Why Dark Personalities Follow You on Facebook
Research reveals the types of people who might be keeping tabs on you—and why.
Posted Jun 30, 2020
Most people follow others on Facebook for all the right reasons. They enjoy the social value of keeping up with friends, family, and even acquaintances, commenting, “liking” and reposting shared material. Facebook allows users around the world to remain connected and in touch from the comfort of their own homes, and it provides a place to showcase accomplishments, share moments of joy, and solicit support in times of need.
But like every other aspect of our social life, some Facebook users may be looking at your site for different reasons, and with darker motivations.
Facebook and the Dark Triad of Personality
Chris Stiff, in The Dark Triad and Facebook Surveillance (2019), explored how dark personalities follow others on Facebook, and why.[i] He begins by listing the Dark Triad of personality: Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and narcissism, noting that these personality traits have been demonstrated to influence behavior in many ways. In high levels, he notes the behavior manifested as a result of these dark traits often pushes the boundaries of socially normal behavior—even at subclinical levels. This is true online as well. Examining Facebook in particular, Stiff notes that dark personality traits can impact both posting and status updates.
Specifically, Stiff examines what he refers to as Facebook surveillance, defined as deliberately examining the Facebook profiles of others to gather information that is advantageous for self-benefit. His research suggested two forms of Facebook surveillance: tracking, as a more recreational activity, and investigating, which was targeted, more goal-driven, and more deliberate.
Stiff found that Machiavellianism produced a higher amount of Facebook surveillance, which he noted “appeared to be driven by an endorsement of gossip as the trait intensity increased.” He found this was true for both forms of Facebook surveillance, tracking, and investigating. In explaining his results further, Stiff notes that individuals high in Machiavellianism enjoy gossiping, suggesting that gathering information from other people’s profiles gives them more information to talk about with others.
When it came to psychopathy, he found that Facebook investigating was associated with a desire to reduce feelings of uncertainty, which many people with psychopathic tendencies find intolerable, not Facebook tracking. He suggests another potential motivator for individuals with psychopathic traits: experiencing the pleasure of spying on other people.
He speculates that it might have to do with the pleasure experienced through covert information gathering, which is more of a recreational activity. He reminds us that because research establishes that individuals high in psychopathic traits enjoy feeling powerful and in control, exploring online profiles of others may feed what he terms this “voyeuristic tendency.” He recognizes these findings are concerning, given that psychopathy is frequently associated with low levels of empathy and high levels of callousness.
Narcissists Are Not Interested
Narcissism, on the other hand, was found not to be predictive of either type of Facebook surveillance. Stiff notes that this finding supports the fact that narcissists enjoy having others react to their own profiles, but are not interested in what other users post on theirs. Many people who have suspected narcissists in their lives would likely not be surprised by this finding, because for a narcissist, the only important information on social media is all about them.
Better Safe Than Sorry: Post With Caution
Facebook users should be aware, as most of them already are, that not everyone looking at their profile has their best intentions in mind. Hopefully, this will inform posting decisions in terms of what and how much to share. Shiff, however, admits that although Dark Triad personalities apparently gather information on Facebook for different reasons, he did not examine what they do with the information they find. He recognizes that the deviant behavior of dark personalities in other settings might not necessarily mean that Facebook surveillance will be followed by negative outcomes for the targets surveilled.
The best advice: Let us not be the test case. Because it is better to be safe than sorry, think carefully about what you share, and pause before you post.
[i] Stiff, Chris. 2019. “The Dark Triad and Facebook Surveillance: How Machiavellianism, Psychopathy, but Not Narcissism Predict Using Facebook to Spy on Others.” Computers in Human Behavior 94 (May): 62–69. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2018.12.044.