It's an amazing reality that men and women in their 20s can look back through their Facebook posts and see a big chunk of their life recorded in words and pictures like never before.

So what do they think when they review the past five years and look at themselves through the window that is social media?

University of Tasmania School of Social Sciences sociology lecturer Dr Brady Robards is about to find out through a new research project that studies the effect of sustained Facebook use.

It's an area he has researched before – how people use MySpace, how people tell stories about themselves online, how people manage their sense of identity online and also the fraught world of "friending" practices.

"Now I want to look at how disclosure practices have changed over time," he said.

"These are people who were probably only 15 or 16 when they started using Facebook, and I want them to look back at their social media lives and gauge their reaction to what they did or didn't disclose to friends and strangers, depending on their level of privacy."

Dr Robards is working on the project with Dr Sian Lincoln, a senior lecturer in sociology at John Moores University in Liverpool, England.

He recently travelled to the UK to work with Dr Lincoln and co-present some of their preliminary research at a youth cultures symposium.

The pair recently co-edited a special issue of the prestigious journal New Media & Society on the topic of "10 Years of Facebook", which included some of the world's leading new media scholars.

Each of them has interviewed 10 people for the project, but are looking for more participants for the small-scale, qualitative research project, which uses unusual methodology in that the subjects are asked to scroll through their Facebook profiles online while answering a series of questions.

"It's a very personal experience," Dr Robards said.

"Often we're learning things about them while they are reflecting on their lives – it's like sitting down and flipping through a journal and a photo album about yourself with strangers."

It's not unusual for young people to go back and start deleting things that might potentially be negative

The researchers are already finding a tendency for their subjects to post less personal information as times goes on.

"They're not using Facebook less, but they are posting less," Dr Robards said.

"Even though they might log on every single day, they are posting less content than they did when they were younger.

"I haven't come to any conclusions around that yet, but I suspect people are growing up, their life is becoming more stabilised and they're gaining a better sense of who they are and what they want to do with their lives.

"I think they are becoming better listeners instead of speakers."

With Facebook recently celebrating its 10th birthday, the spotlight has been turned on the conventions around use of the site going forward.

Lessons have been learned over time, its power and popularity have been proven, and social media use is finally considered an essential part of the education curriculum, starting in primary school.

"The message around responsible use of Facebook is getting through – I know two of my study participants, both med students at University, talked about finishing their studies and as part of their career advice they were reminded about how prospective employers might look up their profiles and judge them on what they find," Dr Robards said.

"It's not unusual for young people to go back and start deleting things that might potentially be negative and be a barrier to getting a job.

"On the other side of things, I think it's important fear doesn't take the fun and colour out of life. It's a balancing act to get the self-censorship right – should we really have to remove that picture of us with a beer in our hand?

"It will be interesting to see how conscious people become of maintaining the right impression online – we all choose how to portray ourselves in front of different people, from our friends and family to employers, clients and colleagues.

"Being on Facebook is like being in a room with all of these people at once and trying to be authentic in what kind of person you are at the same time to each of them."

The Facebook research was made possible by a University of Tasmania internal grant of $12,000 through the Research Enhancement Grants Scheme.

REGS aims to help early to mid-career academics increase their competitiveness for external research funding and Dr Robards is hopeful his research will do just that so the project can go nationwide.

Interested in conducting your own research? Apply now to become a research student.

About Dr Brady Robards

Dr Brady Robards is a Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Social Sciences. Brady's research is focussed on the role digital social media (like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Reddit) in mediating the social and cultural lives of their users. These sites and apps come to serve as spaces for identity-work and for the formation and articulation of systems of belonging, but they are also increasingly acting as memory archives.

View Dr Brady Robards's full researcher profile