Study bares what determines & what stops people from posting on Facebook

Web surfers and social media users, specifically those who regularly go to one of the leading sites nowadays, Facebook, have varying reasons for posting and sharing.

Many Facebook users may want to elicit reactions from their friends, family and colleagues when they post things like what they eat, where they are headed, the people they’ve been with, what they’re annoyed with or what their pet peeves are, and so on. Others seek validation, be it for their sexuality, skills & talents, love interests, career options, or other experiences.

A growing number also post, re-post or share articles and photos on Facebook to promote a brand. In fact, countless individuals have earned big bucks by cooking up a business scheme and marketing the product/service through Facebook. Just as Facebook frequenters have the freedom to post, they are also at liberty to abort status updates, posts, and comments on other users’ posts.

It comes as no surprise that a large number of Facebook users resort to self-censorship. Unposted thoughts/sentiments are attributed mainly to how Facebook users perceive their audiences. This finding was uncovered following a study conducted by Sauvik Das, a student of Carnegie Mellon University; and Adam Kramer of Facebook, Inc., who profiled 3.9 million Facebook users over 17 days.


It was learned that in a span of 17 days, a huge chunk or about 71% of Facebook users opted to self-censor at least once. A significant number or a little over 50 percent of Facebook frequenters censored at least one post, while 44 percent censored at least one comment.

The study gives a rather broad definition of self-censorship – the act whereby an individual prevents himself from speaking, as manifested when visiting a social networking site like Facebook. Opting not to post even after the thought has crossed one’s mind, but stopping midway, was also referred to as a last-minute form of self-censorship, since individuals do find an outlet to express their sentiments but balk at posting due to some strong reason.

Is self-censorship hurtful or helpful, then? The study points out that it can be both. There are actually Facebook users who decide against posting after they’ve realized they may offend or elicit unfavorable reactions. In this case, harmony is preserved. A broad group of friends remains happy. The study underscored the fact that censoring one’s posts can lead to building of, and sustaining relationships.

It can be noted that two end results — when Facebook frequenters choose to self-censor — were pinpointed by the study. First, users and their audiences will not attain the social value that may likely result from the posts that may be seen by those in their network. Social value is created when there is relevant and useful information shared, or when social media users end up cooperating and lending a helping hand to their fellowmen. In other words, values are created for the individuals who are linked/connected by the social networking site.

social value

The second possible outcome of self-censorship is that the social networking site will lose value in terms of content generated.

The two foreseen setbacks of self-censorship may be debatable, though. That’s because not all who post on Facebook come up with relevant content that may be considered of “social value.” Lots of people will agree that much social capital may be saved when social media users refrain from posting a ridiculous comment out of anger and spite.

There is reason to believe that a leading site like Facebook may not stand to lose much in the form of “good content” when individuals choose to self-censor. With millions of users posting and re-posting content, those who opt to self-censor may decide to join in on discussions and sharing of articles/photos or videos soon enough.

An interesting insight gleaned from the study is that the social media users who express themselves by posting content tended to self-censor more when they feel that their audience is hard to pin down or not that easy to define. True enough, there are actually cases, particularly in the case of new Facebook users who may have accepted “friends” whom they are not that close to, when the audience reached displays vague characteristics. In other instances, the audience is narrow.

audience is hard to pin down

While it is understandable that many Facebook users may harbor misgivings or feel unsettled at what they’ve posted, prompting them to censor/delete their posts, consideration of audience characteristics is somewhat a surprising revelation. It has much to do with the fact that the social media users are conscious about the impressions they make, or may want to stick to the prescribed social norm (expressing more of the positive side, maintaining good vibes, and the like).

The tendency to self-sponsor may also be brought about by an inner voice that tells the Facebook user that he or she has gone over the line, or has posted content that’s unnecessary.

The study hypothesized that demographic characteristics; behavioral features of users; and the collective demographic & differential features of users (including the quantity of their friends, user’s political leanings vis-à-vis that of his/her friends) could influence the inclination to self-censor.

Another interesting finding from the study has something to do with gender. It turns out males tended to self-censor more than their female counterpart. Again, this comes as no surprise, considering that males – though they may want to interact with their pals and colleagues on Facebook – generally aren’t that comfortable about being too revealing. Come to think about it

Intervening factors like knowledge/awareness on how to use audience selection tools were found to have a bearing on Facebook users’ tendency to self-censor less. Individuals who utilize these audience selection tools tend to self-censor at a lesser extent.

The type (and gender) of friends on one’s social media network also had some influence on the decision of Facebook users to self-censor. Indeed, it turns out gender is one of the factors, then that determines the extent to which Facebook users self-censor. Those with opposite-sex Facebook pals tend to self-censor more.

the age of the user

Age of audiences is a factor that had lesser influence on Facebook users’ tendency to self-censor. However, the study showed that Facebook users who had older friends in their network were inclined to censor less, whereas those who happen to have age-diverse friends tend to censor more comments. As far as older Facebook users surveyed are concerned, there were fewer posts censored, though they were more likely to refrain from posting comments.

At the end of the day, it can be deduced that while most social media site users may feel they have the freedom to express themselves in their favorite site, many also feel they need not post or share something out of consideration for others, as well as their own reputation. Freedom may be viewed both ways then. Facebook users are free to post, or not to post. After all, posting something on Facebook is a personal decision.

Worthy of note is how Facebook takes time out to monitor its frequent users’ posting patterns, which was last seen during Facebook’s anniversary, when the most viewed posts were featured as part of the user’s Facebook history.

It’s a little intriguing that the company has tracked patterns that pertain to unshared thoughts consigned by Facebook frequenters to digital oblivion. It must be considered that a lot of things, including technical glitches and server problems, may occur when people use Facebook. Then again, that’s a different story.

The study did acknowledge the fact that the numbers may not be that accurate, but the bottomline is clear – self-censorship is manifested in a social media site like Facebook. It is a common practice.

censored posts on Facebook

The question that crops up is why Facebook invested time and other resources to monitor patterns of self-censorship. Why has the company probed into what people choose not to post (which can be determined by the code powering the leading social networking site) or refrained from publishing?

Viewing Facebook as a business enterprise that has to keep innovating and get the pulse of the market to remain viable, the answer may be no different from what other go-getting companies focus on: millions of users taken together translate to a huge marketing opportunity. One thing was uncovered after the outcome of the study on what determines and what stops people from posting on Facebook was disseminated.

What Facebook users do, whether it’s actively posting or self-censoring, is of interest to the social media company. Not that it truly cares about what people maybe feeling at certain moments. Facebook may be driven more by the notion that by understanding the reasons why users choose not to post or comment, it can act to rebuild lost value.


Marketer and social media expert. I started out doing regular website SEO back in 2005 when things were a lot easier. Adapted to the changes and tried everything myself in order to see what really works and what doesn't. Even if I see all the gurus advocating for a way or other of doing things I always want to see the results with my own eyes so I do my own testing. Be sure that if you're reading my articles what I talk about in them really works. Fell in love with Social media a few years back when I started looking for alternate ways of driving traffic to my sites. The interaction and meeting new and interesting people all while actually working is a great way of doing things.

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