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Running head: SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 1
Social Media and Ostracism
Peter Vorderer & Frank M. Schneider
University of Mannheim
Vorderer, P, & Schneider, F. M. (in press). Social media and ostracism. In K. D. Williams &
S. A. Nida (Eds.), Ostracism, exclusion, and rejection (pp. 240–257). New York, NY:
Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Frank M. Schneider,
Institute for Media and Communication Studies, University of Mannheim, Haus Oberrhein,
Rheinvorlandstr. 5, 68159 Mannheim, Germany. E-mail: email@example.com,
Phone: +49 621 181-3938, Fax: +49 621 181-3939.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 2
With 1.23 billion active users every month, the social networking site (SNS)
Facebook celebrated its 10th anniversary in February, 2014. Its founder and CEO Mark
Zuckerberg stated enthusiastically: “we're looking forward to our next decade and to helping
connect the rest of the world” (Facebook Inc., 2014). One step toward this goal was
obviously the $19 billion take-over of WhatsApp, a growing mobile-messaging startup. The
sheer amount of money involved in this deal seems to indicate that connecting people via
new technology is or at least is seen as a most profitable business. Given the number of
people using Facebook, Twitter, and other online communities today, the dominant motive
for social media use seems to be a strong drive to be socially connected with each other, a
motivation that is reflected in psychological concepts such as the need for affiliation (Hill,
1987), the need for self-relatedness (Ryan & Deci, 2000), or the need to belong (Baumeister
& Leary, 1995).
From a motivational perspective, these needs imply two dimensions: approach and
avoidance. Seeking connectedness to others reflects the approach dimension; preventing
oneself from being socially isolated reflects the avoidance dimension (Ahn & Shin, 2013).
Thus, using social media to stay (almost) permanently connected to the (online) world
satisfies the need to belong and simultaneously prevents oneself from being ignored or
excluded (Vorderer & Kohring, 2013). The feeling of being ignored or excluded over the
Internet has been labeled cyber-ostracism (Williams, Cheung, & Choi, 2000). Meanwhile, a
growing body of literature documents the detrimental effects of ostracism, its different phases
and conditions from detection to long-term consequences, as well as its contextual and
dispositional moderators in the offline and in the online world. The temporal need-threat
model (Williams, 2009; see also this volume) has provided the most common frame of
reference for this research. In addition, a variety of computerized manipulations of ostracism,
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 3
which have been derived from this model, are also available and widely used (Hartgerink,
van Beest, Wicherts, & Williams, 2015; Wesselmann & Williams, 2011; Wolf et al, 2014).
However, although a great number of social media studies have investigated the
motives for and the effects of SNS use, surprisingly only a few of them have explicitly
included the concept of cyber-ostracism. Thus, we try to fruitfully connect the two research
areas of social media and ostracism.
What are Social Network Sites?
Although the term “social media” comprises lots of online services, SNS such as
Facebook, Google+, or Instagram are the most typical and widespread social media
applications. According to Ellison and Boyd (2013):
A social network site is a networked communication platform in which participants 1)
have uniquely identifiable profiles that consist of user-supplied content, content
provided by other users, and/or system-level data; 2) can publicly articulate
connections that can be viewed and traversed by others; and 3) can consume, produce,
and/or interact with streams of user-generated content provided by their connections
on the site. (p. 158, emphasis in original)
Most research on SNS has been done on the uses and effects of Facebook (see Wilson,
Gosling, & Graham, 2012).
Why and how do people use Facebook? Searching scientific databases such as
PsycINFO, Communication & Mass Media Complete, and EconLit yields approx. 1,000 hits
for the Boolean operator “Facebook,” for the year 2013 alone. This research has applied
three major approaches to explain Facebook usage: (a) the uses and gratifications perspective
explores Facebook-specific uses, (b) the needs-perspective draws on basic human and
overarching needs (e.g., the need to belong) to explain Facebook behavior, and (c) the
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 4
dispositional perspective derives the proactive Facebook usage from corresponding
personality traits (e.g., narcissism or extraversion). However, these categories overlap more
than they are distinct and, thus, can be arranged on a continuum ranging from media-specific
and situational to cross-situationally consistent and enduring.
