transfer 18(1) » Medieninhalte

Against All Odds?

A SIDE Approach Exploring the Role of Public Self-Awareness and Group-Identification in Flame Wars on Facebook

Facebook has become a common showplace of flame wars (also known as „shitstorms“ in the German speaking world). The core issue this thesis is based upon is as to why such behavior occurs given the identifiability of users and the transparency of their activities among their facebook friends. This thesis investigates whether group identification with flame war participants as suggested by the Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects (Postmes, & Spears, 1998) and lowered public self-awareness play a role in conforming to a flaming norm. Results of an online-experiment (N = 192) attempting to manipulate public self-awareness suggest that participation in flame wars is associated with the degree of identifcation with the group of commenters. Negative emotion and arousal as factors highlighting similarity to the group play a relevant role in this respect. However, although questions of causality remain open, group norms of one’s facebook friends rather than of the group of commenters may be decisive when it comes to how subjects respond. Flaming behavior may well be perceived appropriate behavior in some contexts. Therefore, this thesis suggests that addressing the phenomenon of flame wars on facebook from an impression management perspective may be a fruitful approach.