Social media platforms give people the opportunity to create the image of themselves that they wish to portray, and researchers at Lund University are reporting that people are even prepared to pay in order to uphold this image.
“That the image people share of themselves is ‘softened’ on the internet is perhaps not that surprising,” said study co-author Håkan. “What is new is that this is shown under experimental control and that the will to ‘filter out’ is so strong that one is prepared to pay for it.”
Holm teamed up with fellow economist Margaret Samahita to investigate how much people value their online social images using game theory. The purpose of the study was to better understand online behavior.
Each participant was paired with an anonymous person in a cooperative test online during which the individuals could earn real money. The participants could choose to be very cooperative, but this was costly. The game was designed to make it cheaper for the individuals to be less cooperative.
After the first phase of the experiment, the participants were told that information regarding how cooperative they were during the game may be published online along with their name. They were also told that they could avoid publication if they paid money to censor the information.
Those who cooperated the least placed the most value on censorship, and were much more likely to pay to have their information filtered out.
In a preliminary phase of the experiment, a group of participants had been asked to take a “selfie,” while the other subjects were not instructed to do so. The researchers wanted to explore how a selfie affected the willingness of an individual to share sensitive information.
“The selfie can be said to increase visibility, and by combining this with the information about subjects’ cooperation, we found that it increased their valuation of censorship,” said Holm. “This was especially true for those who cooperated little.”
In subjects who had reported that they took selfies very often, those who took a picture of themselves before the game were much less cooperative than those who did not take a selfie. The fact that taking a selfie seemed to predict the likelihood of an individual to cooperate was surprising to the researchers.
“One interpretation is that among some groups, a selfie can initiate a temporary selfish mindset that crowds out other motives such as the willingness to cooperate with others,” said Holm. “However, we would like to see more studies about this effect before it can be considered scientifically established.”
The study is published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization.