Many investigators assume that popularity becomes a central concern for students in early adolescence as their peer group displaces parents as the most important social influence. So, this period has seen much research (Babad, 2001; Boyatzis et al, 1998; Zakin, 1983; Gordon, 1957). Babad (2001) asked junior high students and their teachers from both Israel and the United States to name popular students and attractive students. Popularity positively correlated with higher attractiveness, leadership skills, humor, extroversion, academic achievement, and teachers’ favor. Boyatzis, Baloff, and Durieux (1998) showed attractiveness and grades influenced an individual’s popularity. For 9th graders, attractiveness was more important than grades in determining popularity (Boyatzis et al., 1998). Unattractive students, no matter how high their grades, were consistently perceived as unpopular.
If attractiveness also plays a role in online popularity, then the photograph and other information provided in a user’s profile may be used to determine this aspect of social status. Because Facebook™ users can be connected by their school coattendance and can list the courses they take, users can also access overall academic interest and achievement. This could be used to create status differences online, just as it does offline.
There may also be an association among athletic ability, sociability, and friendship choices. In Zakin’s (1983) study students chose the attractive children to be their friend over athletic and sociable children. Some variation on friendship preferences exists based on age and gender. Third graders preferred athletic children over sociable children, but 8th graders showed no preference when choosing friends. Athletic ability played a larger role than sociability in determining friendship choices in young girls. Just as in school, it is possible to judge someone based on athleticism and sociability on Facebook™.
Gordon (1957) used ethnographic methods to understand high school popularity. Patterns of dress, dating, and moral behavior closely relate to social position. The “Queen Role” requires “beauty, approved dress, moral character, democratic personality, scholastic achievement, exercise of influence, and school service” (Gordon, 1957, p. 68). Since Gordon’s (1957) work other researchers have confirmed the importance of such attributes to popularity (Brown & Lohr, 1987; Merton, 1997). Users may develop impressions of some of these characteristics on Facebook™, from profile information, including number of friends and photos that are interpreted for attractiveness, dress, dating, and other behaviors. Achievement could be judged from work experience, courses taken, honors, extracurricular accomplishments, and awards.
Personality and Self-Esteem
Personality characteristics and temperaments may have an impact on one’s popularity. The Five-Factor Model (Ewen, 1998) describes personality based on five main dimensions: extroversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness to experience. Temperament models (Buss & Plomin, 1984) and the Five-Factor Model may explain why certain individuals become popular and others do not based on attributes such as agreeableness, extroversion, and conscientiousness (Mervielde, 2000).
Dimensions of personality may also be related to self-esteem. People with higher self-esteem tend to be more extroverted, agreeable, conscientious, emotionally stable, and more open to experience (Robins, Tracy, Trzesniewski, Potter, & Gosling, 2001). “Individuals’ beliefs about themselves influence how they act in particular situations, the goals they pursue in life, how they feel about life events and relationship partners, and the ways in which they cope with and adapt to new environments” (Robins et al., 2001, p. 465). So, self-esteem may also associate with popularity in a new environment such as Facebook™.
The five dimensions of personality reviewed are not the only factors affecting self-esteem. Mruk (1999) posits that being accepted and treated well in various areas of life (e.g. online, work, school, romantic relationships, and family) may result in higher self-esteem. Someone who lacks virtuosity may have lower self-esteem due to high levels of guilt. Reaching personal goals, having control over one’s environment, and being able to shape events gives individuals a sense of influence, personal efficacy, and contributes to positive self-esteem. Individuals with high self-esteem have a more positive outlook and are more independent, self-directed, and autonomous than those with low self-esteem, who tend to be more negative, feel inferior, unworthy, lonely, insecure, anxious and depressed (Mruk, 1999; Brown & Marshall, 2001; Kernis, 2003; Pyszczynski, Greenberg, Solomon, Arndt, & Schimel, 2004; Donnellan, Trzesniewski, Robins, Moffitt & Caspi, 2005).
Initially, it was believed that individuals with low self-esteem orient toward self-enhancement while those with high self-esteem try to protect themselves. Tice (1993) points out that because people with low self-esteem were assumed to have nothing to lose, to enhance their views of self they adopt risky, self-aggrandizing, get-rich-quick schemes. In contrast, people with high self-esteem were seen as comparable to wealthy individuals who have much to lose and little to gain and so should be cautious investors who seek to avoid loss.
