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When Social Sharing Goes Wrong: Regretting The Facebook Post

Posted by on Jul. 9, 2013 at 7:36 AM
  • 5 Replies

When Social Sharing Goes Wrong: Regretting The Facebook Post

A model poses for photos next to a life-size makeshift Facebook browser in the Philippines.

A model poses for photos next to a life-size makeshift Facebook browser in the Philippines.

Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

We've been following the Texas teen who's been jailed near San Antonio since February. It started when he posted a Facebook message saying he would go "shoot up a kindergarten." Austin Police arrested him and seized his computer and a grand jury indicted him in April on a charge of making a terroristic threat. Because a judge set bail at $500,000, to await trial.

"He's really sorry," said Jack Carter, Justin's father. "He just got caught up in the moment ... and didn't think about the implications."

While Carter's example is extreme and, as police contend, illegal, he isn't alone in posting something on social media and later feeling deep regret. The relationship was the focus of called "I Regretted the Minute I Pressed Share," by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University. The Carter case presents a timely opportunity to revisit what the researchers found:

The types of posts people regret won't surprise you.

This part probably didn't require an academic study, but research confirms that the most common Facebook regrets revolve around sensitive topics like alcohol, sex, politics, religion or "emotional content." That includes posts about relationships, with profanity and/or negative comments. (The study's title came from a respondent who posted a regrettable negative thought about a job interview.)

The three sources of Facebook regret: Underestimating consequences, unintended audiences or "Oops!" moments.

- Unintended audiences

Users often don't remember or know who might see their Facebook content. In some cases, they were concerned only about their Facebook friends and not conscious of the fact that people outside their individual network would encounter the post.

"We also heard several reports in which users' social-networking site content ended up in the hands of judges and prosecutors," researchers write. It's a situation Justin Carter knows well.

- Failure to foresee consequences

Sometimes users expect a negative consequence but underestimate its severity. Study participants used examples like posting and tagging photos of friends in states of inebriation, or posting messages or jokes that were racist or sexist, which in some cases led to professional ramifications.

- Accidental posts or misunderstanding privacy controls

"Relatively new Facebook users tend to have problems understanding the Facebook platform, and experienced users can still be caught by surprise," the Carnegie Mellon researchers wrote.

"One survey respondent said, 'I accidentally posted a video of my husband and I having sex . . . I didn't mean to post it, I had accidentally clicked on the video of my daughter taking her first steps and on that video and they both uploaded together ... I didn't know I had posted it until the day after, when I logged on again, and saw all the comments from all of our friends and family, and my [husband's] coworkers (he's in the Army).' "

In this case, the posting was an accident, but some users don't understand how their identities are connected with their activity, or just forget to update privacy settings on content. The process of setting up various privacy controls can be cumbersome — and confusing — which only heightens the risk when posting.

Our human tendency to "perform" on social media can lead to regret.

Social media lends all users a "public" persona, and when users try to present themselves in a way that matches how they want to be seen, this can lead to trouble. Part of the problem is that the norms of one community aren't the norms of another. So when we produce one version of ourselves for one context — say, our family — but behave quite differently in the workplace, the frameworks can clash on social media. The researchers wrote:

"A teacher holding alcohol in a school or public context may conflict with its social norms, whereas the same person holding alcohol in a bar during her vacation seems reasonable with the social norms of that circumstance. The problem is that sites like Facebook are becoming what [social media scholar Danah Boyd calls 'networked publics'] — public places on the Internet, where different conflicting contexts and social norms coexist."

In the unintended consequence-related regrets, what often happens is the "wrong" self-presentation was perceived by the unintended audience.

Online regret isn't the same as offline, or "real-world" regret.

A main cause of Facebook regret is when your posting reaches people you didn't intend it to because Facebook privacy settings can be confusing or you assume a smaller number of people will see your message than actually do. This doesn't happen as often with real-world regrets.

But the nature of online and offline regret is also quite different. Evidence from real-world-regret literature (yes, there are many studies in this area) show that what we regret in real life tends to be what we don't do — we regret inaction because of the fear of negative outcomes. For example, when we regret not telling people how we really feel about them.

But research indicates that Facebook users regret their action instead of inaction, "in which the impulsiveness of sharing or posting on Facebook may blind users to the negative outcomes of posts even if the outcome is immediate," the Carnegie Mellon researchers wrote.

Research around this area is growing as notions of privacy, surveillance and our online and offline identities continue to evolve. This particular research team wants to know whether certain kinds of users are more likely to take regrettable actions on Facebook, and if so, what are their characteristics? They ask other questions, like what is the long-term effect of regrets on users' subsequent behavior on Facebook?

As we've recently seen, in the extreme cases, long-term effects of regrettable posts can last a lifetime.

Neon Washable Paint

by on Jul. 9, 2013 at 7:36 AM
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Replies (1-5):
turtle68
by Mahinaarangi on Jul. 9, 2013 at 7:49 AM

Do people really use social media to perform?

Maybe I put too much thought into using these sites or maybe its because Im really old....but I write crap when bored or play games.  My photos are boring family stuff.

Mainly I interact with posts that interest me.  I have yet to regret one thing I have done online...(well maybe adding an absolute nutjob as a friend on CM) but ...how I write, what I say and how I say it ...has never been regretful.  Ive been wrong and sometimes have even apologized...but IMO that isnt regret.


LilliesValley
by Bronze Member on Jul. 9, 2013 at 7:54 AM

I'm just happier each and every day that I choose to not do fb and other things like it. Just seems like a giant cluster fuck most of the time. Cm is the closest I get to social media. I may miss out on some things from family but if it's important I'll find out about it one way or another. shrugs.

NWP
by guerrilla girl on Jul. 9, 2013 at 7:57 AM

Me too.

Quoting turtle68:

Do people really use social media to perform?

Maybe I put too much thought into using these sites or maybe its because Im really old....but I write crap when bored or play games.  My photos are boring family stuff.

Mainly I interact with posts that interest me.  I have yet to regret one thing I have done online...(well maybe adding an absolute nutjob as a friend on CM) but ...how I write, what I say and how I say it ...has never been regretful.  Ive been wrong and sometimes have even apologized...but IMO that isnt regret.



Neon Washable Paint

Ariellasmom
by Member on Jul. 9, 2013 at 8:01 AM
I have an account with facebook but i don't post much on there
jessilin0113
by Platinum Member on Jul. 9, 2013 at 8:20 AM

I pretty much only use Facebook to upload pics of my kids or post funny things they say or that happened to me, so I really only personally post every couple of days, if that.  I lurk on it, but rarely comment, and never get in to political/religious fights or arguments (I used to post links to fact-checking sites when I had a particularly paranoid right-wing friend, but I eventually hid her from my feed because she was annoying).  I don't think I've ever regeretted saying or doing anything on it, but I also understand how it works and who can see what, so I actually try to keep it as impersonal as possible. 

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