According to a Norwegian study, 'likes' on Facebook are providing a new type of humanitarian support and social responsibility.
Petter Bae Brandtzæg and Ida Maria Haugstveit at SINTEF have been mapping the habits of more than 400 Facebook users recruited from Plan Norge's Facebook page. The aim was to identify their motives in 'liking' a particular humanitarian cause or organisation on Facebook.
Six different motives
The researchers asked the users to answer three main questions. Firstly, did they think that 'liking' on Facebook actually supported humanitarian causes? Secondly, what was it that motivated them to 'like' humanitarian causes? And finally, why did the users decide to 'like' humanitarian causes on Facebook?
"We discovered that there were about six different ways of using 'likes' in relation to support for humanitarian causes," says Petter Brandtzæg. "For some people, it was about taking social responsibility. Other people clicked 'like' based on an immediate emotional response. A third group wanted to find out more information about the cause, while a fourth wanted to appear to their friends as socially responsible. Then there were those who wanted more information about the cause in question, and finally those who clicked 'like' out of habit, because it costs so little to 'like'."
The majority of those asked thought that these 'likes' helped to promote humanitarian causes and their work. Only a few users went no further than simply 'liking' organisations or issues related to humanitarian causes. The researchers believe that it is important to be aware that for people who 'like' humanitarian causes on Facebook, this is not just an opportunity to support a cause. It is also a chance to promote their own commitment and market themselves, as well as encourage others to 'like' the same thing.
"Facebook offers a new type of social responsibility and humanitarian support -- a kind of 'low threshold activism' in which it is easy for everyone to support a cause, no matter how much time, space or money they have," says Brandtzæg.
Underlying social motives
'Likes' on Facebook are often accused of being simple 'show-off' actions, but this study shows that people who 'like' a humanitarian cause believe that their action can make a difference. This tendency was reinforced by the fact that the method of socially responsible 'liking' was the most common motivation for 'liking' a humanitarian cause. "Social motives and an emotional reaction show that users are more likely to 'like' or follow a page rather than just search for information and news," says Brandtzæg.
The 'like' button on Facebook was introduced as a function in 2009. It allows users to support and follow updates of a particular organisation, company or suchlike. But 'liking' a page is also a way of making it available to their friends and acquaintances, and of adding their own comments.
- Petter Bae Brandtzaeg, Ida Maria Haugstveit. Facebook likes: a study of liking practices for humanitarian causes. International Journal of Web Based Communities, 2014
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