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How People Have Bad Experiences on Online Social Networks

2011 March 25

ResearchBlogging.orgRecent research by Tokunaga[1] in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking derives ten categories of bad experiences that people have on online social networks.  Here they are, in descending order of how commonly they were reported:

  1. The person initiates a friend request which is denied or ignored by the person he sends it to.
  2. The person tags a photo or leaves a message on a friend’s profile and later discovers it has been deleted.
  3. The person visits a friend’s profile and discovers he is not ranked where he thinks he should be ranked on a “Top Friends” list.
  4. The person learns that someone else has been “stalking” their profile.
  5. The person waits longer than he expected for a response to a post.
  6. The person discovers negative (e.g. flaming) comments on his profile, left by other people.
  7. The person discovers someone else has written something about him that he did not know about – interestingly, the information does not need to be negative to be unwanted.
  8. The person discovers that even though a friend request has been accepted, he has limited access to the new friend’s profile.
  9. The person was removed as a friend.
  10. The person discovers a group he wants to join but is not permitted to; alternately, the person discovers a group has been made about him without his permission.

To get this list, the researcher surveyed 197 undergraduates were asked to describe situations when they had used social network sites where they had a bad experience; the average response was about 75 words.  A coding system was then used to pare the qualitative data down into the categories reported here.

This research has all the typical characteristics of qualitative data; fascinating but not terribly useful.  We don’t, for example, know if the psychological experience of any of these is worse than any other.  Personally, I’d guess that being defriended is uncommon but more troubling than many of the others.  We don’t know which social network sites most of the students were talking about, but we can guess most are about Facebook.  We also don’t know if any of these events are actually more common than any others – only that these events are what the undergraduates surveys most immediately thought of when given an open-ended question.

But at the least, this research provides an excellent starting point to understand the potential negative consequences of social media – and perhaps more interestingly, how to avoid or minimize these consequences.  Clearly, social media is not all roses and sunshine.

  1. Tokunaga, R. (2011). Friend me or you’ll strain us: Understanding negative events that occur over social networking sites. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2010.0140 []
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