The Intersection of Social Media Privacy Settings and Online Validation

     A few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the reasons that people share content on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. They mentioned that they had seen people delete photos off of their Instagram accounts if they did not get a good reception from those that were following them. Posts that received only a handful of likes were deleted after a few hours in an attempt to preserve an image of popularity. The conversation then steered its way towards the differing interests of users who have private accounts on platforms like Instagram and those that have public accounts. It seems likely that private users would be less concerned with the online validation that comes from receiving a few dozen likes than users who have an account that is open to the public. From what I have observed through my years of social media use, there are two kinds of users on these sites: people who post nearly continuously and people who post very infrequently and mostly just browse the sites to see what other people in their networks have been up to. In my opinion, users that share content on social media very often are more likely to have looser privacy settings on their accounts.

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     In my personal life, two platforms that I use frequently are Twitter and Instagram. My Twitter feed is public, while my Instagram profile is private. This conversation with my friend sparked me to consider how I use these accounts differently and why I would maintain one in a certain way and not the other. Personally, I feel like incessant posting on sites like these is irritating to those in your immediate social groups, so I try to mainly browse and keep the amount of content I share to a minimum. Additionally, something that I found to be really interesting was that I tweet, on average, multiple times a day whereas I post on Instagram about once a week. This might be nothing more than confirmation bias, but this examination of my social media habits seems to verify my theory that individuals with stricter privacy settings are more selective with the amount of content that they share. The platform restrictions and uses might also factor into my decision and those decisions of many others to use their social media profiles in different ways to help craft an online persona. Twitter’s 140 character limit means that I can post a few short quips a day, as opposed to needing multiple, unique photos to make multiple Instagram posts a day.

     Bringing the discussion back to the point of why users share content on their accounts and how reactions from other individuals could sway them to post more frequently or even delete the post entirely, I think that audiences on these social networks offer a sense of validation that did not exist previously. As many people go about their lives, they post on sites to keep their connections updated with their whereabouts and activities. Social media has become so infused with my lifestyle (and those of others) that if I were to post a photo on Instagram of a play that I went to see or a restaurant that I recently had a meal at and none of my few hundred followers liked the post, it would be fairly easy to perceive that as a disapproval of my choices and a hit to my self-esteem. Everyone likes to feel like their content is enjoyed by those in their social environments. I personally have never deleted a post because of this, but it’s not a stretch at all for me to imagine someone doing just that.

     How do you feel about the intersection of privacy, social acceptance, and social media? Have you ever deleted a post because it didn’t receive the attention that you had hoped for? Why or why not?

10 comments

  1. This is a fascinating topic. It is ironic that the greater the privacy settings, the less some people share or the more careful they are about what is shared. With regard to the two types of social media users, I think I am in the second category as I don’t post much. I also find that I tend to post more on public accounts (such as Twitter) and am more careful with what I post on private accounts (such as Facebook). Many people tailor their posts to appeal to a specific audience such as Facebook or Instagram to maintain how they are perceived by others. It is an interesting thought that people with private accounts don’t care about as much as about what others think of them. I personally haven’t deleted posts because it didn’t get enough likes or favorites. In an interesting New York Times article last year (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/sunday-review/we-want-privacy-but-cant-stop-sharing.html?referrer=&_r=0), they talk about the paradox that the more people share on social media, the greater the privacy they desire, demonstrating that people are not content with what they get in return for sharing so much about themselves. It also talks about how the lack of privacy can cause anxiety and result in more conformity and less individuality and creativity.

    1. @maxbg17 @philhowerbilly To be honest, I was totally surprised by both of your analyses that you are more careful with private accounts then your public accounts. Intuitively, it doesn’t really make sense, but after giving it some thought, it actually does. I don’t know about y’all, but I’m so much worse at public speaking when my best friends are in the audience, rather than just a random group of people.

      I guess in a way, social media on a private account is more linked to who you are as a person, while a public account is just another tweet into the abyss.

      Very interesting to think about, thanks for sharing!

  2. I totally agree that many people seek validation on social media. In fact, one of my friends actually admitted through a FB post that he would delete a picture if it didn’t rise to the around 80 or 90 likes that he normally gets. I personally have never taken down a post just because it didn’t get as many likes, but let’s be honest, a large number of “likes” does make you feel better compared to a lower number of likes. And if we think about this for a minute – it actually just sounds so ridiculous that we have to seek approval and strive to appear popular on social media. A lot of people simply #DoItForTheGram, and I think most people, including me, have posed a certain way knowing that that picture will end up on Facebook or Instagram.

