Amichai-Hamburger, Yair, and Gideon Vintky. “Social Network Use and Personality"

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    John Kilkelly

    ‘Social Network use and personality’ is an exploration of the concept that there is correlation between people’s personality and their online social activity. The authors, Amichai-Hamburger & Vinitzky argue that a user’s social network profile is an accumulated snapshot of online interaction, which itself is steered by off-line personality. Through objective analysis they attempt to prove that off-line personality can be identified by reading the correct Facebook metrics (number of Facebook friends, data uploaded by user, etc.). The implication is that data, drawn from a social environment, provides a purer form of analytical data. The authors go on to suggest how this data can be a powerful tool for on-line marketers.

    The author describes how personal motives of image desirability play a part in social networking and have direct influence upon on-line activity. As a result, a person’s on-line profile may be distorted and not a true reflection of their off-line personality. This is an important observation since many, if not most, of the metrics used in the study are affected by users image desirability and raise questions as to the validity of the exercise.

    Referring to an earlier study between nostalgic websites and personality, the author delivers a somewhat muddled attempt to portray Facebook as a social website that is less susceptible to profile distortion. Amichai-Hamburger & Vinitzky suggest that Facebook’s primary purpose is to transfer existing off-line friendships to an on-line setting; therefore off-line personality is more likely to be observed. This argument is quite weak and serves to undermine the studies metrics rather than support the author’s case. Considering Amichai-Hamburger & Vinitzky’s work is largely based on analysing Facebook profiles, the reader may expect a stronger case for the studies metrics. However, the question of profile distortion and the validity of the metrics remain strong in the readers mind, suggesting a stronger case is not available.

    Consequently, significant evidence of profile distortion is found in the study’s results. The author predicts that people who score high in agreeableness, due to their nature, would have a higher number of Facebook friends. This prediction proved unfounded, with no correlation observed between the two. The author suggests profile distortion is at play here as he concedes ‘complexities of the motives that lie behind Facebook behaviour’ is the cause for his inaccurate predictions. Comparatively, metrics not prone to profile distortion fall into line with the authors predictions. This is observed as the author successfully predicts that people who score high in openness, will use more Facebook features. This is further evidence that if a metric is open to bias it is likely to be unreliable for objective analysis.

    Although Facebook profiles may not be suitable as an evaluation tool for off-line personality, at the time of writing (2010), it was possibly the best option available to the author. Personality is something better reflected in how we interact with one another, rather than something observed in a profile. It wasn’t until 2010 that the introduction of the Facebook ‘Like’ button that users could truly interact with one another on social media. It would be unfair to criticize the authors for not including the ‘Like’ button in their analysis as it was either unavailable at the time or too new for objective analysis.

    To the casual user the ‘Like’ button may appear to be an innocuous tool allowing us interact more closely with our friends, but in the context of the marketing implications put forward by Amichai-Hamburger & Vinitzky, this tool becomes a powerful force with connotations of consumer spying and manipulation. Facebook are currently trialling their new ‘Reaction’ buttons in Ireland. Although it is admirable to think that their analysis is solely focused on improving the user’s interactive experience, one could be forgiven for thinking their analysis is more akin to Amichai-Hamburger & Vinitzky studies and centred on what marketing data can be extracted from the new features. It is often said “if you are not paying something, you’re likely the product”. With Facebooks new ‘Reactions’ buttons, we may have become a more desirable and more expensive product!

    In light of recent Facebook changes, it appears the missing metrics that caused inclusive results within Amichai-Hamburger & Vinitzky’s work were already appreciated by Zuckerberg’s marketing team and the wheels were in motion to fill the gaps. Repeating Amichai-Hamburger & Vinitzky’s experiment in 2015, with the updated metrics based on interactive features, would likely provide the conclusive data the authors were seeking. In hindsight, it may be fair to say that their work was somewhat ahead of its time and in a sense, Amichai-Hamburger & Vinitzky were prosecuting a crime before it was committed.

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