Meeting someone at a party or social function for the first time often prompts the reciprocal disclosure of superficial data. Strangers getting to know each other often share information about where they work, what they do, where they live, and other “safe” topics. Rarely does such cocktail party conversation delve into personal, private habits or proclivities.
Online, often the opposite is true. Twitter users in particular often tweet personal opinions and observations about sensitive topics, and freely share viewpoints and ideology, showcasing a much greater amount of personal information in a public setting.
Questions that arise include whether viewers are interested in and attracted to Twitter users who share a greater amount of information, and how the type of information shared impacts viewer interest and attraction. Further, once a viewer decides to “follow” a Twitter user, under what circumstances will a viewer be interested in actually pursuing a relationship?
Getting to Know You
Lemi Baruh and Zeynep Cemalcılar, in “Rubbernecking Effect of Intimate Information on Twitter” (2015) found that Twitter users who disclosed more intimate private information online received more attention, but such disclosure did not necessarily prompt an effort by viewers to get to know the user better.[i]
Specifically, viewers exposed to highly intimate information on Twitter paid more attention to the poster, and were more confident about attributions they could make about the Twitter user, although they were less willing to pursue further socialization. Regarding attraction, viewers who considered the Twitter poster to be similar to themselves were more attracted to the poster who disclosed intimate information. The opposite was true when viewers considered the disclosing poster to be dissimilar.
The authors note their findings suggest that although sharing intimate information on Twitter garners attention, it does not necessarily prompt socialization with the user—an effect the authors named the ‘‘rubbernecking effect’’ of intimate information.
How Much is Too Much Information?
The body of research that Baruh and Cemalcılar reviewed and incorporated into their study included findings that disclosing inappropriate information prompts a negative appraisal of the discloser. They also cited research that indicates when it comes to attraction, sometimes less is more, in the sense that uncertainty can add a measure of excitement to a relationship. In addition, they note that perceived similarity increases positive relationship development with the discloser, while dissimilarity does not.
The authors note that interpersonal dynamics function differently online, particularly given the ease with which a virtual user can disclose a high amount of personal information quickly and easily.
In their study, participants viewed Twitter pages of users categorized as low-intimacy or high-intimacy. Low intimacy users posted Tweets such as
· “You can never have too many white shirts, even if they are all identical” and
· “Grilled Chicken Panini for 5am breakfast? Sure why not!??? ?#Yum?”
High intimacy users posted Tweets such as
· “This is going to be the best relationship ever, long as you don´t mind the massive amounts of alcohol I consume and cigs I smoke,” and
· “I have so much love to give. LOLJK! I´m a black hole of despair that sucks the life joy, and happiness out of all living creatures. Hug?”
Baruh and Cemalcılar found that in general, Twitter users who share more intimate information garner more attention from viewers. But does this make them more attractive—in terms of prompting viewers to want to pursue further socialization with them? On the one hand, the disclosure of more intimate information increases viewers´ attributional confidence in the poster, which increases interpersonal attraction by decreasing uncertainty. This increases the likelihood the viewer will follow the Twitter user.
But in terms of pursuing further interaction with the poster, it was only perceived similarity that made such pursuit more likely. When viewers perceived themselves as dissimilar to the poster, tweet intimacy negatively impacted interpersonal attraction.
In the authors words, just like “a driver passing by a car accident, the satisfaction of voyeuristic curiosity through profile browsing on Twitter is temporarily enjoyed at the moment when the opportunity is available and, hence, does not call for further involvement.”
When Less is More
Although this study was done using Twitter, one can arguably generalize such findings to other social networking sites where users share information. These findings indicate that users who desire to cultivate personal relationships online should refrain from sharing too much information that viewers will not be able to relate to. Disclosure that prompts perceived dissimilarity apparently garners attention but not attraction.
“Less is more” might also be good advice regarding Internet safety. Although online platforms allow users to remain connected with friends and family, the intended audience is not always the only ones who are looking. All social media users want to avoid disclosing too much information to the wrong audience.
So, as with many other social habits, post and tweet in moderation, safely, and responsibly.
[i]Lemi Baruh and Zeynep Cemalcılar, “Rubbernecking Effect of Intimate Information on Twitter: When Getting Attention Works Against Interpersonal Attraction,” Cyberpsychology, Behavior, And Social Networking 8, no. 9, 2015.