Lentis/Facebook Cheating


Facebook is an 800 million user social networking site, helping old friends stay in touch and promoting increased depth of new friendships. However, the existence of Facebook can also harm romantic relationships by reducing emotional intimacy and facilitating infidelity. Specifically, the anonymity afforded by the internet, the expediency with which connections can be made, and the broad connectivity built by the social graph are all enabling factors that lead to "Facebook Cheating". As underlying factors of social media, these elements can also be shown to influence the situations of three analogous cases: online piracy using The Pirate Bay, music discovery via iTunes, and the recent social unrest in the Middle East.

The Problem and its ImportanceEdit

What is Facebook?Edit

Facebook is the world's largest social networking service[1]

Facebook is a social networking platform that was launched in 2004 and has been growing steadily since. The site boasts 800 million users[2], and founder Mark Zuckerberg recently announced that 500 million people – a twelfth of the world’s population – had logged in on one day[3]. This growing userbase creates a web of connectivity, proving the six degrees of separation maxim: 99.6% of pairs of users are connected by at most six friendship links. Within individual countries, most people are separated by just three “degrees”[4].

The existence of these connections has significant positive effects. According to a 2011 study, “honest self-presentation [on Facebook] … showed a significant positive indirect effect on subjective well-being through perceived social support”[5], meaning that Facebook users felt supported by their online friends. Facebook’s wide connectivity also means that new friends can be better acquainted – users see interactions with new friends and acquaintances increase more dramatically than interactions with close friends increase, as shown in the table below.

Figure 1: Changes in Interactions Count at Different Friend Levels with Introduction of Facebook [6]
Friend Type n Mean Interactions Before Facebook Mean Interactions With Facebook Mean Difference
New Friends 76 1.67 2.96 1.28
Acquaintances 84 2.73 3.88 1.14
Average Friends 161 5.36 6.34 0.98
Close Friends 161 8.17 8.6 0.43

What is Facebook cheating?Edit

Although primarily beneficial, Facebook and online social media can harm relationships. Issues include lower sexual intimacy and home and work productivity [7]. Social media has been found to be addictive and is known to generate relationship animosity and jealousy [8]. The ambiguous nature of online sexual interactions makes it difficult to clearly define infidelity. Additionally, online behaviors tends to be more uninhibited than in-person interactions [9]. Certain businesses have found profitable ways to capitalize on this phenomenon. AshleyMadison.com is a dating website dedicated to facilitate cheating in committed relationships. Special online monitoring and hacking software exists to help suspecting individuals track their significant others. Furthermore, there are websites dedicated to cataloguing online affairs such as Facebookcheating.com which contains user stories and self-help articles.

A survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) found that 20% of divorces cite Facebook as a factor [10]. Additionally, 80% of divorce lawyers report a increased incidence in the number of cases that use social media as evidence [11]. Furthermore, 57% of frequent internet users flirt, 42% had an online affair, 38% participated in a sexually explicit online conversation and 31% engaged in real-time sex due to an online conversation [12]. Facebook cheating is not only widespread but also takes a significant toll on relationships.

Social AttitudesEdit

There are many social groups at play concerning Facebook cheating. The most directly involved group are cheaters and those they cheat with, who view Facebook as a means to connect with people who they might have an affair with. Alternatively, partners of cheaters perceive Facebook both as a tool to track their partner’s online movements and as a means for their partner to stray.

Facebook has no official position on cheating enabled by their service, but does take a firm stance against the use of fake profiles and goes to great lengths to combat their use [13]. Computer monitoring software providers view catching cheaters as one of the primary uses of their programs, and thusly have an economic interest in the online cheating.

Some religious groups directly associate Facebook with cheating temptation. Cedric Miller, a reverend of the Living Word Christian Fellowship Church, directed nearly 50 married church officials to delete their Facebook accounts after encountering 20 instances of marital trouble caused by Facebook among his church-goers in six months[14]. He famously characterized Facebook as a “portal to infidelity”[15].

Social Science FactorsEdit


Figure 2: Distribution of Motivation to Deceive Online[16]
Issue of Deception Sex (%) Age (%) Residence (%) Marital Status (%) Occupation (%)
Privacy Concern 21 32 75 37 32
Identity Play 50 33 13 30 45
Elevating Status 7 8 1 7 3
Attractiveness 10 25 7 15 13
Other Reasons 12 3 3 11 6

Superficially, Facebook does not support anonymity. False name usage is explicitly prohibited by Facebook’s policy agreement. In practice, however, Facebook users can easily create and use profiles associated with a name other than their own: 11% of Facebook users use a fake name or first name only (fig. 3). Even users that use their real name can cultivate their online identity by veiling certain aspects of their real identity through deliberate deception or omission of information. The "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" adage holds true for Facebook as much as it does elsewhere online. In a survey regarding online deception, 29% of users admitted to sometimes, often, or always deceiving online[17]. Online deceivers most frequently lie about their age, residence, sex, occupation, and marital status. The most frequently reported reasons for deceiving were privacy concerns, identity play, elevating status, and increasing attractiveness (fig. 2). This deception allows Facebook cheaters to reduce their risk of being discovered and increase their attractiveness.


