The ability to share information about ourselves and receive approval for it on Facebook is a key factor in self-esteem and feelings of belonging for Facebook users, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia, titled “Threats to belonging on Facebook: lurking and ostracism” and published in the journal Social Influence.
In the first part of the study, focused on “lurking,” the researchers recruited people who aren’t usually lurkers and then forced half of them to behave as lurkers, by giving them access to Facebook but asking them not to post any content for two days. In the next part of the study, focusing on “ostracism,” they gave subjects access to Facebook but restricted half of them from receiving any feedback on posts.
A total of 101 subjects, recruited online, participated in the first part of study and completed psychological surveys before and after the experiment. The first part of the study found that participants who were asked not to post anything reported lower levels of “belonging” and “meaningful existence” compared to the subjects who were allowed to post as usual; the researchers noted that these results weren’t resulting from total abstinence from Facebook, since most of the subjects still visited Facebook and looked at other people’s posts and photos, even if they couldn’t post themselves.
The second part of the study tested the responses of 79 University of Queensland psychology students in a controlled setting where everyone had access to Facebook, but only half could receive feedback on their posts. The subjects were asked to post photos and status updates about something interesting that had happened to them, and to comment on each other’s posts (even though no comments would show up for the restricted group).
The researchers found that in the second part of the study, “people who did not receive a response to a status update experienced lower levels of belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence than did those who received a response.”
The researchers concluded: “Social networking sites, such as Facebook, give people on demand access to reminders of their social relationships and allow them to communicate with others whenever they desire. Our ndings suggest that it is communication, rather than simple use, that is key in producing a sense of belonging. When sharing or feedback is restricted, belonging suffers.”