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Social noise: the influence of observers on social media information behavior

Tara Zimmerman (School of Information, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 20 January 2022

Issue publication date: 4 October 2022




The purpose of this paper is to introduce the concept of social noise. Under the influence of social noise, a social media user may adjust information behavior based on external cues, attempting to present themselves in a more desirable way to increase their social capital.


A qualitative study informed by an ethnographic approach was used to examine social media information behavior. Participants were observed using Facebook, followed by semi-structured interviews. Data analysis was theoretically grounded in thematic analysis but also adaptive to observations in the data.


Four constructs of social noise were identified in the data. Identity curation emerged as the overarching consideration for individuals. The constructs cultural commitments and relationship management both had a strong presence within the data as well. The fourth construct, conflict management, was identified as social media users decided how to respond to individuals or information with which they did not agree.


This study reveals that social media users' awareness of observation by others does impact their information behavior. Efforts to craft a personal reputation, build or maintain relationships, pursue important commitments and manage conflict all influence the observable information behavior of social media users. As a result, observable social media information behavior may not be an accurate reflection of an individual's true thoughts and beliefs.



This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under grant number #2030859 to the Computing Research Association for the CIFellows Project.

The author would like to thank her dissertation advisor, Dr. Suliman Hawamdeh, for his guidance throughout this research.


Zimmerman, T. (2022), "Social noise: the influence of observers on social media information behavior", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 78 No. 6, pp. 1228-1248.



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