New research from Dr. Tara Marshall at Brunel University has found that Facebook surveillance of ex-romantic partners may disrupt post-breakup recovery and personal growth.
That’s bad news, because earlier this year Veronika Lukacs found that almost 90% of people keep tabs on their exes using Facebook.
In the Brunel study, bad breakups were linked to a greater likelihood of Facebook stalking. That, in turn, contributed to current distress, negative feelings, desire and longing for the ex.
Remaining Facebook friends but not “offline friends” after a breakup was associated with less personal growth and poorer post-breakup functioning, given Facebook could be a source of emotionally damaging news (such as an ex’s involvement in a new relationship).
But remaining both online and offline friends led to lower levels of negative feelings, sexual desire and longing for an ex-partner, perhaps because exposure to the ex’s banal Facebook posts destroyed any remaining attraction.
Is stalking endemic to networked publics?
Facebook stalking is so common that when the Break-up Notifier service opened in 2011, to provide notifications when a contact’s relationship status changed, 3.6m users signed up in one week, Facebook slowed to a crawl and the service was banned.
We should not be suprised that stalking is so integral to Facebook. University of California researcher Danah Boyd argued in 2007 that networked publics have four properties:
The last of these, invisible audiences, is crucial to stalking. It also seems to be a necessary evil for Social Network Service (SNS) popularity. For many years Japanese SNS Mixi showed the “footprints” of those who had viewed a user’s profile.
While this led to initial growth, it was turned off in 2011 because of social problems concerning being seen and reciprocality.
Using Facebook for personal insight
Indirectly, both Marshall’s and Kuvacs' research points to new ways of thinking about personal insight.
Facebook collects information about “people and the connections they have to everything they care about”. The data is imperfect, but as Forbes describes, this “social graph” is as exploitable a resource as crude oil.
Until recently, the exploitability of this data was rather asymmetrical. Specifically, Facebook and marketers could dig into it but users were more or less limited to browsing it.