Self-Censorship on Facebook is Common, Study Finds

We've all been there. You start typing something on social media, you're about to post it, then you think better of it. Or at least many of us have been there, according to a new study.

In a collaboration with Facebook, Carnegie Mellon University Ph.D. student Sauvik Das found that 71 percent of Facebook users censored their posts and comments at the last minute within a 17-day period. Facebook Data Scientist Adam Kramer co-authored the study, which you can read in full in PDF form here.

A total of 3.9 million Facebook users were included in the study, so it's comprehensive. Das and Kramer said the results were higher than expected, adding that "33 percent of all potential posts written by our sample users were censored." They also suspect that "all users employ last-minute self-censorship on Facebook at some point," but that wasn't captured by the study since it only lasted for a short period of time.

Fifty-one percent of those studied censored at least one post, while 44 percent censored at least one comment. Some went back on many more potential comments and posts.

The study defines self-censorship as "the act of preventing oneself from speaking," and notes that social media allows users "the ability to type out and review their thoughts prior to sharing them." During this phase, many users decide to backtrack on what they wrote. Included in the study were users who wrote at least five characters and did not post them.

Das and Kramer concluded that there were two primary reasons for self-censorship: the audience is vague (like with a status update) or the audience is extremely narrow (like group posts). Not knowing exactly who you're reaching or being concerned that what you wrote won't resonate with a group the way you want it to give people pause.

The Atlantic writes that the study might offer Facebook users this takeaway: "Feel free not to share." Sometimes users do overshare (TMI) and it's just not always worth taking the chance.

Now imagine if users could edit their status updates! How much going back would we have then? Currently, you can edit comments and photo captions on Facebook but not status updates, though that's reportedly been tested in the past.