Is reality TV a good measurement of social media usage? A critique of Stefanone et al.’s study

Stefanone, Yue, and Toh’s article, “A social cognitive approach to traditional media content and social media use: Selfie-related behavior as competitive strategy”, seeks to discover the relationship between the content of traditional mass media and selfie related behaviour. The authors looked to compare the consumption of reality television, contingencies of self-worth (CSW), and social media usage across multiple platforms. They argued that when the amount of reality television consumption increases, viewers will model the same type of behaviour, competing for the best self-presentation content on social media. Using an online survey, the researchers measured college students’ reality TV consumption, and a discussion of the extent to which they talked about it in their lives, competition based CSW, selfie behaviour, audience size and diversity of their followers, editing, and posting of their photos.

One could argue that this method of gathering data is somewhat unreliable and irrelevant. The researchers did not really discuss the limitations to their research and did mention that “no relationship between RTV (reality television) and selfie taking frequency was found”. While it is not necessarily irrelevant just because their hypothesis was not really supported, I believe that because reality television is not a heavy hitter when it comes to influencing social media activity, their research does not relate well to the general population. Of course, people like the Kardashians have a presence on reality TV and social media, but many more people follow Kim Kardashian than watch the show. Considering that she has 131 million followers, and the rating for Keeping Up with The Kardashians is 2.8/10 (according to IMDB), social media is clearly a more popular form of media in comparison to traditional media like TV. I do frequently watch reality TV (thanks to the new streaming service called Hayu that consists entirely of different “Housewives” franchises and other various trashy TV shows), but I cannot say that Kim Kardashian’s or Denise Richards’ behaviour on their shows influence the way I post on my Instagram. Speaking candidly, I am much more interested in what people are posting on their social media when I consider what to post on mine. To me, a reality TV show seems so removed from social media and selfies. That being said, at least I am a frequent viewer of RTV. Their data actually found that 57% of participants did not engage with reality TV, with only 3% being “heavy users”.  To me, the fact that over half the participants did not watch reality TV clearly shows that their choice of media did not really reach the audience they were measuring.

            Additionally, another aspect of the article that peaked my interest was their finding that people put more effort into their social media when they had more diverse audiences/followers and less effort was put in when they had real relationships with their followers. This really contrasts with Garcia et al.’s findings that social comparison was much more prominent in closer social relationships. SakurakoK’s response highlights that Garcia et al.’s main purpose of their paper was to “suggest future directions and lessons for fields within psychology and related disciplines”. With the somewhat unreliable and arguably irrelevant results of Stefanone, Yue, and Toh’s study, one can see that their topic also requires future research. It seems odd that competition is less salient between close friends on social media, but perhaps social comparison plays a different role in the social media world. We will only really know once new research is conducted and studies occur that build on the foundation we see Stefanone et al. have created.

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