Forget About Posting Something Embarrassing About a Friend -- Or the Friendship, Too, Say Experts

Face threats  Do you know what that is?  I'd never heard the term before and it confused me a little.  Until I realized it meant what people think about you on social media.

There's another phrase, too.  Impression management.  That's a little easier to understand.  Impression management refers to an individual's deliberate efforts to control or influence other people's perceptions. Sometimes impression management occurs in reaction to face threats: unfavorable incidents that undercut a person's ability to cultivate and maintain a desirable self-image on social networking sites (SNSs).

You know?  Like bragging about your new boyfriend who's a doctor and your friend posts that he's really a dentist.  That happened to me.  

SNSs such as Facebook, where content can be shared widely and is often persistent, studies have repeatedly shown that people are vulnerable to face threats resulting from things that others post, according to

 While there has been much documentation of face threats occurring in the context of SNSs and how people react to them, there's very little known about the relational consequences of carrying out a particular reaction.

"Social networking sites are so pervasive in our everyday lives and a platform on which others can judge you based on the content that you post," says D. Yvette Wohn, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the information systems department at NJIT's College of Computing Sciences, who, last summer, was named a recipient of the 2015 Yahoo Faculty Research and Engagement Program Award for her sustainability research in human computer interaction.

"Unfortunately, even if you put a lot of thought into what you post, you can't control what others post about you," she adds.

Wohn and her team began the research to better understand how people deal with face threats using computer-mediated communication and how their response affects their relationship with the person who created the uncomfortable situation.

"We found that people who tried to remove or justify embarrassing content actually experienced a decline in their relationship with the offender," says Wohn. "It may be important for people to know that trying to engage in impression management may also come at the expense of a personal relationship."

Duh.  The problem is, while face threats also happen in person, social media content is easily shareable with a large number of people and much more likely to go viral. This is cause for concern, as "people are connected to a lot of different people on social media, so what may be suitable for one group to see may not be OK for others," she says.

Frequently, communicating with the offender, however, made it less likely for the victim to experience a reduction in closeness.

"The people in our study gave us some horrific anecdotes," reveals Wohn. "I think it's important for people to think twice before they post something that contains information about someone else, because you may put them in a very difficult situation."


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