Superdudes.nl and Sugababes.nl, two related websites, together form one of the biggest social networking sites in the Netherlands. Almost 60% of all the youngsters between 13 and 18 have created a profile at least once. Superdudes, not very surprisingly, focuses on boys, whereas Sugababes is the girl variant. The aim is to become popular, by creating a profile and uploading your hottest, sweetest and sexiest photo’s. The way to achieve popularity is by collecting as many kudos as possible. Kudos are signs of appreciation, which are usually reciprocally given and received by peers.
Since the site is divided into a blue site for the boys and a pink one for the girls, it could hardly be bold to state that the site enforces stereotypical thinking about men and women. After a small investigation it has become obvious to me that brains don’t matter here. As a man you need to look tough, but show a soft side as well, have short hair and carry a sixpack under your shirt. The girls, usually sarcely dressed, need to be bored with everything, have long hair, and wear lots of lipstick. We can imagine parents wondering whether all this is really necessary and possibly are shocked when they see their children putting themselves on display in such shallow stereotypical positions. But do we know what’s really going on there?
‘We sell sex to teens but we prohibit them from having it; we tell teens to grow up but restrict them from the vices and freedoms of adult society.’(Danah Boyd)
Danah Boyd interestingly discusses how in the 20th century a new age-segregated youth culture appeared. Before, people spoke of a young adult when a fourteen year old started working. The contemporary massive high school phenomenon with it’s after school activities wasn’t that common a hundred years ago. The age span of not being a child, but also not being ready to participate in adult society yet is also referred to as the participation divide and has brought lots of parental headaches: the youngsters have started to value the ethics of Britney Spears rather than those of their own parents. It is consumer industry reaching out a hand, offering the children ways to express themselves and find meaning. With the growth of this consumer industry we have created a thorough consumerist group, that lacks meaningful agency: teenagers..
Boyd points at the power of adults as the eventual reason why teenagers are on such social networking sites. This group of teenagers live in an adult-centric narrative in a highly regulated space with rules and norms. In this sense the teens are being pushed in virtual space where they can create their own norms, experiment their identities and negotiate status. In this space they have more freedom and they have more control. By spending time online the teenagers can learn how to control their presentation better, and to gain more positive feedback (Schouten 2008), kudos in this case. Schouten’s research has pointed out that this process has a positive effect on the teenager’s self esteem in forming an identity.
According to Boyd it wouldn’t be fair to look at such networks in values of the off line context. A social network gives a view of a personality in a fixed context. Superdudes/Sugababes has values unfound in adult society, but these values are not necessarily the ones teenagers share in other contexts. The values shared and negotiated in Superdudes/Sugababes are part of a process in which teenagers get ready for adult society. So better let them be..