Studies in the uses and gratifications tradition (for an overview, see Krcmar &
Strizhakova, 2009) explore the dimensions of why people use Facebook and to what ends by
factor analyzing data gathered from convenience samples via self-developed items. Using
Facebook is described by users’ motivations for information sharing, and for maintaining old
or forming new friendships (e.g., Baek, Holton, Harp, & Yaschur, 2011; Tosun, 2012).
Several previously established needs have been considered as driving mechanisms to
explain Facebook use. One of the most important need constructs when it comes to
explaining mechanisms of social connectedness is the need to belong: a pervasive drive of
human beings “to form and maintain at least a minimum quantity of lasting, positive, and
significant interpersonal relationships” (Baumeister & Leary, 1995, p. 497). Studies show
that the need to belong is a relevant predictor for Facebook use (Reich & Vorderer, 2013) and
that need satisfaction can be achieved by using online networks to participate in society and
being socially included (Notley, 2009) and also by subtle reminders only (Knausenberger,
Hellmann, & Echterhoff, 2015). Priming affiliation motivations makes SNS concepts
accessible, which in turn fulfills affiliation needs (Lee & Chiou, 2013).
However, not every Facebook feature use is related to belongingness (e.g., the number
of friends or the number of status updates, Winter et al., 2014). Furthermore, recent research
has shown that the fear of missing out (Przybylski, Murayama, DeHaan, & Gladwell, 2013)
and excessive reassurance seeking (Clerkin, Smith, & Hames, 2013) are two psychological
constructs that reflect a more deficiency-oriented need approach to SNS use. A possible area
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 5
for future research would be to delineate the interplay between needs of affiliation and
belonging, the fear of missing out, and the need to excessively seek reassurance.
From a dispositional perspective, many researchers have assumed that broad
personality traits help to explain Facebook use. Based on a review of this literature, Nadkarni
and Hofmann (2012) conclude that Facebook use is associated with higher levels of
extraversion, neuroticism, and belonging, but lower levels of self-esteem, self-worth, and
academic performance. Based on their review, which combines the need and the dispositional
perspectives, they propose a dual-factor model of Facebook use that relies on the need to
belong and the need for self-presentation.
Taken together, all three perspectives can be integrated into one framework. The
hierarchical structure of personality traits (Goldberg, 1993) allows for integrating both needs
(e.g., Costa & McCrae, 1988) and gratifications sought (Palmgreen, Wenner, & Rosengren,
1985). With regard to social exclusion, the need to belong is of special interest: it is
substantially related to broad personality traits (Leary, Kelly, Cottrell, & Schreindorfer, 2013;
Seidman, 2013), but also can be seen as a determinant of the motives and uses of SNS (Reich
& Vorderer, 2013). However, it would be premature to assume that the need to belong
explains all behaviors on Facebook equally well. One important caveat is that many studies
have measured only general SNS or Facebook use, yet it seems reasonable to think of
different underlying motivations determining the use of specific Facebook features. There is
some recent support for this assumption (e.g., Aladwani, 2014; Seidman, 2013). Thus, when
studying ostracism in the online world, it is necessary to look at the fine-grained differences
in motives and usage, or in other words, “who is using what tool to what end” (Smock et al.,
2011, p. 2328). For example, a dimension like companionship was found to be conceptually
and empirically different from social interaction. Whereas social interaction positively
predicted general Facebook use and the feature-specific use of comments, wall posts, private
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 6
messages, chat, and negatively predicted Facebook groups usage, companionship was
negatively associated with the use of comments only (Smock et al., 2011). Therefore, if one
is interested in whether lonely people use Facebook to compensate for their loneliness, the
feature-specific use of Facebook comments as an indicator might be preferred to general
The whys and hows of Facebook use give us insights into the need structure and
potential coping strategies, but understanding the effects of Facebook fosters our knowledge
about whether using it satisfies these needs and makes coping efforts effective, or instead
leads to undesired side effects.
