The impact of social media scrutiny is spilling over into people’s offline lives, as social media users alter their everyday behaviors and engage in self-censorship for fear of disapproval from their online friends, according to a new study carried out by researchers by three British universities, who surveyed Britons ages 19-22 about their online and offline activities. The study was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.
In one example of the effect of social media surveillance, respondents said they hide cigarettes if someone takes a picture of them at a party, on the assumption that it will be shared on social media. One female respondent said that she evaluates how close she’s standing to men in photos, again on the assumption the photo will be posted online and seen by her boyfriend. Others said they don’t take photos at the beach at all, because they don’t want them shared online.
The impact is even greater due to the ubiquity of smartphones, as a person can be photographed at virtually any time and without warning, meaning the self-monitoring and regulation becomes virtually continual.
Describing this “chilling effect” on ordinary behaviors, one researcher, Dr. Ben Marder: stated: “At a time when any our offline lives can be instantly captured on a smart phone and posted online, people are becoming less free to act as they would like, as their boss, partners and families could always be watching.”
Another researcher, Dr. David Houghton, stated: “The increased accessibility of our personal persona to different types of people online make our offline lives a trickier juggling act than ever before.”
Of course, it’s not just our friend’s disapproval we have to worry about: by this point, hopefully most people are aware that college admissions officers and potential employers also check up on candidates’ social media profiles. In January I wrote about a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, which found that 43% of companies are using social media or search to screen job candidates, and 36% said they have rejected job applicants based on information gathered from social media or through an online search.
Another survey of around 400 college admissions officers, conducted by Kaplan, found that 40% said they check the social media profiles of applicants.