People who have large followings on social networks like Facebook are at greater risk of psychological and reputational harm than those with a close circle of online friends, research has suggested.
Experts at Nottingham Trent University in England have said those with a large number of online friends are more prone to harassment and exposure to inappropriate content.
The study found that users are more likely to forget the context of their audience as the size of their network grows, meaning they are more likely to post content which is unsuitable for all members of their audience.
And those who are friends with a lot of people are also likely to see unsuitable material posted by their friends.
Researcher Sarah Buglass, of the university’s School of Social Sciences, who will present the study at a British Psychological Society conference next week, said social networks can present a danger.
She said: “Offline people tend to compartmentalise the individuals they encounter in day to day life. Friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances are in many cases kept quite separate, enabling people to effectively manage their personas with each.
“However, on sites such as Facebook, these often diverse connections are allowed to digitally mingle. Social boundaries are collapsed, with information in many cases being shared to all.
“As network size increases, the ability to remember who, or in the case of misclassified profiles, what you are connected to, becomes increasingly more difficult, and the management of these networks more complex.
“As a result, people are leaving themselves open to online vulnerability as the information they share may not be suitable for all of their connections – risking damage not only to their reputations or potential harassment from disgruntled parties, but also increasing the potential for falling victim to data misuse.”
The study looked at the profiles of 177 UK-based Facebook users and found 89% of people had their profiles set so they were visible to friends only.
It found that people with smaller networks of up to 150 connections were found to be more able to manage the flow of information because they are more aware of who they share their posts with.
Mrs Buglass said: “Unless these networks are effectively managed and filtered, people are leaving themselves open to a whole host of potential online vulnerabilities which may lead to negative consequences for their psychological, reputational and even physical wellbeing.”