  3. Great thoughts! I have definitely seen and heard about instances where Instagrams were deleted because they didn’t garner enough likes. An article by Slate states that Instagram has “the three things that correlate most strongly with a self-loathing screen hangover…loitering around others’ photos, perfunctory like-ing, and “broadcasting” to a relatively amorphous group.”

    One theme I’ve noticed is the “Do It for the Insta” mentality, where people go to events or visit certain locations just to post a picture on Instagram later, rather than doing something for the actual enjoyment of the activity.

    More information here: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2013/07/instagram_and_self_esteem_why_the_photo_sharing_network_is_even_more_depressing.html.

  4. Hello Billy! Thanks for this interesting post!

    It’s true that people tend to seek for approval on social media, just like what they do in reality. After all, no one wants to be disliked or disapproved no matter what kind of environment they are in. It reminds me that a few of the young generation in China compete posting luxury goods they have on their public accounts of social media to seek for “likes” or compliments from friends or others they may even not know. Once they find out criticisms or any other negative comments, they are more likely to delete the posts or at least, delete those negative comments if they can.

    However, I never go extreme to delete my posts only because they didn’t receive the attention I had hoped for. In fact, I’m not a heavy social media user and post my updates roughly once a week, so almost every post gathers a similar number of likes or comments. To be honest, I ever deleted my posts several times. However, it’s nothing to do with the feedbacks from others but something to do with my own careful thoughts after posting them. For example, once I posted a picture of delicious pork chops as my dinner and then deleted it a few minutes later, because I remember that one of my friends is a muslim. So here comes my second thought: Although I agree that some private users would be less concerned with the online validation than public account users, I also think some others may tend to become more careful and deliberate when using private accounts simply because they care more about their friends’ feelings and reactions, but not strangers’.

    At last, I would like to add one more thought about this issue. I just made an observation of my friends’ posts from my private account on Wechat, it seems that female, generally speaking, is a more frequent poster than male. I have a lot of male friends who never post anything on social media, but they know all kinds of updates very well. In other words, they’re more likely to hide themselves and stalk others on social media. But it’s really not that common among girls.

  5. Nice post. I read about something a year ago that was a browser plug in that removed all the quantitative data from Facebook (i.e. number of likes/ comments). Users reported feeling much less stressed using the platforms as a result.

  6. This was a very thought provoking blog post. The overarching question for me when I join any social media platform is how much do I want to share. Any account that is open to the public will naturally have fewer post or updates. I am very careful of what I post because I really don’t know how others will perceive my post/updates. I feel like there is a societal pressure to be politically correct at all times when your social media accounts are open to the public. I would admit that I am more open or rather will allow present more of myself on social media platforms where my accounts is private. More than likely my “friends” are family, friends and colleagues and they surely know the professional and everyday me. Regardless or social media accounts begin public or private, I think we all succumb to the the pressure of presenting our best selves online. So, yes. During my early experience with social media, I have been super-critical of the pictures I posted and deleted some of them. Today, I don’t even bother.

  7. I definitely side with you in agreeing that people tie in their self-validation in accordance with the success (via likes and comments) of their social posts. I feel that this is an inevitable consequence of social media because everything is quantified, whether it’s your number of friends to your number of likes to the number of people who comment on your posts. By essentially quantifying someone’s entire social life, social media leads to people seeking out validation in the form of quotas on how many likes/comments/friends/etc. they receive. The reality of the matter is that likes and comments are largely arbitrary and are dependent on factors like how many of your friends are even active on social media or whether or not your friends are selective about what they choose to like. Nonetheless, these numbers provide a visual and quantifiable basis for evaluating a person’s social life, so people inevitably feel more accepted and validated the higher these numbers are.

    Even when I was on social media, I fell into the category of being an observer, but hardly ever a poster. The worry of whether or not my posts would receive any likes/comments was definitely in the back of my mind when I went on social media, and it was a major reason why I kept my personal life very private and rarely posted on social media. I never needed my Facebook page to give me validation and to make me feel accepted, but just like you described I still wanted to feel like my content was enjoyed by other users and that I essentially marketed myself in the best way possible.

  8. Great post! I wrote about something similar last semester – Why Are Likes so Satisfying? In my blog, I talk about how psychology and social media are closely related. We are always looking for acceptance, and social media has taken this to a whole other level since our obsession with ‘likes’ comes from this psychological need of wanting to feel accepted.

  9. It does seem counter-intuitive, but I 100% agree with your point about being slightly more cautious about sharing when the platform has higher security settings. I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why that is, but I think it definitely closely relates to confidence and validation as you mentioned. (And no, I am not guilty of ever deleting a post/photo because it didn’t get enough likes, something I pride myself on probably more than I should)

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