Facebook’s effect on emotional reactivity to in-lab peer feedback manipulations
Steele, Ann Katharine
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Peer feedback is a foundational currency on the social networking platform Facebook. Facebook users share photographs and personal updates their friends can then “like” or comment on – feedback often seen by users’ friends. Negative peer feedback on Facebook can have severe consequences: media outlets have attributed teen suicides to bullying on Facebook, and some worry Facebook is dangerous for young people. While Facebook provides an additional channel for peer feedback, it is unclear whether feedback on Facebook, in the absence of face-to-face feedback, prompts emotional reactivity. We conducted three studies investigating the emotional effects of Facebook-mediated peer feedback on university students. In each we measured affect and self-esteem before and after controlled manipulations of two factors: feedback valence and communication channel. In the first study, participants believed they were evaluated to determine whether they were “likeable”. We compared participants’ emotional reactivity to acceptance or rejection feedback (feedback valence) delivered after a peer evaluation manipulation occurring either on Facebook or face-to-face (communication channel). In the second study, participants were told they would join a group in determining the “most likeable” student amongst them. We compared participants’ emotional reactivity to supportive or bullying feedback (feedback valence) delivered on Facebook either privately or publicly (communication channel). In this study we additionally measured changes in participants’ perceptions of their own social status and the social status of the person delivering feedback. In the third study, we tested whether demographic and psychosocial variables moderated the effects found in the second study. We found no appreciable differences between face-to-face and Facebook-mediated feedback. Bullying on the Facebook Profile dampened self-esteem more than bullying through Facebook’s private Messenger client, which had no appreciable effect on self-esteem. Moderation analysis revealed that only people reporting depressive symptoms indicated that bullying on the Facebook Profile dampened their self-esteem. These results suggest Facebook does not itself amplify or blunt the emotional effects of peer feedback, and instead confirms the important role individual differences play in emotional reactivity. Individual and environmental triggers of emotional reactivity, such as psychosocial vulnerabilities and sociometric status, may remain the best targets for reducing the negative effects of peer victimization.