What are the effects of using Facebook? Most relevant research has studied not
only the antecedents of SNS usage, but also its consequences. These consequences have been
described as either (a) goal-attaining effects (i.e., when users satisfy existing needs by using
Facebook), or (b) goal-preventing, such as iDisorders (see below) or addictions (e.g.,
Kittinger, Correia, & Irons, 2012; Rosen, Whaling, Rab, Carrier, & Cheever, 2013).
Goal-attaining effects. If maintaining an existing friendship is challenged and
hampered (e.g., students moving from high school to college), social media can provide a
valuable way to keep up with already existing social relationships (Cummings, Lee, & Kraut,
2006). Some researchers have found that Facebook use helps users to form and maintain
social capital, thereby providing benefits for the well-being of users with low self-esteem and
low-life satisfaction (Ellison, Steinfield, & Lampe, 2007; but see Trepte, Dienlin, &
Reinecke, 2014). However, the tone of the feedback on one’s SNS profile is more important
than just using it: Positive feedback enhances self-esteem and well-being, whereas negative
feedback does the opposite (Valkenburg, Peter, & Schouten, 2006). Self-esteem also
moderates the effects of Facebook use on bridging social capital (Steinfield, Ellison, &
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 7
In line with the research on using specific Facebook features (e.g., Smock et al.,
2011), the use of some of these features is more helpful in maintaining social interactions or
companionship. For example, große Deters and Mehl (2013) showed in an experimental
setting that Facebook status updates reduce loneliness, and this effect was mediated by the
feeling of being connected daily with friends. These results were found both with and
without social responses to the status updates (e.g., likes or comments). This may be
explained by “social snacking”—activities that enhance the feeling of belongingness by
reminding one of existing connections (Gardner, Pickett, & Knowles, 2005). Facebook use
also fosters online social connectedness, and this type of connectedness is correlated with
higher subjective well-being and lower depression and anxiety (Grieve, Indian, Witteveen,
Tolan, & Marrington, 2013).
Facebook offers an easy way of interacting with people and fulfills needs for
connectedness. People who lack social relationships might use Facebook more. Thus,
Facebook use can be seen as a strategy to cope with disconnection. Consequently, the results
of Facebook use are rewarding, leading people to feel connected. At the same time, however,
it does not help to establish or replace offline relationships (Sheldon, Abad, & Hinsch, 2011).
Thus, Facebook use is driven by relatedness dissatisfaction, which is temporarily satisfied by
an ostensible feeling of being connected, but that use still may not foster relatedness
satisfaction in the long run.
Goal-preventing effects. Facebook use does not only lead to positive outcomes such
as fulfilling basic needs, but sometimes is undermined by unintended (and mostly negative
and detrimental) side effects. For example, in a study applying experience-sampling,
Facebook use decreased subjective well-being (Kross et al., 2013). Facebook use might often
be a necessary but not necessarily sufficient condition for negative effects on users. The
valence of Facebook contents or of specific features is important to consider. For example,
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 8
the Like-button has a positive valence, whereas removing a connection to a former friend has
a negative valence. Research has shown, for instance, that unfriending on Facebook leads to
negative emotional and cognitive responses (Bevan, Pfyl, & Barclay, 2012). Other
researchers have found that specific types of Facebook use (e.g., the number of Facebook
friends, and Facebook impression management) were correlated with “iDisorders,”—that is,
“the negative relationship between technology usage and psychological health” (Rosen et al.,
2013, p. 1243)—and that maladaptive Facebook use (e.g., excessive social comparison and
negative self-evaluation in comments) predicted increases in body dissatisfaction and bulimic
symptoms (Smith, Hames, & Joiner, 2013).
