Online fears have people self-censoring offline

Image credit: Carmen Jost
Date:4 April 2017 Author: ResearchGate Tags:, ,

People are altering their offline behaviour for fear of what could be posted online.

Curating your online presence requires more than not posting those compromising party pictures. Increasingly, people are altering their offline behaviour to protect their online reputations. To demonstrate the extended “chilling” effect of Facebook, Ben Marder and colleagues asked students to go to events, using the guise of representing a fake market research company. Once Facebook entered the equation, people were less likely to go.

ResearchGate spoke to Ben about the study, which is the first finding of this effect.

ResearchGate: Can you give us a brief insight into what motivated this study?

Ben Marder: The study was motivated by my own experiences; I was changing my behaviour offline for the fear of what may go online. I’d also read about how fewer and fewer people are going topless on beaches in fear of being snapped by phone cameras and posted on social media.

RG: What were you results?

Marder: We found that, akin to self-censoring posts or overall online personas in fear of being viewed negatively, people also did this with their offline behaviour. For example, people would avoid smoking or doing drugs when cameras were around, or they would stand away from people who could make their partner jealous to avoid appearing together on social media. We confirmed these qualitative findings with an experiment that found the mere possibility of photos going online inhibited men from wanting to go to a night club.

RG: Can you tell us about the experiment?

Marder: We acted under the cover story of being market researchers for a company called UniversityTripz, which organised trips for students. We offered students the potential to go on trial trips, one of which was to a night club. We found that once Facebook posts were mentioned as a possible part of the trip, people were less likely to want to go.

RG: Was it Facebook specifically, or do you think this is a broader effect?

Marder: It extends through any mobile capturing devices. The more surveillance technology that can communicate our actions online, the more behaviour will be chilled. People even avoid listening to songs or watching movies on Spotify and Netflix that they didn’t want their friends to know about. There was also some evidence that chilling occurred when cameras were not involved. One participant said she couldn’t make bad jokes anymore because her friends would repeat them online and tag her.

RG: Is this a new phenomenon?

Marder: It is not necessarily new, but this is the first finding of it. Essentially the issue has grown as social spheres have collapsed with Facebook’s expansion. For example, people did not seem to feel the need to “chill” their offline behaviour when only their college friends would see it online. The problem is that parents and employers can now see this as well.

RG: How does someone conceive and then construct the persona they would like to present?

Marder: People present personas that show them in a positive light—or just not in a negative light—they think about the expectations of their social media audience, then present to a large extent a one-size fits all persona.

RG: What would social networks need to do in order to mitigate the chilling effect?

Marder: They would need to give people complete control of what is linked to them online through privacy settings. However, the issue can never truly be solved, as information can be linked online by others, even when you don’t know about this yourself.


Image credit: Carmen Jost

This article was originally written for and published by ResearchGate.

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