"It's a secret thing": Digital disembedding through online teen drama fandom
First Monday

It's a secret thing: Digital disembedding through online teen drama fandom by Ysabel Gerrard

Fans of teen drama television series often feel that their pleasures are unworthy, with many going to great lengths to hide their practices from certain people. Social media plays a key role in contemporary fan cultures, and so fans must navigate platforms’ changing and complex norms around their users’ identity in careful and strategic ways. These acts counter recent scholarly claims about the ‘embeddedness’ (or entanglement, enmeshing) of social media’s technologies and norms within our everyday lives. In this paper, I explore how fans sometimes disembed, or detach from the logics of certain platforms to facilitate secrecy. My respondents disembed from: (1) some platforms’ normalization of authentic identities, (2) social media’s increasing naturalization of its own embeddedness within everyday life, and (3) platforms’ demands that their users engage in often-risky practices of sharing. I draw on interview and social media observation data to examine how teen drama fandoms’ devalued cultural status motivates my respondents to create secret identities on certain platforms, particularly Facebook Pages.


Introduction: ‘It’s a secret thing’
Feminized popular cultures: Derisions and inequalities
Discourses of the digital: From cyberspace to sharing
Social media and disembeddedness: Enforced authenticity and pseudonymity
Research methods and ethical considerations
‘People think I’m a teenager’: Facebook Pages and the benefits of inauthenticity
‘That’s my private thing’: Digital disembeddeding and a return to binaries
‘If you tell people who you are, you’re going to get hacked’: Social media and strategies of sharing
Conclusions: Towards a disembedded approach to social media research



Introduction: ‘It’s a secret thing’

Felix and Oscar, who self-identify as thirty-something, heterosexual and North American men are both fans of the popular U.S. teen drama television series Pretty Little Liars (2010–2017) [1]. They present a weekly podcast about the show, run their own Web site and administer Pretty Little Liars fan accounts on Facebook Pages, Instagram and Twitter. They also have what they call ‘personal’ accounts on various social media platforms. Both Felix and Oscar have Bachelor’s degrees, work full-time in the marketing industry, live with their respective female partners and have no children. When the series is airing, they spend roughly 16 hours per week on their fan activities (watching and re-watching each episode, transcription and note taking, preparation and research, and creating content for and administering their Web site and social media fan accounts). To quote Felix, their fandom is ‘basically a part-time job’. Yet despite the amount of time they dedicate to their fandom, very few people in their lives — such as their parents, family members, work colleagues, and some friends — know about it. Their Pretty Little Liars fandom is, to borrow Oscar’s words, ‘sort of, like, a secret thing’, a quote that I truncate in the title of this article [2].

This anecdote tells us three things about the relationship between social media platforms and contemporary teen drama fandom. First, it reminds us that fans’ negotiations of social media must be understood within ‘already circulating discourses’ [3], such as cultural derisions of young and feminized popular cultures and of fandom itself. Because Felix and Oscar are adult, heterosexual and male fans of a teen drama series, they think their fan identities are unacceptable. They face derision from various angles: within and outside of the home, in public and popular discourses, and even within fan spaces themselves. This means they desire secrecy, and I argue that gendered and other derisions of feminized popular cultures shape how they use and understand social media, a point I have made elsewhere (see Hill, et al., 2016).

Second, it shows that some fans try to separate their devalued fan activities from other parts of their lives. They do this by navigating some of the logics (see van Dijck and Poell, 2013) of social media, such as some platforms’ demands that users enact their ‘authentic’ identities (see McNicol, 2013; Haimson and Hoffmann, 2016). Although authenticity is a slippery term (see Marwick, 2013), platforms like Facebook and Twitter align it with legality. To varying degrees of success, Facebook has tried to enforce a real name policy through its Profiles (rather than its Pages — an important distinction that I return to), and since my fieldwork was conducted Twitter has encouraged more of its users to ‘verify’ their identities using government-issued photo identification (see Burgess, 2016). However these data-driven moves create difficulties for people who want to keep their fan and other identities a secret. My respondents instead tend to use platforms that are not dictated by the same norms and rules around identity, especially Facebook Pages.

Third and most crucially for this paper, Felix and Oscar’s ‘secret’ acts of fandom encourage us to think more carefully about scholarly claims that digital technologies are embedded (or enmeshed, entangled, interwoven) within everyday life (see Pink, 2012; Hine, 2015; Pink, et al., 2016). Hine argues that this has become ‘obvious’ [4] in recent years, as scholarly and popular discourses no longer frame the Internet as a distinct and separate space: a cyberspace. Yet users’ lived experiences are far more complex, and cannot always be captured by an embedded approach to Internet research. I explore how users like Felix and Oscar try to disembed (or detach, separate, disconnect) their online fandom from other parts of their lives and identities in the hope that people will not discover their secret.

Teen drama fans disembed from social media in response to gendered and other derisions of their pleasures, and so I begin by examining these longstanding and troubling assumptions. Next, I introduce two core discourses of the Internet — cyberspace and sharing — to map out the different phases of Internet identity research and discuss the terms’ rhetoric beyond academia. I then explore how some platforms naturalize their own embeddedness within everyday life by enforcing real name policies, and introduce the notion of disembeddedness. This concept challenges claims made by scholars like Hine (2015), as teen drama fans strategically take on pseudonymous identities to maintain their acts of fandom as secrets. After describing my methods, I introduce three more Pretty Little Liars fans: Amanda, Reesa and Taylor. I analyze their negotiations of Facebook Pages’ normalization of inauthenticity, their return to cyberspace’s binary discourses, and their articulations of the risks of sharing: all of which might be understood as acts of disembedding from social media logics.



Feminized popular cultures: Derisions and inequalities

Although parts of fandom have entered the mainstream in recent years, fans of feminized popular cultures continue to ‘get a bad press’ [5]. Many feminist scholars have written about stereotypes of feminized media texts and practices. Brunsdon, for example, noted in 1997 that she had ‘always been conscious of the ways in which what women and girls like is somehow worse than the equivalent masculine pleasures’ [6]. I argue in keeping with authors like Hills (2012) that this stigma still exists, and that it worsens when media texts are associated with young women or with girls. Teen drama series are thus characterized by a double devaluation: they are culturally coded as feminine and they are targeted at a teenage demographic.

Gendered and aged derisions of teen drama series also, of course, intersect with two other identity markers: social class and sexual orientation. The genre is partly devalued because of a longstanding class-based division between popular and high cultures, with the latter prevailing over the former in relation to what is valued as acceptable (see Jenson, 1992; Baym, 2000). This distinction tends to generate more frequent and harsh derisions for feminized popular cultures when compared with those coded as masculine (see Brunsdon, 1997). Teen drama series are also derided because of the practices that are associated with teenage fandoms. For example, in recent years the term ‘fangirl’ has entered into popular discourses and is used to condemn girls for their ‘hysterical’ [7] and ‘oversexed’ [8] fan behaviors. Their seemingly unruly sexual desires resonate with longstanding politics of the out-of-control female body (see for example Tarr, 1985; Geraghty, 2008), and tend to focus on male popular cultural icons (see van der Graaf, 2014). This constructs an irrational, hysterical and stereotypically heteronormative fangirl.

