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Narcissism and Facebook
Hazel Thompson, Contributor
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The school I attended in Northern Ireland had five years compulsory study of Latin and French. Languages were not my strong suit. To my horror, I am once again facing the need to learn a new language – this time internet technology and social media. Worse yet, I have to learn it on the run.

Facebook feels to me like it’s getting out of control, given the amount of information being pushed out. I feel like I’m at a dinner party with someone trying to talk as much as possible, whether of importance or not. These are the dinner guests I try to avoid.

I like people to have a point of view, but not to dominate the airspace. Recent research (reported in The UK’s The Guardian) has confirmed my suspicion that social media is giving people who have inflated egos or high self-orientation a platform to perform.

This research suggests that if you have a plethora of Facebook friends, regularly update your status and accept requests from people you do not know – you may be a narcissist. Or, as Australians like to put it, up yourself.

The Guardian story, titled “Facebook’s Dark Side: Study Finds Link to Socially Aggressive Narcissism,” reports on a study conducted by researchers from Western Illinois University in the US and published in the Personality and Individual Differences journal. Three hundred participants answered a Narcissistic Personality Inventory questionnaire, with the findings suggesting a link between the number of Facebook friends a person has and amount of activity on the social networking site, and the likelihood of someone being a ‘socially disruptive’ narcissist.

Study author Chris Carpenter said, “People who have a heightened need to feel good about themselves will often turn to Facebook as a way to do so. Facebook gives those with narcissistic tendencies the opportunity to exploit the site to get the feedback they need and become the centre of attention.’

The study also found narcissists were more likely to take offence at derogatory comments about themselves and also changed their profile picture more often.

Personalities on Parade
This week one of Australia’s largest power companies has dumped its contract with EnergyWatch, whose CEO has quit over offensive comments on his Facebook page.

The CEO, Mr Polis, has apologized for his comments on Facebook, where he had a large following, saying they were “jokes between friends” and that they have been taken out of context. Even our Prime Minister Julia Gillard was drawn into the row, condemning Mr Polis’s remarks as “very nasty”.

This damage has happened because there is no way to divorce your public from your private persona when when you’re a highly visible CEO. And in the era of Facebook, the result can cause massive damage to your reputation.

My dilemma in learning this new language is to determine how much exposure is too much. I am clearly skeptical. On the flip side, I don’t want to miss anything, and appreciate that social media is not going away. I know it is a wonderful melting pot of sharing information including personal snippets.
I appreciate that I can always “change the channel” – but when there are so many channels, with so much narcissistic “content” ready to overwhelm me at every turn, am I wrong for wishing that the content providers could exert some self-control?

Maybe this jostling for space and time will go away once the novelty of the technology and language wears thin. And clearly there is an audience.

We all have to decide for ourselves as well, where a line is to be drawn. To identify ourselves with a point of view, a flavor, a brand – that is one thing. But publicly revealing ourselves as narcissists is quite another.