Sharing sensitive information on Twitter and its “rubbernecking effect”

In a new article titled “Rubbernecking Effect of Intimate Information on Twitter: When Getting Attention Works Against Interpersonal Attraction” published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, we (Lemi Baruh and Zeynep Cemalcılar) discuss the effects of sharing sensitive (intimate) information in social media platform Twitter.

The article focuses on how viewers of a Twitter account react to sensitive information they see on a Twitter profile: While viewers of a Twitter account may initially stick around longer to look at a profile containing more sensitive information, they find profiles sharing sensitive information less attractive. We link this reaction to satisfaction of a voyeuristic curiosity. Just like the rubbernecking behaviour of “a driver passing by a car accident, the satisfaction of voyeuristic curiosity through profile browsing on Twitter is temporarily enjoyed at the moment when the opportunity is available”.

Below is the abstract:

Social networking sites offer individuals an opportunity to document and share information about themselves, as well as engaging in social browsing to learn about others. As a micro-blogging site within which users often share information publicly, Twitter may be a particularly suitable venue that can help satisfy both of these motivations. This study investigates how viewers react to disclosure of intimate information on Twitter. Specifically, the impact of disclosure intimacy is studied on attention that viewers pay to a Twitter page, reduction in their uncertainty about the attributes of the page owner, and their interpersonal attraction to the owner of the page. A total of 618 adult online panel members viewed one of six Twitter pages that contained either low-intimacy or high-intimacy tweets. Analyses indicated that viewers exposed to the Twitter pages containing high-intimate information paid more attention to the pages, were more confident about the attributions they could make about the page owner, yet were less willing to pursue further socialization with the page owner. Furthermore, attributional confidence mediated and perceived similarity moderated the relationship between disclosure intimacy and interpersonal attraction. This interaction between disclosure intimacy and perceived similarity was such that viewers who considered the page owner to be similar (dissimilar) to themselves were more (less) socially attracted to page owners who disclosed intimate information. These findings suggest that while intimate information shared on a Twitter page draws attention, this does not necessarily result in further socialization with the page owner—an effect we named as the “rubbernecking effect” of intimate information.