Facebook Religion: What do users say about their beliefs?
A 2008 survey of college students' Facebook use by Shanyang Zhao, Sherri Grasmuck, and Jason Martin, found that only 13% of the college students they surveyed made explicit religious claims on their profiles (although 32% indicated religious values implicitly through favorite books, music, quotes, and groups). Similarly, 76% of those sampled chose not to present their academic selves by listing their school courses and networking with other students in those classes. Many students would agree that they hold religious and intellectual values, but not as many claim them on their profiles (Zhao et al. 1829).The researchers believe there is an emerging trend of Facebook users' passing over traditional markers of identity, like religion, work, and school.
Another study in 2009 by Tiffany A. Pempek, Yevdokiya A. Yermolayeva, and Sandra L. Calvert suggests that while people still use traditional markers of identity (e.g., religion, politics, work, and school) on their profiles, they were more likely to pick media preferences over traditional markers as important identity indicators. It’s how I express who I am, the students seem to be saying. By selecting movies, music, or books that are funny, thoughtful, serious, or cool, Facebook users hope to prove that they too possess those characteristics. They just don’t have to specifically state it.
In February 2010, I conducted a survey to gauge Facebook habits and people’s opinions about the site. I thought, what better way to ask about Facebook than on Facebook itself? Users are already at their most sociable and openness when they are on a social networking site. So I created a Facebook group with the survey and distributed it to my friends, approximately 200 people. I asked for participants aged 18 and older to respond to a series of questions, some close-ended (multiple-choice response), some open-ended (free response), and some on a Likert scale (1, for strongly disagree; 5, for strongly agree). Their answers would remain confidential, I assured them.
In the end, I had 40 respondents, 21 women and 19 men. Some of my friends passed the survey along to their group of friends, so I heard from acquaintances and strangers alike. A majority of the respondents were ages 18 to 22 (42.5%) or 23 to 27 (32.5%), but I had a smattering of respondents in their thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties also. Only one participant was still in high school. College students made up 45% of the group, but 55% were out of school altogether.
I decided to come back to this question of expressing religious views on Facebook, because most of the profiles I've seen are unguardedly candid about every imaginable belief and opinion, religion included. My results were somewhat different from those of Zhao et al.
I asked, “Did you specify your religious views and/or political views on your profile? Explain why or why not.” Only 11 respondents (27.5%) said no. Five of them had no particular reason for not expressing their views. One said he uses Facebook to socialize and has no religious or political agenda. Another man, 26 years old, said he felt others are too narrow-minded and argumentative: “I don’t really feel like sharing my views and/or discussing them with approximately 70% of my friend base.” Four of the naysayers felt it was private, personal, and no one else’s business.
The reasons people gave for sharing their views were just as varied and ranged from the lukewarm to the passionate. Five of the 29 had no particular reason. “It was just another field to fill out on the profile,” said a 26-year-old man. One person said he filled in the sections, but with reservations, feeling it was a personal matter. Eight, however, answered yes because their views are important to them, part of who they are. A 19-year-old female college student said her religion “is a part of me, more so than filling out activities or TV shows.” Six respondents said they had nothing to hide or weren’t concerned what others thought. Another six expressed pride in their beliefs.
- “I am proud of who I am and my points of view. Plus I can’t imagine what my family would say if I even just chose to leave it all blank.” (a 23-year-old woman)
- "I am who I am, like it or not. It gives people I haven't spoken to a basis to how I might or might not react." (a 28-year-old man)
- "Religious, yes. I have no reason to hide my religion and judge no one by theirs." (a 23-year-old woman)
- "Proudly, because I have spent the better part of the last 10 years of my life cultivating, researching and demonstrating my views both to myself, and to those who wish to know me." (a 29-year-old man)
- "I want everyone to see the light." (a 52-year-old man)
Only two people said they filled out inaccurate information in the religion and politics fields. One did it as a joke. “I put Nihilist, because it was in The Great Lebowski,” said the 29-year-old man. It’s not uncommon for people to create their own categories for religion: Jedi, Awesome, even Beer. Expect to see some users calling themselves Amish, too, I'm guessing facetiously.
Pempek, Tiffany A., Yevdokiya A. Yermolayeva, and Sandra L. Calvert. “College students’ social networking experiences on Facebook.” Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology 30 (2009): 227–238. ScienceDirect. Web. 11 Jan. 2010.
Zhao, Shanyang, Sherri Grasmuck, and Jason Martin. “Identity construction on Facebook: Digital empowerment in anchored relationships.” Computers in Human Behavior 24 (2008): 1816–1836. ScienceDirect. Web. 11 Jan. 2010.
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