I Broke The Norms.
An experiment documenting how people react to unspoken rules being broken on Facebook, and a how-to guide on making a bunch of your friends uncomfortable.
Social media is one of the most powerful tools in connecting people in today’s fervent digital age. Upon creating a social media account, there is an invisible agreement that you are making to conform to the norms in social media culture. This agreement is so invisible, so unspoken, that we don’t even think twice about it. So why do we cling so tightly to the norms on social media? Why can’t I go to the profile of a friend of a friend and like all of their pictures from a family trip to the beach four years ago? Why can’t I share what I’m doing every second of the day? These questions may bridge beyond the screen. Why can’t I sit right next to a stranger when there is an empty row of seats? Why can’t I go knock on the doors of everyone I don’t know in my residence hall and ask if they want to hang out? The answer is actually pretty simple: because it’s uncomfortable. Because so much of our lives are on social media, we apply these same attempts to avoid any discomfort or awkwardness that we do in our every day social lives.
That being said, I conducted an experiment called the “Facebook Wall Inquisitor” where I friend requested five friends of friends, who I didn’t know, and wrote publicly on their Facebook walls introducing myself and asking them questions about themselves. For someone unfamiliar with the norms on Facebook, this may seem like a harmless, friendly gesture. But in today’s social media culture, this is highly frowned upon. Why? Because it is awkward — and you will see exactly how awkward it is in my conduction of the experiment.
Method of Operation
In order to conduct my experiment, I friend requested five people that I didn’t know on Facebook. Three of the people were the friends of my friends from home and two were friends of my friends from college. The experiment took about a week because apparently people don’t check Facebook very often…or maybe they thought I was weird and had to think about it for a while; but regardless, it took a week from the time I requested them to the time I was able to post on all of their walls. After they accepted me, I went to their pages and took a little look around, finding out where they go to school and what kind of stuff they’re into. Then, I wrote a paragraph full of questions about their lives, while telling them a little about me. After that, I sat back and waited for the responses.
Subject 1: The “Lolwut”
The first person I interrogated on Facebook was a good friend of my friend from home. The best part of this one was the response from our mutual friend. Right in her character of amused confusion, she was the first to respond. Then, her friend politely, but awkwardly, answered my questions.
Subject 2: The Surprisingly Enthusiastic
The next person that I asked questions was a friend of my friend from SJU. She was actually super enthusiastic and happy to meet me. I was pretty surprised by this because she didn’t seem uncomfortable at all. She also didn’t text my friend saying “who is this,” or anything of the sort.
Subject 3: The Silent Treatment
So, this one did not go as I had hoped. This person is a friend of one of my friends at SJU like the last one. This subject did not accept my request until the last day of the experiment, and I quickly wrote on her wall, but unfortunately she has not responded. One thing I did differently for this person was that I didn’t say who I was, like “I’m _____’s friend!” etc. I wonder if this had anything to do with the person not replying to me. When I stated who I was for the other people, they seemed pretty open to my message.
Subject 4: “I don’t understand this.”
The fourth person was my friend from home’s roommate. Unfortunately, I had casually mentioned to my friend that I had this assignment a while ago and I’m not really sure if her response was entirely genuine or not. I did the same routine, writing on the person’s wall by introducing myself and asking her questions. After my friend commented, I texted her asking for her roommate’s response. She had been with her at the time, so luckily she could witness it. The best part of this one was that some girl that my subject apparently doesn’t really talk to liked the post, which confused her even more.
Subject 5: Yeah, she literally gave me nothing…
So some people are definitely more private on Facebook then others. The last person who I requested never accepted me! I got total radio silence from this one, so there isn’t even a screenshot to show. But my planned wall post would have gone something like this…
“Hi _______! Wow, you’re ______’s roommate? She’s like my best friend! How do you like BU? What are you majoring in? I’m a Communications major. Is _____ hard to live with? Do you guys get along well? Do you play any sports? Where are you from? I’m from Maryland, right outside DC. It’s a pretty cool place to live in. You should come visit ______ so we can hang out lol! Great to meet you!”
Through my experiment, I can conclude that people are extremely sensitive to awkwardness over social media. This makes sense, because if someone breaks a social norm in real life, it makes people uncomfortable. Because so much of our lives are now on social media, the same rules of discomfort apply. Our social habits on the Internet have evolved to replicate our social habits in real life. When I told some of my friends about the experiment I would conduct, they were all shocked and surprised that I was willing to do such a thing. That’s how uncomfortable breaking social media norms is — to the point that just hearing someone talk about it provokes a feeling of uneasiness.