PsychBook Research

Collecting and analysing psychological research on the most popular social networking site in the world today.

Too many masks: Social media schizophrenia

Have you updated your Myspace account recently? Should you tweet that link or email it? Can you remember your Bebo password? Are you using your work address or your hotmail? Should this be a LinkedIn or a Facebook post? Are all your online profiles linked, consistent and up-to-date?

I’ve been trying to draft recommendations for usage of social networking sites, but I don’t think that would be appropriate without a complete treatment of the potential problems. While I will continue to explore the published research pertinent to Facebook (some very interesting ones in the pipeline, once I get all these papers graded …) I just thought I’d first solicit your opinions on these issues, which personally I find extremely interesting.

So, if you have more than one social networking account,

  • do you find the need to be consistent in what you say on each site?
  • how do you feel if you have said different things in either?
  • how do you justify sharing something on one network, and not on the other?
  • does your ‘About me’ say the same thing in each network? are you sure?


  • are you consciously different in how you communicate in either environment? why?
  • what’s the difference between a Tweet and a Facebook Status Update?
  • why would you communicate differently on different sites? aren’t you the same person?
  • if you want to comment on an article which allows every possible login, what determines which identity you choose?

And even if you don’t, if you only have a Facebook, and nothing else,

  • do you post some links to Facebook, and send others via email? why?
  • why do you sometimes write on a person’s Wall, sometimes sent them a Facebook message, and sometimes send them an email?

I’m not going to even go into dating sites (is this where I do a ‘lol’?) but you get the message:

If I am a single individual, then why I do I act differently in different places on the internet? What does this mean for the future development of our psychology?

That’s what I mean by ‘social media schizophrenia’…

Obviously, from a psychiatric perspective, my use of ‘schizophrenia’ is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. But there are at least three good reasons for using the word in this way:

One, as my good friend and colleague Kieran Mc Nally has demonstrated, ‘schizophrenia’ originally meant ‘split personality’ to psychiatrists and that’s where the modern popular understanding comes from, though psychology changed its understanding in the meantime.

Two, and admittedly rhertoricall, look at some aspects of the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual‘s criteria: disorganised behaviour, social/occupational dysfunction, and especially disorganised speech/thought or asyndesis. Translate those into cyberspace, and you see what I mean: an individual’s online behaviour looks quite disordered, when compared from one site to the next.

But thirdly, and most importantly, I’m not the first one to coin the phrase ‘social media schizophrenia’. There’s a post from earlier on last year from Justin Davies on ‘Email and social networking schizophrenia’ and there’s another here, ‘If you’re going through Social Media Schizophrenia, keep going: The re-wiring of community communication has begun’ from Yann Ropers.

The latter is more interesting, as it’s written from the perspective of someone, who, as part of their job, has to blog and tweet. How do they separate that type of communication from their own personal communicaiton? He cites an amusing case of one company who lost a lot of traffic to their blog once their blogger left for another company. That’s not very surprising you might say, but look at the psychology of what happened: the appeal of the blog must have been hugely based on the personality of the blogger. But on the other hand, if he had a personal blog, or social media account, how much of its content had corporate overtones? And again, when blogging for the company, how much personal information did he disclose?

However, the real inspiration for this post came from David Armano with his ‘Six Social Media Trends for 2011′. I am in no place to comment on the other five, but I found his prediction that ‘the average participant will experience social media schizophrenia‘ compelling.

I am not predicting some kind of epidemic of ‘social media schizophrenia’! But I simply think that, at present, the social networking environment is messy. There will probably come a technological solution, (e.g. Tweetdeck) but it’s probably a while off yet and even then, it will take a while to filter down to users at large. The bottom line is: we are going to have to deal with having different identities on the internet for some while to come.

Categories: Opinion