Social Media as Social Transition Machinery

CSMR research into life transitions describes the ways that different Social Media platforms work together to enable people to carry out different types of transition work, while drawing from different types of support networks. To best facilitate online transition work, Social Media platforms should be designed to foster social connectivity while acknowledging the importance of platform separation.

Oliver L. Haimson, University of Michigan School of Information

Social media, and people’s online self-presentations and social networks, add complexity to people’s experiences managing changing identities during life transitions. I use gender transition as a case study to understand how people experience liminality on social media. I qualitatively analyzed data from transition blogs on Tumblr (n=240), a social media blogging site on which people document their gender transitions, and in-depth interviews with transgender bloggers (n=20). I apply ethnographer van Gennep’s liminality framework to a social media context and contribute a new understanding of liminality by arguing that reconstructing one’s online identity during life transitions is a rite of passage. During life transitions, people present multiple identities simultaneously on different social media sites that together comprise what I call social transition machinery. Social transition machinery describes the ways that, for people facing life transitions, multiple social media sites and networks often remain separate, yet work together to facilitate life transitions.

KEYWORDS Social media; social network sites; life transitions; identity transitions; online identity; Tumblr; Facebook; transgender; non-binary; LGBTQ.

PACM Human-Computer Interaction, Vol. 2, No. CSCW, Article 63. Publication date: November 2018. https://doi.org/10.1145/3274332 .