North Texas Daily

Psychological appeals of social media pages

Psychological appeals of social media pages

March 06
22:50 2013

Andrew Freeman / Staff Writer

Two Facebook pages named “UNT Compliments” and “UNT Confessions” have caught a lot of attention from the student community the last couple of weeks, both centered around posts students can make anonymously.

UNT Confessions was created in mid-February as a page where UNT students can anonymously post statements that they might otherwise not say in person. The page is open and anyone can like it. At the time of print, the page had 3,175 likes.

The compliments page was similarly created, except a person can tag an organization or a friend to show appreciation. The page was created on Feb. 24 and a friend request is needed to see its posts.

Psychology professor Rex Wright said one of the appealing aspects of the pages is the anonymity of the posts.

“Anonymity obviously provides people a chance to say and do things they otherwise would not,”  Wright said. “Cues can ‘prime’ people to reflect favorably or unfavorably.”

Wright said priming is a psychological phenomenon where exposure to a stimulus, called a cue, affects one’s response to a later stimulus. In his example, Wright compared the two.

“The site [UNT Confessions]could have a special appeal to people who get a kick out of making titillating or otherwise shocking statements.” Wright said. “A ‘compliments’ type of web site presumably should tend to prime positive thoughts and yield favorable framing of people and things, such as life in Denton, the quality of the student body, the friendliness and expertise of the faculty, etcetera.”

The problem with anonymity, Wright said, is in a negative light, it’s not healthy.

“The anonymity could create multiple problems, especially since people can easily lie,” Wright said. “It could be a huge minus insofar as it could allow people to say shockingly negative – even threatening – things that they otherwise would keep to themselves.”

However, despite knowing that it isn’t healthy, students love the drama that comes from UNT Confessions, he said.

“There is a lot of trash talk, which makes it entertaining, but it’s still not good that people are using it as an outlet to be mean,” hospitality management senior Jordan Troublefield said. “It reminds me of the Burn Book from ‘Mean Girls,’ just online.”

To strategic communications professor Samra Bufkins, it’s all a phase.

“There are fads in social media,” Bufkins said. “Harlem Shake, Gangnam Style, silly hashtags, etcetera. I feel this is just one of those fads, and I predict it will die down around finals because, assuming students are running the pages, they will be too busy.”

Within the pages, there are links to another page where you submit your confession or compliment. The admins of those pages then copy the statement and post it themselves, making it anonymous to the public.

“There will always be a digital trail,” Bufkins said. “I mean, if you really wanted to, you could trace it to at least the computer, though it would be difficult, going through Facebook and Google.”

When looking at the two pages side by side, it is almost like the two-sides of a coin, hospitality management senior Anousorn Daoheuang said.

“I think Compliments should stick around, it’s not harmful like Confessions,” Daoheuang said. “Compliments puts you in a good mood, but Confessions is like dirty gossip.”

Bufkins said that people like the “façade of anonymity” on both pages.

“You make a compliment because you want to make someone’s day, almost like a secret admirer,” she said. “Confessions appeals to the dark side of students’ anonymity.”

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