The Fight On Facebook

Every battle has its own field and one of these growing in popularity among social competitors is Facebook. The social networking site has become a platform for intrasexual competition among many people worldwide, according to SUNY New Paltz alumna Amanda “Mandy” Guitar.

Guitar is currently a doctoral student in the anthropology department at SUNY Binghamton. Her recent research, done with the help of SUNY New Paltz alumna and adjunct professor of evolutionary psychology Rachel Carmen, focuses on this competition between those of the same sex on Facebook.

Her talk, “Facebook Frenemies and Selfie-Promotion: Intrasexual Competition in the Digital Age,” given at SUNY New Paltz on April 6, was part of the Evolution Studies Program EvoS Seminar series and presented the idea that people use Facebook to promote themselves, manipulate competitors and manipulate potential mates.

“Facebook is a platform for displaying honest and dishonest signals to potential rivals or potential mates,” Guitar said at the start of her presentation.

One example of self-promotion Guitar discussed was the use of selfies, or a picture of a person taken by themselves. She said this type of self-promotion is less direct, less obvious and more commonly associated with women.

Guitar listed a few physical characteristics of women that men find attractive: elaborate curves, a thin chin, large eyes and fat lips (a.k.a the “duck face”), are a few features that are either exposed or often created by the selfie. She said the very common downward angle of selfies brings out some of these details, causing the person to appear more attractive, quoting celebrity and frequent selfie poster Kim Kardashian as saying, “Know your angle.”

Another example of competition on Facebook that Guitar spoke of was manipulation of competitors. One type of this manipulation is keeping tabs on rivals by becoming their friend, or in reality, their frenemy. While both sexes have been found to do this, Guitar mentioned that it is another type of indirect competition and thus more popular with women.

“Females at the top of their hierarchy will rely on social connections to remain at the top,” Guitar said.

According to Guitar many people use Facebook strictly for surveillance on rivals, mates or family members, citing a 2007 study that revealed 60 percent of college students use Facebook for this purpose.

Guitar called this type of monitoring direct competitor derogation. It is the direct form of this competition and can lead to harmful posts, known as cyberbullying. Indirect derogation is negative gossip and shunning, where a person may receive few to no “likes” on their posts or negative gossip.

Towards the end of her talk, Guitar showed a few screen shots of Facebook. She revealed the “see friendship” feature, which allows users to view all interactions between themselves and a friend of theirs. What many audience members were unaware of, however, is that this tool can be used to track the relationship of any two friends of a user.

This is a method of surveillance offered by the site.

Maureen McCarthy is a third-year psychology major who does not use Instagram or Snapchat and doesn’t often take or post selfies. Although she does not partake, she said the analysis of selfies presented in the research was fascinating.

“Her talk really spoke to the population here,” McCarthy said. “I never thought of selfies in such a scientific way, but it was very interesting.”