Facebook is the biggest online social networking site, with over one billion registered accounts.
“Founded in 2004, Facebook’s mission is to make the world more open and connected. People use Facebook to stay connected with friends and family, to discover what’s going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them.”
People have different motivations to use this platform including:
- efficient and convenient communication,
- desire for popularity,
- relationship maintenance,
- content and status updating,
- social investigation, impression management,
- information-seeking, and
It is reported that the most common reason for using Facebook is keeping in touch with preexisting contacts (friends), followed by building social capital and social grooming (strengthening social bonds and establishing group stability).
Today, Facebook is a global phenomenon. According to the world’s largest-ever human-subjects study, which analyzed the online behavior of 721 million Facebook users, any two random Facebook users (e.g., a farmer in Bolivia and a stockbroker in London) are only four connections away from each other.
Consequences of Facebook
Since Facebook allows us to build, maintain, and even terminate relationships, its effects may run deep. Studies showed that actively using Facebook (interacting with others) increases:
- life satisfaction,
- emotional support, and
- social capital,
while passive usage decreases life satisfaction. Users who post on others’ profiles and send messages out on Facebook report feeling less lonely, but at the same Facebook users who keep in touch with their ex-partners report more stress versus those who have limited contact.
In a study in which people were asked about the emotions they experienced last time they used Facebook, 40% stated positive emotions (joyful, satisfied, etc.), while 37% stated negative emotions (bored, angry, etc.). Respondents thought some people get frustrated when using Facebook because of envy (seeing others’ holiday photos, etc.).
In line with the findings described above, a Pew report suggested that people who receive more friend requests and people who post more status updates on Facebook tend to report a slightly higher level of social and emotional support. Since it is difficult to know whether Facebook increases social support or people with more social support post more frequently on Facebook, an experiment with a control group was conducted that asked participants to post more than they usually do for one week.
Seven days later, the participants in the experimental group indicated lower levels of loneliness compared to those who were in the control group, regardless of responses they received to their posts. Social support received from network members on Facebook can even help people get a new job.
For three months, researchers tracked the Facebook activities of people who had lost a job and found that communicating on Facebook with friends and family increased the possibility of getting a new job. However, contrary to Granovetter’s famous theory, people who communicated with their close ties on Facebook were five times more like to find a new job.
Facebook profiles significantly increase one’s self-awareness (like a mirror). People are likely to spend more time on Facebook when their egos are threatened because exposure to one’s own Facebook profile right after a threat is likely to reduce a person’s self-defenses.
However, too much exposure to one’s own profile makes a person a narcissist. Research showed that people who tag themselves in others’ photos and frequently update their statuses might have a narcissistic personality disorder, and narcissistic people usually spend more time on Facebook.
Another study that asked participants to edit their social network profiles on Myspace and Facebook found that after the editing activity participants scored higher on narcissism and self-esteem scales. Beyond narcissism, frequent Facebook updates may also be related with desire to be seen attractive, as research showed that people who have photos with many comments tend to be perceived more attractive and users whose walls have comments from attractive users were perceived as more attractive.
Some reliable indicators of what people do on Facebook are demographic variables and total friend counts. Females usually spend more time on Facebook, have larger social circles, care more about privacy, upload more photos, and change their profile pictures more often.
Also, people who live in rural areas have fewer friends, use privacy measures more carefully, and are likely to be skewed toward female users. Interestingly, people with more profile pictures tend to have more friends and people who have more friends tend to write longer updates, talk more about music and sports and less about their families, use the past and present tense less often, and use the word you more often.
What people talk about on Facebook can also be tied to time of the day, as early in the morning (from six to seven a.m.) people post positive thoughts and feelings that change into negative feelings toward the end of the day. Overall, positive updates get more likes and negative ones get more comments, as negative updates usually tend to be about a problem and people try to help by commenting on the problem. Sleeping, negative emotions, body states, and job- or work-related updates are liked less and positive emotions, posts related to other people, and social processes are liked more.
