THOUSANDS of “friends” on Facebook were once a sign of popularity and social prowess, but now, according to a report from Edinburgh University, it will most likely be a cause of stress.
People who have Facebook friends drawn from a wide social group such as their parents and employers are raising the potential for accidentally causing them offence and so stress to the individual, according to a study by the university’s business school.
Stress arises when a user presents a version of themselves on Facebook that is unacceptable to some of their online “friends”, such as posts displaying behaviour such as swearing, drinking and smoking.
As older people join the site, this has become an increasing problem as their expectations may be very different from those of younger users. Some 55 per cent of parents now follow their children on Facebook, while more than half of
employers claim not to have hired someone based on their Facebook page.
Researchers found that on average people are Facebook friends with seven different social circles. The most common group was friends known offline (97 per cent added them as friends online), followed by extended family (81 per cent), siblings (80 per cent), friends of friends (69 per cent), and colleagues (65 per cent).
The report also discovered that more people are Facebook friends with their former partners than with their current relationship partner. Only 56 per cent of users were friends with their boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse online, compared with 64 per cent of ex-partners. The report surveyed more than 300 people on Facebook, mostly students, with an average age of 21. It also discovered that only one third use the listing privacy setting on their profile, which can be used to control the information seen by friends.
Ben Marder, an early career fellow in marketing at the business school, and author of the report titled Every Post You Make, Every Pic You Take, I’ll Be Watching You: Behind Social Spheres on Facebook, said: “Facebook used to be like a great party for all your friends where you can dance, drink and flirt. But now with your mum, dad and boss there, the party becomes an anxious event full of potential social landmines.”
Paul Allen, editor of Computeractive Magazine, said: “There are certain things we know about Facebook – people do not think about the types of information that they publish online. There is a real perception that they are just sharing information with a small group of friends as opposed to publishing, which is very definitely what they are doing.
“Lots of people fail to check out account privacy settings. Now, while Facebook has done a better job of educating people about that, I don’t think they have done a great job. The
options are there but the tutorials are not particularly helpful.
“However, the idea that they are going to be more stressed because they have more friends, I’m not so sure that quite ties up. I think if you are careful about what you post, you shouldn’t be stressed. The problem comes when you work with people you are friends with and then you have to remember their privacy as well.
“I think many people would benefit from editing down the number of friends they have on Facebook by asking themselves ‘do I wish to share private information with them?’”