“Impression management,” an individual’s deliberate efforts to cultivate a particular image, can be an important consideration on social media. A new study looks at how participants try to manage their image when confronted with “face threats” — an incident or behavior that could create an impression inconsistent with one’s desired self-image.
Researchers have documented that social networking sites such as Facebook, where content can be shared widely and is often persistent, can expose or make people vulnerable to face threats.
In the study, D. Yvette Wohn, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the information systems department at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, surveyed 150 adult Facebook users examining what type of strategies people engage in to deal with face-threatening content on social media.
While there has been much documentation of face threats on social networks and how people react to them, there’s very little known about the relational consequences of such reactions.
“We found that people who tried to remove or justify embarrassing content actually experienced a decline in their relationship with the offender,” said Wohn. “It may be important for people to know that trying to engage in impression management may also come at the expense of a personal relationship.”
While face threats also happen in person, social media content is easily shareable with a large number of people and much more likely to go viral. This is cause for concern, as “people are connected to a lot of different people on social media, so what may be suitable for one group to see may not be OK for others,” she said.
The authors found that even after taking into consideration the severity of the face threat, trying to redirect attention from the offensive content, or trying to get rid of it, was associated with a decline in closeness between the victim and offender. Frequently communicating with the offender, however, made it less likely for the victim to experience reduction in closeness.
“The people in our study gave us some horrific anecdotes,” said Wohn.
“Social networking sites are so pervasive in our everyday lives and a platform on which others can judge you based on the content that you post,” she said. “Unfortunately, even if you put a lot of thought into what you post, you can’t control what others post about you.”
Wohn collaborated with Portland State University assistant professor Erin Spottswood, Ph.D., on the article. The paper will appear in a forthcoming addition of Computers in Human Behavior, a scholarly journal dedicated to examining the use of computers from a psychological perspective.< Source: New Jersey Institute of Technology/EurekAlert