Despite its positive effects, Facebook usage has some negative outcomes, including addiction and risky information-sharing. Facebook can be addictive perhaps because the users are under the illusion that their social interactions are the same as interacting with someone in real life.
In the age of social media, teenagers check their e-communication tools (Facebook) every 15 minutes, 27% of people under age thirty-five check Facebook more than ten times a day, and 36% of Americans under thirty-five report checking Facebook and Twitter even right after sex. Several external factors such as anxiety, depression, and preexisting socializing problems seem to influence this irregular behavior, and women, more than men, are more likely to develop Facebook addiction. What is worse, it is reported that heavy Facebook users tend to be fatter, have a higher credit-card debt, and a lower credit score.
Another problem involved with Facebook use is risky information disclosure, as in general people disclose more info to their friends on Facebook than they do in real life. The first academic study about Facebook (2005) related to privacy, and it found that half of the users provided their home address and about forty percent their phone number on their profiles, making account holders vulnerable to information breach.
It was found that those who want to be popular disclose more information, whereas people with high self-esteem control what they share. Sharing personal information may also spark cyberbullying, as today 90% of American teenagers indicate that they witnessed someone bullying another person in social media, with 8% being the victims.
Furthermore, teenagers use Facebook heavily. It was found that the number of Facebook friends of younger users (ages fifteen to thirty) is eleven times higher than that of older users, and usually those who use Facebook/social media heavily have lower grades and a lower attention span.
Nevertheless 38% of parents allow their kids under fifteen to have a Facebook account and about half of parents’ friend their kids on Facebook in order to check what they are up to. Facebook privacy controls, introduced to reduce risky information sharing, may help, but only 15%–20% of members report having used them.
Facebook and Predictability
Studies found that strangers can accurately assess one’s personality based on a Facebook profile (so the presumption that people present themselves cooler than they really are on Facebook is not necessarily true). Furthermore, one’s Facebook profile can accurately predict academic performance and job performance in addition to whether he/she can get a job.
Additionally, evaluation of one’s personality based on a Facebook page yields pretty much the same result as that person’s own evaluation. Facebook profile photos can also predict future life satisfaction.
Researchers looked at the profile pictures of college students during their freshman year and then assessed their life satisfaction in their senior year. They found that students who smiled during the first year in their profile pictures were more satisfied with their lives three-and-a-half years later.
Facebook activities by and large reflect one’s traits, social network size, and life stage. A study that tracked 58,000 American Facebook users found that their personalities, IQ, political affiliation, and sexual orientation can be predicted by what people like publicly on Facebook.
One’s social network size can also be predicted by the content of his or her updates, as people who share emotions in their status updates have larger social networks. Interestingly, it is also possible to predict whether people are single or married by assessing the words used in status updates. A large-scale study found that married or engaged people use more positive words in their status updates and people who are not in a relationship post more negative words.
Facebook & the Human Brain
People who have more Facebook friends are found to have high-density grey matter in the amygdala region of their brains. Also, the regions of the brain related to associative memory and social perception also had higher-density grey matter, which correlated with the number of friends in online social networks.
A similar study that measured the amygdala size and number of Facebook friends also found pretty much the same findings where people with larger amygdalae had larger social networks. A different study in the United Kingdom first asked the participants to read a story about social interactions between several characters and then measured their grey area in the brain and if they could correctly answer questions about what the characters thought about each other.
Subjects with larger social networks answered the questions about the story correctly and also had a high level of grey area in their brain. Another study that measured the skin conductance and pupil dilution of the subjects who used Facebook and also solved a math problem looked at landscape pictures found that users had much higher arousal when they saw the page of Facebook.
On the other hand, a brain-scan study found that users did not perceive Facebook as personal, something that personally relates to them. When Facebook users’ brain activity was measured while looking at the screenshots of Facebook and other media types (TV, books, websites, etc.), it was found that brain areas that are related more with self-perception were more activated while watching TV or reading books.
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