Teen drama fans’ negotiations of social media are entrenched in several ‘already circulating discourses’ [9], and so derisions of the genre and its fans are ‘thoroughly intersectional’ [10], to borrow from Gill (2011). They are subjected to what I call a quadruple devaluation (gender, age, social class and sexual orientation), which Hills has similarly described as ‘“gender-plus,” that is, gender plus age or generation’ [11]. This complex culture explains why many Pretty Little Liars fans try to keep their pleasures a secret, especially those who do not fit neatly into the young and female body of the ideal teen drama fan.



Discourses of the digital: From cyberspace to sharing

Digital technologies like social media should not be understood on a purely technical level, and my respondents draw on two core rhetorics of the digital to negotiate fandom’s place within their lives. There have been several discourses linked to digital media over the past few decades, though cyberspace and sharing are two of the most pervasive, academically and otherwise. Although my respondents do not use these exact terms, they draw on cyberspace’s distinction between online and off-line identities and on the risks associated with sharing information about themselves online to construct secret fan identities. These terms emerged during different eras of the Internet’s fairly short history — cyberspace in the early 1990s and sharing in the late 2000s — and taken together represent a trajectory in scholarly debates around the Internet and identity.

For some early Internet researchers, the Internet represented a discrete, online space — a cyberspace — which existed separately from off-line and therefore ‘real’ life (see for example Stone, 1995; Turkle, 1995; Plant, 1997). Writers like Markham (1998) and Kendall (1999) explored the distinction between ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ lives, spaces and selves, questioning whether online identities were extensions of those we enacted off-line, though some were more dedicated to the idea of a fragmented identity than others [12]. In her seminal book on the Internet and identity, Life on the screen, Turkle talked about college-aged students’ identity negotiations and experiences on multi-user domains (MUDs). She argued towards the value of MUDs for providing ‘worlds for anonymous social interaction in which one can play a role as close to or as far away from one’s “real self” as one chooses’ [13]. As one player said, ‘you are who you pretend to be’ [14] in virtual worlds. Maris explains that anonymized AOL chat rooms were popular with LGBTQ Xena: Warrior Princess fans in the 1990s because they ensured ‘safety when being outed in “real life” could prove dangerous’ [15]. For other Internet researchers like Stone (1995) and Plant (1997), there was great social potential in the distinction between online cyberspaces and real lives. Although the term ‘cyberspace’ has arguably fallen out of fashion, its promises are enduringly seductive to teen drama fans. My respondents draw on powerful binary terms like online/off-line and virtual/real to separate their fandom from other parts of their lives. I propose disembeddeding as a nuanced practice whereby fans position their identities on a scale between two imagined states: who they are online versus who they are in their real lives.

Although anonymized online spaces similar to MUDs and AOL chat rooms still exist (4chan and Yik Yak, for example), the growth of social media platforms in the mid-2000s was accompanied by an increased expectation that people ‘share’ more content and information about themselves online. This shift is threefold, and can be understood as: (1) a corporate and data-driven move towards identity singularity, (2) a shift in scholarly understandings of the Internet and everyday life, and (3) changes in the ways people use the Internet to negotiate their identities. Social media’s discourse of sharing is perhaps opposed to the notion of a distinct cyberspace. Rather than participating anonymously, users are encouraged to cultivate a singular (rather than a fluid, fragmented) identity, combining their social media and everyday personae. Sharing is perhaps the core logic of Web 2.0 as its technologies rely on user-generated content to be economically successful. My respondents make deliberate and strategic decisions about what they should and should not share on social media, decisions that are partly driven by their hopes of maintaining their acts of fandom as secrets. This is not to say that other social media users share frivolously, but that teen drama fans’ sharing is strategic, and for good reason. Although sharing is perhaps the dominant social media discourse (see John, 2016; 2013), platforms demand different forms of participation from their users, such as the use of real names, which might restrict their choices and identity negotiations. As I discuss in the next section, some platforms’ demand for identity singularly creates difficulties for those who desire secrecy, like teen drama fans.



Social media and disembeddedness: Enforced authenticity and pseudonymity

The second issue related to the digital is its construction as an embedded practice and discourse within our everyday lives, a claim made by Hine (2015) in her recent research. By embeddedness, Hine is referring to the sense in which digital technologies become ‘entwined with multiple forms of context and frames of meaning-making’ [16]. In a similar vein to many digital media theorists, she rejects a division between digital and non-digital lives, spaces and selves. Pink, et al. similarly claim that ‘digital technologies and media (and the things that people do with them) are interdependent with the infrastructures of everyday life’ [17], and van Dijck and Poell argue that the logics of social media platforms have ‘penetrated deeply into the mechanics of everyday life’ [18]. Yet this research, particularly Hine’s (2015) does not fully account for how users might consciously disembed from some aspects of social media, or separate some social media spaces from others. A wholly embedded approach to Internet research cannot account for how my respondents — and likely many other users — both enact and articulate a separation of social media from other parts of their lives and identities. Light makes a similar point in his research on what he calls ‘disconnective practices’ [19], which pays rare attention to the people who disconnect from social media, either by choice or because they have been banned. Light argues that social media users are not wholly conditioned by technologies and instead make a series of decisions about connection, disconnection and practices that sit somewhere in-between. Ellison, et al. also found that there are benefits to ‘selective anonymity’ for adolescent social media users, many of whom ‘purposefully disassociate some — but not all — interactions from their known identities, particularly in regard to sharing and requesting information’ [20]. Dhoest and Szulc have similarly explored how some LGBTQs use a range of strategies to ‘“compartmentalize” their gay (sexual) life away from their family and ethno-cultural community’ [21], like using gay chat and dating sites/apps. This paper proposes disembeddedness as a lens through which to understand practices like these, and considers how users’ efforts to detach from social media spaces are tied up with their secret and often devalued identities.

Some social media platforms encourage their own embeddedness within everyday life through a number of socio-technical principles, and one example is the fairly recent enforcement of a real name policy on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Facebook’s real name policy applies to its Profiles rather than Pages, and requires users to use ‘the name that they go by in everyday life’ [22] and to present their ‘authentic identity’ [23], which must be verifiable by identity documentation if necessary [24]. After I had completed my fieldwork, Twitter made changes to the way it verifies users’ accounts, asking them to provide a form of government-issued photo identification (e.g., a driver’s license) to get a blue ‘verified’ badge (see Burgess, 2016). Google+ and LinkedIn have also actively sought to maintain consistency between users’ social media and ‘physical world identities’ [25] (see also boyd, 2011). Instagram’s policies on real names are slightly more complex. While the image-sharing platform does not have such a policy at present, it is owned by Facebook (see Constine and Cutler, 2012) and encourages users to link their Facebook and Instagram accounts. The other platform popularly used by my respondents is Tumblr, which does not enforce a real name policy and has different, perhaps more flexible norms around its users’ identities. At the time of writing, to create a Tumblr account users were asked to provide only a working e-mail address, password and age.

Digital media scholars have made convincing arguments about the problems of such policies, not least because they are exclusionary and are linked to how platforms seek to naturalize the mining of a ‘sea of data’ [26]. The enforced authenticity of some platforms also contradicts the agentic discourses of Web 2.0 and sharing, as it imposes restrictions on the identities with which users can and cannot share. As McNicol puts it, ‘we can be who we want to be, but only as long as it falls within the boundaries set and influenced by the system’ [27].

