‘No more birthday greetings on my Facebook wall, please.’ Social media platform usage patterns, user perceptions, and idioms of practice among young Italian users

Francesca Comunello, Simone Mulargia


‘Appropriate’ usage of social media platforms, as socially perceived, derives from the negotiation between each platform’s affordances and constraints (Norman, 2013), user perceptions, and social usage norms.

When selecting the platforms where to pursue specific purposes, with regard to different contexts and interlocutors, along with the communication style to adopt, people follow specific media ideologies and idioms of practice (Gershon, 2010). While idioms of practice are built and negotiated collectively, they are not universally shared among a specific population.

In order to explore such dimensions, we first conducted 4 focus groups in 2012 involving Italian high school students aged 18–20. Moreover, as norms and practices seemed to be changing rapidly over time, we decided to replicate the study in 2015 and 2016, conducing 6 additional focus groups involving university students living in the same city, and born in the same years as the first respondents.

Results show that young people both follow group-specific norms and more individualized usage patterns. All of our respondents have a clear picture of what can be defined as an appropriate use of digital platforms in relation to specific purposes, contexts, tie strength, etc. Among the dimensions that have been used to motivate such perceived differences are: publicity, communicative bandwidth, synchrony vs. asynchrony, investment, etc. Furthermore, shared usage norms change rapidly over time, and the diffusion of ‘new’ platforms (e.g. Whatsapp, or Instagram) which were not widespread when we realized the first focus groups, comes with specific media ideologies, and reconfigures the whole (personal) media ecology.


Social network sites, media ecological approach, media ideology, affordances and constraints, social usage norms

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