Facebook Friends and Frenemies: Personalities Display Their True Colors Online
We make friends quickly on social media; which is ironic, given the absence of the visual, verbal, and behavioral cues that we use every day to size each other up offline.
Although most friends, fans, and followers are friendly, encouraging, and sometimes even inspiring, other disembodied personalities are online for all the wrong reasons.
Not all antagonists and trolls are anonymous. Sometimes, they are attractive. You cannot spot their antisocial tendencies through their attractive Avatar (it is easy to swipe a glamour shot off the Internet), or their impressive profile — remember that anyone can say anything. But if you know what to look for, you can spot their true personality through what they post.
Facebook Frenemies Revealed
Most dark personalities fly under the radar online, because they are not overtly threatening or insulting. Nonetheless, their dysfunctional personalities are detectible through their Facebook posts.
Reece Akhtar et al., in 2018, found that the "dark side" of personality, defined as "non-clinical dysfunctional dispositions," was detectible through the language posters used in their Facebook status updates.
Using the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), described as a "psychometric inventory" designed to measure “maladaptive and dysfunctional behavioral dispositions at work,” they discovered that language used in social media posting correlated with HDS scores.
One category was Bold, described as people who are self-aggrandizing, superficially charming, and self-confident. Bold individuals believe they are entitled to superior status because they see themselves as superior to others. Accordingly, Akhtar et al. (ibid.) found posts from Bold users were likely to showcase their achievements, power, the future, and of course, themselves.
Excitable individuals were described as people whose confused expectations rendered them temperamental and moody, as well as emotionally volatile. Their posts, rarely expressed in the first person, were more likely to express negative rather than positive emotion.
Individuals classified as Dutiful were described as people who are loyal and eager to please, but unwilling to go against the tide of public opinion. Accordingly, their posts focused on friends and family, contained positive emotion, but failed to express certainty. Their language reflects the desire to avoid controversy, and the inability to make decisions.
Akhtar et al. (ibid.) note that HDS results have been found to predict behavior in the workplace, because research indicates that individuals behave similarly both on and offline. They also, however, acknowledge the work-life boundaries, privacy, and ethical concerns surrounding the use of social media date in recruitment hiring decisions.
But it gets worse. For some dark personalities, subtlety is not their strong suit.
Dark Personalities Illuminated Through Insulting, Offensive Posts
In “Dark personalities on Facebook,” Bogolyubova et al. (2018) found a link between types of user and communication posted.
Writing threats or comments that were degrading or insulting in response to the Facebook posts of others were the harmful online behaviors most commonly reported. Regarding gender differences, men were more likely to post aggressive comments or send threatening or insulting messages.
There was no gender difference in disseminating the private information of others. The two unique predictors of engaging in harmful behavior online were male gender and psychopathy.
Regarding dark triad traits (narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism), the men in the study were more likely than the women to score higher in Machiavellianism and psychopathy. There was no statistically significant gender-based difference when it came to scores of narcissism, and no statistically significant link between narcissism or Machiavellianism and the tendency to engage in harmful online behavior.
This study was interesting as well because of the age range of the participants. Unlike many psychological studies, which are performed on college students, the mean age of participants in the study by Bogolyubova et al. was 44.96 years. Over 25 percent of the participants reported engaging in harmful behaviors online.
Separating Friend From Foe Is Easier in Person
Social media has definite social benefits, and allows people to keep in contact with friends and loved ones around the globe. But in some respects, it is more valuable as a supplement to existing relationships, than a method of venturing into new ones — unless both parties are willing to move slow and steady.
Interpersonal bonding is easier in person. This is true whether it occurs in a living room, an office break room, or a company boardroom. Not an online chat room. When we only communicate electronically, we sacrifice the opportunity to establish both chemistry and credibility. And regarding perception, we miss both green lights and red flags. For a healthy balance, online friending, liking, and texting should complement offline relationships, not replace them.
This article was originally posted in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 3,00 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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