I chose to analyze the Facebook page of one of my close friends for this assignment so I could really compare the consistency between her offline and online self. Usually I just go to her page briefly to write a wall comment, but this time I really dissected her page and was surprised with what I found. The first thing I decided to look at was her interests tab, where I had never looked before and found: an inspirational quote from Walt Disney, she has a page for multiple Disneyland attractions, and she likes Phil Collins music. This is definitely artless information and consistent with her offline self—she loves talking about Disney and planning trips to go to Disney theme parks. To me, she most likely put up that information to appear honest because of the possibility of future interaction and the high social presence on Facebook; with that information, others can converge in her interest, talk about Disney with her and eventually even plan a trip to go to Disney (she’s done this before). Because future interaction is likely, it’s in her best interest to appear honest here. The next thing I noticed in her information tab was she displayed she was single, interested in men, and looking for friendship, a relationship, and dating. I thought back to her open love of Disney and the Toma relationshopping article—it was likely my friend may have even wanted to appear honest to future people, who she hope share her interests, she may date as she had made her Facebook page also a sort of a dating profile by displaying she was single.
Realizing that her Facebook also exists as a sort of dating profile, I really noticed the selective-self presentation she put forth in her profile. According to the Hyperpersonal Theory, we can reallocate our cognitive resources online and use the asynchronicity of online media such as Facebook to edit and selectively present ourselves. This presentation is definitely what my friend was doing as she chose to display the best looking photographs of herself as to present herself as attractively as she could that was believable. Through her photographs, she uses some identity deception and makes herself appear more attractive, thin, and friendly than I know her to be in real life. Her identity deception takes place through conventional signals such as attractiveness and amiability, which are easier to manipulate online than are assessment signals that have a high cost such as an @cornell.edu adress according to Judith Donath’s Signaling Theory. Her profile picture is the best example of tampering with conventional signals—she is in a stunning dress and looks quite thin and beautiful. Although I know it’s her, it’s unlikely that she will be the one anyone meets offline and it seems to me it could be a bit deceitful. This deceit, especially about weight, would make sense in light of the Toma et al paper (2008) we read in class that states women are more likely to be deceitful concerning weight and age than are men.
I then browsed through her other photographs, even those tagged by friends, and realized she looks very attractive in all of them! I mean sure she has her moments offline, but it is certainly not all the time. I called her to check in about this discrepancy and found that she uses the Warranting Principle, which states we hold information immune to manipulation as more qualified, to her advantage—she manipulates other-generated information before anyone else is aware of it. Anytime she receives a photo notification, it goes directly to her Blackberry and she looks at it right away to see whether the photo makes her look good or not. In this way, she selectively displays herself through others in order to make her appear attractive. The technological features of Facebook and her Blackberry allow her to do this seemingly deceptive tactic—usually she is the only one of few who sees the photo and sees it first because others do not receive notifications and will not check Facebook until later.
After viewing her profile with this lens, I came to some conclusions. In line with Toma et al’s 2008 study on relationship profiles, it seems my friend was using somewhat of a deceptive tactic frequently, but only used subtle deception in order to make herself appear desirable and compare favorably to others. This pattern means that she frequently selects photographs that make her look skinner and prettier, but would never post any outrageous lie (“I’m a supermodel”) because then she is likely to get caught if she had any future interaction with someone. Unlike Toma’s study; however, I feel my friend’s deception really isn’t the classical definition—yes it is deceptive to present yourself that way, but most people online follow similar strategies, albeit not so extreme (untagging photos the instant they show up). The people in Toma’s study lied about measurements whereas my friend only selected photographs that made her look the best intentionally and made no other lie. I feel a deceptive lie about a measurement or social arrangement is rare (it still occurs) on a Facebook page because of its technological features and the social norms that surround it—most information you post has a huge reach to many of your friends who know you personally and can detect any lies; the information you post is asynchronous and recordable—which according to Hancock’s message-based study we went over in class decrease digital deception.
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