'Blood-pack' warning over Facebook
Making cruel comments about friends you don't really like - no, it's not high school but the world of Facebook.
A new Victoria University study into the behaviour of young people on the social networking site has shown they act more caustically than in the offline world, with many unsure exactly what is deemed acceptable.
The study interviewed 16 people aged between 18 and 20 who had an account with Facebook. It found that what was deemed definitely unacceptable on Facebook was clear, but there was confusion over behaviour that fell on the fringe of acceptability.
Many said they looked at what friends were posting on the site to gauge whether something was OK or offensive.
Participants also revealed they felt pressured to accept friend requests they received on Facebook, even if they did not like the person and would not consider being friends with them offline.
Associate professor Val Hooper guided the student research and said she had been surprised at how blurred the lines were between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
The idea for the research came after a spate of cyber-bullying cases, in which many of the culprits seemed to have behaved online in a way that was out of character.
With few guidelines to online behaviour, younger people who put great stock in being accepted by their peers were at risk of acting in a certain way, even if they knew it was wrong, she said.
This type of behaviour, described as "herding", meant people would sometimes act in a cruel way online to fit in with others.
There was a "blood-pack frenzy" associated with groups that could quickly spiral out of control, she said.
The protection of the computer screen meant people felt they could say what they wanted without the immediate consequences that a face-to-face conversation would have.
"When you can't see your victim and the hurt you're causing in your victim's eyes, you feel safe to be cruel."
While Facebook had many positive benefits, there was a risk that negative behaviour could spill over into the real world.
Comments from young Facebookers
"I'd say when it comes to family, you'd want to keep things pretty tame."
"Well, with my friends anything is acceptable really . . . there are no barriers when it comes to my mates. We're all pretty open with everything."
"I don't think it's acceptable when you put personal problems and stuff up on Facebook . . . and announce it to the whole world."
"You wouldn't go on hard out about relationships and stuff . . . about girlfriends . . . I don't want my family to see that".
"Well, seeing what they do on Facebook . . . the stuff they write, the type of pictures they put up . . . I kind of copy from their examples."
"I just tried behaving the same as I would normally, then I would go by the responses I got from people . . . with positive responses I realised those types of things were acceptable."
"I guess it's just kind of my upbringing and my personal beliefs and morals. I wouldn't want someone to do something to me which I wouldn't do to them."
"I've changed my profile to fully private so only people that I know can see it, just because I feel safer that way."
"If you've been avoiding saying something, you could say it online not necessarily publicly and it could be easier that way."