A paper I wrote in 2010 about Facebook

by elusiveunderstanding5

Natural selection has taken its course on seemingly every facet of human life. Communication is by no means oblivious to this trend. This is startlingly evident through the various changes and advances that have occurred in the world of communication throughout the last several decades or so. Society has come a long way since pigeons were used to send messages and telegrams have long since become obsolete. Instant messaging was wildly popular during the 90’s but has recently given way to the phenomenon known as texting. Furthermore, the practice of sending letters has yielded to the more popular method of sending electronic mail or e-mail. Inevitably, these advances ultimately gave rise to social networking sites such as Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter.            There seems to be a correlation between the level of laziness in the masses and the innovation of products that embody convenience. Forms of communication between human beings seem to be impacted by this need for convenience and ultimately new products evolve as such. It seems the masses would much rather have the ‘world’ at their fingertips than exert any real effort towards performing even the most benign of tasks. Thus, it can be observed that Facebook may appeal to users due to the inherent convenience associated with such a site. Rather than engaging in the painstaking effort that real-world relationships sometimes require, users can simply ‘skip’ ahead and take solace behind the computer screen. This provides even the most unassertive of people a chance to participate socially in ways they may not do so in real-life situations.

Social networking sites started out innocently enough. Originally, Myspace started out as a site for aspiring musicians and Facebook use was limited to college students. However, it did not seem, at the time, that these sites would ultimately develop to the extent they have today. Sites such as Myspace and Facebook have pushed the boundaries of social networking beyond the parameters of anything anyone could have envisioned. Facebook and Twitter have both become so entrenched in popular culture that there are various shows and movies that display people utilizing these sites. Also, sites such as Friendster initially attracted younger users, as the majority of the users were adolescents. However, Facebook and Twitter have broken the ‘barrier’ so to speak and opened the door to millions of users of all ages from all walks of life. Facebook has become an international phenomenon which appeals to people from various countries and people of various ethnicities as everyone desires the need to keep in touch with friends and loved ones. What, if any, effect have sites such as Facebook and Twitter had on the seemingly malleable nature of communication. Have social networking sites forever fractured the intimate nature of our social relationships?

Relationships require time and effort in order to grow and become long-lasting. Facebook and social networking sites in general have become akin to the ‘frozen food’ of communication. These sites are incredibly convenient as they provide an alternative method to simply calling someone or meeting in person. Furthermore, these sites provide a form of ‘connection’ as users create profiles by providing a plethora of information about themselves. This information can range anywhere from the most intimate of details to the most trivial idiosyncrasy. These profiles provide a window into the lives of these individuals and seemingly eliminate the problem of geographic distance. However, as is the case with frozen food, many may argue that the traditional bonds of communication are being neglected for the quick and convenient façade of communication in the cyber world. Meaning, experts may question if any real connection is being made in this cyber world? Furthermore, experts may also ponder if social networking is just a convenient but ultimately ineffective substitute for the fostering of real-world relationships?

Many people, experts and laymen alike, would speculate that shy people would most probably spend more time on sites such as Facebook. Perhaps, sites such as Facebook provide these users with a sense of comfort and ‘social control’ that they otherwise may never experience. For instance, McKenna and Bargh proposed that variables associated with online communication, such as anonymity, the bridging of physical distance, perceived control of conversations, and overcoming the barrier of physical attractiveness, can be appealing to CMC users (McKenna and Bargh, pg. 337 ). CMC is a term which refers to computer mediated communication in this particular scenario. Interestingly enough, researchers found a negative correlation between shy users and email usage (Madell & Muncer). Furthermore, this negative correlation did not extend to instant messaging or the use of chat rooms. Madell and Muncer subsequently provided a hypothesis that asserted that this negative correlation had to with the fact that shy users did not have sufficient social contacts. Therefore, shy users did not email as much as others and naturally settled for sites such as Facebook and Myspace.

            Also, it has been established that shy individuals would be more willing and more accepting of potential online-relationships than non-shy individuals. With that being said, shy people still tended to have a more difficult time maintaining their online-relationships than non-shy participants (Sheeks & Birchmeier). These findings suggest that although shy individuals have fewer friends than other nonshy users, shy users tend to have more favorable views of social networking sites such as Facebook. Overall, the studies support the hypothesis that shy users tend to have more positive outlooks or attitudes toward Facebook and other social-networking sites. This positive attitude of shy users toward Facebook is measured by means of a correlational analysis. However, it should be noted, this particular study was done only on the university students demographic. Facebook has evolved and no academic affiliation is needed in order to possess an account. As a result, this study is somewhat limited in its scope and is not fully representative of the Facebook population. With all of that being said, this study does bring forth some interesting information and it lays the blueprints for future research regarding sites such as Facebook.