What can we learn from research on the uses and effects of Facebook use with regard
to ostracism? First, broad personality traits and more specific needs can help to explain
general Facebook use. One of the most important motives is the need to belong. Thus,
connecting with others via Facebook helps to satisfy this need. However, very often it is
more helpful to look at the use of specific features including their function and valence. Not
every feature serves the need to belong equally. Second, using Facebook can have both goal-
attaining (positive) effects and goal-preventing (negative) effects: On the one hand, it can
fulfill or fortify basic human needs like belongingness or self-esteem and enhance well-being;
on the other hand, it can thwart these needs and even harm psychological health in the long
run. Again, specific content or feature use may allow more exact predictions about effects.
For example, positive profile feedback can enhance self-esteem, whereas negative feedback
can reduce it (Valkenburg et al., 2006). Finally, we have to interpret all of these findings
cautiously. Important limitations to most of this research include the predominance of
correlational designs that do not allow one to draw causal inferences from the results and the
(sometimes) questionable psychometric properties of the measures applied in this research
area (especially with regard to self-reports of motivations and usage).
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 9
Because of the fact that research on social media encompasses numerous constructs
that are important for understanding how ostracism works, in the next section we describe
methodological approaches and findings related to examinations of ostracism in a social
Ostracism and Social Media
Being ostracized—being ignored or excluded by individuals or groups—threatens
four basic human needs (Williams, 2007, 2009): belonging, self-esteem, control, and
meaningful existence. Whereas SNS might appeal to users as a means to permanently secure
social connections, can SNS also easily trigger the feeling of being ostracized? To address
this question, we will organize the empirical findings related to ostracism in social media
according to the three stages of the temporal need-threat model and then provide a brief
overview of the manipulations used in examining cyber-ostracism.
Studying Cyber-Ostracism in a Social Media Context
Cyberball (Williams et al., 2000; Williams & Jarvis, 2006) is the predominant
experimental paradigm for inducing inclusion or exclusion in a computerized setting
(Hartgerink et al., 2015). It involves asking participants to practice their mental visualization
skills through the use of an online virtual ball tossing game. Participants believe they are
playing with other participants, and they see animation on screen that shows them, the other
players, and a ball. If the ball is thrown to them, they are to throw it to one of the other
players. If they are assigned to the inclusion condition, they receive the ball the same amount
of throws as the other players. If they are assigned to the ostracism condition, they may be
thrown the ball once or twice at the beginning of the game, but for the remainder of the game
they receive no throws. During the entire game, it is emphasized that the experimenter does
not care who gets the ball and who throws it, but rather, that participants visualize aspects of
the game, the others, and the environment. In a meta-analysis of 120 studies, Cyberball
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 10
consistently and strongly (d > 1.4) threatened fundamental needs of belonging, self-esteem,
control, and meaningful existence (Hartgerink et al., 2015). Whereas this involves an online
manipulation, it was not intended to be an ecologically valid representation of typical online
There are a few other types of manipulations that merit examination because they are
ecologically more valid relative to social media: immersive virtual environments, text-based
forms of manipulations, and the tool Ostracism Online.
Immersive virtual environments (IVE). Because of the fact that Cyberball was
developed as a minimal world paradigm, it lacks the mundane realism and presence of social
cues that social media users often encounter. Recently, Kassner, Wesselmann, Law, and
Williams (2012), as well as Segovia and Bailenson (2012) remedied this drawback by
transferring the ball-tossing game into an IVE that resembles virtual online worlds. These
environments can be found in massively multiplayer online role-playing game settings (e.g.,
World of Warcraft) or real-world simulations (e.g., Second Life). This enables researchers to
manipulate social cues in a more ecologically valid setting and investigate, for instance, the
impact of eye contact (Wesselmann, Cardoso, Slater, & Williams, 2012), identity effects on
anti-social behavior (Segovia & Bailenson, 2012), gender differences in coping strategies
(Benenson, Markovits, Thompson, & Wrangham, 2011), and the effects of ostracism on users
who use such online environments “as their last bastion of social inclusion” (Kassner et al.,
2012, p. 402).
