Facebook, Narcissism, And A Sociologist For Hire

Soraya Mehdizadeh’s study, “Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking,” was cast into the cybersea earlier this month, and media bit the hook. How could they not, baited as it was with the suggestion that Facebook is “a particularly fertile ground for narcissists to self-regulate.” Google the name “York University,” and even before you go to the site, you’ll see a reference to the study, in the search engine’s results listing. You may well have Googled this topic already, Google being the most popular website on the Internet — and the only site, according to many sources, more popular than Facebook. There is however more to be said about the study than Facebook = Narcissism, which in any case is a mis-description. Let’s look a bit deeper into it, shall we.

Until now, Facebook was notorious chiefly for its violations of privacy. That should hardly have come to us as a surprise: Mark Zuckerberg created the site in 2004 by hacking into Harvard’s database, stealing photos of fellow students. His initial vision of the social networking tool was a dormitory variant of the game Hot or Not, in which Harvard students were invited to choose the yummier of two juxtaposed photographs. Note how this first of the now many irritating Facebook games suggests narcissism, not from the supply but rather the demand side of the equation. Some of us are more concerned with our yumminess than others, but narcissism is probably a matter of degree, not kind. The York study reminds us that the Facebook apple hasn’t fallen very far from the dormitory tree, and it may be that you and I haven’t traveled so far, either.

Don’t be shamed by your selfishness. You will agree it is a good thing that a very small bit of the virtual world is reserved for your exclusive self-promotion. The other ninety-nine percent of the World Wide Web, most of which is even less noble than narcissism, couldn’t care less about what you think or even if you think at all. But on your little plot of ground you are free to post Photoshopped, nose-hair-free pictures of yourself, looking smart. You are free, no, encouraged, to say whatever you think about whatever. In contrast with most global resources, the Internet is not being depleted. We have plenty of it, and I for one bear no guilt as I go merrily forth, posting my fart and poo jokes on the walls of my Friends. Am I a narcissist? I don’t know what I am, despite the fact that I think about myself all the time.

One ought to do so. For example, we all of us have an ever-present need for food, clothing, and shelter. We need a job, or an inheritance. The narcissist is only looking out for Number One, as we all must. Even the disinterested knowledge seeker has to dedicate a portion of her intellectual efforts to such matters. Allow me to demonstrate, with a quotation from the conclusion of “Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking,”:

Future directions

The results presented in this study provide valuable insight in understanding how narcissism and self-esteem are constructed in a virtual environment. This research has several implications in marketing and advertisements in online communities. For example, it can be used to sell products that enhance physical attractiveness, a feature that is desired by narcissists and individuals with low self-esteem. [Emphasis added]

So, Facebook is a place for narcissists, but more to the point! — it is also a place to sell things to narcissists. One might even consider hiring a bright, narcissist-saavy sociologist to look into the matter. (Like)

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