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Why do college students prefer Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? Site affordances, tensions between privacy and self-expression, and implications for social capital

Whereas the bulk of research on social media has taken a granular approach, targeting specific behaviors on one site, or to a lesser extent, multiple sites, the current study aimed to holistically examine the social media landscape, exploring questions about who is drawn to popular social media sites, why they prefer each site, and the social consequences of site preference. Survey data was collected from 663 college students regarding their use and preference for Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Results highlight the popularity of Instagram for college students, and women in particular. Personal characteristics such as gender, age, affordances on specific sites, and privacy concerns predicted social media preference. Expanding upon the privacy paradox, we found that participants who preferred Twitter were more likely to have a public (vs. private) profile, reported higher levels of self-disclosure, and indicated more bridging social capital. Participants who preferred Facebook reported lower levels of self-disclosure, but higher levels of bonding social capital compared to those who preferred Instagram. These findings suggest that associations between privacy settings, disclosure, and social capital vary as a function of both user motivations and the affordances of specific social media sites.

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