December 1, 2008

Study: People Use Face-to-Face Cues Online

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All that time you spent on Facebook when you should have been studying may not be a waste after all. In a recent study, Prof. Jeff Hancock, communication, found that use of information on Facebook can be harnessed to gain influence and popularity amongst peers.
Hancock’s study paired participants who had not met each other over instant messenger. Some were asked to look at the opposite person’s Facebook profile before the conversation.
Those who looked at their partner’s Facebook beforehand were able to use the information obtained to ask questions and make themselves seem more similar to their partners. Hancock found that the more people used the information found out beforehand through Facebook, the higher likelihood that their partner would like them.
Hancock — who is particularly interested in how technology affects and changes relationships — says the study shows that in online mediums humans use the same basic face-to-face communication tactics of trying to make themselves seem similar to their peers.
What does this say for the relative benefits of internet technology? According to Hancock, it depends.
“I think what you are trying to do and who you are trying to do it with matters more than what medium you are using,” Hancock stated in an email. “Face-to-face interaction can sometimes be more efficient, but can other times be much less efficient.”
However, online communication also brings into question new issues of security for the information being conveyed.
This is a huge issue, perhaps the most important issue related to technology that is currently facing us,” Hancock stated. “We just do not have very good control of information once we put it online. Facebook, for example, owns everything we put on there. And while that may be a little worrisome right now, imagine in 20 years what people will be able to do with advanced search tools and functions with the data that we are putting online today. There is no simple technical solution. It will be something that I think we come to grips with as a society as we talk about it, make legislation about privacy and as we develop new technologies.”