3 May

Location-based Social Media Behavior and Perception: Views of University Students

Author Name:  Matthew Haffner, Adam J. Mathews, Emily Fekete, G. Allen Finchum

Article Title, Issue and Volume: Location-based Social Media Behavior and Perception: Views of University Students.  Geographical Review Volume 108.2

Full Article Here

What is the main purpose of your study?

The sharing of location through social media posts, termed location based social media or LBSM, has become the primary way that people voluntarily share locational content online. This has resulted in massive data sets that are alluring to both academia and industry, but contributors’ demographics and motivations are often unknown. This study investigates differences between various groups in the use and perception of LBSM, tackling the following questions: Which groups contribute the most, and which platforms are the most popular? Also, why do people choose to tag or omit their location in posts? Finally, do users have privacy concerns, and are some more concerned than others?

What are the practical, day to day, implications of your study?
The greatest differences in usage are found with respect to gender and academic standing. Females and underclassmen are the more likely users of both social media and LBSM. In terms of perception, the greatest differences are between females and males. Surprisingly, females are much less concerned about privacy. Few racial differences exist across our entire study. The demographic profile of each platform’s location-based users is very similar to its social media users in general. This suggests that LBSM is no more demographically biased than social media. With this information, researchers and professionals will be able to draw more accurate inferences from social media data.

How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
LBSM is only one type of the many ways in which people contribute locational information online. The broader umbrella term is volunteered geographic information, or VGI, and includes volunteer mapping and citizen science projects. Other studies have shown that white, highly educated, middle to upper class males are the most likely contributors to these other types of VGI. Our study challenges the idea that this elite group contributes to all types of VGI the most. Beyond this, some studies have suggested using residential variables as predictors of contributors’ demographics, but others caution against this for several reasons. People choose to post where they want to be seen – places where they perceive they will gain social capital – and sometimes these locations can be far from home. Our study confirms that very few people choose to geotag posts at home, and most only geotag at memorable locations, like vacation spots.

What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
Surprisingly, females are less concerned about privacy on LBSM. It may be that they post selectively only in places that they feel safe. Since more females have private profile accounts, it could also be that they are less concerned because fewer strangers see their posts. Among the many reasons why users contribute VGI content in general (e.g. self-promotion, personal satisfaction, altruism), this study documents a new motivation for contribution: keeping a personal locational record. Several respondents (all female) state they use LBSM as means to reflect on the notable locations they’ve visited.

What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
While VGI is often spoken of in broad swoops, this study makes a case for careful differentiation when discussing the contributors of various VGI platforms. The users and their motivations vary greatly, even within the subset of LBSM. Our results should also caution researchers to refrain from making assumptions about users’ demographics based on how a post’s location aligns with conventional residential data, such as the American Community Survey. These other data sets are potentially useful explaining where content is produced. However, given users’ selective practices of posting, these alone cannot tell us about the demographics of users.

How does your research help us think about Geography?
We find that place is an important social media topic for many regardless of whether or not a post is geotagged. This finding makes a compelling case for the use of LBSM in geographic studies. Further, the demographic bias in LBSM is less than initially expected and much less than other VGI platforms. In this context, the spatial biases of LBSM production are particularly interesting. When finding a dearth of content in one area and an abundance in another, we should question not only the demographic bias of contributors but what offline, spatial factors drive production as well.