A new study from Western University shows that creeping an ex-partner on Facebook yields alarming levels of distress following a breakup. The findings of Veronika Lukacs and Anabel Quan-Haase from Western’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies and the Faculty of Social Science were published by the journal, Information, Communication & Society.
While most research on Facebook is primarily focused on the benefits of social connectivity, little is known about the ways in which the social networking site complicates the termination of romantic relationships.
In the paper titled, Romantic breakups on Facebook: new scales for studying post-breakup behaviors, digital distress, and surveillance, Quan-Haase and Lukacs reveal that three key aspects of Facebook contribute to breakup distress and that young people who engage in higher levels of internet electronic surveillance experience more of it.
The most commonly distressing factor was an ex-partner’s Facebook profile with 88 per cent of survey participants reporting that they had ‘creeped’ their ex-partner following a breakup.
“Even those who did not actively attempt to view an ex-partner’s Facebook profile found themselves inadvertently doing so when content the ex-partner posted appeared in their news feeds,” says Quan-Haase, a professor in Western’s Faculty of Information and Media Studies and the Department of Sociology.
Facebook’s iconic ‘Relationship Status’ feature was a second major source of distress for study participants. Many participants shared that the decision to change their relationship status from ‘in a relationship’ to ‘single’ or to remove it altogether presented significant problems.
Far more than half of the participants (62 per cent) reported that they were asked about the breakup following the removal of their relationship status, which supported findings around status changes as a source of distress.
The third and perhaps most troubling source of distress was shared content posted on Facebook by an ex-partner. All of the study participants had shared digital histories with their ex-partners on Facebook, and these digital archives caused some participants to remember positive memories from their former relationship and feel confused about the breakup.
Sixty-four per cent of survey participants reported re-reading or over-analyzing old messages or wall posts while 51 per cent reported deleting pictures with the ex-partner on Facebook.
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