This theory was not supported by empirical research, and led to revision. High self-esteem individuals want to enhance it, and low self-esteem individuals want to compensate for their self-esteem (Tice, 1993), trying to fix their deficiencies in order to be acceptable. People with high self-esteem think they are already acceptable and want to enhance an already higher status. This can explain why Facebook™ users with both high and low self-esteem may try to look popular on the SNS.
Self-Presentation & the “real me”
Self-presentation refers to a person’s effort to express a specific image and identity to others (Baumeister, Tice, & Hutton, 1989; Joinson, 2003). Schlenker, Weigold, and Hallam (1990) suggest that people with high self-esteem are more likely to use an acquisitive self-presentational style, which seeks social approval, while those with low self-esteem are more likely to be self-protective, trying to prevent or lessen any social disapproval (see also Arkin, 1981 and Wolfe, Lennox, & Cutler, 1986). In the study conducted by Schlenker et al. (1990) individuals with high self-esteem were more boastful as the social stakes increased, while individuals with low self-esteem were more timid. Although researchers generally accept this as true (Schlenker et al., 1990; Tice, 1993), the results may vary when people are socializing online versus offline.
Impression management has been defined as the manner in which individuals plan, adopt, and carry out the process of conveying to others an image of self in interaction with the communicative context (Arkin, 1981). Accordingly, Facebook™ users probably set up their profiles in order to suggest a certain image to viewers. One type of impression management is ingratiation, which manipulates appearance, personality, or behaviors to project greater attractiveness (Jones and Wortman, 1973; Schlenker, 1980). Facebook™ users may be considered ingratiators if they create their profile in a misleading or exaggerated way to gain friends or foster images others find attractive. Jones and Wortman (1973) point out ingratiating behavior is not always conscious or intended. Applying these notions, we may expect that some Facebook™ users be perceived as ingratiators simply out of modeling other users’ behaviors even though they have no ingratiation intensions. Nevertheless, some users might want to impress others and look as attractive as possible.
Screen names, profiles, and messages are means through which Facebook™ users can foster others’ impression formation about them. Impressions are based on the cues and conceptual categories found within a user’s profile (Jacobson, 1999). Users may select what information they want to include in a profile to highlight their most positive qualities (Swinth, Farnham, & Davis, n.d.). Initial impressions made by individuals communicating online may be less complete and less detailed than those made in face-to-face situations (Hancock & Dunham, 2001). Impressions, however, are likely to be more extreme when making them online rather than face-to-face, because of the reduced feedback to dampen emotional expression (Joinson, 2003; See also Hancock & Dunham, 2001).
Studying three different SNSs, Marwick (2005) analyzes profile categories of text, pictures, and testimonials and identifies three types of presentations: Authentic, presenting true information about the self such as real name and location; Authentic Ironic, presenting true information but modifying it using sarcasm, irony, or satire; and Fakesters, whose profiles claim that they are celebrities, objects, places, activities, or obscure in-jokes. Skog (2005) reported that on LunarStorm™, profiles, sending messages, and indicators of authenticity such as using “real” photos, indicate one’s status. Boyd and Ellison (2007) point out that friendship links, or “public displays of connection,” are another important aspect of self-presentation. One of the reasons given by Friendster™ users for choosing particular friends is impression management (Donath & boyd, 2004).
Bargh, McKenna, and Fitzsimons (2002) cite Carl Rogers (1951) as suggesting that attributes a person demonstrates in social settings such as being witty, assertive, or decisive, are a limited array from their larger domain. Under various circumstances individuals may feel unable to present certain attributes they hold. This creates a difference between the communicated self and the “true self,” important aspects of an individual that are not easily expressed (McKenna et al., 2002). Based on experiments, Bargh et al. (2002) and McKenna et al. (2002) concluded that individuals were able to express their true selves more accurately over the Internet than in face-to-face. So, perhaps some Facebook™ users may not be trying to manage their image but rather are simply expressing more of their true selves.
Joinson (2003) suggests that as users are accepted into a virtual community or make friends, they activate a hoped-for, “possible self” as a popular, socially skilled person. This may transfer to their interpretations of offline experiences. Facebook™ users who receive validation for their hoped-for possible self may seek to achieve the possible-self offline too, fostering higher self-esteem.
