How many times do you type a status update on Facebook, only to think it over and then delete it? Well, if you’re like 71% of people, pretty darn often.
Carnegie Mellon PhD student Sauvik Das and Facebook’s Adam Kramer teamed up to study self-censorship on Facebook. Their paper is a fascinating look into habits of Facebook users.
Over 17 days, they collected data from 3.9 million Facebook users, focusing primarily on updates that are deleted after being posted. In the study they discuss how self-censorship is common in speech, so it’s not surprising that it’s translated into social networking sites.
The study also discusses the idea of “last minute self censorship,” a key element of sharing on Facebook.
Social media also affords users the ability to type out and review their thoughts prior to sharing them. This feature adds an additional phase of filtering that is not available in face-to-face communication: filtering after a thought has been formed and expressed, but before it has been shared. Filtering at this phase is what we call last-minute self-censorship because it occurs at the last minute, whereas other lower-level forms of self-censorship might prevent a user from thinking or articulating thoughts at all.
An element of the study that I found fascinating came when it discussed the phenomena known as “presentation of self.” I’d heard this described also as “code switching” (although that applies largely to linguistics rather than meaning behaving differently with different groups, and presenting or highlighting different aspects of your personality with different elements of your social groups.
In face-to-face communication, totally distinct social circles are rarely collocated, so people have a reasonable expectation of their audience and therefore can easily portray themselves appropriately. Conversely, social networking sites collapse many distinct social contexts into one. Consequently, several researchers have observed that [social network sites] users often have trouble with “boundary regulation,” or maintaining consistency of presentation across the “boundaries” of multiple social contexts.
I’ve had backlash on social media because of this exact phenomena; coworkers, for instance, that I likely never discussed politics with can be startled at views I hold or articles I share.
What about you? Do you self-censor? Have you had difficulty having a kind of social pluralism in your social media life?