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The eyes have it: How publicness and surveillance primes influence prosoical communication on Facebook


This study examines the effects of publicness and surveillance primes on two types of prosocial communication on Facebook, kind lying and blunt truth telling. Public communication (e.g., a wall post) was expected to increase kind lying relative to private communication (e.g., private message) as participants attempted to balance their desire to protect a friend’s feelings with the desire to be truthful. Surveillance primes (e.g., eye spots) were expected to intensify this effect by increasing kind lying in public and blunt truth telling in private. Participants were presented with scenarios on mock Facebook pages where they had to answer a friend’s question with either a kind lie or blunt truth answer choice. As predicted, participants required a reason to lie on Facebook, and they used kind lies more often in public, but only when the surveillance primes were present. Participants open-ended response data also revealed prosocial motivations for choosing a blunt truth or a kind lie across conditions. These results are discussed in terms of how prosocial behaviors on Facebook can be driven by subtle differences in one’s communicative environment.

E. Spottswood
J.T. Hancock
International Communication Association 63rd Annual Conference, London, UK
Publication Date
June 19, 2013