But not all platforms are governed by the logics of a real name Internet. Ellison, et al. explain that spaces of online interaction from Usenet to social media have ‘traditionally enabled three broad categories of identity information structures: anonymity, pseudonymity, and “real name”’ [28]. Real name systems like Facebook try to ‘link each online account to a singular off-line identity through verification requirements (e.g., providing an e-mail address)’ [29], whereas pseudonymous platforms like Reddit ask for just a screen name and a password. Instagram and Tumblr can also be understood as pseudonymous, though Instagram asks users for their full name and Tumblr for their ages: both of which are easy to falsify. Anonymized social media spaces like 4chan allow users to post without disclosing any identity information, reminiscent of earlier anonymized online communities like MUDs (see Turkle, 1995) and Usenet (see Donath, 1999; Baker, 2001). Yet Ellison, et al. (2016) argue that people’s online identity negotiations often do not fit neatly into these three categories, an argument that extends to online teen drama fandom. For example, although Instagram and Tumblr ask new users to provide an e-mail address and other details when they sign up, my respondents think these platforms afford secrecy in ways that others (e.g., Facebook Profiles) do not. In short, some spaces feel more secret than others, echoing Maltby, et al.’s point that the term ‘anonymity’ might speak more to the ‘feelings and imaginings of the user than it does to information or data privacy (Gerlitz and Helmond, 2013; Nissenbaum, 2009; Nissenbaum, 2011; Qian and Scott, 2007)’ [30].

Platforms with more complex interfaces also ask users to negotiate their identities in several different ways: Facebook for example is comprised of Profiles and Pages (along with various other functions, like Groups), and while its Profiles are dictated by a real name system, Pages are not. These rules are far more difficult to enforce through Pages as they have their own Terms of Use and norms around identity (see Facebook, 2016b), and thus facilitate the enactment of inauthentic identities, to borrow Facebook’s term. Although traditional identity cues like age, gender and racial identity are arguably less visible online, certain platforms encourage their users to disclose more information than others, and my respondents are drawn to spaces where they have more control over their identity disclosure, particularly Facebook Pages.

There is a history of scholarly discussion about the values of anonymity and pseudonymity and whether they might enable harmful practices (see Baker, 2001; Bergstrom, 2011; Phillips, 2011), benefit users with non-normative or derided identities (see Turkle, 1995; Stone, 1995; Plant, 1997; van der Nagel and Frith, 2015; Haimson and Hoffmann, 2016; Maris, 2016; Maltby, et al., 2017), or are neither wholly good nor bad (see H. Kennedy, 2006). But the availability of anonymized and perhaps even pseudonymized online spaces is decreasing. In a recent special issue of the journal Ephemera, Bachmann, et al. discuss the claim that the end of anonymity is ‘near, or already upon us’, given recent changes to communication infrastructures, the mounting of big data, and sensory device saturation: technical forces which ‘find their equals in a politics of fear’ [31]. The looming threat of a real name Internet, as discussed academically by authors like boyd (2011), Hogan (2013), and van der Nagel and Frith (2015) and also in popular tech publications like Wired (see Donath, 2014) opens up important questions about its constraints and the reasons why some people might try to resist it. I later examine how teen drama fans use Facebook Pages to enact pseudonymous identities that differ from the ones that they ‘go by in everyday life’ (Facebook, 2016c), enabling them to enact what they feel are unacceptable identities.



Research methods and ethical considerations

The findings presented in this article are part of a larger project which sought to examine how teen drama fans negotiate their devalued fan pleasures in a social media age. I conducted empirical research with 22 teen drama fans — 12 Pretty Little Liars (2010–2017) fans, seven The Vampire Diaries (2009–2017) fans, and three Revenge (2011–2015) fans — using three qualitative research methods: semi-structured Skype interviews, structured online interviews and social media observations. In this article, I draw on Skype interview and social media data from five Pretty Little Liars fans: Amanda, Felix, Oscar, Reesa and Taylor. The interviews were conducted between September 2014 and June 2015 and lasted between 60 to 180 minutes each.

To supplement the interview data, I also conducted observations of my respondents’ social media fan accounts over a three-month period, starting from the date of the interview. In this paper, I mainly draw on interview data but use some information gleaned from my observations to build a deeper picture of my respondents’ online participatory practices, given my desire to understand how they navigate as well as articulate their desire for secrecy. I occupied the role of observer as participant (see Berger, 2014), which meant I observed fans’ social media participation but did not pretend to be an actual group member. I did not announce my presence as a researcher in the fandoms because (1) I wanted to avoid reactivity. That is, my presence affecting what happened in the groups (see Berger, 2014), and (2) because only those people who consented to participate in my research were observed. I documented the observations through a series of field notes and viewed participants’ social media accounts daily, at varying points and for varying lengths of time. Although I could have collected and saved their social media data through screenshots or digital methods tools, this data would have (1) identified my participants and (2) captured the data of users who were not the object of my study: both of which risked exposing their secrets.

The fans of my study administered or engaged in various fan accounts, though Facebook Pages were the most popular (16 participants), followed by Twitter (eight), Instagram (five), and Tumblr (four). The fieldwork began with an in-person interview with a Pretty Little Liars fan in September 2014, who I identified through my own fandom of the series. I then found other fans through snowball sampling. This was an ideal recruitment method, given many of my participants’ hesitancies to disclose their identities in fan spaces. I used three online avenues to recruit participants: my university e-mail address, my Twitter account and my Facebook Profile. Although Twitter is a non-academic social networking platform (unlike academia.edu or similar), I consider my account to be for ‘professional’ purposes. Unlike other social media researchers (e.g., Miguel, 2016), I did not create a separate academic Facebook account to recruit participants and instead used my personal Profile. I used my Profile to establish my credibility as a researcher, given that it features various identity markers (e.g., a profile picture, my gender, current city, and work and education information). This helped me to be transparent about my identity and intentions, a ‘critical’ [32] ethical concern when researching social media.

Ethical considerations underpin both my research methods and also my project’s theoretical framework, given that methodological choices ‘inform and are informed by ethical issues’ [33]. As the majority of my respondents enact their fandom in secret, I had to ensure that I maintained their secrecy at all stages of the research process, from the research design and initial recruitment of participants to the way I have presented my findings. For example, participants were asked to select pseudonyms and I did not ask for their demographic information (such as their legal name, gender, age, geographical location, race, sexual orientation and so on). Instead, I allowed them to self-disclose any or all of these details. All participants consented to being interviewed and, to whom it applied, observed on social media. Motivated by ongoing debates over whether social media data are public or private (see Markham and Buchanan, 2012; boyd, 2014) and how they should be researched, I sought consent to observe my participants on social media and do not directly quote from the observation data as this would risk making them identifiable. In the remaining sections, I illustrate my arguments about disembedding through a discussion of my participants’ negotiations of social media.



‘People think I’m a teenager’: Facebook Pages and the benefits of inauthenticity

Through their Facebook Pages, a number of Pretty Little Liars fans enact identities that differ from what the platform would refer to as their ‘authentic’ ones (Facebook, 2016a). For example, Amanda administers three Pretty Little Liars fan accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In our interview, Amanda self-identified as a heterosexual and North American woman in her early forties, who lives with her husband and two teenage children in North America. She also holds a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) degree and works part-time as an Events Manager. Yet on her fan accounts, she adopts the identity of one of her teenage children. Amanda was one of the few participants who agreed to a Skype audio interview instead of a video call: a decision that I better understood when she outed herself as a woman in her forties. Prior to our discussion, I thought she was a teenager. To enact her child’s identity, she adopts their gender and age and discusses their daily activities, such as school, sports, friendships and cultural references. She falsifies information that might make either or both of them identifiable, like her child’s legal name, and instead uses a pseudonym. Pseudonymity is particularly valuable for fans like Amanda, and to other social media users who want to enact what they feel are subversive identities. To justify her decision, Amanda drew on her past experiences of harassment and derision when she participated in the official Pretty Little Liars Facebook Page using her personal Profile:

Before I had the Page, my friends and I were, you know, just talking on the regular Pretty Little Liars Page, and I-- First of all, I got harassed because of my age. [...] It was quite obvious by my photo that I was forty and I didn’t think that was a big deal. I mean, I like all kinds of shows. But I got relentlessly harassed by-- Any time anybody would disagree with me, instead of disagreeing based on the topic, they would throw in that I was an old lady. And that’s what made me have to disguise my identity. [...] So people think I’m a teenager, pretty much.

Amanda’s Profile features a number of identity markers, such as a real image of herself as her profile picture. Other Page participants deduced that she was a woman in her forties, a seemingly unacceptable Pretty Little Liars fan identity, and so she created a separate fan Page to prevent sexist and ageist criticisms. This practice might be understood as disembedding. While Amanda still has a Facebook Profile, she told me that it makes no reference to her fan accounts even though they are technically linked (in order to create a Facebook Page, users must already have a Profile). Facebook Pages enable Amanda’s fan practices, as their discourses and policies around the enforcement of authentic identities differ to those of Profiles. For example, on Facebook’s Pages Terms there are no references to ‘authenticity’, ‘authentic identities’, or the platform’s real name policy (see Facebook, 2016b). As Facebook Pages are intended for users to ‘create a presence for your pet, organization, favourite film, games character or another purpose’ (Facebook, 2016a), inauthentic identity enactments — that is, those which differ from Facebook’s definition of authenticity — are normalized within these spaces.

Other Pretty Little Liars fans like Reesa also benefit from Pages’ rules around inauthenticity. Reesa administers three fan accounts on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter to ‘role-play’ as one of the show’s female characters: Mona Vanderwaal [34]. She also has a Facebook Profile but told me that it does not include any links or references to her Page or other fan accounts. Reesa self-identifies as a central European woman in her mid-twenties, who is studying for her Master’s degree and works part-time as a make-up artist. She chose to role-play Mona’s character because she can ‘relate’ to her, as ‘she was bullied, I was bullied, [...] and I used her story to express my own’. She enacts Mona’s identity on her three fan accounts, although there are occasional slippages between Mona’s identity and her own. Similar to Amanda, Felix and Oscar, only a handful of people in what Reesa calls her ‘real life’ are aware of her fandom:

Reesa: Nobody from my group of friends watches the show.

Interviewer: Do your friends know that you have the fan Pages?

Reesa: Um ... I mentioned it, but that’s just it *laughs*.

Interviewer: Is there a reason that you only mentioned it to them?

Reesa: Probably because nobody I know has a Page like this. So I thought it would-- they would probably think I’m weird or, you know *laughs* something like that.

Reesa feels that her fandom might be seen as ‘weird’, which partly explains why she takes on Mona’s identity rather than her own. She said that she only ‘mentioned’ the fan accounts to her friends, and later told me that the only person in her real life who knows the extent of her fandom is her mother. Reesa’s enactments of fandom — and, I will later suggest, her articulations of it — are clearly fueled by teen drama fandom’s devalued cultural status.

By Facebook Profiles’ standards, Amanda and Reesa’s identity negotiations are inauthentic, but they would not be understood in this way on Facebook’s Pages. As Haimson and Hoffmann note, ‘just what constitutes an “authentic” or “real” identity — both online and off — is a point of contention’ [35] and also varies according to the spaces in which identities are enacted. Although Amanda adopts the identity of her teenage child and Reesa role-plays as one of the show’s characters, I argue that their identities on Facebook Pages are more authentic than they are on their Profiles. This is because Pages normalize inauthenticity and so allow fans to make visible their problematic pleasures. As van der Nagel and Frith note, the embrace of pseudonymous identities allows for certain ‘practices that could be lost as sites increasingly attempt to tie all online activities to a singular “real” identity’ [36]. Tying all online activities together — or embedding them — might harm users like my participants, as they would lose a space through which they could enact their secret fandom. Their negotiations also challenge the (false) dichotomy between ‘fully identified, real names’ and ‘untraceable anonymity’ [37]. Both fans, along with many other social media users, conceal certain aspects of their identities like their real names. Yet they happily participate in other platforms using these details. They also ‘out’ their secret pleasures within fan spaces; aspects of their identities that should be given equal weighting to what their real, legal names are. Platforms that foster or actively encourage pseudonymity are valuable to many social media users, and it is becoming increasingly important that people have spaces online where they do not have to endure a real name Internet [38].

It is somewhat ironic that users are encouraged to be authentic on their Facebook Profiles, yet fans like Amanda and Reesa have sought out alternative spaces within the same platform to achieve this goal. They do not want their Pages and Profiles to be linked (even though they technically are), a practice that requires constant and conscious negotiation. Although they are not necessarily disembedding from the platform’s logics and rules here, they have created a distinction between one of their online identities and the rest of their online/off-line lives. This indicates how complex the lived experiences of an embedded Internet are, and how a complete and total entanglement of the Internet and everyday life is neither desirable nor possible. I now turn to a discussion of the salience of an online/off-line binary.



‘That’s my private thing’: Digital disembeddeding and a return to binaries

The binary terms that accompanied the discourse of cyberspace in the early 1990s, such as online/off-line and real/virtual, are enduringly meaningful to teen drama fans. Although Hine (2015) and others argue that online and off-line are now interwoven, the fans of my research want them to be distinct. Pretty Little Liars fans Reesa, Felix and Oscar draw on these powerful discourses to open up a space in which their fan pleasures can be felt and imagined differently, and as more acceptable than they would be elsewhere. The distinction they create between their fan accounts and their ‘real’ lives complicates and perhaps counters Hine’s (2015) notion of embeddedness. Disembeddedness might be partly understood as a discursive practice through which fans discuss a separation of some social media spaces from others, and of some online identities from the rest of their online/off-line lives.

For example, Reesa is careful to make limited visible connections between her Facebook Profile and her personal social media fan accounts (which I did not observe). She does this because her Profile is a space where she ‘interact[s] with the friends that I have here, in real life’ and who do not know of her fandom, whereas her fan Page is something that she perceives to be:

Something that’s my private thing. [...] I guess I just like to be private when it comes to these things. Probably because it’s very, um ... It’s connected to bullying, and that’s an aspect of myself that I like to keep private. [...] I worry that people will think I’m just some kind of a-- a couch potato *laughs*, that I have no life and that I’m just hiding online, or something like that.