Younger Facebook™ users may care more about being popular online than older users. Valkenburg et al. (2005) had 900 participants, ages 9–18 complete a survey about online identity. Early adolescents experiment with online identities more often than older users. Motives for experimenting with identity online were: 1) self-exploration; 2) to see how others react; 3) social compensation, to overcome shyness; and, 4) social facilitation, to help form relationships.
Low self-esteem can encourage adolescents, particularly girls, to use the Internet more often in identity exploration (Valkenburg et al., 2005). This would explain why younger users may be more concerned with Facebook™ popularity. Younger college students are probably still experimenting with identity and may be dealing with new social issues more than older users, particularly those who move away from home for the first time.
Some Internet users may experience less inhibition online and be more outgoing, social, and involved than in face-to-face situations (Joinson, 2003). Because of this, some users are more able to express their true selves online. Accordingly, some users may participate in Facebook™ to achieve a desired social status, to expand their friendship circle, and to improve their self-esteem.
As noted at the outset, research on Facebook™ is starting to emerge, although a focus on the motives for using Facebook™ is not yet well documented. Nevertheless, relevant literature exists regarding uses and gratifications of various Internet communication modalities. Findings from these studies suggest some possible uses and gratifications for Facebook™ users.
Before the emergence of Facebook™Leung (2001) focused on ICQ (“I seek you,” an instant messaging program with many global users). Motives for using some SNS or instant messaging technology may be similar, although Hargittai (2007) cautions against generalizing across such media having found demographic differences among their users. Some ICQ motives include: relaxation, entertainment, fashion, affection, sociability, and escape (Leung, 2001). Heavy users are motivated by sociability and a desire for affection. In contrast, fashionableness, or trying to look cool and stylish among friends, tends to motivate infrequent users.
Joinson (2003) compiled a list of motives for using the Internet that may also apply to Facebook™. Many users turn to the Internet for self-enhancement, self-protection, and self-esteem purposes. Others get online to find meaning in their lives, to affiliate with other people, and to find a sense of self-control and self-efficacy. Affiliation can provide Internet users with pleasure from mental stimulation, heightened self-esteem from praise, an opportunity to compare one’s self to others to gain more self knowledge, and can also provide social support (Joinson, 2003; See also Hogg & Abrams, 1993). Another motive may be uncertainty reduction about the self (Joinson, 2003).
In their review of Facebook™ research, boyd and Ellison (2007) describe several relevant recent studies. They report that Golder et al. (2007) examined a large number of Facebook™ users’ messages for insight into friending and messaging activities. Lampe et al. (2007) reported that profile fields that reduce transaction costs and are harder to falsify and most likely linked with larger numbers of friends. Ellison et al. (2007) suggest that Facebook™ is mostly used to maintain or reinforce existing offline relationships, as opposed to establishing new ones online. There is usually some common offline activity among individuals who friend one another, such as a shared class or extracurricular activity. Earlier forms of public CMC such as newsgroups did not typically connect to offline relationships, no matter how weak the ties. The only link between communicants was their online discussion list participation (Ellison et al., 2007).
In contrast, Lampe et al. (2006) found that Facebook™ users engage in searching for people with whom they have an offline connection more than they browse for complete strangers to meet. Reporting a similar observation, Lenhart & Madden (2007) found in a Pew study that 91% of U.S. teens use SNSs to connect with friends. Nevertheless, there are unique social activities on SNSs. boyd (2008) asserts that Myspace™ and Facebook™ enable U.S. youth to socialize with friends even when unable to do so in offline situations, arguing that SNSs support sociability, just as non-mediated public spaces do. Some research has begun to look at how faculty activity in Facebook™ affects student-professor relations (Mazer, Murphy, & Simonds, 2007).
On the whole, there are mixed results for two competing hypotheses regarding what motivates online communication relative to offline communication. The Social Enhancement hypothesis is that those who perceive their offline social networks as well developed seek to enhance them by developing more extensive online social networks (Valkenburg et al., 2005; See also Ellison et al., 2007; Kraut et al., 2002; Walther, 1996). The Social Compensation hypothesis is that those who perceive their offline social networks to have undesirable characteristics seek to compensate by developing more extensive online social networks (Valkenburg et al., 2005; Valkenburg & Peters, 2007).