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Durham e-Theses
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Risky Behaviour: Psychological Mechanisms Underpinning Social Media Users’ Engagement

BRANLEY, DAWN,BEVERLEY (2015) Risky Behaviour: Psychological Mechanisms Underpinning Social Media Users’ Engagement. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Social media has received considerable media attention due to concerns that its use may be linked to risky behaviours, e.g., sharing personal information (Tow, Dell, & Venable, 2010), sexual communication with strangers (Baumgartner, Valkenburg, & Peter, 2010b) and extreme communities that may encourage self-harm and eating disorders (Lewis, Heath, Sornberger, & Arbuthnott, 2012). This thesis identifies who is using social media, what factors influence usage and willingness to engage in online risk behaviour, whether there is a link between content viewed on social media and offline risk behaviour, and the role of extreme communities for users. A mixed method approach is applied to survey and social media data. The first part of the thesis identifies younger users and female users as those most intensively using social media (partially explained by stronger social norms and experiencing more positive outcomes). Attitudes towards risk takers, norms and past behaviour predict willingness to engage in online risk. There is also a link between the content that users view on social media and engaging in offline risk behaviour; this link was stronger for male users. However no age differences were found. The second half of this thesis focuses on online communication around eating disorders and self-harm. Although some content did encourage these behaviours, the majority of the content was of a positive nature and appeared to provide social support for users. These findings suggest that the media portrayal of social media may be misleading. Two important outcomes are highlighted; Firstly, younger users may not necessarily be more vulnerable and, second, that care is needed to ensure that interventions respect the positive side of social media use and limit risks without disrupting potentially positive social networks. Implications include the guiding of such interventions, future research and policy.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:social media, online, risk, prototype willingness model, eating disorders, self harm, individual differences, internet, theory of planned behaviour, theory of reasoned action
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Science > Psychology, Department of
Thesis Date:2015
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:20 Nov 2015 09:45

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