Social networking sites are hilarious and so telling. You have some that post everything about themselves whether you want to know or not and have to document everywhere they go with pictures so they can say, look at me! Then, you have others that use it as a soap box or to invoke discussion. Still others find it’s a great way to pretend to be something other than who they really are. I had one person so often insist I was on Facebook all the time because of my own insecurities and my need to have people like me. LOL! Ummm, no, I had to sit on there to conduct this research and couldn’t tell you!! LOL. But, still, it gave me insights into what people think about who they meet online.
Here’s how it all went down. At the start of the year, I was struggling to think of a topic for a research project that I had to get going on. It dawned on me to try and use Facebook to see just where I could get — after all, I wrote for a living. Why not use it to see if I could better understand people. In the end, it was very interesting and offered a way to see how words, images (or lack of images), and posting strategies changed how people perceived me or each other. Now, that the year is closing, I have a wealth of information and have learned some very new things about people.
After all, it was the perfect place to conduct a social experiment. That’s because more people like me are, in fact, working from home and using Facebook as a way to socialize and meet people that they might have otherwise met in a workplace, etc. It’s been great for that, I have to say, as I can get to know — or at least think I know — people I work with in other countries and discover people I went to school with so many years ago.
The only downside in this experiment is that it reveals many sad and discouraging things about people. You wonder sometimes if people’s significant others really know who they are living with and what they are doing with their time. I suppose that the same behavior can happen in the workplace and other environments, but it seems like places like Facebook have made it easier for people to ‘cheat.’ It also seems to work well for people who like to be negative because they feel like they can make snarky comments while hiding at their desks, giggling to themselves. And, in many ways, it has upped the shock value.
Yet, the good part is that those that already have good hearts and good intentions use Facebook and other sites as a way to spread what they believe in or help encourage others. For this, I thought the whole social experiment was worth it. With all the nasty people I met and the negativity they represented, there are some incredible people out there in the virtual world that keep my faith in people alive.
What I found most interesting was putting myself into the research. As a writer, I created a site about drinking. Now, I do drink a lot and all types, but what was funny was the reaction I started getting from people who knew me in my everyday life. Suddenly, I got emails with concerns for my state of happiness and being. Really? So, even people who actually knew me in REAL life started to believe the VIRTUAL persona that I was messing around with. Wow! That’s weird!
Before some get their panties in a wad, I never lied on there as part of this research nor did I mess with anyone intentionally in terms of their emotions. This is supposed to be ethical research, people! Even so, what I did say revealed some things about people I never would have thought — now, were they exhibiting a VIRTUAL persona or was that really them? If I was doing it, are others as well? Do they start believing that online persona they are hiding behind and become that person? That is what requires further research.
So, all that I learned is now going in a research project and is the basis of a book that will be completed next year. I’m so excited to have something like this to turn into and hope that it helps in the area of social psychology!