based on aspiration and fantasy, allowing users to remain anonymous and produce sets that blur the lines between fashion and art, with only their imagination as the limit.
Personally I found Polyvore a useful creative outlet when I was a teenager to share private thoughts and feelings that I didn’t feel comfortable acknowledging anywhere else. I could create a faceless persona, sharing and witholding as much or as little as I liked. Nobody knew what I looked like, where I lived, what I did, my name or age. Mostly I would simply attach a few cryptic words or the link to a song that I was inspired by. Occasionally there would be an almost diaristic entry spilling out whatever angst I was experiencing. The anonymity allowed me to be completely honest and the process was cathartic, like keeping a diary. When something important happened to me, such as passing my driving test or breaking up with my boyfriend, I would create a set to reflect the experience. Looking back now they are like documentations of milestones and memories in my life, insights into my psyche at the time.
I feel this process relates to the ideas that I’m exploring because it is about communicating a narrative, style or personality through objects (clothes etc.) and images. I’d like to follow a similar process to produce ‘sets’ that represent characters or facets of someone’s personality.

Post Secret

Post Secret is a project devised by Frank Warren in 2005.
Anyone can send an anonymous postcard to his address with their secret written on it. These are then photographed and new submissions are shared every Sunday. The project has been hugely successful and there has even been a book published. The submissions range from admissions to eating the last piece of cheese to losing their faith to being in love with their brother’s wife. To me it appears that these people get the same sense of release from this as I was describing from my Polyvore sets. Anonymous confession, free from judgement or consequence. The act of writing down and literally setting free their secrets relieves the pressure of carrying it around. Perhaps its popularity owes to the relatable nature of the confessions.
This interests me because it is the polar opposite of the act of sharing the personal details that is now normality on platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. As we (appear to) expose more and more of ourselves online the less likeable or private sides of our personality could well become more suppressed. Post Secret provides an outlet for these.


Social Anxiety articles by Emily Friedlander:

Amalia Ulman

Basic Culture

How to get Insta-famous links:

Almost Insta-Famous! 4 Tips to Rocking Your Instagram

Popular Hashtags




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