Social media platforms such as Facebook are having a “chilling effect” on the everyday behavior of young people, who are increasingly altering their actions amid concerns they are under constant surveillance from online friends, researchers have told Sputnik.

Joint research conducted by academics from the University of Edinburgh Business School, the University of Bath and the University of Birmingham have uncovered previously held concerns about how social media is affecting the lives of young, impressionable users.

Following in-depth interviews with a number of 19-22-year-old Britons, the study found that many Facebook users were self-censoring their day-to-day lives, known as a “chilling effect” to avoid disapproval from online friends.

“The vast majority of the ones that participated in the study had been, to an extent, chilling their behavior, due to the fear of what would go online,” Dr Ben Marder, researcher from the University of Edinburgh Business School, told Sputnik.

‘Am I Standing Too Close to This Boy?’

One of those who participated in the study, a 20-year-old student by the name of *Emma, said she would be constantly monitoring her behavior while in social situations to avoid creating a negative online perception of herself.

“At parties every time a picture was taken I [would] put the spliff behind my back so people on Facebook don’t think I’m a constant druggie,” she said.

“If the photo was not going to end up on Facebook, I wouldn’t care as much […] because not everyone would see it.”

Another participant, a 21-year-old called *Shelly, admitted she had changed the way she interacted with others at parties to avoid damaging any of her personal relationships.

“I remember during freshers’ [university orientation] week I had a boyfriend. He was really jealous and he saw some pictures of me on someone’s shoulders… and just went mental at me. So I had to consciously think every time there was a camera out: ‘oh, am I standing too close to this boy?’ “

‘Under Constant Surveillance’

While the monitoring of online behavior isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon, Dr Marder said the prevalence of social media and the increased availability and accessibility of modern technology was blurring the lines between the online and offline lives of some people.

“Essentially, the ‘chilling effect’ has existed online for a while, but now with the world of camera phones and the instantaneous transfer of information from reality to the online domain, this chilling effect has extended. So we’re not just monitoring our online persona, but we’re monitoring our offline persona too,” Dr Marder told Sputnik.

“In ‘olden day times’, when there was no social media, you could often relax about the way you were presenting yourself; you could not wear make-up, you could talk freely using whatever language you wanted.

“But now, you could be photographed by anyone and tagged online, which means that you’re under constant surveillance, which means that to an extent, you’re constantly worried about how you’re presenting yourself, and that’s not just to the people around you, but also to your online audiences, which are vast and varied.”

Dr Marder said this blurring of the boundaries between our online and offline worlds raised suggestions that the modern world was becoming an intrusive, “kind of Orwellian society.”

“What started as a tool to bring warmth to our relationships, has starting to have a chilling effect on our behavior. Big Brother might not be watching, but our Facebook friends are. And it’s reducing our freedom.”

*The names of those appearing in the study have been changed for privacy reasons.


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