We decided that these would be the social norms now and we just went for it.— Mark Zuckerberg

Back in 2010, Facebook made a revolutionary change to our privacy settings. They decided to ultimately make a user’s personal information public by default, forcing the user to change it manually. This challenged users to decide what information to expose, and what to “hide”. These changes were expected to be extremely controversial, and result in a rapid decline of Facebook’s users. However, the exact opposite happened – in the past five years Facebook’s users have tripled, amounting to almost one billion users per day.

People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time. Zuckerberg, at the 2010 Crunchie Awards.

We are constantly exposed to the most intimate details of our Facebook friends’ lives­ news regarding their employment, relationship status, political views, and death announcements of their loved ones. This in turn causes us to depend on Facebook for a constant flow of information from individuals, regardless of our actual relationship with them. Our brains have become geared to crave this information from others, and also to share our own personal stories with our closest one thousand Facebook friends. This behavior legitimizes Zuckerberg’s concept of publicly sharing private information, warranting Facebook’s privacy changes.

One response to this new social norm is hiding. Some people have rejected this norm by putting a lot of effort into safeguarding their information and keeping tight control over their privacy settings. ?

This begs the question: Does it work? Does keeping our profiles on lockdown actually prevent people from learning about us?

You might be wondering, why does it even matter? Why should we be worried about an online virtual representation of ourselves if it’s unrelated to our actual personalities? It turns out that more often than not, our profiles are actually quite reflective of our true selves. Recent psychological studies have been investigating the connection between our personality and our online facade. (See Figure 1 for more information about how psychologists measure personality.)

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Fig. 1: “The Big­Five Model”(represented by the acronym OCEAN):A well­-established psychological model for measuring personality

A recent study analyzed the Facebook profiles of 236 users from the United States and Germany to test if how a user is perceived on social media is closer to their ideal self perception, or to their actual personality. By having observers rate the individual based solely on their Facebook profile, they found that the observer’s impression of the user was significantly closer to the user’s actual personality, than to the user’s ideal self perception. A parallel study showed that there is a positive correlation between the number of Facebook friends a user has, and their actual number of friends offline.

Both of these studies show that your online persona is actually reflective of your real life, highlighting that a user cannot truly create an online facade. This is logical because our social network activity is constantly validated by our friends, who wouldn’t continue to support a false image.

Given that our online profile actually does reflect our personality, now we can go back to our main question– what do we do with our privacy settings? In this era of massive sharing of our personal information, can people still learn about us even if we choose to hide?

Turns out, a lot of telling information can be deduced from seemingly minor aspects of your profile. For example, “Likes”, which are usually publicly available information, can tell much about your personality. Michal Kosinsky, David Stillwell and Thore Graepel tackled this notion, through studying a large sample of Facebook users. Together, they analyzed a pool of 58,466 Facebook users and found that by studying the pages an individual likes, you can draw accurate conclusions about their personality, demographics, and social media presence.

Zuckerberg’s take on this emerging social norm is that individuals are more open with their personal information. In today’s society it seems as if true privacy is often unattainable. Since judgement on your personality will be made anyway, choosing to hide your personal information can be questioned, or perceived as though you have something to hide.

Our verdict? Instead of hiding on social media – use it to your advantage. Be mindful of your social media past and continue to manage what you post in the future. Maintain an image that portrays your true self in a positive light.

Get started with your social media cleaning here and begin shaping your positive online reputation!

To check out how to clean up your Facebook for future employers, click here!