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Perhaps Facebook should be re-named “Fakebook” as people are not authentic when they interact with the social media network. A new study shows that users of social media strictly control their content in order to appear real without sharing too much of themselves. The researchers found that creating an image of oneself that conforms to social norms without coming across as attention seeking or dishonest is the goal of most people, but in creating that image they actually manipulate the content they share to eliminate information contrary to how they want others to think of them.
Suvi Uski and Airi Lampinen of Aalto University led the study which examined how people fashion an identity on social media that reflects their real identity. The researchers found that people who are purposefully fake are judged very negatively. However, people are very careful to only share content that shows them in a certain light. This focus led people to pick and choose what they shared so that others would not find out too much about them. “While social norms required individuals to be real in their sharing behavior, presenting oneself in the right way through sharing often necessitated an element of faking,” stated Airi Lampinen.
Lying about oneself on Facebook is not a new phenomenon. Since it began people have been tweaking their personas every way from making their lives seem more interesting to downright posting things that completely misrepresent the truth or creating other identities for a variety of reasons. This behavior is widespread and commonplace, according to the study. A Consumer Reports investigation in 2012 found that 25 percent of Facebook users lied on the profiles for different reasons, some which were compelling. Many people lied about location or birthdates in order to protect themselves against identity theft. Many children lie about their age. A few create false identities with which to interact with others. This process has come to be known as catfishing and was the subject of a 2010 documentary. The idea of catfishing highlights the problem of Facebook-friending people who one does not interact with regularly in real life.
The other problem with having “Fakebook” Facebook friends one does not know well and who are not authentic is that following their online lives without knowing the context of their real lives can cause depression. A study by Utah Valley University led by behavioral scientist Grace Chou, Ph.D. found that scrolling through a newsfeed and seeing vacation photos and announcements of good news actually makes people feel their own lives are inadequate. Chou explains that staring at everyone’s happiest times makes one believe that others are always having a blast. Reading about achievements or big life events makes one feel that others are moving forward at a faster pace. The effect is magnified when “friends” are random acquaintances. When one does not talk to the person and hear both the ups and downs it is easy to think both that his or her life is better and to feel less empathy and more jealousy. People tend to celebrate happy moments of close friends and family but too much exposure to the happiness of near strangers makes people tend to see life as unfair and joy as unbalanced, the study says. The more friends one has and the more time spent on Facebook, the greater the risk of “Facebook depression.”
In order to create a particular image, people fake being authentic on Facebook and other social media sites. Of course, most people do not post about their failures or moments of boredom. The researchers of the Aalto University study found that faking is more about what people do not post than about what they do. For example, while on vacation a person might post a picture of an alcoholic drink in front a blue water pool to make the trip look idyllic without mentioning how the extended family is driving him or her completely crazy. That conversation waits until the return home and conversations with actual friends.
Facebook can facilitate connection with real life friends, family and formerly long lost college buddies, as well as promote civic and political awareness and participation. It is a convenient way to share information or keep in touch. However, users of social media should remain cognizant of the fact that one never really knows another’s life when just looking at Facebook. Everyone manages their online persona carefully to reflect a certain image. Facebook should perhaps be called “Fakebook”, because it does not truly reflect the complication and nuance of bona fide lives and personalities. People want to come across as real, but, according to the new study, it is not the case.
By: Rebecca Savastio