Admitting when you’re wrong on Facebook can save your social media reputation

HOUSTON, Texas — Searching for the truth on social media is often like attempting to find a needle in a haystack, but researchers from the University of Houston say honesty is truly the best policy when posting online. More specifically, the study recommends “intellectually humble behavior” if you want to make a good impression on other users.

In short, study authors say admitting when you are wrong during a debate online promotes better impression formation. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are no strangers to disagreements, but just like in a face-to-face confrontation, no one likes a sore loser.

“Willingness to engage in wrongness admission is positively correlated with agreeableness, openness to experience, honesty/humility and emotional intelligence,” says study author Adam Fetterman, assistant professor of psychology and director of Houston’s Personality, Emotion, and Social Cognition Lab, in a university release. “With potentially hundreds (or more, depending on their privacy settings) of passive witnesses, the user can admit that they are wrong or avoid doing so. We found that the OSN user’s best course of action, here, is to publicly admit that they are wrong.”

Researchers came to this conclusion after conducting four experiments. Each experiment featured participants reading a fake argument about a made-up food additive on Facebook between two users. Researchers were sure to make the argument as realistic as possible.

Civil conversations — on social media?!

In one scenario, “Participant A” ended the conversation by posting, “…I guess I am wrong and you are right on this. Thanks for posting those links and thanks for the conversation!” Meanwhile, another argument ended with Participant A saying “…I still think I am right and you are wrong. Thanks for posting those links and thanks for the conversation!”

“Those who witnessed an OSN user engage in wrongness admission rated that user as higher in communion and competence traits compared witnessing a user not engaging in wrongness admission,” Prof. Fetterman explains. “Furthermore, we found that those in the wrongness admission condition were more likely to indicate interest in interacting with the admitting user compared to those in the nonadmission conditions.”

Humans, by our very nature, often crave social interaction and validation. Many seek meaningful social connections these days online, but that isn’t always an easy task when everyone is simply a profile picture and a few comments.

“People tend to form the most positive impressions for those on OSNs who display communal, open and humble online behaviors,” Prof. Fetterman adds. “Wrongness admission serves as a cue of intellectual humility, communion, and competence. Although the admitter is telling onlookers that they have been incompetent in this instance, it suggests that they are willing to work together and that they are competent enough to recognize faulty knowledge and change it.”

“Therefore, wrongness admission on OSNs appears to lead to better impression formation outcomes than not admitting. At least, that is what we can conclude until someone provides evidence that we are wrong,” Prof. Fetterman concludes, ending on a humorous note: “If such a time comes, we will never admit it.”

The study is published in the journal Social Psychology.

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