Inter-personal Competition in Social Networks

mediaChurch and Thambusamy focus on developing the theory that personal information is manipulated out of a desire for interpersonal competition. They look at how people manipulate information by refusing to provide it in the first place or by altering personal information on ONS’s (online social network sites) to see the effect on personal information deception (PID). It was clearly mentioned that previous studies instead looked at manipulating personal information due to privacy concerns and hence it could be argued that the study explores another reason into why data is manipulated online. The study’s aims and goals are clearly stated several times in the forms of hypotheses and research questions, but I believe that it tends to portray OSN’s as predators and that tendency has lead to the study being very focused on competitiveness.

The research paper illustrates a simplistic and concise view of the roots of competitive desires within OSN’s. One reinforcing motive for the study was to see what the antecedents of the desire for online competition were and how this leads to the misrepresentation of data online. Interestingly, the study had a fluidity of thought that made its research very interactive and relatable. One example of this is when it connected to real-life issues to provide a fuller picture of this misrepresentation of data; The 50 cents bankruptcy scandal illustrated how famous people created false illusions (being surrounded by a pile of money) to alter their image and be perceived as superior to others creating interpersonal competition. A limitation of these examples however is that it doesn’t consider a lot of other  misrepresentations of data in society, like how hackers alter data with malicious intent and only focuses on the factors that could lead up to PID.  Another approach the study used to create a flow of thoughts was using Bagozzi’s research to build up on its own hypotheses. One issue with solely using Bagozzi’s data as a background to their study to conclude factors that related to appraisal factors is that appraisal factors should also be concluded from other and the fact that they were solely created from Bagozzi’s research means that the study is somewhat limited in validity.

There were a number of pieces in this research article that link back to previous articles discussed that illustrated their own take on competition.

  •  Berg stated that competitive spirits override co-operation in society even though many times co-operation is the logical response to a given situation. Church and Thambusamy themselves don’t dwell on co-operation in their essay but rather stress how the reality of the present day is that “competition is a large part of many aspects of social life” agreeing with the view that competition is very much existent in society.
  • Garcia et al examines social comparison and defines what individual and situational factors as well as sub-factors cause this. They also stress social comparison as the sole reason for competitive spirit. This is directly relevant to Church’s research as they reinforce how self-preservation is a key factor in increasing competitive desires, albeit exacerbating them. Hence social comparison is key to inter-personal competition and could directly lead to data being deliberately misrepresented. This study refers to this competition stimulating feelings of inadequacy leading people to advance as winners instead of losers on OSN’s.
  • Coping mechanisms are focused upon in Buckert et al, who studied how stress reactions could be caused by economic competitions in laboratory settings, and investigated the accuracy of these measures amongst sample participants. Church and Thambusamy’s study is related to Buckert et al because it too looks at PID as the natural coping response when faced with desires that manifest as intentions to misrepresent or refuse to disclose data.
  •  Additionally it could also be noted that the structure of the experiment relates to Buckert et al who used an quantitative empirical based approach in calculating stress-reactions. This is related to Church and Thambusamy’s study which looks at “favorable appraisals trigger emotional responses, which in turn lead to the coping response of PID.” The only difference is that Church used self-report data to come to quantitative conclusions about these appraisals whilst maintaining a scientific positive approach.

I strongly believe that there were a number of valid features that the research brought up, especially in terms of how competitive settings like OSN’s where competition is valued increases the desire to partake in competitive behaviors. A relatable example was Pokémon Go as a competitive setting justifies the intent to misrepresent data in order to be perceived as superior in comparison to others. I thoroughly appreciated how Church and Thambusamy incorporated their limitations into the study and constantly justified the use of their methodology to lend credibility to the findings observed, which was also pointed out by pradyota. For example their study used Facebook and justified as being highly ranked as a popular OSN by youth. They also justified the use of self reported data to test if their results would have been varied otherwise, and used Harmon’s single factor test to nullify this.

Misrepresentation of data is caused by competition is social spheres. While I mostly agree with the findings and hypotheses of the study I noticed that it targets and almost labels OSN’s as being revenue hungry using personal information for their sponsored ads and fostering competitive desires themselves through the existence of comparative symbols such as the ‘Like’ button.  On the other hand I think that the study discounts how social media is used by varying individuals each who have different goals and different purposes while using it and hence all individuals do not partake in such competitive behavior where they need to be considered as winners. This is in contrast to alldayavery’s opinion who argues that OSN’s do bank on the number of users in its site simply because it helps it gain revenue. Church and Thambusamy’s study states that some individuals purposely leave out information and thereby misinterpret data, but it could be argued instead that individuals do not wish to manipulate data in the first place and hence are needlessly being placed into the label of being influenced by competitive desires even though they don’t partake in it. For example the vast majority of today’s youth look up to social media influencers like the Jenner’s and Kardashian’s however it would be unrealistic to say that the social comparison would lead to increased PID because every individuals constantly looks to maximize self-presentation for example.

Additionally, I think what would add to the value to the study is if it explored the extent to which this competitive spirit could be regarded as an unconscious desire for individuals, or if instead this self-presentation is a constant in-built craving that influences individuals to be on their best behaviour just because ‘everyone is watching’


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