Amsterdam Center for Social Media

Social Media Stress

Marleen Huysman

This week, Joe Walther was visiting the VU. Joe is professor of communication research at Michigan State University and a highly respected scholar.
He presented his well-known work on social influence and self-identification, developed and popularized decades ago and extremely valuable in the age of Social Media and Social Networking Sites. He told us about his empirical studies analyzing the utility of the theories when interacting via social networking sites, and shared with us some hilarious examples of ‘discussions’ his sampled students openly shared with the rest of the world. We ended up with a discussion about the seeming ignorance among the students while presenting themselves online. We discussed that this seems ignorance but is not: knowing to be ‘watched’ is most likely incorporated in their online behavior, including their self-presentation and self-identification.
The role of the unknown spectator as a ‘third agent’ influencing the use of social media is quite interesting and has not received the academic attention that it deserves. For example, the social tools allowing user generated content to be shared in the open yield new tensions and coping communication strategies when applied in hierarchical closed organizations. It is a fallacy to assume that penetration of Web2.0 within organizations will radically change the age-old hierarchical setting including the hegemonic power of management. In our research on enterprise social media we come across a lot of ‘front stage behavior’ where people openly share ‘management-friendly’ ideas and insights and will continue using backstage locations such as the age old water cooler and email systems to share their real ideas and experiences with their own self-selected audience.
I told Joe about this front and back stage communication patterns that we observe. He recognized this and confessed that to him, social media use such as tweeting and blogging has become too stressful. Not knowing your potential audience, which could be your students, your employer, your colleagues, friends, family and neighbors, makes presenting yourself just too complicated.
I sympathize with Joe. Contemplating about all possible audiences that might be offended or even worse, re-tweet my message full of stupid mistakes results in very shallow messages that has taken ages to write (this particular blog of 400 words, took me 2 hours!)
Maybe Joe and I are just too old for social media. But my guess is that many others, including Joe’s students, will significantly adapt their style of social media use when entering professional life. Which is actually really sad.


Category: gezondheid, Social media


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February 2019
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