Why Facebook is for haters

According to research from the University of Missouri, Facebook users look at profiles of people they either really love or really hate.

It's time to be honest.

What are you really feeling when you're on Facebook, poring over every vacation picture of that Martha you dated in high school? Are you inspired with touchy-feely interest in your fellow woman? Or is there something a little more corrosive burning your bones?

I ask because I was edified into indigestion by a piece of research from the University of Missouri School of Journalism that suggested humans might be, surprisingly, horrible little drama queens. "Emotional Responses During Social Information Seeking on Facebook" does for the human condition what "Jersey Shore" does for the American cultural mission.

Kevin Wise and his team believe that Facebook users are either involved in passive social browsing or what the researchers call "extractive social searching." The former is all about wandering through news feeds while picking your nose and sipping your Kombucha. The latter involves making the positive decision to trawl through the Facebook profiles of your "friends." The inverted commas are necessary. Because it seems your Facebook friends might really not be your friends at all.

According to this research, when we (and I mean "you," naturally) are involved in extractive social searching we use very simple criteria when deciding whose profile to examine: we choose people we either love or hate.

So how do you feel when you're looking at Facebook profiles? CCJosh.Liba/Flickr

When we (and I still mean "you") look at someone else's profile, we read all their wall posts and their notes and spend more time than we might publicly admit going through their pictures. And it seems that as we're doing it, we're at a far more heightened state of feeling than when we're merely looking at news feeds.

The researchers hooked their guinea pork up to various devices that recorded physiological responses during a Facebook session. And, as so many have experienced in public bars, our bodies do not lie. Which surely opens up the possibility that Facebook is one of our first choices for inner emotional outpouring.

Natasha Murashev of applied psychology blog Psychblog.com offered the question: "Has Facebook stalking become the new way of dealing with anger toward a friend?"

It depends on what one means by "dealing with". Is our best way of coming to terms with the fact that we might be angry at someone or even hate them, to spend hours staring at a visual record of their life--the one that is so much more fun than ours?

Or does Facebook offer us a place where we can find virtual excuses not to do what we otherwise might? You know, like confronting those who have done us wrong, going to their house for an aggressive chinwag, or the most obvious and effective remedy for hurting those who have crossed us--seducing their lovers, admirers and, of course, their Facebook friends.

 

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