Figure 3: Facebook Profiles by Name Type[18]
Category Percentage Facebook Profiles
Real Name 89%
Partial Name 3%
Fake Name 8%

Expediency is the quality of low time and financial cost of social media communication. Facebook allows the creation of a profile within two minutes; status and wall posts in mere seconds. Furthermore, the 78% Internet penetration rate in the US at low monthly cost promotes social media usage [19]. Expediency brings impulsive consumerism into social communication by enabling on-demand access to the desired individual and interaction. Psychology research has shown that impulsiveness results in a "general overweighing of short-term gratification relative to longer-term concerns" [20]. Expediency also removes barriers to communication. Before social media, it took time to search and connect with the right individual. Now, Facebook provides an avenue to search for the desired partner amongst millions of users. It also conveniently and expediently enables communication through messages and posts. Therefore, Facebook reduces the static friction to cheat and also facilitates continued communication.


In graph theory, connectivity refers to the minimum number of nodes in a graph that need be removed to disconnect the remaining nodes – it’s a measure of how robust and interlinked a network is. As we use it here to describe a social graph, it’s a more abstract measure of associations between people. With 99.6% of user pairs connected by at most six friendships[21] and 150 million new friendship connections made each day[22], Facebook is a platform that enables highly robust global friendship networks.

But these connections can cause trouble in a romantic relationship. According to a study published in Anthropological Quarterly, “If people want to maintain a romantic relationship, both members of the couple should get off of Facebook”[23]. Why? The study draws a clear causative relationship: the increased availability of information through broad Facebook friendships networks causes increased anxiety and jealousy.

Facebook’s connectivity makes it far easier to connect with others and initiate infidelity. With users’ broad and persistent friend base, it’s simple to stay connected with old acquaintances – or former partners. It’s easy to reconnect in a moment of weakness, and then slip into an affair.

Analogous CasesEdit

The Pirate BayEdit

The Pirate Bay is one of the largest BitTorrent websites on the Internet

The Pirate Bay (TPB) is a website that allows global sharing of electronic files such as games, movies and software. A significant share of all new software, movies and music is uploaded to this website within a few days of release. However, interest groups such as movie and music companies claim that this activity is illegal since the files are distributed in violation of copyright laws [24]. TPB facilities the anonymous transfer of files because of its strong privacy policy. Furthermore, its location in Sweden makes serving subpoenas challenging. TPB uses a global network of more than 33 million "peers" and multiple computers simultaneously to quickly transfer large files [25]. Since millions of individuals share their over 4 million files, this vast connectivity provides the user immense choice [26]. Thus, TPB's success can be attributed to the three characteristics analogous to Facebook cheating: anonymity, expediency and connectivity.


The iTunes Store, the number one music vendor in the United States[27], does for music what Facebook does for relationships. With 18,000,000 songs listed and 200,000,000 users[28], iTunes connects more listeners with more music than ever before. Music artists can sell their work through iTunes with only a tax ID and an account with a credit card on file. Expediency also manifests itself in the form of a simple search tool. The search function allows users to find a specific song, artist, album, or genre of music with only a few key strokes. While iTunes use does not have a strong anonymity component, the connectivity and expediency factors are prevailing. These factors facilitate the purchasing of obscure music the same way that Facebook facilitates cheating.

The Arab SpringEdit

Nations affected by Arab Spring movements

The Arab Spring was a wave of revolutions that swept across the Middle East and northern Africa in Spring 2011, toppling regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen, and with uprisings or major protests in seven other countries.

A recent study concluded that social media “played a central role in shaping political debates in the Arab Spring”[29]. The study showed that “a spike in online revolutionary conversations often preceded major events on the ground,” implying that the expediency offered by social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter allowed people to quickly organize, react as a community, and respond through protest. The study also credited the connectivity of social media with spreading ideas across borders, provoking the cascade of revolutions that occurred. And according to a Popular Science article, usage of anonymous routing online grew fivefold in Egypt during its revolution, as “anonymity was a matter of personal safety”[30]. The three aspects of social media that enable Facebook cheating also worked to enable these revolutions.


Facebook and other online platforms are large networks that allow global connectivity with numerous benefits. However, a small number of individuals use these networks to indulge their desires. Relationship quality and marriage stability have been known to decline because of social media. By facilitating cheating, social media can also take an emotional and psychological toll on relationships and marriages. Furthermore, social media, by enabling users to more easily act on temptation, can lead to cheating in relationships. The three factors that facilitate Facebook cheating also apply to other cases such as TPB, iTunes and the Arab Spring. These separate but related cases demonstrate that modern methods of information exchange, through anonymity, expediency and connectivity, enable the fulfillment of diverse human wants.


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