Identity building, as a key developmental task for adolescents, is nowadays analysed as related to performative practices of self-presentation online on social media, where peer networks play a significant role through their role of reciprocal feedback and validation. Although at a declarative level young people’s actions within their peer networks on social media are free and uninhibited choices, they do actually reflect the constraints of norms and practices within the group and the technological affordances of the medium. In this paper we describe the multiple negotiations and constraints adolescents face when constructing their self image on social media and how these practices evolve during different stages of their development. The analysis draws on qualitative data from young people aged 13 to 18 (8 single-sex focus groups, n=34) and survey data (1 102 self-administered questionnaires) collected within the Friends 2.0 project (2015–2017). Our findings reveal complex relations between practices of self-presentation and mutual validation by peers on social media, with the need for validation playing a significant role in young people’s creating and curating their self-image online. Furthermore, enforced reciprocal norms about appropriateness and mutual surveillance create the field in which mechanisms of validation/ invalidation are performed.
Keywords: self-presentation online; peer validation; online self-disclosure; adolescents; social media.