The Dark Side of Facebook: How to Spot Dangerous “Friends”

Learn how to detect dark personalities online, the sooner the better.

Posted Aug 30, 2018

Friend or Foe?

You meet a charming new acquaintance at a social event hosted by a mutual acquaintance. The next morning, you receive her Facebook friend request.  Recalling the enjoyable conversation from the night before, you quickly hit "accept" without giving it much thought. She seemed nice enough.

What have you done? Just granted a virtual stranger access to a significant portion of your private life, and personal information.

Most of the time, accepting a friend request is harmless, because most people use Facebook as an innocent, healthy online way to supplement offline relationships. Occasionally, however, your willingness to hand a stranger a key to your virtual world can be a big mistake.  

Dark Personalities on Facebook 

When making new friends, character counts. Accordingly, the Dark Triad of personality: psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism, are three characteristics you want to avoid like the plague. But can you accurately detect them online? Some research (in addition to common sense) says yes—some traits more than others.  

Randy J. Vander Molen et al. in “Judgments of the Dark Triad based on Facebook profiles,” (2018) found that observers are able to detect narcissism in Facebook profiles—more than psychopathy and Machiavellianism.1

Other research suggests dark personalities operate differently online. L. Abell and G. Brewer (2014), note that Machiavellianism is characterized by emotional detachment, cynicism, and interpersonal manipulation.2 They report that Machiavellian men and women engage in more self-monitoring on Facebook.  

Specifically, they found that Machiavellian women engage in more relational aggression toward close friends on Facebook and dishonest self-promotion, while Machiavellian men engage in more self-promotion.

Some people are more than dark; they are dangerous. Research directly links social media behavior and violence. 

Facebook Monitoring: A Blessing and a Curse

Facebook provides jealous partners a way to monitor their significant others—arguably weaponizing a site that was designed to promote positive relationships. Yet Facebook monitoring is a double-edged sword. Noticing that your partner has gone “Facebook Official” with you, including you in his or her profile photo and mentioning you often in postings, can enhance relational satisfaction. 

Research corroborates practical experience demonstrating that Facebook can be both a relational blessing and a curse. Jealous or insecure partners often employ mate-retention strategies, designed to maintain control of their relationships.  Meagan J. Brem et al. (2014), found that mate-retention strategies used on Facebook impact the frequency of intimate partner violence (IPV).3 They found that men and women employ similar levels of Facebook mate-retention strategies. 

They note that offline, mate-retention strategies are tied to intimate partner violence in part because both behaviors are motivated by jealousy, and Facebook is an online jealousy-evoking environment. They found Facebook jealousy and surveillance to be linked to both psychological and physical aggression, although noted that surveillance behavior alone is not sufficient to predict IPV because it is a common online behavior.

On the other hand, Brem et al. acknowledge that other research supports a link between online mate-retention behavior and relational contentment, noting that behavior such as displaying a partner in one's profile photo increases relationship satisfaction.

Facebook Monitoring and Cyber Dating Abuse

Erika Borrajo et al. (2015) discuss cyber dating abuse, noting that it has been defined broadly to include behavior such as monitoring and surveillance of a romantic partner or ex-partner, posting humiliating photos, and making rude or threatening comments.4 They explain that new technologies allow an abuser to control and intimidate a partner online, instead of in person.

Borrajo et al. explain that cyber dating abuse is also correlated with offline relational violence and cyberbullying. Their results indicate that offline violent partners are more likely to engage in online abuse.

Another alarming finding was that cyber dating abuse such as constant monitoring might become normalized when it is interpreted as an acceptable expression of love and concern, which could cause the behavior to continue. Borrajo et al. explain that the contemporary technological environment of constant connectivity has decreased perceived individuality, and increased the expectation of knowing what other people are doing at all times.

Choose Your Friends Carefully 

The takeaway? There is no reason to shut down your Facebook account. Safe cyber-socializing requires perception, not paranoia. Share wisely, post responsibly, and choose your friends carefully.  


1. Randy J. Vander Molen, Seth Kaplan, Ellim Choi, and Diego Montoya, ”Judgments of the Dark Triad based on Facebook profiles,” Journal of Research in Personality 73, 2018, 150-163.

2. L. Abell and G. Brewer, "Machiavellianism, Self-monitoring, Self-promotion and Relational Aggression on Facebook," Computers in Human BehaviorVol. 36, 2014, 258-262.

3. Meagan J. Brem, Laura C. Spiller, Michael A. Vandehey, “Online Mate-Retention Tactics on Facebook Are Associated With Relationship Aggression,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 30, no. 16, 2014, 2831–2850.

4.Erika Borrajo, Manuel Gamez-Guadix, Noemi Pereda, and Esther Calvete, ”The development and validation of the cyber dating abuse questionnaire among young couples,” Computers in Human BehaviorVol. 48, 2015, 358-365.