Text-based online-communication. Whereas Cyberball in an IVE seems to be a
useful tool for online role-playing games, other social media types include fewer social cues
(e.g., online chat, short text messages, or messenger communication) and therefore have to be
investigated with different tools. Williams et al. (2002) applied chat-room manipulations to
induce ostracism, and Filipkowski and Smyth (2012) used a similar manipulation to compare
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 11
ostracism in person and in chat-room settings. They manipulated ostracism by providing
participants with specific descriptions of an ostracizing event in an online-chat-room or in a
face-to-face situation, and asked the participants how they would feel if they imagined the
same happening to them. Comparing the results of the two experiments, they concluded that
ostracism in both the hypothetical and the actual situations led to similar results independent
from online or face-to-face condition.
Another form of text-based manipulation employs cell phones. For example, Smith
and Williams (2004) used text messaging on cell phones to effectively include or exclude
their study participants. Although the participants could neither see the communication
partners (confederates) and their interaction, nor rule out technical problems with the phone
as causes for being ostracized, the effects were similar to those routinely produced by
Cyberball. However, it would be premature to conclude that attributing the non-response to
technical problems does not play a role in text messaging-induced ostracism, because this
factor has not been systematically manipulated.
Ostracism Online. Ostracism Online, a novel social media-based paradigm
developed by Wolf et al. (2015), seems to be especially useful for research on SNSs. Built
similarly to Twitter or Facebook (or blogs and forums), Ostracism Online emulates the liking
of content. Participants write a short self-descriptive summary and choose a profile picture
from a wide selection of avatars. Afterwards, they are informed that they are connected to 11
other participants (which are in actuality computer scripts) who can read the summaries and
like them or not within three minutes. Participants are told to do likewise. In the inclusion
condition, the participant’s summary is liked as often as the other profiles and is indicated by
pop-ups and a personalized counter. In the exclusion condition, the participant’s summary
receives only a few likes in the beginning, but the other participants’ profiles conyinue
receiving more and more likes (for a demonstration see: http://smpo.github.io/socialmedia/).
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 12
Wolf et al. found that Ostracism Online is as effective as the Cyberball paradigm in
manipulating inclusion vs. exclusion. Similar results were recently reported in two further
studies (Schneider, Zwillich, Bindl, Hopp, & Vorderer, 2015).
The use of computer-based manipulations of ostracism is also highly effective.
Kassner et al. (2012) report meta-analytic findings that indicate higher effect sizes for the
IVE, the Cyberball, and the online chat room paradigms as compared to the face-to-face ball-
tossing game. However, the reasons for these differences have not been systematically
investigated yet. Ostracism Online provides researchers with new opportunities for
examining several possible influences. First, the number of group members can easily be
manipulated. Second, the content of the summaries (e.g., personal information or opinion
about an issue) as well as the social cues that are presented can be altered. Third, the “like”
button can be changed into a “read” or a “dislike” button. Thus, Ostracism Online offers
more options than the classic Cyberball method. Tools such as Ostracism Online or ostracism
in an IVE may help us to gain important insights into different conditions under which people
experience and cope with ostracism. Furthermore, the rather rigid setting of the Cyberball
method raises some concerns about its appropriateness for studying experiences with SNSs
and behavior in social media environments. For example, changing the position of the
Cyberball participant on the screen (i.e., placing the Cyberball participant below the two
Cyberball players) changes the responses to the exclusion condition (Schoel, Eck, &
Greifeneder, 2014). Consequently, we advocate the use of more flexible tools (such as those
described above) or more elaborate, general ones such as Social Lab (Garaizar & Reips,
2014)—as alternatives or in addition to Cyberball. Nevertheless, Cyberball-based research
has provided the foundation for understanding ostracism in social media settings, and has
encouraged the development of other paradigms that are particularly appropriate to social
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 13
Empirical Findings Related to Ostracism and Social Media
Our aim is to highlight the theoretical importance of research on ostracism on SNS
with components of the temporal need-threat model. Therefore, we focus here only on studies
that are somehow related to social media motives, uses, or effects. Consequently, studies
employing the Cyberball paradigm are included only if they are embedded in a social media
environment, are compared to other methods of manipulating ostracism, or examine effects
on social media-related dependent variables.
