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Maintaining and forming social connections online can form a large part of a young person's time online, and is consistently ranked as highly enjoyable by young people. For many people, online relationships can be a vital part of their friendship group and their support network. Find out about some of the ways young people socialise online, such as chat/instant messaging, using online forums, Facebook and other social networking sites, as well as through reviews and recommendations.

This will help you to:

  • understand how young people are socialising online
  • learn about different socialising methods
  • talk to young people about internet use.
Young man in parka on phone in class

Chat clients or instant messaging services

These allow for real-time communication in a range of formats. Some of these are text only, such as Facebook Chat, or Google Hangouts. Other services such as Skype allow for video calls, and are often used by professionals for video-conferencing. Users can choose to identify themselves or use an alias or "username." These platforms can used to keep up with friends and family, conduct business or meet people.

Forums

Forums allow for users to talk with anyone, usually limited by interest or topic rather than social groups or location. There are also chat "rooms" where people can meet. The anonymity provides both safety and risk, as users do not know who they are talking to, but also don't risk real life social repercussions while allowing them to experiment with their self-expression.

Social networking sites

Social networking websites function like an online community. Facebook, Google+, and blogging platforms like Blogspace and Livejournal are all examples of social networking sites.

Once you have set up your profile, including as much information as you feel comfortable with, you can begin building your group of friends. Basic online social networking includes sending instant messages to your friends via their profile pages, sending emails directly to them, uploading and sharing your photos and video clips, and commenting on other people's uploads and daily activities. This interaction allows young people to stay in touch and keep on top of what their friends are doing and vice versa.

"Netiquette" (net etiquette) and the culture of different online communities varies greatly by platform, in the same way that it varies geographically. For example, Livejournal is structured like an online diary, and so there is often an expectation of general politeness, as well as specific manners such as not "outing" someone by connecting their journal to their real life identity if they don't want it known. However (just like the real world), many online forums are filled with people who are deliberately obnoxious, a behaviour commonly known as 'trolling". This is more accepted in some places than others.

Facebook has a smaller allowance of text input than blogging sites, and Twitter only allows 140 characters, so these platforms are typically more brief, immediate and superficial. Other sites such as Tumblr allow users to curate and share different media easily, but also allow more character space than Facebook, leading to multimedia posts with both images or videos and text.

All of the features of a platform, as well as the organic growth of a community over time, lead to very different cultures on different sites or even between different groups on the same site. As such, young people hang out in a variety of different online societies, and their experiences will be very different. Some online communities prioritise being "safe spaces", and do not tolerate discrimination or prejudice, and require that users warn for potentially distressing content, like strobing images that might trigger epileptics, or violent content for those underage or with PTSD. Many will collaborate on ways to make their community more accessible, like posting videos with subtitles for the hearing impaired. As such, young people engaging in these communities may have a high degree of awareness related to diversity and accessibility. Other communities can have high incidences of cyberbullying, both randomly and aimed at acquaintances such as classmates.

Reviews, recommendations and bookmarking

Instead of relying on magazines and newspaper editors to filter the newsworthiness of events, most young people get their news from their friends, and may make online friends purely based on how well someone filters or recommends content, or adds value through commentary.

Some sites are specifically geared towards information management, and rely on users to provide information about websites and pages. Examples include Delicious, Diigo and Pinboard, which are essentially all bookmarking sites.

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