Facebook: how our patterns of social networking can reflect one’s psychological functioning

If you’ve ever felt annoyed, amused, baffled, or disturbed by the various ways people use social networking sites such as Facebook, this article is for you.

“Can you believe she posted that status update/picture?” “Why would he write that on my wall, where everyone can see it?” “Why do people do that on Facebook, with no concern for how awkward or irritating it is for other people to see?” “I can’t take it anymore. I’m unfriending this person!”

These are actual statements I’ve heard from people, in frustration towards others’ differences in personal boundaries on social networking sites such as Facebook. Quite often we see stark contrasts in the social judgment of our friends, family members, co-workers and acquaintances as they reveal themselves in various ways on Facebook. If we look closely, we can begin to understand these differences in social judgment (as well as our responses to them) as a reflection of our psychological functioning. The following list serves to capture a just few of the ways people behave and react to differences in social networking patterns.

How much do we share?

Actual example from a Facebook user*:

Status update: “I’m sorry FB…but I’m the luckiest woman in the world to be having multiple orgasms instead of having to fake it like my girlfriends…” (boyfriend chimes in with a response post, stating “I bring my A-game for you baby”) (*source is confidential)

How much do we share? Facebook is essentially a place to share- what we do, how we look, what we like/dislike, etc. If you’re not comfortable with learning personal details about someone else’s life online, then Facebook is likely not for you. Yet the degree to which an average Facebook user observes private matters via posts and pictures can vary from an enjoyable opportunity to catch up with others, to unsettling, or even offensive. Facebook users that push the boundaries of social etiquette are particularly controversial. When people share highly intimate or sensationalized information on Facebook, they may revel in shocking their audience and crave attention from others, whether good or bad. This may come from an underlying need to ‘stand out’ as special and different. Or perhaps it is an unwillingness to recognize that others might be offended by their display of private details in a widely public arena.

How much do we observe? Most of us have probably spent more time than we’d like to admit looking at others’ pictures, or perusing through someone’s wall on Facebook. In some instances, we may not know all of our Facebook friends in such a way that would afford this much access to their personal information. Yet our curiosity compels us to peek, perhaps as a means to increase feeling connected, or closer to people. Or in some cases, we feel compelled to pry in order to compare ourselves to others (regardless of how well we know someone) as a way to judge our own success or happiness. This addictive quality keeps Facebook’s typical user on the site for an average of 169 minutes a month according to ComScore. Compare that with Google News, where the average reader spends 13 minutes a month checking up on the world, or the New York Times website, which holds on to readers for a mere ten minutes a month.

How much space do we take up? We’ve all had the experience of opening up our Facebook News Feed, and found that certain people take up an exorbitant amount of space through higher frequencies of sharing. Some of us perceive this as social entitlement, which can drive us to feel annoyed, resentful and even superior to those who openly ‘ask for our attention.’ This can feel especially irritating when other people share strong opinions or make lifestyle choices that are different from our own. How much space we take (or don’t take) on Facebook may reflect our expectation of the attention we feel we deserve from others.

Does Facebook allow us to be someone different than in our everyday life? Online interactions, as opposed to face-to-face interactions may allow or encourage some people to be more confrontational, racier, sexier, more militant, or melodramatic than might be acceptable in their daily life. Adopting new behaviors or personas via Facebook can feel liberating, without the discomfort of facing people’s immediate reactions to a stronger display of personality. We may gain the sympathy and/or support that we may not have (but want) in our everyday lives.

At it’s best, Facebook is a social opportunity that allows us to share our lives with others, support our friends, family and acquaintances with the happenings of their daily experiences, and actively expand our social connections. Yet, to others it can feel like a chaotic free-for-all that invites people to bend social rules of etiquette.

When it comes to Facebook, everyone seems to have an opinion. What’s yours? Leave comments on this page with anecdotes that capture your experience of Facebook. I, for one, would love to read them!

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