Reesa clearly feels as though her Facebook Page and her Profile are separated, even though they are technically linked. She conceals her enactments of fandom from her friends in her real life because they might think it is ‘weird’ and because her fan identity is ‘connected to bullying’, an aspect of herself that she shares with Pretty Little Liars fans but not with her other friends. When navigated strategically, Facebook Pages enable a feeling of privacy for Reesa (see also H. Kennedy, 2016), enhancing her fan pleasures. Reesa’s fandom is her ‘private thing’, and not only does she want to hide it from her friends because she worries they will mock her, but she finds a great deal of pleasure in having something of her own. She makes a meaningful distinction between her online and private enactments of fandom and her real life, even though recent digital media scholarship has argued towards the entanglement of such spaces. Patelis notes that ‘the virtual as distinct and different from the real’ is understood as ‘fake’ in an age of social media, within which ‘the default is social’ [39], to borrow Facebook CEO Zuckerberg’s words. But is Reesa’s fan identity any less real than the one(s) she portrays on her other social media accounts? Are her pseudonymous profiles not integral to her identity? Distinctions of this kind should not be understood as fake in a social media age, given the importance of Reesa and other fans’ pseudonymous personae to their identities and pleasures. Her identity negotiations should also be understood differently to more problematic online practices like flaming (hostile and harmful online comments) and trolling (posting deliberately antagonistic content to social media and similar online spaces): the subjects of popular anxieties around the risks of anonymity and pseudonymity online (see Donath, 2014). Although the salience of a virtual/real binary has been disputed, it clearly plays a powerful role in Reesa’s attempts to balance her different identities.

Felix and Oscar, who I introduced at the beginning of this paper, are similarly seduced by binary discourses. The quote that I borrow for the title of this article — ‘it’s sort of, like, a secret thing’ (Oscar) — suggests that social media can help fans to hide their acts from certain people, as Felix and Oscar explain in the following exchange:

Oscar: I’ll be honest, like, my parents don’t know that I do this podcast, you know, and some of my friends in real life do, but not all of them. Nobody I work with knows about it. So, it is kind of just this ... Not totally secret, but quasi-secret thing that we do online.

Felix: I mean, like, my girlfriend knows. But also our notes, and our process, and our time commitment is so extensive that there’s no way-- Even if I wanted to keep it a secret from her, like, that would be a lot to keep secret from her *laughs*.

Felix and Oscar’s Pretty Little Liars fandom is, by and large, a secret. This is because the series gets devalued and because their fan identities — as adult and heterosexual men — are seemingly unacceptable. Like Reesa, Oscar hides his fandom from many of his friends in what he calls his real life and worries about being outed as fan of the show. Whilst he and Felix are forthcoming about certain aspects of their identities within the fandom (e.g., their ages and genders), they do not disclose their legal names, places of work or geographical locations to other fans. They do, however, record a weekly podcast about the show where they refer to each other by their legal first names. They also do not edit their voices, meaning the podcast could potentially make them identifiable to the same people they hide their fandom from. Yet they are willing to take this risk because no one in their real lives watches the show and so are unlikely to listen to the podcast.

Oscar discursively distinguishes his online fandom from his real, non-fan life in which he has plenty of other social media accounts. By separating their fandom from the rest of their online/off-line identities, it could be argued that Felix and Oscar are strategically disembedding some parts of social media from others. Fans like Felix and Oscar likely do not want all social media spaces to be entangled, nor do they want social media to be embedded in other parts of their lives. This is because their fan pleasures depend on the secrecy that the Internet seemingly affords: a notion that an embedded approach to Internet research might miss. Each of their social media accounts serves a unique purpose, and so the embrace of a wholly embedded Internet threatens to erase their pleasurable and secretive spaces. Although a distinction between real and virtual lives, spaces, and selves has been disputed academically, starting with ethnographic accounts in the late 1990s and early 2000s (see for example Markham, 1998; Kendall, 1999; Miller and Slater, 2000), the promises of cyberspace are enduringly seductive, especially to teen drama fans whose identities are derided from various angles: within and outside of the home, in public and popular discourses and even within fan spaces themselves.

Other platforms are increasingly attempting to maintain consistency between users’ social media and ‘physical world identities’ [40], such as Twitter. But these moves have consequences for fans like Reesa, Felix and Oscar, which is why disembeddeding might actually become a necessary practice if this trend continues. In the final section, I discuss the various risks of sharing through social media.



‘If you tell people who you are, you’re going to get hacked’: Social media and strategies of sharing

Although social media can offer teen drama fans an extent of secrecy, many are aware that sharing with platforms is still a risky endeavor. As J. Kennedy notes, social media platforms’ use of this term is ‘strategic’ [41], partly because it has ‘positive connotations of selflessness, equality, and giving’ [42]. Sharing masks platforms’ commercial imperatives and the significant lack of agency that users actually have over their data, though this is not necessarily what concerns my respondents. Their fandom is partly driven by their concerns around the consequences of sharing, such as having their secret or inauthentic identities exposed by other users. I make this argument in keeping with a wealth of other digital media scholars, particularly those concerned with users’ privacy. For example, Raynes-Goldie (2010) explores how young Facebook users protect and control their personal information by using aliases and having multiple accounts. Marwick and boyd similarly argue that teens’ ‘frequent sharing of digital content does not suggest that they share indiscriminately’ [43]. Whilst these findings resonate with my own, what is striking about my participants’ negotiations is that they are motivated by gendered derisions of their pleasures. Not only do we need to think more carefully about the lived experiences of digital embeddedness, but to consider how users’ practices are tied up with sexism, ageism, classism and other intersecting ‘isms’. Fans like Taylor and Amanda disembed from social media’s core logic by not sharing in all spaces equally, as this practice is done differently according to the purpose of the account. Put simply, sharing is strategic.

The final Pretty Little Liars fan who I introduce in this article is Taylor. Taylor self-identifies as a heterosexual and North American woman in her thirties, who lives with her husband and two-year-old daughter. She is a stay-at-home-mom who administers a Facebook Page and a Tumblr account, both of which are dedicated to a popular fan theory about the identity of -A: Pretty Little Liars’ anonymous villain. Similar to Amanda, Felix, Oscar and Reesa, the only people who know about Taylor’s fandom are her husband, her two sisters and one of her friends. Aside from her two teenage administrators who she has ‘friended’, Taylor keeps her personal Facebook Profile separate from her Page. Taylor partly hides her teen drama fandom because she thinks her fan identity is unacceptable, as it might be seen as ‘nerdy’ and ‘immature’, given her age. But she also hides her fandom because she recognizes that revealing her real identity poses various risks. For example, Taylor recalled an experience of harassment on her Facebook fan Page:

Oh, gosh, dude! I get-- No. People can be rude. People can be pretty little liars. This one girl, I don’t even know her name, and she has told me so many times that my theory is wrong for a million different reasons. [...] So she’ll just continue-- And go on my Page, and banter with people, telling them these stories! So she’s a pretty little liar. Yeah. [...] She is a weird thing. Maybe she just likes to torture me, I don’t know. [...] People can hack you and steal your Page. You have to be very careful. It’s very scary.

