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Constructing and enacting normality online across generations: The case of social networking sites

Niki Panteli (School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, UK)
Ben Marder (Business School, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK)

Information Technology & People

ISSN: 0959-3845

Article publication date: 5 June 2017




The purpose of this paper is to examine how different age groups construct and enact normality within social networking sites (SNS) and consequently extend theory in the area of online interactions.


The chosen research site was Facebook and research design involved focus groups across three different age groups: teenagers, young adults and the middle-aged. In total, there were 78 participants. The focus groups explored the metaphoric images of Facebook interactions. In doing so, participants were asked to draw a picture to represent their metaphor and following this, to position themselves and other characters within the picture. The drawings as well as the facilitators’ records provided the main data set for the study.


Connective and protective encounters were found to be used by different age groups when constructing and enacting normality on SNS. Further, it emerged that the interpretation and enactment of normality across the different age groups significantly varied. The metaphorical images have transpired as being a resourceful way of unpacking these differences.

Research limitations/implications

The study relied on focus groups in order to capture metaphorical images across generations. It did not include interviews with individual participants to elicit the extent to which they agreed with the group metaphor or whether there was anything else they might have presented in the drawings. This could be on the agenda for future research.

Practical implications

The findings of the study suggest that SNS managers and designers should sympathise with the view that users of different ages engage in different ways with SNS and as a result, user interfaces should be customised according to the age of the user.

Social implications

The study has implications for those interested in cross- and inter-generational research.


This is the first study in which the concept of normality has been adopted as a theoretical lens for understanding the interactions on SNS. Further, this work adds to the limited body of research on SNS use across different generations whilst it expands on the range of methodologies used within the information systems field.



Panteli, N. and Marder, B. (2017), "Constructing and enacting normality online across generations: The case of social networking sites", Information Technology & People, Vol. 30 No. 2, pp. 282-300.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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