The social dilemma of dealing with Facebook troublemakers

Online troublemakers tend to be socially well connected. Some Facebook users, therefore, remain friends online with troublemakers because they are worried about the repercussions if they ‘unfriend’ them.

People don’t want to risk causing offline tension with their friends, family members or colleagues by disconnecting them from their online lives.
Sarah Buglass, Nottingham Trent University

Online troublemakers tend to be socially well connected. Some Facebook users, therefore, remain friends online with troublemakers because they are worried about the repercussions if they ‘unfriend’ them.

This is the finding of a study by Sarah Buglass, a PhD student in the School of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University, who presented her research at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference in Nottingham yesterday.

Sarah said: "People are spending more and more time online making them more vulnerable to potentially damaging social tension and disagreements. Our study explored the characteristics of people who might be more likely to cause this sort of trouble in an online social network."

The researchers analysed the online relationship characteristics of 5,113 network contacts from 52 Facebook users (13 to 45 years). The participants were asked to rate 100 randomly sampled Facebook friends from their networks in terms of online disagreement (with self and others), relational closeness and communication frequency (online and offline).

Analysis of the results revealed that online troublemakers tended to be socially popular contacts who were known and in regular communication with the participants offline but not online (i.e. the participants were Facebook friends with the troublemakers but had very limited online contact). This implied that Facebook users might be keeping an eye on provocative friends in a bid to avoid confrontation themselves. Online disagreements were more frequent in the 19 to 21 year old group.

Sarah Buglass explained: "Facebook users appear to be harbouring known online troublemakers on their Facebook networks. While some were not averse to reporting the online indiscretions of others to the service provider, many more choose to merely ignore them. It appears that they don’t want to communicate with the troublemakers online for risk of damaging their own reputation, but at the same time they don't appear to want to unfriend them either.

"The social repercussions of unfriending someone reach far beyond the boundaries of the online network. People don’t want to risk causing offline tension with their friends, family members or colleagues by disconnecting them from their online lives. Remaining online friends with troublemakers appears to be a social necessity for some."

  • Notes for editors

    Paper title: ‘Looking for trouble: Characteristics and consequences of provocateurs on online social networks’

    The British Psychological Society (BPS) Annual Conference takes place from 26 to 28 April 2016 at the East Midlands Conference Centre, Nottingham NG7 2RJ. For details of the programme visit: www.bps.org.uk/ac2016

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    The BPS is the representative body for psychology and psychologists in the UK. We are responsible for the development, promotion and application of psychology for the public good. For more information visit www.bps.org.uk

    Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University’s five-year strategic plan “Creating the University of the Future” has five main ambitions: Creating Opportunity, Valuing Ideas, Enriching Society, Connecting Globally and Empowering People.

    The Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education was awarded to Nottingham Trent University in November 2015.  It is the highest national honour for a UK university and recognises the institution’s world-class research. Pioneering projects to improve weapons and explosives detection in luggage, enable safer production of powdered infant formula, and combat food fraud, led to the prestigious award.

The social dilemma of dealing with Facebook troublemakers

Published on 28 April 2016
  • Category: Research; School of Social Sciences

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