It is partly because of this experience that Taylor does not display her age or other identity markers on her Page and ‘just keep[s] it kind of anonymous’. Unlike Profiles, Facebook Pages do not request these details from users. Ellison, et al. (2016) explain that only platforms like 4chan and Yik Yak can facilitate anonymity as their users do not need to provide any information to participate, nor do they need to sign up using their e-mail addresses. In this example and in others, it is Taylor’s practice of pseudonymity that helps her to ‘facilitate non-identifiable content’ [44]. Although she is practicing pseudonymity, anonymity is still a powerful discourse for her. This resonates with Maltby, et al.’s suggestion that the term speaks more to the ‘feelings and imaginings of the user than it does to information or data privacy (Gerlitz and Helmond, 2013; Nissenbaum, 2009; Nissenbaum, 2011; Qian and Scott, 2007)’ [45]. In their research, the pseudonymous nature of British military forums allowed participants to ‘disclose experiences of mental health (direct or otherwise) without compromising their professional or social standing within the off-line military community’ [46]. This is especially important because of the stigmas surrounding mental health within the British military, demonstrating the value of pseudonymity and non-real name online spaces for those with controversial or derided identities.

My Skype interview with Taylor was particularly unique, as it was the first time that a non-interviewee joined in with our conversation. Taylor agreed to conduct a Skype video interview with me, and our discussion about her experiences of harassment occurred towards the end. As she was describing the event, her husband intervened and started to recall the ‘scary’ incident in his own words. He stepped into the frame in front of Taylor and expressed his anger that she had been harassed. He then took his and Taylor’s daughter out to a birthday party and the two of us were left alone to talk. Although Taylor is partly able to navigate these ‘very scary’ instances of harassment on social media, she understands that she cannot fully prevent them. Like the British military participants, she is selective about what she shares as she does not entirely trust this social media logic, particularly where details about her identity and also her family’s safety are concerned. I argue that her actions signal a strategy of sharing linked to her drive to disembed some parts of social media from others.

Amanda echoed Taylor’s experiences of harassment, describing numerous instances where other social media users have tried to figure out her identity:

I’ve had people try to figure out who I am. I’ve had somebody that actually figured it out, and posted my real name and my children’s names. [...] There was a guy that threatened to kill me. [...] He actually sent threats. It was really scary for someone to threaten you over comments about a TV show. [...] If you tell people who you are, you’re going to get hacked.

For Amanda, there are significant and scary risks to sharing your real identity with other Pretty Little Liars fans. She describes an instance where another fan ‘figured [...] out’ her real identity and where another user threatened her life. Similar to Taylor, Amanda feels that revealing her real identity will subject her to the risk of being hacked. Although Facebook Pages’ normalization of inauthenticity allows fans to conceal most of their identity markers, this does not eliminate certain risks. For many teen drama fans, particularly those who enact pseudonymous identities, sharing must be done with great care.

Fans’ strategies of sharing suggest that they are engaging in practices of disembedding. My respondents’ social media accounts have various and often conflicting purposes, which means they do not share in all online spaces equally. Although the normalization of inauthenticity on Facebook Pages and other platforms enables fans to conceal certain elements of their identity, this does not eliminate certain risks. Fans like Taylor and Amanda do not want their secret identities to be exposed, given their concerns that their subject positions — as thirty- and forty-something year old fans of a teen show — are derisible. Their acts of disembedding some social media spaces and identities from others signal the importance of broader cultural discourses in users’ decisions to share (or not to share). Fans also place the responsibility of negating these risks on to social media users rather than the platforms. Taylor for example explains that ‘you have to be careful’, and according to Amanda ‘if you tell people who you are, you’re going to get hacked’. Teen drama fans’ strategies of sharing are therefore shaped by their conscious and deliberate negotiations of perceived and actual risks.



Conclusions: Towards a disembedded approach to social media research

I began this paper with an anecdote, describing how two male, adult and heterosexual Pretty Little Liars fans, Felix and Oscar, try to maintain their acts of fandom as secrets. To keep their secret, they must carefully navigate three of social media’s core logics: (1) various platforms’ normalization of authentic identities, (2) the naturalization of its own embeddedness within everyday life, and (3) its demand that users engage in often risky practices of sharing. At the time of our interview, Felix and Oscar had managed to keep their secret — their guilty pleasure, to borrow from some of my other respondents — for several years, despite frequent and often confusing changes to social media platforms’ infrastructures and the emotional labor their secrecy demands. To understand how fans like Felix and Oscar use social media, this article challenges Hine’s (2015) embedded approach to Internet research and moves towards a disembedded model. Such an approach might be better equipped to reveal the tensions and negotiations of users’ social media activities, especially those with controversial identities. While Hine’s (2015) approach is useful for thinking about how social media companies try to naturalize platforms’ embeddedness within everyday life, this is not always desired by users and nor is it reflected in their behavior.

Fans like Felix and Oscar often consciously separate some social media spaces from parts of their other online/off-line lives and balance multiple identities across platforms, sometimes enacting distinct identities on the same platform (e.g., Facebook Pages and Profiles). If an embedded approach considers how ‘the Internet is embedded in everyday life’ [47], then a disembedded approach asks how social media users might deliberately try to separate their digital spaces and identities, for reasons not limited to the ones proposed in this article. A wholly embedded approach risks missing these subtle yet meaningful practices, and while I discuss them in relation to teen drama fans, other research by Dhoest and Szulc (2016), Ellison, et al. (2016), Maltby, et al. (2017) and others suggests the salience of these practices amongst many other social media users. While I do not deny that troubling and sometimes dangerous practices can occur when users adopt ‘secret’ identities on social media, not all of these users intend to cause harm. Teen drama fans — along with pop music fans, soap opera fans, romance and erotic fiction readers and those with other feminized and thus devalued pleasures — have very good reasons to desire secrecy. This makes it important to retain spaces where people can use social media without being linked to their legal or other identities. As more and more platforms embrace the logics of a real name Internet, perhaps disembedding will become a necessary practice for some users.

This article has shown how some social media users both resist and are conditioned by platforms’ core logics: a tension that an embedded approach to social media research, I argue, risks missing. It has offered various explanations for Pretty Little Liars fans’ acts of disembedding, primarily arguing that their negotiations of social media must be understood as a direct response to longstanding cultural devaluations of feminized popular cultures and behaviors. Social media partly enables fans to maintain secrecy in the face of such derisions, yet this practice also creates various uncontrollable risks, especially the exposure of their secret identities. The relationship between Pretty Little Liars fans and social media is complex, riddled with tensions between digital embeddedness and practices of disembedding and is centrally driven by pernicious derisions of their pleasures. End of article


About the author

Ysabel Gerrard is a Research Intern at the Microsoft Research Social Media Collective, New England (Summer 2017) and a Lecturer in Digital Media and Society at the University of Sheffield. Her research explores the tensions between social media platforms and their users, with a focus on people’s gendered and other identities. Ysabel has published in the Journal of Communication Inquiry and is a co-organizer of the Data Power Conference.
E-mail: Y [dot] Gerrard [at] sheffield [dot] ac [dot] uk



Many thanks to Helen Kennedy, Helen Thornham and Nancy Thumim for their feedback on earlier drafts of this article.



1. Pretty Little Liars (2010–2017) is a fictional U.S. teen drama series that aired on Freeform (formerly ABC Family). The show ran for seven seasons and told the story of four female friends — Aria, Emily, Hanna and Spencer — who were tormented and threatened by the show’s anonymous villain, ‘-A’.

2. ‘Secrecy’ is a discourse used by some platforms in the social media ecosystem (see van Dijck, 2013): for example users can create secret boards on Pinterest, make secret playlists on Spotify, or share secret links to their tracks on SoundCloud. Although this article is concerned with the ways fans maintain their secrecy and the meaningfulness of this term, its appropriation by platforms would be an interesting research topic.

