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Four things you do on Facebook that could really freak somebody out

Jan. 3, 2014 at 4:17 PM ET

Four Things You Do on Facebook
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Four Things You Do on Facebook

If you’re feeling incredibly upset or just completely out of sorts about something someone posted about you on Facebook, you’re not alone.

Study experts at Northwestern University decided to dig deeper about the various types of unpleasant situations that take place on Mr. Zuckerberg’s creation. The study was so comprehensive that these findings will be presented in February at the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing in Baltimore. (No, I’m not kidding.)

“Almost every participant in the study could describe something that happened on Facebook in the past six months that was embarrassing or made them feel awkward or uncomfortable,” said Jeremy Birnholtz, one of the authors of the paper. "We were interested in the strength of the emotional response to this type of encounter.”

And here’s what these communication pros discovered—there were two types of people who especially violated by bothersome posts (such as an unflattering photo of themselves): Those with an eclectic group of FB “friends” (i.e. friends, relatives, clients, former hook-ups, hopeful hook-ups) and those people with superb Internet skills who were extremely concerned about their online persona.

However, volunteers who labeled themselves to be proficient at Facebook were less likely to be troubled by such a “face threat.”

The four types of “face threats” are as follows:

Norm violations (experienced by 45% of users): Certain behavior is exposed. For example: “I met some friends for brunch and now other friends are pissed off at me.”

Ideal self-presentation violations (experienced by 29% of users): Inconsistent behavior is exposed. For example: “My boyfriend posted about how I guzzled down wine and my mother has no idea that I enjoy drinking.”

Association effects (experienced by 21% of users): Worried about self-representation. For example: A friend posts an off-color joke on your wall.

Aggregate effects (experienced by 5% of users): When too much attention makes someone feel self-conscious. For example: Lots of “likes” on a photo of you and your ex.

The study authors suggest that everyone think twice before posting a comment or image to someone’s wall. Birnholtz ended it with this statement: “Facebook doesn't provide a lot of cues as to how friends want to present themselves to their audience.”

I’m not sure I completely agree with Mr. Birnholtz. While I’m one of the few people on the planet who does not have a Facebook account, I have been on friends’ accounts, so I know the drill. And I spotted patterns right away. To pinpoint a few, there are the “best life, best kids, best house, best meal, best homemade apple pie” people, the “let me air my dirty laundry” people, the “cryptic message” people, the “I’m all about my selfies” people, the “going to Target” people and so on. That being said, I would have enough sense not to write on the wall of a “best life” person that I’m hoping her anxiety attacks have subsided.

On the other hand, social media is a public forum—and I don’t care about your privacy settings. You’re putting yourself out there, your pictures out there and your actions out there, so anything can happen. Does it make it right? No. But it’s true—“like” it or not.

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.


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