Social Noise: What Is It, and Why Should We Care?

Article by Tara Zimmerman: “As social media, online relationships, and perceived social expectations on platforms such as Facebook play a greater role in people’s lives, a new phenomenon has emerged: social noise. Social noise is the influence of personal and relational factors on information received, which can confuse, distort, or even change the intended message. Influenced by social noise, people are likely to moderate their response to information based on cues regarding what behavior is acceptable or desirable within their social network. This may be done consciously or unconsciously as individuals strive to present themselves in ways that increase their social capital. For example, this might be seen as liking or sharing information posted by a friend or family member as a show of support despite having no strong feelings toward the information itself. Similarly, someone might refrain from liking, sharing, or commenting on information they strongly agree with because they believe others in their social network would disapprove.

This study reveals that social media users’ awareness of observation by others does impact their information behavior. Efforts to craft a personal reputation, build or maintain relationships, pursue important commitments, and manage conflict all influence the observable information behavior of
social media users. As a result, observable social media information behavior may not be an accurate reflection of an individual’s true thoughts and beliefs. This is particularly interesting in light of the role social media plays in the spread of mis- and disinformation…(More)”.