Are we really narcissistic on Facebook?

Earlier today, I noticed an article on Mashable concerning a small study that had been carried out by a Canadian undergraduate, investigating how men and women represent themselves in a narcissistic way on Facebook. It’s a good read (you can find it here) but I’ve got some major qualms with it, which I’d like to state here, for posterity’s sake. I’ve also got a problem with the way Mashable presented the findings in a very ‘matter of fact’ way, but I guess that’s the responsibility of good journalism.

Regarding the paper itself, the author asserts that Facebook is a fully nonymous (not anonymous) social network, and builds her study on this rudimentary belief. I’m sure Facebook is nonymous in the majority of cases, but we’ve all seen examples of people failing to display true profile pictures, their real names, or even creating pages for fictional characters, providing a whole new angle for study concerning identity generation, and the possibility of narcissism within this new demographic. Indeed, within a wider context (this study was restricted to a sample of 100 college students, who’d surely be a perfect example of homophily in action, hence downplaying the significance of the author’s results), how could these new, ‘artificial’ identities could affect one’s narcissistic behaviours? I think people who make an attempt to hide their personal identity on Facebook, for instance, by posting ‘pseudo-pictures’ (images of fictional characters that act as avatars, possibly with some semblance to the physical identity of the user in question) are lacking in self-esteem in such a degree that they cling to the service, whether Facebook or otherwise. However, the findings of this paper state clearly that there’s a correlation between increasing Facebook use and narcissism. More on this later.

I also find fault with the author’s definition of narcissism, and narcissistic people. She’s somewhat damning in her exposition of narcissistic types (in saying they’re all nothing but complete narcissists), but somewhere along the line explains that some kinds of narcissistic behaviours could possibly be generated by internal cues. Hence, anyone could prove to elicit some slight form of narcissism. I don’t think the author’s definition of narcissism is that simple, doesn’t exist in such binary terms, and needs to be re-evaluated.

I’ve already stated that the results in the above paper were somewhat inconclusive. My other problem with the results is that they make use of a multivariate coding system to designate Facebook profiles as narcissistic or not. The author does acknowledge at the end of the paper that her results may well be unreliable due to the objective nature of her coding method, but again, some of her definitions, to me, are problematic. For instance, apparently, all people who promote themselves through status updates are narcissistic. I refute this, out of self-experience. If you’re reading this update right now, there’s a good chance that you found it through my Facebook page. Being a poor student, I can hardly afford costly promotions (some, including myself, argue that the best promotion costs nothing) and rely on my Facebook status updates to promote new entries on my blog, which is all I really use status updates for these days. Am I a narcissist? I don’t think so. I just promote my blog because I know Facebook is a good way of informing my friends when I write something new.

My final gripe is with the concluding assertion that narcissistic people spend more time on Facebook. Again, I spend a great deal of time using the service, as do others. An inordinate amount of time, some might say. However, I wouldn’t say I’m as narcissistic as much as I am a massive procrastinator and time-waster. How is it possible to condemn all prolific Facebook users with one fell swoop? I think this, again, is a sampling error, and a lack of concluding clarifications that the findings presented are only relevant within the context of the paper, that is, concerning students in higher education. Even so, not all students are one and the same, and I think drawing such conclusions is a little simplistic.

All in all, I enjoyed reading the paper. It looks at something new, and is a good omen of things to come from (what I imagine is) an undergraduate’s first publication. Still, I think it falls down in its initial definitions of narcissism as a digital behaviour (it’s only on or off, as well as existing in the online sphere). It does hold some interesting questions for further research, though.

The paper tries to take a classically offline behaviour and relate it to online processes, which it acknowledges at the outset. I think this is wrong. It’s a good starting work, but I feel there’s so much more potential out there, to build and research new, more novel models about how we exist online. Are we narcissistic on Facebook? Perhaps. Is Facebook conducive to inspiring narcissistic behaviour? That, I think, is the question we should be asking ourselves.


Social Media for the Masses

As I tweeted yesterday, it’s a very humbling and satisfying feeling, teaching your Web 2.0 illiterate dad to use Facebook. I’d call it research for #sotonsms, which is very soon to be making waves.

Being born into web culture, I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel, being introduced to this extension of the physical world, that effectively brings it all closer together. There must be a considerable shock factor in discovering that your niece, or nephew, can take a picture of their newborn child on their BlackBerry, and have it delivered to your eyes, half-way around the world, in a matter of seconds. I don’t feel it, sadly. I grew up alongside the Web, and the Web grew up alongside me. Sentimental notions of nostalgia aside, it was quite refreshing to see how social media can be used as an energising force, an untapped resource for some, which holds the key for richer expansion of physical social networks. To most of us, this doesn’t sound like much, but I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about all of those who haven’t the faintest clue what social media is, or what it does. Call them what you like; digital immigrants, massive passives. Those who I’d go as far as to say they are actually fearful of technology, when actually, with some gentle poking in the right direction, they can start to see how social media is worthy of being classed as a new friend. I’d imagine the realisation is like a switch flicking. One minute, Australia seemed ever so far away. Once the vast and mysterious land visited once or twice on holiday. The occasional phone call, or wad of pictures through the letterbox is as far as your knowledge goes, with regards to the day-to-day lives of your family in Oz. All of a sudden, you know what your dearest relation across the pond is eating for dinner, at that very moment. Australia is literally on your doorstep, all of a sudden. For that to happen… Well, I’d say my dad’s lucky his head didn’t explode.

I doubt my dad will ever become a social media maverick, like me or you, say, but I certainly hope that he continues to want to explore this new world, and all its wonderful benefits. Yesterday, I talked my dad through leaving comments on Facebook profiles, and even taught him how to snap a snazzy new profile picture, using our webcam. For anyone in the business of training digital passives in using social media, it can get a bit tedious. Left click this button, scroll down, left click that, highlight that (left click then drag the cursor), right click, click Copy (left click), right click, then left click Paste. Even reading it back, it sounds terribly tedious, but it’s something that a lot of us take for granted. We don’t even think about how computers work; we just use them, whereas for some, it must be like learning to see again. It’s a monumental task, but I’m sure there’s hope for my dad.

There was a point yesterday when my dad discovered the baby pictures of the sister of an ex co-worker of his, who has since moved to Poland. They were quite close. The minute those pictures hit the screen, my dad began cooing. His face lit up, and for a moment, I became infinitely more interested in watching his reactions, than watching what was on screen. It almost brought a tear to my eye.

There’s certainly something humbling about teaching the Web to the man who brought you up, and taught you the ways of the world. In some ways, I’m sort of returning the favour, by helping him find his feet in the digital world. That’s what I’d like to think, anyway.

Southampton Social Media Surgery: PRODUCTION UPDATE!

Yesterday we held the first of what I’ll imagine is a series of meetings for Southampton’s Social Media Surgery. I’m aware that lots of you who want to help out were unable to attend, so I’ll summarise things for you here.

We decided that it’s probably best to hold the surgery around mid to late October, after the hullabaloo of Freshers’ Week. We’re looking to hold it in the computer rooms in the Murray building (Building 58, Highfield Campus) on a weeknight, somewhen.

As for the actual format of the sessions themselves, we thought it may be a good idea, since social media is such a broad topic, and to maximise the resources we have, to have one ‘surgeon’ to five or so ‘patients’. The surgeon would demonstrate to the group how they can use a certain service, (say, how to set up a WordPress blog, or how to make a YouTube video) and would then oversee the patients as they set up their blogs, or make their own YouTube videos, and offer one-to-one help to anyone who gets stuck. We figured it’d be good to get people actually using social media themselves in the sessions, while providing support if they need it, since we want to help our patients develop their own internet skills, and not simply use the service as a crutch.

To close the meeting, we delegated out duties to people. If my memory serves me correctly, Lance Corporal @aaronbali assumed responsibility for finding surgeons, Lieutenant @daxleewood is in charge of securing a venue, and General @parboo and myself are responsible for finding potential ‘patients’.

We’re still in the early stages, but I really think this idea has the potential to become something great. As always, we’re always looking for people to help out, and be helped. If you know know your social media, or are a worthy cause in need of help with your web presence, do leave a comment below and someone will get back to you.

Oh, and please do follow (and use) the #sotonsms hashtag on Twitter, to keep in touch with everyone involved, and to find out about upcoming production meetings.

Thanks. 🙂

Southampton Social Media Surgeries

Know anything about social media? Do you know your Facebook from your Twitter? Your Tumblr from your WordPress? Live in the Southampton area? If so, I may have a very interesting proposition for you.

Social Media Surgeries are events set up to help local charities, non-profits, and anyone who expresses an interest in getting their head around social media, for the greater good. Imagine a room full of geeks, imparting valuable knowledge about the interwebs to people who could really use some social media goodness in their lives. Perhaps these people are already using social media, albeit not to its full extent. Social Media Surgeries are about helping people enrich their lives through technology, so they can go and use social media to do amazing things. That’s the dream.

Have I piqued your interest? If so, and you would like to help out, please leave a comment below and I’ll be in touch to keep you updated on when, and where any surgeries will be taking place. In a similar way, if you’re a local organisation looking to expand your social media operations, or aren’t quite sure how or if social media could help you in doing what you do, then please do leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

If you are interested in helping out, you may be interested in this Twitter list which keeps track of everyone interested in helping out so far. Again, get in touch if you would like to be added. We’re also using the #sotonsms hashtag. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.