Immediate reactions at the reflexive stage. The temporal need-threat model states
that detected ostracism leads to social pain, threatened needs, and negative affect. These
findings have been replicated in the context of social media, applying different manipulations
and measures (e.g., Filipkowski & Smyth, 2012; Kassner et al., 2012; Nezlek, Wesselmann,
Wheeler, & Williams, 2012; Wolf et al., 2015). In addition, a study on cognitive and
emotional experiences related to being unfriended on Facebook showed similar results
(Bevan et al., 2012). Besides affective reactions to cyber-ostracism at the reflexive stage, the
four basic human needs are thwarted (Filipkowski & Smyth, 2012; Godwin et al., 2013;
Goodacre & Zadro, 2010; Kassner et al., 2012; Wolf et al., 2015). As Wesselmann and
Williams (2011) point out, reactions to ostracism in a social media environment could be
more severe with those people who use social media as the main tool to get in touch with
others because it is a secure—or the only—way to be socially connected. In light of the
finding that the need to belong or to be socially included (Notley, 2009) is a dominant factor
for social media use, this possibility seems quite reasonable.
Coping strategies and need fortification at the reflective stage. What kind of
coping strategies do social media users apply when they are ostracized? Although this
question has not yet been studied in detail, when comparing responses to ostracism in the
chat-room or cell phone paradigms to face-to-face ostracism, Williams et al. (2002) found
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 14
that participants used more bold and inflammatory language—a phenomenon they called
virtual bravado (see also Wesselmann & Williams, 2011). This seems to be a fundamental
difference between online- and face-to-face-ostracism and, according to Wesselmann
and Williams (2011), may be traced back to disinhibited behavior resulting from the
anonymity of electronic communication. The authors argue that
it is possible this bravado was an attempt by participants to fortify
their threatened control and meaningful existence in the situation. It is
also possible that, under conditions of anonymity, needs such as control
or meaningful existence become easier to fortify, whereas under face-to-face
conditions where social norms and accountability are more salient,
needs such as belonging or self-esteem become easier (or more socially
acceptable) to fortify. (p. 137)
This assumption is based on the reduced social cues approach (Kiesler, Siegel, &
McGuire, 1984), which states that anonymity and the lack of nonverbal social contextual cues
lead to deindividuation and to normless and disinhibited behavior. Such behavior can lead to
openness and participation or egalitarianism in a positive environment; in a negative context
(e.g., feeling ostracized), on the other hand, deviant and anti-social behaviors such as
flaming, spamming, cyber-bullying or cyber-stalking are likely (Döring, 2003). Although
this explanation may apply in the context of specific experimental settings, social media
environments like Facebook neither lack social cues nor provide an anonymous context for
communication. What kind of coping strategies would we expect in such an environment,
and what determines these strategies?
With regard to self-esteem, self-promoting (e.g., “seek social support,” “seek more
social support than provide”) and antisocial (e.g., “get angry at lack of status comments,”
“retaliate against mean comments”) Facebook behaviors can be explained by pronounced
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 15
narcissism and low trait self-esteem (Carpenter, 2012). Furthermore, editing one’s Facebook
profile has been found to foster self-esteem (Gonzales & Hancock, 2011). These findings are
in line with Walther’s (1996) hyperpersonal model, which states that message senders can
selectively edit and optimize their self-presentations in a text-based, asynchronous media
environment. In light of the temporal need-threat model, it might be interesting to investigate
whether thwarting self-esteem leads to self-editing as a fortifying strategy following
ostracism by paying attention to potential moderators like narcissism and trait self-esteem at
the same time.
Seeking affiliation and connectedness in an online environment seems to be a
common strategy used to fortify the need to belong. However, seeking affiliation online has
seldom been examined as a dependent variable in ostracism experiments. One rare exception
is a study by Zwolinski (2012), who found that even though participants reported threats to
their needs after playing Cyberball in an exclusion condition, they did not display increased
interest in becoming affiliated with a face-to-face or online social network.
