Norms Breaching Experiment on Social Media

“Facebook Picture Creeper”

by Allie Weber

Abstract & Introduction: For this assignment I broke a social media norm on Facebook. I was a “Facebook Picture Creeper” which means I commented on 25–30 pictures from at least 6 months ago of someone I didn’t really know in a span of three days. Through this experiment, I came to the conclusion that when a generally accepted social media norm is broken everyone’s first instinct is to ignore it. Only a few days after I had stopped commenting on my subject’s pictures did they like one of my comments but that was it. I did have people who were mutual friends of my subject come up to me in person and one friend texted me and ask me what was going on because they know that it is not characteristic of me to do something like this.

Methods: For my experiment, I chose someone I had only met briefly because my roommate had asked me to sign them into our building. I chose the subject that I did because I knew that on Facebook we would have mutual friends because of SJU so, when the time came to friend request I knew she would accept because of the mutual friends. When I personally am friend requested by someone that I’ve never met before or don’t remember I will see if we have mutual friends that go to SJU to determine if I will accept or deny their friend request. Shortly after my subject accepted my friend request I set out to comment on ten of their photos in succession. I chose to only comment on then of my subject’s photos because I wanted them to trick them into thinking I was finished when I actually was going to comment on fifteen more photos. I finished commenting on the rest of the photos (fifteen) on the third day, again in quick succession. The comments I wrote ranged from being witty like “hope that water is sanitary” to just saying “nice photo.” To document my experiment I took screen shots of any action regarding my comments on the photos whether it was on Facebook or a text message from a mutual friend I shared with my subject. I also had another mutual friend come up to me in person and ask me what I was doing (I don’t know how to prove this).

Results: My subject was friend requested on March 24.

Shortly after my request was accepted I began commenting.

It was on the third day (the second day of commenting) that the subject liked one of my comments.

On the third day of commenting on my subjects images the mutual friend (aka my roommate) I shared with my subject texted me. She took a screen shot of one of my comments and asked me what I was doing. I chose not to respond through text and just told her in person because it was easier than texting it out.

After I told my roommate what was going on she understood. She told me she was very confused because she knows my personality and that I would never do something like this — I am a very quiet person.

I also had another friend come up to me in person after the first day of commenting and ask me the same thing. After I explained to her why I was commenting on the photos she understood. She too, was surprised at my actions because they were really uncharacteristic of me. Also, she was familiar with the assignment because she had a friend last semester who also had to complete it.

Analysis/Discussion: It is amazing how quickly social media norms change. When I first signed up for Facebook the norm was to post statuses, pictures, and have conversations with friends and that was only six years ago. However, at least in my age demographic, the norms have already changed. Today, the norm is to share articles that you think are important for others to see and to occasionally post photos. I think nowadays we comment on really old pictures of our close friends to embarrass them and show them that we are thinking about them since we have all gone our separate ways for college.

Another norm that has changed in my opinion is what friend requests you accept and deny. I believe that when we were younger you just accepted every person that friended you to gain friends but today we only accept those that we actually know or know through friends. I bring this up because I am confident my subject never would have accepted my friend request if we did not share mutual friends or go to the same college.

For experiment purposes it is unfortunate that my subject never responded to my comments with a comment of their own but it is not like they completely ignored them because they did like one of them. This behavior just shows how Facebook’s old norms are now considered weird and ought to be ignored.

Today, if people are in strange situations online their first instinct is to ignore. I’ll admit I do this myself. If I receive a phone call and the number is not in my contacts I will not answer the phone. If this experiment was done on me I definitely would have ignored everything. I would have tried to figure out the mutual friend we shared and reached out to them to see if they knew what was going on but I would never publically acknowledge the comments. This is exactly what my subject did minus the reaching out to the mutual friend. I think my subject didn’t do this because they couldn’t figure out who the mutual friend was. I did meet them once but it was very brief.

This experiment really made me realize just how many social media norms we have and how uncomfortable we are when they are breached. On Facebook it is not the norm to comment on basically a strangers photos from months or even years ago. No one wants those photos resurfacing on their news-feeds for all of their friends to see (unless you’re trying to embarrass a good friend like I mentioned before). As an online community we are all at ease when the norms are followed.

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