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Mountaineers Are Always Free (To Post Online): Facebook and Group Identity Posts

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College students use their social media profiles to create and (normally) maintain a positive presentation of their self-identities in an expansive online social network. According to the social identity model of deindividuation effects (SIDE) model, when students identify strongly as a member of a group, they may craft posts that reflect this group identity, which may or may not be seen as acceptable to others in their social network. In a one-to-many form of communication like a social media website, a person may have many small groups of people in their social network, but their audience is their entire network as a whole. This study analyzes how group identity shapes the way people post updates. Students from a large Mid-Atlantic university were surveyed about their group identity and their own social media posts. By analyzing and comparing their actual Facebook posts to their survey responses, a direct relationship between strength of group identity and group-conforming Facebook posts was expected.

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Mountaineers Are Always Free (To Post Online): Facebook and Group Identity Posts

  1. 1. Mountaineers Are Always Free (To Post Online): Facebook and Group Identity Posts J.C. Abdallah, McNair Scholar, West Virginia University Introduction Group Abstract Results Discussion Study Descriptives College students use their social media profiles to create and (normally) maintain a positive presentation of their self-identities in an expansive online social network. According to the social identity model of deindividuation effects (SIDE) model, when students identify strongly as a member of a group, they may craft posts that reflect this group identity, which may or may not be seen as acceptable to others in their social network. In a one-to-many form of communication like a social media website, a person may have many small groups of people in their social network, but their audience is their entire network as a whole. This study analyzes how group identity shapes the way people post updates. Students from a large Mid-Atlantic university were surveyed about their group identity and their own social media posts. By analyzing and comparing their actual Facebook posts to their survey responses, a direct relationship between strength of group identity and group- conforming Facebook posts was expected. Survey Demographics (N = 118) Descriptives of Study Measures • In general, the more we identify with a group, the less we perceive to post as a group member. In actuality, we tend to post more about our group if we highly identify with them. • Participants who were classified as “Freshman” or “Sophomore” were (a) even less likely to self-report posting about their group, yet they (b) actually posted the most out of all participants. • Lab participants’ were more likely to perceive that they did not post about their group • Perceptions of how others perceive one’s group is a significant predictor of group posts by a participant: the more one thinks others perceive their group as negative or anti-social, the less likely they are to self-report posting about their group. • Of 810 posts, none were coded as negative or anti-social! Correlations (p < .10) Facebook is the most widely used social media network. College students who are a members of a group may implicitly post more status updates that cater to other members of that group, especially if that student highly identifies as a part of that group. Fundamental theories such as self-presentation (Goffman, 1959) and social deindividuation (Walther, 1996) may help to explain how a person's identity and being may be idealized and sometimes compartmentalized in a certain fashion in a computer-mediated context. Context collapse theory brings forth an argument that different audiences on social media websites overlap, thus, creating a faction of an audience that often are not the target of posts, but yet still see them anyway (Vitak, 2012). Defined as a collection of multiple people who have free membership and share a common social (not relational) identity. Procedure Participants from introductory Communication Studies courses at West Virginia University were asked questions about their demographics, group identity, and Facebook usage through an online survey administered by Qualtrics (Survey). Specifically, they were asked what group they identify with, their own perceptions of their group, what they perceived how others perceived their group, how much from a scale from 0-100 do they identify with their group and how much they identify with their group using a three-item questionnaire. They were also asked to self-report how many of their last fifteen Facebook posts had to deal with their group identity. Participants were then asked to come into our research lab on their own time so the researcher could capture screen-grabs of the participant’s actual last fifteen posts (see example below) to compare to their self-report data (Lab). Participant age M = 20.36 (SD = 2.57) Participant gender 72 Females, 46 Males Participant class rank 62 Underclassmen; 56 Upperclassman Most popular groups ‘Eers (N=69); Greek Member (N=24) Participant age M = 20.31 (SD = 1.83) Participant gender 34 Females, 20 Males Participant class rank 23 Underclassmen; 31 Upperclassman Most popular groups ‘Eers (N=32); Greek Member (N=12) Lab Demographics (N = 54) Variable Mean SD Group Identity (0-100 scale) 82.13 17.51 Group Identity (3-item scale) 4.27 1.02 Own Perception’s About Group 5.90 1.14 Other’s perceptions about Group 4.71 1.53 Perceived Number of Posts 2.78 3.88 Actual Number of Posts 2.30 2.19 All students Group Identity (0-100 scale) r=-0.11, p=0.13 r=-0.28, p=0.02* r=0.18, p=0.09* Group Identity (3-item scale) r=-0.10, p=0.14 r=-0.30, p=0.01* r=0.06, p=0.32 Own Perception of group r=0.06, p=0.27 r=-0.03, p=0.41 r=0.07, p=0.31 Other’s perception of group r=-0.13, p=0.07* r=-0.19, p=0.08* r=-0.29, p=0.02* Underclass students (Freshman and Sophomore) Group Identity (0-100 scale) r=-0.16, p=0.05* r=-0.34, p=0.01* r=0.29, p=0.02* Group Identity (3 item scale) r=-0.19, p=0.02* r=-0.40, p=0.00* r=-0.07, p=0.31 Upperclass students (Junior and Senior) Group Identity (0-100 scale) r=-0.02, p=0.44 r=-0.21, p=0.06 r=0.07, p=0.31 Group Identity (3-item scale) r=0.00, p=0.49 r=-0.22, p=0.05* r=0.17, p=0.11 Variable Survey Participants With self- report posts Lab Participants with self- report posts Lab Participants With actual posts Number of Self-reported posts compared to actual number of posts (lab sample only): r=0.18, p=0.10* Keywords: social media, group identity, Facebook, college students, self-presentation For more information, contact J.C. at jabdalla@mix.wvu.edu. Special thanks to faculty mentor Dr. Nick Bowman (Communication Studies) for supporting this project, as well as the staff of the WVU Interaction Lab (#ixlab).

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