Social Media Use And Deception

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Social media has become a significant part of society and is used for communication around the world. Social media is defined by Jenkins-Guarnieri, Wright, & Johnson (2012), as the internet and online social media sites, such as Facebook, used to share experiences and communicate within social relationships. According to the Global Digital Report in 2019, the number of social media users worldwide is 3.484 billion people, up 9.9% from the previous year. According to Pew Research, in 2005 only 5% of American adults used at least one social media platform compared to today where at least 72% of the public uses some form of social media. People can communicate easily with friends and family by sending messages, creating profiles and quickly interacting with anyone, anywhere, at any time.

The obsession with and the frequency of social media use not only changed the way we communicate with each other–no longer face to face–it allows us to deceive or hide our true selves. Deception is defined as the act of misleading or hiding the truth (Cambridge Online Dictionary, 2008), and it can also mean the act of misrepresentation of oneself or deceiving others online (Stanton, Ellickson-Larew, & Watson, 2015) Misrepresentation of oneself can become a problem when truths are being omitted or fabricated to create an illusion. How far an individual goes in concealing their true identity by using deceptive behavior can carry negative consequences both personally and socially. It is too easy for a person to create an online persona, to offer only the highlight reel of their life while hiding behind a computer screen or the glow of a cell phone.

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This study is important for social workers because it addresses the significance social media has within our society at a social and personal level. Not only are there now ethical standards in which social workers must practice when it comes to social media platforms, but there are also new and emergent behaviors and diagnoses becoming relevant as technology use broadens. As social workers, it is important to consider the dangers of social media use and deception. By studying these two variables we can get a better understanding of the dynamics in relationships where social media has had influence, the effect social media has on the adolescent perception of oneself, and online victimization.

Validation Study

According to Jenkins-Guarnieri et al., 2012, more research needed to be done to better understand social behavior and development from the use of social media and its potential complications. This study was designed to capture how social media use is intertwined within the daily routines of users and how important the emotional connection was to this use.

Using a pool of scale items from the Facebook Use Intensity Scale developed by Ellison et al., and Ross et al., (as cited in Jenkins-Guarnieri et al., 2012) and with the help of a few psychologists familiar with their current research, an initial 34 items where chosen and then underwent revisions to yield a scale composed of 22 potential items. These 22 items were then cut to 13, removing statements that were redundant or did not add to the psychometric strength of the measure (Jenkins-Guarnieri et al., 2012). Among these 13 questions the first three items focused on the frequency of use or how much time was spent using social media sites, and the others were then presented as a 6-point Likert-type response scale where participants were asked to respond to each with their level of agreement or disagreement. This study used a qualitative approach with a convenience sampling method. The participants were undergraduate students between the ages of 18 and 25 from a medium-sized (N = 12,000) Rocky Mountain region university (Jenkins-Guarnieri et al., 2012).

The sample included 3,022 first-year students and invitations to participate were sent through their email. A total of 627 responses were collected and began the online survey, 616 of which reported using a Facebook account. Changes were made to the model removing two of the questions due to similarity in questioning. The new 10-item scale, the Social Media Use Integration Scale, showed adequate and consistent test-retest reliability and was shown in numerous ways. Positive correlations were found between the Social Media Use Integration Scale and the Facebook Use Intensity Scale (Jenkins-Guarnieri et al., 2012).

The results of this study focused on the integration of a site into the social behavior and routine of a user as well as the emotional connection they experience as a result. Items that assessed more quantitative aspects of social media use were not used because they didn’t fit this particular model. This suggests that there is an increase and benefit in studying integration and emotion rather than frequency or intensity of use. The quantity of social media use is not as useful as the integration of social media use into social routines that matter.

Factor Analysis

The internet can serve as a tool for the facilitation of positive and useful social interaction, but it has also become an avenue for online deception and victimization. Given the small and relatively new area of research in this sector, it would be useful to investigate personality and psychopathology and how it correlates to misrepresentation and deception of oneself online as well as seeking out real, meaningful and lasting relationships online (Stanton et al., 2015).

Data was presented from two community samples to analyze the nature of intimacy and online deception. The first study was examining the structure of an initial tool and used to assess how behavior related to personality and psychopathology. Study two was an opportunity to improve upon the assessments of intimacy and deception, based on the results of study one (Stanton et al., 2015). During the study, assessments were taken on psychopathology using different scales assessing “internalizing (e.g., depression), externalizing (e.g., deceitfulness), manic (e.g., euphoric mood) and schizotypal/psychotic (e.g., unusual beliefs) symptoms; and personality was assessed using the influential five-factor model” (Stanton et al., 2015, p. 189).

Participants (N = 410) completed both of the first and second study phases given three weeks apart and then were asked to complete a third phase (N = 300) approximately 9 months later. Comprehensive assessments of personality and psychopathology were provided during the first two phases, whereas the third phase was run as a supplement to the prior two. Participants were recruited from South Bend, IN, from a pool of those who had provided their contact information from previous studies, many from the local outpatient mental health center. As a result, this sample had higher levels of psychopathology with nearly half of the participants (N = 127) answering yes to one or more of the three questions pertaining to if they are currently or have received counseling/therapy or are taking medication for mental illness. Over half the sample was female (71.6%) and only half was employed (49.8%).

In order to address the goals for this study, items were pulled from the Computerized Adaptive Test of Personality Disorders Static Form, the Expanded Version of the Inventory of Depression and Anxiety Symptoms, and the NEO Personality Inventory-3. From these items, 10 items were written to assess the misrepresentation of one’s identity to others online or online deception, and the utilization of the internet as a source of genuine social interaction. This was presented to the participants on a 5-point Likert-type scale. A series of principle factor analyses were used to determine the structure and assess online deception and intimacy.


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