Another strategy for re-fortifying belonging is to comply and conform with group
norms (Williams, 2009; Williams et al., 2000). However, besides Williams et al. (2000), we
are aware of only one study that has measured conformity without finding a difference
between inclusion and exclusion (Wolf et al., 2015). It might be interesting, then, to look at
another concept in communication studies in which the fear of isolation serves as the basic
drive for compliance, the spiral of silence (Noelle-Neumann, 1991). One central assumption
of the spiral of silence theory is that people do not voice their opinion if it diverges from that
of the public majority—because they are afraid of being isolated. Although this idea has not
yet been investigated in the context of social media, the discussion activities of ostracized
people in online forums could provide an interesting way of measuring conformity, or
remaining silent might be assessed as a coping strategy to fortify belonging.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 16
How control or meaningful existence can be regained in a media environment that is
rich in social and nonverbal cues remain rather open questions. One problem that arises in
this context is that it is often hard to thwart one need without also thwarting the others. The
focus on self-esteem and belonging as motivations for using social media provide useful
ideas for how to study ostracism in this environment. At the same time, however, control and
meaningful existence have been badly neglected in this research area. Regaining or exerting
control could perhaps be established by regulating online self-disclosure and privacy settings
(Trepte & Reinecke, 2011). This is a double-edged sword, however: On the one hand, users
might feel powerful again after checking their SNS settings, unfriending ostracizing people,
etc.; on the other hand, such a coping strategy would make it more difficult to get in touch
with others, thereby leaving the need to belong thwarted (cf. Williams, 2009).
Long-term effects at the resignation stage. Williams (2009) describes alienation,
helplessness, depression, and unworthiness as long-term consequences of ostracism when
resources are too severely depleted to fortify the threatened needs. Until methodologically
convincing longitudinal studies are conducted to enable us to differentiate between ostracism
in the offline and the online world, the question of how ostracism in the social media
environment affects reactions in the resignation stage remains unanswered. Some attempts
(Kross et al., 2013; Rosen et al., 2013), however, hint to pernicious long-term consequences
of Facebook use, which might be related to experiencing ostracism.
Conclusion and Outlook
In September 2013, 73% of US online adults used SNSs (71% used Facebook), and
40% of all US cell phone owners used SNSs on their phone (Pew Research Center, 2013).
The Pew Internet Project’s research (Pew Research Center, 2014) also found that
67% of cell owners find themselves checking their phone for messages, alerts, or
calls—even when they don’t notice their phone ringing or vibrating; 44% of cell
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 17
owners have slept with their phone next to their bed because they wanted to make sure
they didn’t miss any calls, text messages, or other updates during the night; 29% of
cell owners describe their cell phone as “something they can’t imagine living
Taken together, these data strongly support the assumption that everyone wishes to be
permanently connected to others or fears being disconnected from them (Vorderer
& Kohring, 2013; Vorderer, Krömer, & Schneider, 2016). Whereas researchers drew on
specific gratifications, needs, and traits to describe and explain the use of SNSs at the advent
of Facebook, approaching others and avoiding being isolated from them in the online world
have become daily habits—just as they have always been in the offline world. The need to
belong and the fear of being ostracized (or perhaps a related construct such as the fear of
missing out, Przybylski et al., 2013) seem to be fundamental human needs that are reflected
in our (mobile) online behavior. Thus, on the one hand, soft forms of ostracism are
ubiquitous: For example, waiting for answers after the “seen” function in Facebook or
WhatsApp indicated that the messages has been read (Mai, Freudenthaler, Schneider, &
Vorderer, 2015), expecting the first “like” of a newly posted message, or holding on for the
delayed response to a “friend” request puts one in a permanently standby mode that might
trigger the feeling of being ostracized if the responses do not occur immediately.
Consequently, we assume that future diary studies on ostracism in everyday life would find
much higher portions of online-ostracism (compared to previous ones like Nezlek et al.,
2012), especially in SNS and mobile messenger communication.
