Your friends on social networks are hypocrites. Bit of a shock that isn’t it? After all they are your friends and you trust them. However, new research on “moral hypocrisy” suggests they might not be exactly as they seem.

The study used a traditional technique of allowing a individuals to distribute something to a group of people, including themselves in the group. The participants were asked to either be fair or unfair in the way they distributed things. Then, a confederate did the same task and the participants were asked to observe.

What happened was that if the confederate was acting unfairly, the participants actually said the distribution was fair. However, those in the group said it was unfair. In other words, the participants defended the actions of their “friends” – even though they accepted what happened was unfair.

This is just more confirmation of the “in group” – “out group” effect. If your are within a group, say on Facebook, you are more likely to defend any negative happenings within that group than other Facebook users who are non-members of that specific group. Being a member of a group appears to change your moral viewpoint somewhat, this research suggests. It demonstrates that presenting a positive self image to your group of friends is more important than objective moral reasoning.

So what you see in the discussions in an online social group, such as a group within Facebook or within MySpace, may not be all it seems. People may be adding to the discussions in such a way as to present themselves positively to the group, rather than to say exactly what they believe.

However, don’t let this put you off taking part in online social networks or in forums and other Internet groups. The same happens within offline social groupings as well. It just means you should always take what you read online with an element of questioning in your mind. Offline, of course, you do this by interpreting body language and other non verbal cues. Online we don’t have them, so you need to be more thoughtful when reading social networks.

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