Here we go again…
Another Facebook controversy, yet again violating our sense of privacy by letting others harvest our personal information.
This flareup is a big one to be sure, leading some people to consider leaving Facebook altogether, but the company and most of its over 2 billion users will reconcile. The vast majority will return to Facebook, just like they did the last time and the many times before that.
As in all abusive relationships, users have a psychological dependence that keeps them hooked despite knowing that, at some level, it’s not good for them.
Here’s why it’s so hard, as a social network user, to pull the plug once and for all.
1 Buoying your ‘friend’ships
The more you click, the stronger your online relationships. Hitting the ‘Like’ button, commenting on photos of friends, sending birthday wishes and tagging others are just some of the ways in which Facebook allows you to engage in “social grooming.” All these tiny, fleeting contacts help users maintain relationships with large numbers of people with relative ease.
2 Molding the image you want to project
The more you reveal, the greater your chances of successful self-presentation. Studies have shown that strategic self-presentation is a key feature of Facebook use. Users shape their online identity by revealing which concert they went to and with whom, which causes they support, which rallies they attend and so on. In this way, you can curate your online self and manage others’ impressions of you, something that would be impossible to do in real life with such regularity and precision. Online, you get to project the ideal version of yourself all the time.
3 Snooping through an open window
The more you click, the more you can keep an eye on others. This kind of social searching and surveillance are among the most important gratifications obtained from Facebook. Most people take pleasure in looking up others on social media, often surreptitiously. The psychological need to monitor your environment is deep-rooted and drives you to keep up with news of the day – and fall victim to FOMO, the fear of missing out. Even privacy-minded senior citizens, loathe to reveal too much about themselves, are known to use Facebook to snoop on others.
4 Enhancing your social resources
The more you reveal, the greater your social net worth. Being more forthcoming can get you a job via LinkedIn. It can also help an old classmate find you and reconnect.
Studies have shown that active use of Facebook can enhance your social capital, whether you’re a college student or a senior citizen wanting to bond with family members or rekindle ties with long-lost friends.
5 Enlarging your tribe
The more you click, the bigger and better the bandwagon. When you click to share a news story on social media or express approval of a product or service, you’re contributing to the creation of a bandwagon of support.
Metrics conveying strong bandwagon support, just like five stars for a product on Amazon, are quite persuasive, in part because they represent a consensus among many opinions. In this way, you get to be a part of online communities that form around ideas, events, movements, stories and products – which can ultimately enhance your sense of belonging.
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6 Expressing yourself and being validated
The more you reveal, the greater your agency. Whether it’s a tweet, a status update or a detailed blog post, you get to express yourself and help shape the discourse on social media. This self-expression by itself can be quite empowering. And metrics indicating bandwagon support for your posts – all those “likes” and smiley faces – can profoundly enhance your sense of self worth by appealing to your ingrained psychological need for external validation.
In all these ways, social media’s features provide us too many important gratifications to forego easily. If you think most users will give all this up in the off chance that illegally obtained data from their Facebook profiles and activities may be used to influence their votes, think again.
7 Algorithms that never let you go
While most people may be squeamish about algorithms mining their personal information, there’s an implicit understanding that sharing personal data is a necessary evil that helps enhance their experience.
The algorithms that collect your information are also the algorithms that nudge you to be social, based on your interests, behaviors and networks of friends. Without Facebook egging you on, you probably wouldn’t be quite as social. Facebook is a major social lubricant of our time, often recommending friends to add to your circle and notifying you when a friend has said or done something potentially of interest.