Why Are You Really Posting All Those Facebook Photos?S

An academic study of 311 college students has found that on social networks like Facebook, "females who base their self-worth on their appearance tend to share more photos online and maintain larger networks on online social networking sites."

Specifically, the authors of the study defined two kinds of self-worth — private, which "related to more traditional, personal domains like family, virtue, and God's love," and public, "focused on approval, appearance and competition concepts." They conclude that "Results show that females reported significantly stronger associations with appearance."

A few other tidbits from the paper, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior And Social Networking:

  • "On average, participants reported not having met 12% of their online social networks."
  • "Female participants reported having significantly larger networks of strong ties, as expected.
    Females tended to spend more time managing their profiles and shared more photos online."

The study's authors have previously looked at the connection between reality television and social network behavior. In this study, they speculate that "Such findings may suggest persistent differences in gendered behavior that result from a cultural focus on female image and appearance. Further, the culture of celebrity...offers significantly more appearance-based rewards and penalties to women than to men." And one author, Michael Stefanone, remarked in the news release,

It is disappointing to me that in the year 2011 so many young women continue to assert their self worth via their physical appearance — in this case, by posting photos of themselves on Facebook as a form of advertisement.

A blogger at The Atlantic, Rebecca Greenfield, promptly dismissed the thesis as it pertained to herself:

As a woman who has both high self-esteem and likes posting Facebook photos, my behavior has nothing to do with lady competition — I just enjoy recording and sharing memories with my network. But, hey, maybe I'm not the norm.

But whether they're aware of it or not (or admit it), everyone is crafting a particular identity online, simply through the act of editing and selective creation of networks. The precise nature of that identity is variable, but just because you're not posting a photo of yourself making sexyface in a bikini, doesn't mean your array of pithy quotes and Instagram cityscapes isn't a form of self-conscious brand creation.

If doing this through visual means is more common to women than to men, that's just because we're all following the cues that tell us that being physically attractive factors into our value along with attributes that are newer to the formula for women, like our professional accomplishments. The Internet may have changed many things about human interaction, including the velocity and the permanency of these acts of self-creation and publicity, but it hasn't changed that.

Contingencies of Self-Worth and Social-Networking-Site Behavior [Cyberpsychology, Behavior And Social Networking]
Study: Women Post More Facebook Photos To Raise Self-Esteem [The Atlantic]