Dimensions of Self-Expression in Facebook Status Updates

AAAI International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM)


We describe the dimensions along which Facebook users tend to express themselves via status updates using the semi-automated text analysis approach, the Meaning Extraction Method (MEM).

First, we examined dimensions of self-expression in all status updates from a sample of four million Facebook users from four English-speaking countries (the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia) in order to examine how these countries vary in their self-expressions. All four countries showed a basic three-component structure, indicating that the medium is a stronger influence than country characteristics or demographics on how people use Facebook status updates.

In each country, people vary in terms of the extent to which they use Informal Speech, share Positive Events, and discuss School in their Facebook status updates. Together, these factors tell us how users differ in their self-expression, and thus illustrate meaningful use cases for the product: Talking about what’s going on tends to be positive, and people vary in terms of the extent to which their status updates are short, slangy emotional expressions and topics regarding school.

The specific words that define these factors showed subtle differences across countries: The use of profanity indicates fewer school words (but only in Australia), whereas the UK shows greater use of slang terms (rather than profanity) when speaking informally. The MEM also identified English-language dialects as a meaningful dimension along which the countries varied. In sum, beyond simply indicating topicality of posts, this study provides insight into how status updates are used for self-expression.

We discuss several theoretical frameworks that could produce these results, and more broadly discuss the generation of theoretical frameworks from wholly empirical data (such as naturalistic Internet speech) using the MEM.

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