Provocative photos perform better in youth selfie culture, research suggests

Selfies are driven by a thirst for fame, acceptance and self-esteem.

Talking to children about social media is the new talking to children about sex, says researcher

Pop music artist Taylor Swift takes a selfie with fans. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

Selfies are driven by a thirst for fame, acceptance and self-esteem.

Is this a symptom of attention seeking disorder or simply the new communication norm?

That question motivated Debbie Gordon, director of the Kids Media Centre at Centennial College, to undertake a year-long, multimedia research project called #InstaFame and the Epidemiology of Youth's Selfie-Curated Culture.

"We wanted to get a sense of what youth were doing with their technology," said Gordon on CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

The study looked at Vine, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat, Twitter and other platforms to find selfies from teenagers and children.

A look at some themes in social media from Centennial College's year-long social media study. (Kids Media Centre/Centennial College)

"We found that kids were doing a tremendous job of branding themselves, starting with the selfie and then moving to the hashtag," said Gordon. "What we learned was many kids are turning their backs on privacy. They very deliberately want to be found."

Gordon said kids use hashtags to chronicle their lives — #beachbod, #sexy, #boyfriend, #f4f, #hot, #toolpick. These are used to get as many followers on networks like Instagram as possible.

Gordon said she found "many, many" youth with more than a million followers.

"If your child has more than a million followers, how do you as a parent feel about that? What kind of digital legacy has your child left behind?" asked Gordon.

She said children are going to great lengths to be discovered on social media, like posting provocative selfies. "The more provocative their pictures, the more likely they are to be found," she said.

"If you want to be discovered, fair enough," she said. But parents should be talking to their children about social media, not only about privacy, but about how self-esteem should not be tied to likes, follows and other such metrics.

"It is really the new sex talk," said Gordon.

Social media stats

According to the study:

  • 802 million people log onto Facebook daily
  • The average teen has 300+ Facebook 'friends'
  • 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook daily
  • 40 million photos are uploaded to Instagram daily
  • 1 billion 'likes' occur on Instagram daily
  • 51% of high school students use Instagram daily
  • 42% of teens use Instagram on a mobile device
  • 400 million 'snaps' are sent per day
  • 71% of Snapchat users are under 25 years of age
  • 46% of North American high school students use Snapchat daily
  • 70% of Snapchat users are female 
  • 125,000 new users register for Tumblr daily
  • 28% of teens access Tumblr on a mobile device
  • 89 million posts are uploaded to Tumblr daily
  • 64% of teens with Twitter say that their tweets are public
  • 500 million tweets are sent per day
  • 78% of Twitter’s active users are on mobile 
  • On average, there are 4 billion video views on YouTube daily
  • 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute
  • Mobile makes up almost 40% of YouTube's watch time