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I was able to track down the original study by Saling and colleagues. Overall, I think Stein did a pretty good job here describing the results, and I defer to Stein’s clinical experience. However, the study had several limitations (in design and reporting), so until that can get cleared up, maybe it’s still okay to share your bad news online.
Below are just a few of the study’s limitations/issues that I noticed that seem worth considering. (In the next few days, I may write a longer response at my Psychology Today blog “Bias Fundamentals.”)
A main result was that participants reported being less comfortable with online versus offline sharing of bad news. The exact wording of the comfort-level questions was not reported and is a tricky issue that I may discuss later at my blog. Problems here may have exaggerated the difference in scores.
Stein wrote that, in terms of sharing really negative experiences, “most people prefer that others share these offline, if at all.” But there was no absolute measure of “preference.” In other words, even if your close Facebook friends are less comfortable doing it online, they might, if asked, tell you to of course keep sharing online and they’re there for you. And Facebook allows you to reach many of your friends all at once right away.
Stein wrote that the Facebook friends’ lower comfort with online sharing means they would be “less, rather than more likely to interact with the information in a supportive way.” But the authors, although they did measure how much participants responded supportively online (with a “like” or a “comment”), did not report those results. They only reported how supportive responses correlated with personality variables. For all we know, over half of the participants would respond supportively.
Stein’s advice to seek offline support still seems good to follow (perhaps in addition to online sharing).
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