3. Braithwaite, 2014, p. 705.

4. Hine, 2015, p. 33.

5. Lewis, 1992, p. iv. See Hills, 2012, for a more recent iteration of this argument.

6. Brunsdon, 1997, p. 2, emphasis in original.

7. Van der Graaf, 2014, p. 38.

8. Zubernis and Larsen, 2013, p. 4.

9. Braithwaite, 2014, p. 705.

10. Gill, 2011, p. 67.

11. Hills, 2012, p. 123.

12. See H. Kennedy (2006) for a useful discussion of these differences.

13. Turkle, 1995, p. 12.

14. Ibid.

15. Maris, 2016, p. 128.

16. Hine, 2015, p. 33.

17. Pink, et al., 2016, p. 8.

18. van Dijck and Poell, 2013, p. 3.

19. Light, 2014, p. 17.

20. Ellison, et al., 2016, p. 11.

21. Dhoest and Szulc, 2016, p. 9.

22. Facebook, 2016c.

23. Facebook, 2016a.

24. Facebook, 2016d.

25. Haimson and Hoffmann, 2016, n.p.

26. Patelis, 2013, p. 122.

27. McNicol, 2013, p. 201.

28. Ellison, et al., 2016, p. 2.

29. Ibid.

30. Maltby, et al., 2017, p. 3.

31. Bachmann, et al., 2017, p. 241.

32. McKee and Porter, 2009, p. 102.

33. Buchanan, 2010, p. 92.

34. Reesa also writes fan fiction and publishes her stories on Wattpad, which exists within the same social media ecosystem, to borrow from van Dijck (2013).

35. Haimson and Hoffmann, 2016, n.p.

36. Van der Nagel and Frith, 2015, n.p.

37. Donath, 2014, n.p. See Ellison, et al., 2016, for a discussion of the ‘spectrum’ of anonymity.

38. See Bachmann, et al., 2017, for a discussion of the rising value of anonymity.

39. Patelis, 2013, p. 122.

40. Haimson and Hoffmann, 2016, n.p.

41. J. Kennedy, 2013, p. 128.

42. John, 2013, p. 132.

43. Marwick and boyd, 2014, p. 1,052.

44. Hogan, 2013, p. 4, emphases in original.

45. Maltby, et al., 2017, p. 3.

46. Maltby, et al., 2017, p. 6.

47. Hine, 2015, p. 33.



Götz Bachmann, Michi Knecht and Andreas Wittel, 2017. “The social productivity of anonymity,” Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, volume 17, number 2, pp. 241–258, at http://www.ephemerajournal.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/issue/17-2ephemera-june17.pdf, accessed 5 July 2017.

Paul Baker, 2001. “Moral panic and alternative identity construction in Usenet,” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, volume 7, number 1.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2001.tb00136.x, accessed 3 July 2017.

Nancy Baym, 2000. Tune in, log on: Soaps, fandom, and online community. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Arthur Asa Berger, 2014. Media and communication research methods: An introduction to qualitative and quantitative approaches. Third edition. Los Angeles, Calif.: Sage.

Kelly Bergstrom, 2011. “‘Don’t feed the troll!’: Shutting down debate about community expectations on Reddit.com,” First Monday, volume 16, number 8, at http://firstmonday.org/article/view/3498/3029, accessed 23 March 2017.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v16i8.3498, accessed 14 July 2017.

danah boyd, 2014. It’s complicated: the social lives of networked teens. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

danah boyd, 2011. “‘Real names’ policies are an abuse of power,” Zephoria (4 August), at http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2011/08/04/real-names.html, accessed 11 October 2016.

Andrea Braithwaite, 2014. “‘Seriously, get out’: Feminists on the forums and the War(craft) on women,” New Media & Society, volume 16, number 5, pp. 703–718.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444813489503, accessed 2 December 2016.

Charlotte Brunsdon, 1997. Screen tastes: Soap opera to satellite dishes. London: Routledge.

Elizabeth Buchanan, 2010. “Internet research ethics: Past, present, and future,” In: Mia Consalvo and Charles Ess (editors). Handbook of Internet studies. Malden, Mass.: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 83–108.
doi: https://doi.org/0.1002/9781444314861.ch5, accessed 14 July 2017.

Matt Burgess, 2016. “Twitter opens verification to all. Here’s how to get your blue tick,” Wired (20 July), at http://www.wired.co.uk/article/how-to-get-verified-twitter-uk-account-blue-tick, accessed 22 November 2016.

Josh Constine and Kim-Mai Cutler, 2012. “Facebook buys Instagram for $1 billion, turns budding rival into its standalone photo app,” TechCrunch (9 April), at https://techcrunch.com/2012/04/09/facebook-to-acquire-instagram-for-1-billion/, accessed 19 January 2017.

Alexander Dhoest and Lukasz Szulc, 2016. “Navigating online selves: Social, cultural, and material contexts of social media use by diasporic gay men,” Social Media + Society, volume 2, number 4.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305116672485, accessed 28 June 2017.

José van Dijck, 2013. The culture of connectivity: A critical history of social media. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

José van Dijck and Thomas Poell, 2013. “Understanding social media logic,” Media and Communication, volume 1, number 1, at http://www.cogitatiopress.com/mediaandcommunication/article/view/70, accessed 20 April 2016.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.17645/mac.v1i1.70, accessed 28 June 2017.

Judith Donath, 2014. “Why we need online alter egos now more than ever,” Wired (25 April), at https://www.wired.com/2014/04/why-we-need-online-alter-egos-now-more-than-ever/, accessed 13 July 2017.

Judith Donath, 1999. “Identity and deception in the virtual community,” In: Marc A. Smith and Peter Kollock (editors). Communities in cyberspace. London: Routledge, pp. 29–59.

Nicole B. Ellison, Lindsay Blackwell, Cliff Lampe and Penny Trieu, 2016. “The question exists, but you don’t exist with it”: Strategic anonymity in the social lives of adolescents,” Social Media + Society, volume 2, number 4.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305116670673, accessed 26 June 2017.

Facebook, 2016a. “Community standards,” at https://www.facebook.com/communitystandards#using-your-authentic-identity, accessed 14 December 2016.

Facebook, 2016b. “Facebook Pages terms,” at https://www.facebook.com/page_guidelines.php, accessed 15 December 2016.

Facebook, 2016c. “What names are allowed on Facebook?” at https://www.facebook.com/help/112146705538576?helpref=topq, accessed 14 December 2016.

Facebook, 2016d. “What types of ID does Facebook accept?” at https://www.facebook.com/help/159096464162185, accessed 14 December 2016.

Christine Geraghty, 2008. “Women and 1960s British cinema: The development of the ‘Darling’ girl,” In: Robert Murphy (editor). British cinema book. Third edition. London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 101–108.

Rosalind Gill, 2011. “Sexism reloaded, or, it’s time to get angry again!” Feminist Media Studies, volume 11, number 1, pp. 61–71.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2011.537029, accessed 20 April 2016.

Oliver L. Haimson and Anna Lauren Hoffmann, 2016. “Constructing and enforcing ‘authentic’ identity online: Facebook, real names, and non-normative identities,” First Monday, volume 21, number 6, at http://firstmonday.org/article/view/6791/5521, accessed 2 February 2017.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v21i6.6791, accessed 2 February 2017.

