Acceptable and Unacceptable Behaviour on Social Networking Sites: A Study of the Behavioural Norms of Youth on Facebook


  • Val Hooper
  • Tarika Kalidas


Keywords/Phrases: Social networking sites, behavioural norms, youth, herding behaviour, mimetic theory, Facebook


SNS offer many benefits, especially for the youth who are striving to establish their identity as young adults. The youth are the most active users of SNS but are also the biggest perpetrators of behaviour that would not be tolerated offline. Although differences between these two environments have been identified, the link between the underlying behavioural norms and what is regarded as acceptable and unacceptable behaviour online has not been comprehensively explored – even less so how that behaviour is determined. Given the gap in the knowledge and the prevalence of use by the youth, the objectives of this research were to determine: (1) what behaviour is regarded as acceptable/unacceptable on SNS, (2) how that is determined, and (3) whether there are differences between online behavioural norms and those that apply to offline behaviour. Guided by social cognitive theory, qualitative interviews were conducted with 16 youth aged 18‑20 years who had Facebook accounts. Findings indicate there is greater clarity on what is unacceptable behaviour than what is acceptable. Personal behavioural norms appear to guide determination of unacceptable behaviour whereas the lead of others’ indicates acceptable behaviour. Acceptable behaviour appears to be more audience dependent than unacceptable behaviour, and there sre strong indications of herding behaviour with regard to determination of acceptable norms. The lack of clarity regarding acceptable online behavioural norms is distinctly different from the offline environment. The “protection” that the computer screen provides also contributes to the differences between offline and online behaviour. The distinction between types of friends that exists offline is emphasized online because users usually have one Facebook page that serves all audiences as opposed to encountering different groups separately as is the case offline. Online there is also the obligation to befriend people one normally would avoid offline.



1 Nov 2012