            The importance of image and/or appearance is heavily ingrained in human culture. Social networking is no exception as users attempt to express themselves through the information provided in their profiles and the various interactions through messaging, chatting, and posting on each other’s walls. Facebook users often try to portray an image to whomever they perceive to be their audience. However, this can lead to problems as users, often in the college-age demographic, tend to post inappropriate pictures, statuses, and comments regarding various happenings in their life. This can lead to potential problems as employers have been known to use social networking sites in order to recruit potential employees. For instance, a study conducted at the University of Dayton revealed that 40% of employers would consider applicants’ Facebook profiles as part of their hiring decision (Lupsa, 2006).

            One of the reasons users post such intimate details of their life on social-networking sites is the belief that no one other than their friends is going to see the information (Lupsa,2006). This may have been a molehill of misconception that has quickly transformed into a mountain that is devoid of privacy. For instance, Facebook was originally used by college campuses as the site was strictly for college students. However, the site has since opened up to everyone regardless of academic affiliation; as a result, privacy controls on the website sometimes have been bypassed, often unbeknownst to the user, by the various applications Facebook offers. Furthermore, there is evidence to support the fact that the information in a user’s profile goes hand in hand with that user’s intended image. Meaning, college kids will often post photos laced with alcohol-induced activities and sexual proclivities in order to appear as “wild” or cool to their audience: their peers. In comparison to older generations, many have speculated that the younger generations do not care as deeply for privacy. For instance, others have suggested that young people today have a “willingness, bordering on compulsion, to broadcast the details of their private lives to the general public” (St. John, 2006, Section 9, Page 8).

            Research has found that both males and females place increasing emphasis on physical appearance and popularity (Suitor and Carter, 1999). As a result, many males and females post certain things and/or share certain information in order to appeal to the opposite sex. Therefore, many of the sexually suggestive or scantily-clad pictures are simply a method of giving off an image that users feel their intended audience craves. Irony lies in the fact that most of the users who post such information would not want their family members or potential employers looking over the same information. Image played a key role as it was determined that users consciously tried to portray a certain kind of image through their profiles. For instance, users that felt their profile was wild and/or sexually appealing were more likely to post inappropriate information. On the other hand, users who felt their profile showed that they were hard-working and intelligent were less likely to post inappropriate information (Joy Peluchette, Katherine Karl). It is also interesting to note that males were more likely than females to post inappropriate information or problematic profile content (Joy Peluchette, Katherine Karl). Therefore, it is interesting to see how image plays such an integral role even in the setting of social networking sites. In face-to-face interaction, people stress the importance of first impressions and that thought process apparently carries over to the world of social-networking as well.

            Sites such as Facebook are exhibiting tremendous growth and it does not seem the popularity of such sites is going to stop anytime soon. Due to this growth, there is an excessive amount of user-generated information available to both the masses and professionals. Therefore, it is only natural if, sooner or later, professionals start pondering if they can gather some insight into the reasons people have for using such sites and also what users intend to do on such sites. The aim of such questions is to assess whether or not experts can obtain psychologically valid information via information provided on social networking sites and if they can utilize that information to make psychological predictions.

            A copious number of people search for romantic partners on sites such as Facebook. Perhaps, this is a matter of convenience as users can learn quite a bit about a person they’ve never met by reading the information given on their profile. Furthermore, there may be a reason why some users share more information than others. For instance, users can distinguish themselves… “by leaving subtle profile cues to indicate their interest in finding romantic partners they would be interested in dating” (p. 347, part of a quote, Young, Dutta, Dommety). It may even go beyond that as social networking sites can perhaps be used to obtain information that may not be explicitly stated (p. 347, Rapid Communication). For example, certain users offer their religious or political affiliations and it can be studied, whether or not; these users are searching for people who share the same traits and/or opinions.

            Something as seemingly trivial as posting one’s relationship status as single can signify a lot about a person and his/her reason for using Facebook and such sites. Research has shown that users who put men or women in the “interested in” field are much more likely to list their relationship status as single (Young ET AL). As a result, psychological inferences can be made based on the information given by each unique individual. Ultimately, in the future, researches will be able to analyze and learn quite a bit about human behavior on social networking sites due to the multitude of user-generated profile content (Young ET AL). As one can see, there seem to be reasons behind why certain types of people use Facebook more than other people. Furthermore, there seems to be a method behind the madness, so to speak, as people put more information about themselves in order to attract other users who share the same traits. Therefore, the search for compatibility is not limited to real-life interaction as users on Facebook often search for like-minded friends and potential mates.

Facebook has become so entrenched in the lives of adolescents that it potentially morphs users into a cyber version of a “stalker”. For instance, the mini-feed provides a plethora of information about the people on one’s friends list. Often times, this feed lists a copious amount of miscellaneous information that one would normally not know. As a result, a lot of Facebook users are privy to information that they shouldn’t know or were not intended to know. Hallie Skinner, who was a senior at Topeka High, is no stranger to the allure of Facebook as she too had become immersed in its clutches (Topeka Capital-Journal).