On the other hand, low-cost communication like e-mailing, texting, chatting as well as
posting and sending messages on Facebook helps to easily establish a sense of belonging and
meaningful existence: I am instant-messaging, therefore I am. In line with the findings of
Sheldon et al. (2011), feeling disconnected or ostracized encourages the effortless attempts to
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 18
connect to others via Facebook, while the positive experience of successful connections
rewards this behavior. Thus, Facebook could serve as a social compensation for a lack of
offline connections (Lee, Moore, Park, & Park, 2012; Tazghini & Siedlecki, 2013) or,
especially for the Net Generation, even as a deeply rooted, primary way to satisfy the need to
belong (Lee & Chiou, 2013). This need satisfaction might be rather illusionary, however:
Even though the use of social media seems to be helpful for achieving social connectedness,
it seems that only face-to-face communication can facilitate actually avoiding social isolation
and, therefore, enhance well-being (Ahn & Shin, 2013; Sheldon et al., 2011).
Furthermore, first attempts have been made to look at online (re)connection as a
coping strategy after being ostracized, but findings have been inconsistent (Zwolinski, 2012).
However, this research is still in its fledgling stages. Perhaps one interesting approach lies in
the distinction among different need-threats and corresponding coping strategies. This can be
informed by theories of computer-mediated communication (CMC; Walther, 2011). For
example, the hyperpersonal model (Walther, 1996) proposes that, given a text-based and
asynchronous communication environment, message senders might edit and optimize their
self-presentation. Under the condition of thwarted self-esteem, specific Facebook behaviors
such as status updates might be indicators of how people fortify this need on a SNS.
Moreover, perceiving ostracism in CMC environments could be different from face-
to-face situations. However, CMC environments can differ, too. Although the terms cyber-
ostracism or ostracism in electronic-based interaction (Wesselmann & Williams, 2011)
summarize a wide range of online phenomena, they also suggest that all online media are
created equal. We recommend refraining from such terms, because—although catchy—they
cloud the issues that are of particular interest. Besides mass media communication channels,
communication in our daily private and work life is more and more determined by mediated
interpersonal communication. From this perspective, relevant issues lie in the characteristics
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 19
of the media (e.g., synchronicity, reduced or filtered-out nonverbal and social cues, feedback-
channel etc.) and of the users (e.g., motives, selection preferences, anonymity or familiarity,
norms and beliefs how to behave in a particular online-environment etc.). For example,
Schechtman (2008) proposes that perceived ostracism is a function of characteristics of the
message (e.g., frequency), the medium (e.g., transmission speed), the interpersonal
relationship (e.g., length of relationship), and the individual (e.g., trust)—elements he
borrows from media synchronicity theory (Dennis, Fuller, & Valacich, 2008).
Different media tap into different aspects. For example, whereas in a Skype
conference communication partners interact synchronously, e-mails or text messages are
asynchronous. It is an interesting question, for example, whether the perception of ostracism
or its immediate effects in an asynchronous communication mode are dependent on
individual differences in expected response-time thresholds.
With respect to the users’ characteristics, the different uses and gratifications when
dealing with Facebook features (Smock et al., 2011) make clear that feature preferences
might play an important role when studying ostracism in social media. Thus, not every study
that induces ostracism via Cyberball investigates ostracism in the online-world. Cyberball is
a convincing way to manipulate ostracism, but the variety of useful manipulation methods at
hand (e.g., Ostracism Online) provides interesting alternatives and might be more appropriate
for scrutinizing ostracism in a social media environment. Manipulating media richness,
synchronicity, the number of senses involved, the number of possible backchannels for
feedback, the absence or presence of nonverbal and social cues, technical problems—all of
these factors that might influence the perception of ostracism in a CMC environment invite
deeper examination and might help to explain why the effect sizes in computer-based
ostracism paradigms are higher than in face-to-face paradigms.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND OSTRACISM 20
Whereas technology companies like Facebook, Inc. are interested in connecting
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