How to Spot Narcissists Through Their Choice of Social Media

Research reveals which virtual platforms self-lovers use, and why

Posted Sep 03, 2018

Want to get to know someone better?  Follow them.  Not literally (I prosecute stalkers for a living), but virtually.  On social media.  Which platform?  Good question. Because research reveals that a user´s preferred virtual platform tells you something about his or her personality—especially when it comes to narcissism.  

Twitter v. Facebook: “A Tale of Two Sites”

Research by Hugheset al. (2012) entitled “A Tale of Two Sites” indicates that different personalities prefer Facebook versus Twitter.[i] They note that extraverted social individuals prefer Facebook, while those less sociable and more cognitive-oriented prefer Twitter.  

Other research reveals a more complex picture of the motivations behind choosing to spend time on Twitter versus Facebook.  And when it comes to narcissism, research reveals how selective use of the two sites fuels specific narcissistic tendencies of the users.

Narcissism and Choice of Social Media Platform

Elliot T. Panek et al. in “Mirror or Megaphone?” (2013) examined social media usage as a “technologically augmented megaphone” for both college students and adults.[ii]They began by explaining that narcissism, often characterized as viewing oneself as superior to others and engaging in self-centered behavior and thinking, is linked with seeking self-promotion and self-enhancement through personal interaction. They observe that social media provides an ideal venue for indulging narcissistic tendencies. 

Panek et al. explain that the link between narcissism and social media use is particularly evident when measuring methods of online self-promotion such as photo posts, self-descriptions, and status updates.

Specifically, they found that “for college students, posting on Twitter is associated with the Superiority component of narcissistic personality while Facebook posting is associated with the Exhibitionism component.” In contrast, they found that adult social media users who were high in Superiority favored using Facebook rather than Twitter. 

Further, they found that adults used Facebook and Twitter more by people who are focused on their own appearances, but not as a method of showing off, as college students do.

Regarding the apt reflection analogy, they note that both adults and college students who are high in narcissism used Facebook as a “technologically enhanced mirror, reflecting a pre-occupation with one’s own image, others’ reactions to this image, and a desire to update the image as frequently as possible.” 

Other research supports the finding of generational differences in social media preference.

Twitter: The Narcissist´s "Black Box"

Received a promotion?  Finished a marathon?  Want to share a particularly attractive photo of yourself and your new love interest?  Do you run directly to Facebook?  Not necessarily, especially if you are a member of the younger generation.  Research suggests that when you want everyone to know it fast, you compose a Tweet.

Shaun W. Davenport et al. (2014) in “Twitter versus Facebook: Exploring the role of narcissism in the motives and usage of different social media platforms” measured active social media usage as a potential “black box” measuring narcissism.[iii]In concluding that narcissistic college students preferred Twitter to Facebook more than narcissistic adults, they also discussed several important differences between the two sites. 

Facebook links users in a fashion designed to provide the illusion of an even playing field, calling our contacts “Friends.”  The authors note that this designation has been recognized as an egalitarian label, to be contrasted with Twitter´s designation of “Followers.” They further note that Facebook friend requests need to be sent and accepted, while following someone on Twitter is a unilateral decision, which does not need to be approved or reciprocated. 

Davenport et al. also note that in addition, Twitter is a site that is designed for one-way bursts of information from users, making it a better venue for narcissists seeking to draw attention to themselves than Facebook. They also note, however, that research reveals a generational difference—finding narcissistic college students more likely to use Twitter, while narcissistic adults prefer to use Facebook.

Virtual Reality is No Substitute for Real Relationships

We do not need a research study to tell us that healthy relationships are best cultivated in person.  Social media interaction is best enjoyed as a supplement, not a replacement for live interaction.  Although following someone on social media can yield valuable insight into their personality, it is no substitute for the value of personal interaction.  Twitter and Facebook are good sources of information—when used in moderation.

References

[i]David John Hughes, Moss Rowe, Mark Batey, and Andrew Lee, “A Tale of Two Sites: Twitter vs. Facebook and the Personality Predictors of Social Media Usage,” Computers in Human Behavior 28 (2012): 561–569.

[ii]Elliot T. Panek, Yioryos Nardis, and Sara Konrath, ”Mirror or Megaphone?: How relationships between narcissism and social networking site use differ on Facebook and Twitter,” Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013): 2004-2012.

[iii]Shaun W. Davenport, Shawn M. Bergman, Jacqueline Z. Bergman, and Matthew E. Fearrington, ”Twitter versus Facebook: Exploring the role of narcissism in the motives and usage of different social media platforms,” Computers in Human Behavior 32 (2014): 212-220.