Friend or foe?

— At a national meeting of psychologists earlier this month, an audience packed the hall for a presentation on “Facebook: Friend or Foe? Effects of Online Social Networks on Close Relationships.”

Several researchers from different universities presented findings, often surprising, about the ubiquitous Facebook lives so many people lead.

In October last year, Mark Zuckerberg, who established Facebook in 2004, announced that the social networking site had reached one billion users.

“Facebook’s mission is to make the world open and connected,” according to the social networking site.

Research shows that can be good and not so good.

Studies about Facebook were recently presented in a series of preconference meetings leading up to the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, held in New Orleans Jan. 17-19.

One group of researchers looked into whether a high disclosure of one’s life online would have a negative effect on one’s real-life romantic relationship.

And that was exactly the case, researchers said they learned through several studies.

One study found that higher online disclosure was a distinct downer on romantic relationships, but didn’t bother friendships.

Another study that presented participants with two mock Facebook pages found the same negative effect on romance.

Study volunteers, looking at the fake Facebook pages, were told to “Try to imagine the following Facebook ‘wall’ is your partner’s,” said Juwon Lee, of the University of Kansas.

On one mock Facebook page, postings were innocuous — “I like beer!”

The postings on the second Facebook page were a bit more personal — “Pretty interesting training at work today.”

It didn’t matter if the postings were about the romantic partner or the relationship, if the viewer “perceived their partner revealing a lot, it lowers intimacy and satisfaction,” Lee said.

“It would be better to be more discreet for your romance,” she said.

Another study looked at how displaying one’s relationship on Facebook affects that relationship.

Camilla Overup, of the University of Houston, began her presentation by showing her own Facebook page that featured a picture of her and her boyfriend, arm in arm, smiling.

She and fellow researchers undertook a study of 193 students, who had been in a relationship with the same person for about two years.

One telling result that showed up was that people who don’t care much about what people, in general, think about them were made happier when their partner posted about their relationship together.

“They’re more concerned about what their partner posts. They tend to think more about what this means for the relationship,” Overup said.

On the other hand, people who are very concerned with their image in the broad Facebook world can be happy in their relationship, whether or not their partner posts about it.

It seems to be that their “focus is on the self and one’s own behavior,” Overup said.

The final speaker in the Facebook presentation, Diane Felmlee, of Pennsylvania State University, addressed the darker side of Facebook.

“Toxic Ties: A Social Network Analysis of School Cyber Aggression” was the name of the study Felmlee undertook with Robert Faris, of the University of California, Davis.

Today’s Internet and phone texting technologies have unfortunately “provided a new way for youth to harass school mates,” Felmlee said.

The study looked at the incidence of cyberagression at an elite prep school in Long Island and included 800 students, in the eighth through 12th grades.

The grim incidents of cyber-agression that researchers found among the students included Facebook identity theft, posting humiliating photos, texting mean and vicious rumors, a posting of a boy physically abusing his girlfriend, and someone pretending to befriend a lonely person, Felmlee said.

The study found that girls and gays are the most likely to be victimized, with gays being the group most likely to be affected.

Curiously, it was students who were most active in the various peer networks who “were more likely to be victimized,” she said.

And much of the aggression came from former friends and romantic partners or rivals for romantic partners, Felmlee said.

Only highly popular young people seem to be protected from such cyberaggression, she said.

Victim and aggressor “are often located in the same social circles,” Felmlee said.

The people who students become closest to know best how to hurt them, she said.

“One of the tragedies (of cyberaggression) is that young people are often harmed most by those to whom they are most closely and deeply connected,” Felmlee said.