Social media posts can be viewed differently by others than how users view themselves

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A simulated example of multimedia and text versions of a Facebook status update in the study. Photos from https://www.pexels.com.

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Credit: Wang et al., 2023, PLOS ONE, CC-BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

In a new study, viewers of Facebook users’ posts are missing with users’ views that differ from the users’ own views. Qi Wang and colleagues at Cornell University, New York, US, present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on December 20, 2023.

Many people post on social media platforms to express themselves and connect with others. Prior research has shown that viewers of personal websites, such as blogs or online profiles, form the most accurate perceptions of authors’ personalities. However, social media posts, such as Facebook status updates, are often isolated and lack context. Few studies have examined how users’ self-perceptions align with how others perceive them after viewing such posts.

To shed new light, Wang and colleagues asked 158 undergraduate students to answer questions about their own personal characteristics, including their extraversion, disclosiveness, connection, self-confidence, independence , and mutual trust. Students also shared their last 20 Facebook status updates.

Then, two groups of additional participants looked at Facebook updates and answered questions about the users’ attitudes. One group viewed updates in a multimedia format with text and any associated images or hyperlinks, and the other viewed text-only versions.

In general, audience perceptions of Facebook users differ from users’ self-perceptions. For example, viewers perceive users as more revealing, have lower self-esteem, and are less interdependent than how users perceive themselves. However, viewers’ perceptions and self-perceptions of connectedness were consistent, perhaps indicating that the primary purpose of social media posts is to connect with others.

Compared to text-only viewers’ perceptions, multimedia viewers’ perceptions are more consistent with the user’s self-perceptions. However, there are many differences in multimedia views, while text-only viewers show more consensus. In addition, the views of the two groups differed in the gender and ethnicity of the users, in line with the judgments observed in the offline context of the previous research.

These findings provide new insights into the dynamics of online self-presentation and impression formation. The authors note that such understanding is essential for developing good communication and relationships. Future work could deepen the understanding by, for example, including a longer timeline of updates or considering other platforms such as TikTok.

The authors added: “Can people form accurate impressions about us from our social media posts? Our study found that there are significant differences between people’s views of Facebook users based on their status updates and how users see themselves. Multimedia channels make impressions more accurate, and user behaviors related to relationship building, gender and ethnicity are more accurately understood.

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In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article on PLOS ONE: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0294990

Citation: Wang Q, Khuu A, Jivotovski M (2023) The self online: When meaning making is outsourced to the cyber audience. PLoS ONE 18(12): e0294990. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0294990

Author countries: deer

Funding: This research was supported by a Hatch grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to Qi Wang. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or manuscript preparation.


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