Hallie, like many others, is an adolescent that has developed a near-obsession with Facebook and neglects everything else just to check out the latest notification. However, this article was written at the time Facebook was only for college students. Therefore, everything Hallie says can essentially be multiplied by a million so to speak. These days there is no need for an academic affiliation; as a result, millions of strangers can see information about other users. These are users that they may not even personally know. Facebook has privacy settings but these settings are often compromised by the myriad applications offered on the site. As a result, often times, user’s profiles are fair game and can even be found on search engines such as google and yahoo. Hallie pinpoints one of the major problems with Facebook despite its intended purpose to connect people. Hallie was tired and wanted to go to sleep; however, she chose to remain on Facebook and peruse over people’s profiles and photos (Topeka-Capital Journal). This may seem like an innocent example; however, this shows the growing distraction that Facebook has become in certain user’s lives. Any library in any university or college setting will showcase the obsession with social-networking. During Finals week, one will find a copious number of students studying people’s profiles more studiously than the text they’re supposed to be studying.

Facebook is a free service but advertisements have played a major role on the site as of late. As a result, there has been an uproar due to the concerns of users regarding the privacy settings. It seems advertisers, or those posing as such, are able to acquire private information from user’s accounts such as sexual orientation (Miguel Helft, New York Times). This raises serious questions about Facebook’s security settings as it allows users to select who is able to access and see their account. It seems that setting is being bypassed by advertisements and as a result; it allows advertisers to not only learn potentially private information but it allows them to make ads that cater to particular users. Researchers from Microsoft in India and researchers in Germany discovered that ad companies have ways of learning specific information about users (Miguel Helft, New York Times). There was a study done in order to confirm this belief that advertisers can learn potentially private information. Six nearly identical profiles were created: comprised of three male and three female users (Miguel Helft, New York Times).

​One profile of each gender was shown to be interested in the same sex. Each profile was shown different ads but it was discovered that the ‘gay’ users were shown ads that the straight users were never shown (Miguel Helft, New York Times). Furthermore, there were ads shown to the gay users that had nothing to do with sexual preference. If the said user clicked on such an ad, then that would reveal to the advertisers that that particular user was gay. Therefore, one can see why there’s such an issue of the privacy settings on Facebook. Users feel safe and post intimate details of their life on Facebook only to realize, later on, that their security is being compromised. This draws into question whether or not it’s safe or healthy for people to post so much information on a public networking site in the first place?

There seems to be an obsession among users on Facebook with how many friends they have and who “liked” their most recent status update. The number of friends one has may seem shallow but it speaks volumes to other users who view the site. For instance, it’s believed that narcissistic people, especially, tend to use Facebook for self-promotion and adding a copious number of friends (PHYSORG, Uni. of Georgia study). These are people that come off as quite charming and they sustain a numerous number of social relationships. Matter of fact, these people may even cause other users to become envious. However, in the long run, the study shows these people form shallow relationships for the most part (PHYSORG, Uni. of Georgia study). Researchers found there’s a correlation between the number of friends and wall posts and narcissism. Furthermore, there’s a parallel between how narcissists behave in the real-world and also on social networking sites such as Facebook (PHYSORG, Uni. of Georgia). Narcissism is a particular trait of interest because these are people that ultimately have intimacy issues and usually struggle with forming deep long-lasting relationships. Apparently, this maladaptive behavior carries over to the world of social networking as these users have an exorbitant number of friends.

As exposure to Facebook increases, it is only natural to ponder the effects this exposure has on our personal relationships. Facebook can be thought of as cyber voyeurism as it allows a user to get as close as possible without a physical meeting. With the availability of all the trivial details of one’s life, people are given an unprecedented view into the lives of others. As a result, it is logical to conclude that misunderstandings may arise due to the vast amount of miscellaneous information apparent in user’s profiles. It seems there is a correlation between the amounts of time spent on Facebook and the particular levels of jealousy in particular relationships (MUISE ET AL). This makes sense as mates have access to so much more information due to sites such as Facebook. They learn every minute detail of their partner and also they can monitor their partner’s page in order to view other females talking to their partner. As a result, misunderstandings can arise as playful flirting can be misinterpreted as cheating or perhaps a potential problem for the relationship.

When the issue is scrutinized, it can be ascertained that the research regarding the effect of social-networking sites on traditional communication is in its infancy. With that being said, skeptics fear what the future holds as the masses seem to be getting away from face-to-face communication. Furthermore, skills such as interpreting body language and facial expression seem to be giving way to social networking and the use of emoticons. However, it is a complex issue as sites such as Facebook have positive aspects as well. Sites such as Facebook provide users with a medium that allows them to keep in touch with certain friends and/or family.

However, the level of connection that these sites provide has yet to be measured. For instance, it seems Facebook has become an immense distraction for college-aged kids as it deters their focus and prevents them from putting in the proper effort in studying. Therefore, this brings into question how long people should spend on such sites. Of course, results vary by individual as there are users who seem to use Facebook moderately and still function academically. There is still a lot of research to be conducted before one has an accurate view of the effects of social networking on the traditional bonds of communication. Whatever the case, social networking sites have become a fixture in the fabric of human communication and seemingly are here to stay.

 

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