University students use Facebook to research identity formation

Undergraduate and graduate students focused on the way immigrant students used social networking sites to express their identities.

Ashley Bray

Like most college students, Yuridia Ramirez spends a lot of time on Facebook. But unlike most college students, Ramirez, a University of Minnesota senior, found ways to use Facebook that most people do not think about.

ItâÄôs all a part of a project called Minnesota 2.0, a study which concluded immigrant students use Facebook and other social networking sites âÄî such as Twitter and YouTube âÄî as a means of identity formation.

Six undergraduate and two graduate students began working on the project in 2009. They focused on analyzing just three ethnic groups: Latino, Hmong and Somali.

The researchers started by joining sites  with which the subjects of their group were identified.

Ramirez, who is a Mexican-American student, focused on the ways in which Mexican students communicated on social networking sites. Other students focused on groups that they identified with as well.

âÄúWe looked at groups, like fan pages, so basically it was just going on Facebook and searching âÄòLatino,âÄô âÄòChicano,âÄô âÄòMexican,âÄô all of these different key words and phrases and then adding myself to these groups,âÄù she said.

The researchers found that immigrant students often talk about things that make up their identities, such as ties to their home country or what constitutes being a Latino or Hmong student.

The group discovered that, although the ethnic groups identified themselves with many different topics, there were more similarities between them than differences.

âÄúThe immigrant experience overall is a lot more unified regardless of what ethnicity you ascribe to,âÄù Ramirez said.

But among their differences was their areas of conversation. The researchers found that, in general, Mexican and Latino students were often engaged in topics about legal status, but Hmong and Somali students were not, because many Somali and Hmong students are refugees, Ramirez said. 

Besides analyzing Facebook groups, the researchers also looked at sites in which discussion forums were being held about an aspect of culture, such as forums on CNN Espanol.

âÄòThatâÄôs why itâÄôs called 2.0, itâÄôs all about technology and the way that technology is being used to exhibit peopleâÄôs identities,âÄù she said.

While the research gathering portion of the project concluded in May of last year, the students will continue to present their work to scholars and colleagues.

Ramirez said the project offered her a new outlook on the way students shape their own identities, but also was beneficial for her personally.

âÄúWe would meet every week and discuss what we had seen, what we had posted,âÄù she said, âÄúand in that way we were also learning about our own identities.âÄù