According to Facebook, the social network is a lot like a chairs because people like to sit in chairs and then talk to each other. But what about people who sit in chairs even though they don’t have anyone to talk to? How do those people use Facebook?
That’s the question that Yeslam Al-Saggaf and Sharon Nielsen, a pair of researchers at Australia’s Charles Sturt University, wanted to answer when they went looking for the differences in the ways that lonely and connected people use Facebook.
In a study entitled ‟Self-disclosure on Facebook among female users and its relationship to feelings of loneliness,” which will be published the July issue of the journal Computers in Human Behavior, Al-Sagaff and Nielsen collected data from 616 female Facebook users over the age of 18. The users were identified by searching for recent status updates on the now-shuttered Facebook status search engine YourOpenBook saying they were felt either ‟lonely” or ‟connected” to other people.
The 308 female Facebook users were categorized as ‘connected’ based on clearly indicating this feeling in their latest wall posting at the time of data collection, such as one female who said ‘‘just had to share this message from Amber. We have never met, yet in a way I feel very ‘connected’ to you’’. Conversely, the remain- ing 308 users were categorized as ‘lonely’ based also on clearly indicating this feeling in their latest wall posting at the time of data collection. For example, one female said ‘‘Such a boring evening...I’m so ‘lonely’...:-(’’.
The researchers then examined the privacy settings of the two groups and discovered that ‟lonely” users tended to disclose far more personal information than did ‟connected” users. They study found that 79 percent of ‟lonely” people made their personal information publicly available, while only 64 percent on ‟connected” people did so.
The researchers defined personal information as categories including favorite activities, quotations, movies, books, TV shows, language spoken, address, and ‟about me” section.
Conversely, people who felt ‟connected” to others were more likely to make public their political and religious views, as well as the content posted to their walls.
‟It makes sense that people who felt lonely would disclose personal information, relationship information and address,” the study’s authors hypothesize. ‟They choose to disclose information about themselves that encourages others to approach them since they want to make it easy for others to initiate contact with them, which if others did, may help them overcome their feelings of loneliness.”
The study found no other significant associations between loneliness and any other variables.
Lonely people using social media to expose themselves in a way that could create connections with others is a long-standing trope.
According to New York Times reporter Nick Bilton’s book about the origins of microblogging site Twitter, company co-founder Jack Dorsey hatched the idea for the service as a way for people to give updates about what they were doing in an attempt to forge connections with others and feel a little less alone in the world.
Whether Dorsey’s assertion is accurate isn’t quite clear. A 2012 studyfound that test subjects who increased their rate of Facebook postings reported feeling more connected to their friends on a daily basis, which decreased their feelings of loneliness. However, a study conducted the revious year found that Facebook users tended to have higher levels of family loneliness than did non-users.
No matter what relationship the use of social media sites has with feelings of isolation, it’s clear that disclosing large amounts of personal information has the potential to be highly problematic. The more information people share publicly about themselves online, the more they open themselves up to scammers, identity thieves, and cyber bullies.
It’s a sad state of affairs when people can be taken advantage up when all they want to do is make a friend.