Who Gets Suspicious About a Partner’s Social Media Activity?

it's a diagram with a thought bubble in the middle. Arrows are pointing to it from various icons on the hub of the implied circle. (These icons also have arrows pointing to each other.) Starting at 12:00 position on the wheel and moving clockwise, these are what the hand drawn icons appear to be: Cell phone, laptop computer, envelope, a magnifying class, 3 stick people, a lightbulb
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I recently featured a letter from someone concerned that their boyfriend might be conducting a secret affair based on their social media activity. After I featured that letter, I got a ton of response from readers weighing in on their thoughts.

Many of them were frankly surprised that someone could become so concerned based on their partner’s social media activity (in this specific case, it was the fact that they were sharing posts from this polyamory site).

But thinking it over, I could definitely remember times in my broader social circles when someone (whether a friend, an acquaintance, or a friend’s friend) became quite obsessed with a romantic partner’s social media activity. And spent considerable amount of time and energy analyzing those patterns. Ever so occasionally, this would actually involve me, as I was asked to weigh in on such frenzied scrying.

It led me to wonder: Why is it that some of us get so suspicious about partners’ social media activity and others don’t? Are there certain personality characteristics that would predispose someone to worry in this manner?

Thankfully, there’s actually been some formal research on this.

Who Gets Suspicious About a Partner’s Social Media Activity?

One study in 2013 of 255 participants on Facebook re: jealousy and partner surveillance found the following:

  • In general, female users were more jealous of Facebook activity involving their partners.
  • Jealousy was also higher for individuals who reported lower self-esteem.
  • Attachment style played some role. Anxiously attached people reported greater Facebook-related jealousy. Individuals with more avoidant attachment reported lower jealousy. However, when they tested for trust as a separate variable, they found that trust predicted Facebook jealousy more strongly than attachment style. The researchers stated that this suggests that the anxious attachment led to lower levels of trust, which then predicted higher Facebook jealousy.
  • Those who experienced higher jealousy were more likely to engage in frequent fearful (or negative) surveillance of their partner’s Facebook activities.
  • Keeping tabs on a partner wasn’t always associated with suspicion or negative surveillance. It could also be done out of appreciation or passion, what the researchers deemed positive surveillance.
  • Male users actually looked at their partners’ Facebook walls more often than female users look at their partners’ walls but seemed to do it less in the form of negative surveillance and more as positive surveillance.
  • Note: This study did not appear to include nonbinary participants.

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In any event, it’s an interesting study. I’ll have my eyes peeled for future updates to this body of work.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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