Monday, August 9, 2010

What does your Facebook say about you?

When you run an online social media campaign about mental health awareness, you are constantly aware of how you are perceived by the public. You must be careful about your choice of words (i.e. The Baby Seal Club) and make sure that you are providing the best information possible for your readers. The Peer Leaders are constantly sifting through articles, websites, and a plethora of information online about teen mental health, sex, drugs, and occasionally a little rock and roll. We discuss frequently if something is worth posting, if it is "Fact or Crap?" as we have joked on many occasions.

So when you are looking online at your friends' Facebook profile, can you be sure they are showing you who they really are? Well, now you can. According to a study in the March issue of Psychological Science, Facebook users' profiles accurately reflect who they really are! The study was done by a collaboration of University of Texas at Austin and the University of Mainz in Germany. Research assistants ranked profiles study participants on the “Big Five.” These are the five dimensions of personality often used in psych­ological research. They include extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, openness and conscientiousness.

The research assistants then compared their perceptions with personality tests of the study participants, and the feedback of four close friends of the participants. For the most part, the perceptions were very accurate. In other words, if you were to look at a profile on Facebook and think "Wow, this person sure is extroverted!" you would most likely be correct.

Why is this important? Well, think about everything we do online. We socialize, we date, and we occasionally snoop on other people! The latter is more common than you think, especially when it comes to employers checking up on prospective job applicants. What do you think a potential employer thinks when they see a job applicant's Facebook profile where all the pictures show the applicant drunk on the beach in Cabo? Hmm...maybe it's time to rethink posting those Spring Break photos.

The Sonoma County Peer Outreach Coalition works pretty closely with local LGBTQ organizations such as Positive Images and Outbeat Youth. Over the past few months, we have become increasingly aware of the problem of privacy when it comes to being "out" online. Once you have posted information online, people can access that information. Privacy settings can help, but concerns about safety and security often are at the forefront of the minds of those who have faced discrimination in the past.

Cyberbullying is also a concern regardless of one's sexual orientation. Teens across the country are being bullied by peers via the internet, often resulting in mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Cyberbullying has even been linked to a probable cause of a girl's suicide in New York.

Will knowing that people are (for the most part) pretty honest on Facebook help with this problem? Will this knowledge make it easier to spot a wolf in sheep's clothing? Can we now determine what is "fact" and what is, well, "crap?"

Excuse me now while I go remove my summer vacation pictures from my Facebook...

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