Oeldorf-Hirsch, A., Birnholtz, J., & Hancock, J.T. (2017). Your post is embarrassing me: Face threats, identity, and the audience on Facebook. Computers in Human Behavior, 73, 92-99.
While Facebook is a popular venue for sharing information about ourselves, it also allows others to share information about us, which can lead to embarrassment. This study investigates the effects of shared face-threatening information on emotional and nonverbal indicators of embarrassment using an experiment (N = 120) in which pairs of friends posted about each other on Facebook. Results show that face-threatening information shared by others produces a powerful emotional and nonverbal embarrassment response. However, it is not the content of the face-threatening post that produces this effect. Rather, the level of embarrassment depends primarily on whether that information violates the individual’s identity and if they perceive that unknown members of their audience can see it. In response, individuals were most likely to joke about the post, although those who were most embarrassed were more likely to delete it. These results inform our understanding of how the process of embarrassment works online. The emotional embarrassment response is similar to offline, but is affected by the features of these sites, such as a large, invisible audience, and the need for ideal self-presentation. This finding has important implications for treating online social networks and their effects to be as “real” as those offline.