(photo credit: FACEBOOK)
A new study by Israelis that randomly sampled 1,000 Facebook users predicts who is likely to post a revealing photo of him/herself – such as in a bathing suit – as a public profile picture on the social network.
The study, which has just appeared in the journal Social Behavior and Personality, was published by Prof. Amir Hetsroni, an Israeli at the department of media and visual arts at Koç University, Istanbul, and Dror Guldin, an Israeli graduate student at the University of Amsterdam’s department of information studies.
The team looked at all 1,000 public profile pictures of Israelis on Facebook and found that over 40% (a very high share, by far more than expected) featured at least one picture of the user dressed in a skimpy outfit. Younger age, a lower level of education and not being involved in a committed romantic relationship were significant predictors of the posting of such pictures.
Gender alone was not a significant predictor, they found, but the interaction of gender and level of education was. Thus women with lower education posted revealing pictures of themselves more often than did men with a similar level of education.
Hetsroni and Guldin maintain that Facebook has become a primary dating site. “When you are in the market to find love, but do not have a lot to offer in terms of education or occupation, you are more likely to use your body as an asset for presentation.”
In the 1990s, people using the Internet focused on anonymous self-presentation in text-based environments such as chat rooms and dating websites, they noted. People wanted to present themselves as having different external characteristics and a different persona from those they had in the real world.
But over the years, scholars have “identified a wide array of self-presentation tactics, such as verbal communication about oneself, associating with other people or groups and changing one’s physical appearance.”
The team wanted to know whether age, gender and educational level predicted the posting of revealing photographs as a Facebook profile picture; whether relationship status predicted the posting of a profile picture; and if the interaction between educational level and gender predicted the posting of a revealing photo.
The most surprising finding was that two-fifths of the photos were revealing. “This adds to existing knowledge about the importance of physical appearance in image formation. Furthermore, with the exception of gender, all of the demographic variables we tested predicted the posting of revealing photographs on Facebook in a very similar way to the prediction of using physical cues in offline interactions. Those users who were not married or in a committed romantic relationship were more likely to post a revealing photograph, using the social network as a dating site, they wrote. Men with a high-school education posted revealing photos more often than women with a similarly low level of education, but this gender gap did not exist among Facebook users with a higher educational level. Academics prefer to promote themselves by exhibiting nonphysical qualities, as they do in offline interactions.
They noted, however, that in Israel, conservatism and modest attire, especially for women, go with a lower level of secular education. They suggested further research in various countries to enhance the “cross-cultural validity of our findings, because the tendency to expose one’s body in public is related to culture.”
Hetsroni is himself no stranger to social media, having sparked considerable public interest and outcry with his controversial Facebook posts about religion, culture, and politics. He was dismissed by Ariel University in August 2014 after being accused of making an “inappropriate comment” because of statements he made on Facebook and elsewhere. He was also kicked off a morning TV show panel for making offensive comments about Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews.