A recent Boston Globe article on “online personas” was motivated by a tragic case of child neglect in Blackstone, Massachusetts. A woman who was ostensibly living with two school aged children and their father in a small home, while maintaining a cheery online presence, with “cheerful pictures on Facebook of her cooking and updates about her two older children.” But there also in her home were three hidden bodies of dead infants and two other children who were kept inside and “who appeared to be severely neglected. The interior is discovered to be in a ‘state of squalor, with garbage, debris, and dirty diapers stacked over a foot high in places, and an out of control rodent and pest infestation,’ police said.” (August 28, 2014, Boston Globe, “Police Arrive After Neighbor Discovers Children”),
People have always tried to manage their images in the social world. Do social media allow us to take this impression management to a whole new level? What are the consequences for our everyday lives? What does this mean for the research methods we use to study the social world?
In a recent survey, social psychologist Ethan Kross found that young people who spent more time on Facebook felt less good about their own lives. He concluded that the problem was that the rosy self-portraits they saw on Facebook made users feel deficient by comparison. See http://home.isr.umich.edu/isrinnews/ethan-kross-2/.
So when we investigate the social world, it’s a good idea to inquire about our participants’ online social worlds as well as their face-to-face contacts. We also can use postings to social media sites as another source of data about the social world.