Rosemary Hill, Helen Kennedy and Ysabel Gerrard, 2016. “Visualizing junk: Big data visualizations and the need for feminist data studies,” Journal of Communication Inquiry, volume 40, number 4, pp. 331–350.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0196859916666041, accessed 24 November 2016.

Matt Hills, 2012. “‘Twilight’ fans represented in commercial para-texts and inter-fandoms: Resisting and repurposing negative fan stereotypes,” In: Anne Morey (editor). Genre, reception, and adaptation in the ‘Twilight’ series. Aldershot: Ashgate, pp. 113–130.

Christine Hine, 2015. Ethnography for the Internet: Embedded, embodied and everyday. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Bernie Hogan, 2013. “Pseudonyms and the rise of the real-name Web,” In: John Hartley, Jean Burgess and Axel Bruns (editors). A companion to new media dynamics. Chichester: Wiley, pp. 290–307.

Joli Jenson, 1992. “Fandom as pathology,” In: Lisa A. Lewis (editor). The adoring audience: Fan culture and popular media. London: Routledge, pp. 9–29.

Nicholas A. John, 2016. The age of sharing. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Nicholas A. John, 2013. “Sharing and Web 2.0: the emergence of a keyword,” New Media & Society, volume 15, number 2, pp. 167–182.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444812450684, accessed 19 January 2017.

Lori Kendall, 1999. “Recontextualizing ‘cyberspace’: Methodological considerations for online research,” In: Steve Jones (editor). Doing Internet research: Critical issues and methods for examining the Net. London: Sage, pp. 57–74.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781452231471.n3, accessed 14 July 2017.

Helen Kennedy, 2016. Post, mine, repeat: Social media data mining becomes ordinary. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Helen Kennedy, 2006. “Beyond anonymity, or future directions for Internet identity research,” New Media & Society, volume 8, number 6, pp. 859–876.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444806069641, accessed 17 January 2017.

Jenny Kennedy, 2013. “Rhetorics of sharing: Data, imagination, and desire,” In: Geert Lovinik and Miriam Rasch (editors). Unlike us reader: Social media monopolies and their alternatives. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, pp. 127–136.

Lisa A. Lewis (editor), 1992. The adoring audience: Fan culture and popular media. London: Routledge.

Ben Light, 2014. Disconnecting with social networking sites. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Sarah Maltby, Helen Thornham and Daniel Bennett, 2017. “Beyond ‘pseudonymity’: The sociotechnical structure of online military forums,” New Media & Society (1 June).
doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444817707273, accessed 1 July 2017.

Elena Maris, 2016. “Hacking Xena: Technological innovation and queer influence in the production of mainstream television,” Critical Studies in Media Communication, volume 33, number 1, pp. 123–137.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15295036.2015.1129063, accessed 1 July 2017.

Annette Markham, 1998. Life online: Researching real experience in virtual space. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Altamira Press.

Annette Markham and Elizabeth Buchanan, 2012. “Ethical decision-making and Internet research: Recommendations from the AoIR Ethics Working Committee (version 2.0),” at https://aoir.org/reports/ethics2.pdf, accessed 19 December 2016.

Alice E. Marwick, 2013. Status update: Celebrity, publicity, and branding in the social media age. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

Alice E. Marwick and danah boyd, 2014. “Networked privacy: How teenagers negotiate context in social media,” New Media & Society, volume 16, number 7, pp. 1,051–1,067.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444814543995, accessed 18 March 2017.

Heidi McKee and James E. Porter, 2009. The ethics of Internet research: A rhetorical, case-based process. New York: Peter Lang.

Andrew McNicol, 2013. “None of your business? Analyzing the legitimacy and effects of gendering social spaces through system design,” In: Geert Lovinik and Miriam Rasch (editors). Unlike us reader: Social media monopolies and their alternatives. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, pp. 200–219.

Cristina Miguel, 2016. “Visual intimacy on social media: From selfies to the co-construction of intimacies through shared pictures,” Social Media + Society, volume 2, number 2.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305116641705, accessed 24 March 2017.

Daniel Miller and Don Slater, 2000. The Internet: An ethnographic approach. Oxford: Berg.

Korinna Patelis, 2013. “Political economy and monopoly abstractions: What social media demand,” In: Geert Lovinik and Miriam Rasch (editors). Unlike us reader: Social media monopolies and their alternatives. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, pp. 117–126.

Whitney Phillips, 2011. “LOLing at tragedy: Facebook trolls, memorial pages and resistance to grief online,” First Monday, volume 16, number 12, at http://firstmonday.org/article/view/3168/3115, accessed 23 March 2017.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v16i12.3168, accessed 23 March 2017.

Sarah Pink, 2012. Situating everyday life: Practices and places. London: Sage.

Sarah Pink, Heather Horst, John Postill, Larissa Hjorth, Tania Lewis and Jo Tacchi, 2016. Digital ethnography: Principles and practice. Los Angeles, Calif.: Sage.

Sadie Plant, 1997. Zeroes + ones: Digital women + the new technoculture. London: Fourth Estate.

Pretty Little Liars, 2010–2017. [Television series]. Freeform, at http://freeform.go.com/shows/pretty-little-liars, accessed 14 July 2017.

Kate Raynes-Goldie, 2010. “Aliases, creeping, and wall cleaning: Understanding privacy in the age of Facebook,” First Monday, volume 15, number 1, at http://firstmonday.org/article/view/2775/2432, accessed 2 February 2017.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v15i1.2775, accessed 2 February 2017.

Revenge, 2011–2015. [Television series]. ABC.

Allucquère Rosanne Stone, 1995. The war of desire and technology at the close of the mechanical age. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Carrie Tarr, 1985. “‘Sapphire’, ‘Darling’ and the boundaries of permitted pleasure,” Screen, volume 26, number 1, pp. 50–65.
doi: https://doi.org/10.1093/screen/26.1.5, accessed 27 October 2016.

Sherry Turkle, 1995. Life on the screen: Identity in the age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster.

The Vampire Diaries, 2009–2017. [Television series]. The CW, at http://www.cwtv.com/shows/the-vampire-diaries/, accessed 14 July 2017.

Shenja van der Graaf, 2014. “Much ado about Keanu Reeves: the drama of ageing in online fandom,” in Linda Duits, Koos Zwaan and Stijn Reijnders (editors). Ashgate research companion to fan cultures. Farnham: Ashgate, pp. 35–48.

Emily van der Nagel and Jordan Frith, 2015. “Anonymity, pseudonymity, and the agency of online identity: Examining the social practices of r/Gonewild,” First Monday, volume 20, number 3, at http://firstmonday.org/article/view/5615/4346, accessed 17 October 2016.
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v20i3.5615, accessed 17 October 2016.

Lynn Zubernis and Katherine Larsen, 2013. Fandom at the crossroads: Celebration, shame and fan/producer relationships. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars.


Editorial history

Received 6 May 2017; revised 14 July 2017; accepted 15 July 2017.

Creative Commons License
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

“It’s a secret thing”: Digital disembedding through online teen drama fandom
by Ysabel Gerrard.
First Monday, Volume 22, Number 8 - 7 August 2017
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v22i18.7877

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

© First Monday, 1995-2020. ISSN 1396-0466.