July 24, 2017

Untagging on Social Media: Who Untags, What do they Untag, and Why?

Journal: Computers in Human Behavior

By: Jeremy Birnholt, Moira Burke, Annie Steele

Abstract

Social network profiles display individuals’ posts and content left by their friends, such as wall posts and photo tags. Sometimes content posted and tagged by others is inconsistent with a person’s desired self-image. One strategy that people use to increase the distance between their identity and content they don’t like is to untag themselves. Tagging and untagging pose important questions for traditional theories of self-presentation, which describe the projection of one’s own desired identity and others’ response to that projection. Tagging reverses this role by allowing others to project a person’s identity, and forcing that person to respond. Using de-identified, aggregated behavioral data from Facebook and a survey of 802 people, this paper aims to explore this shift by asking whether untagging occurs similarly to other self-presentation behavior and how people view this strategy. Results suggest that untagging differs from traditional self-presentation tactics in three key respects: it is used more by more experienced users, it occurs when there are gender and age differences between tagger and target, and it is seen as an easy way to mitigate the negative effects of annoying or embarrassing content.