Facebook Users With Lots of Friends Could Be Psychologically Harmed, Study

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Facebook users with a large number of friends having different characteristics could be at risk of being harmed psychologically, emotionally and even physically, a recent study by a social sciences student of Nottingham Trent University reveals.

The study further reveals that people having accounts on various social networks and have a large number of connections are more likely to be victimized for data privacy breaches, harassment, exposure to incongruous content.

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The reason behind harm is quite obvious. Facebook or any other social media user with a lot of friends would not be able to manage the influx of information and content being shared by the friends as compared to those who have a smaller number of connections.

“Unless these networks are effectively managed and filtered, people are leaving themselves open to a whole host of potential online vulnerabilities which may lead to negative consequences for their psychological, reputational and even physical wellbeing.” — Sarah Buglass

Furthermore, people have a tendency to forget about the background of the audience they are currently in connection with so it causes them to be exposed to data breaches and unwanted content that is unsuitable for them. Potentially, all of these events lead to damaging the overall reputation of the user.

The research was conducted by Sarah Buglass, a student of Nottingham Trent University’s Social Sciences department, who presented the study at The British Psychological Society annual conference, held at the Palace Hotel, Manchester.

Study shows that those users who are being exposed to the inappropriate material while using social networks could also become the cause behind psychological harm to the user.

“Offline people tend to compartmentalize the individuals they encounter in day to day life. Friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances are in many cases kept quite separate, enabling people to effectively manage their personas with each,” Buglass said. “However, on sites such as Facebook, these often diverse connections are allowed to digitally mingle. Social boundaries are collapsed, with information in many cases being shared to all.”

The study was based on 177 UK-based Facebook users, which revealed that over 89 percent of the users have their profile’s privacy settings set to “Friends only” and have not used any specific privacy options to filter the content being shared with the followers and friends.

Whereas on the other hand, about 22 percent of the users reported that they are using personalized privacy settings in order to filter out the content and manage which of their friends are seeing their content. They are also targeting different content to the different audience through custom lists and privacy settings. All of this results in an improved safety and security of their online presence on Facebook.

“As network size increases, the ability to remember who, or in the case of misclassified profiles, what you are connected to, becomes increasingly more difficult, and the management of these networks more complex.”

Even though most of the social media networks today are providing users with customized privacy options and listings to further divide and sort the connections into groups, but not everyone is benefiting from these custom-tailored settings and remain at the risk of being victimized.

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“As a result, people are leaving themselves open to online vulnerability as the information they share may not be suitable for all of their connections – risking damage not only to their reputations or potential harassment from disgruntled parties, but also increasing the potential for falling victim to data misuse.”

The researcher also divided the data of 177 users and compared those having a large number of friends with those having a smaller number of friends, close to 150. The results concluded that users with smaller connections were able to manage their privacy and content flow in better ways because they are aware of most of their connections.

So in order to remain stress-free and safe from the psychological harm, it is recommended by the researcher that social media users should be wary about who they are adding into their friend list as well as what content are being shared by those friends.

Nottingham Trent University

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