A team of professors from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Portland State University have some advice for anyone who uses social media — trying to improve your reputation by removing content that puts you in a bad light can be more damaging than you realize.

For the study, now published online in Computers in Human Behavior, researchers gave a survey to 150 adult Facebook users in an effort to better understand how they react in situations that threaten their personal image. The researchers were also interested in finding out how these threats affect their personal relationships in a real-life setting.

In psychology, the concept of "face " refers to the positive social value a person claims for himself, in other words, how he sees his own reputation. Impression management refers to an individual's deliberate efforts to cultivate a particular image. In the case of social media, impression management efforts would involve actively trying to delete or hide posts and photos that may put you in a bad light.

For example, one participant described a social media face threat that involved a friend sharing a photo of her passed out drunk during spring break. She explained that she had tried to untag herself from the photo and asked her friend to remove the post. For the study, the team was specifically looking at the aftermath of a social media face threat and how this behavior affected relationships in between the victim of the face threat and the offender.

The survey asked Facebook users how they dealt with certain face-threatening situations on social media, where information can be shared with large numbers of people in different social circles, such as family and co-workers. As the researchers read through the survey answers, a common trend began to emerge.

"We found that people who tried to remove or justify embarrassing content actually experienced a decline in their relationship with the offender," said Dr. Yvette Wohn, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the information systems department at NJIT's College of Computing Sciences and a researcher involved in the study, in a recent statement. "It may be important for people to know that trying to engage in impression management may also come at the expense of a personal relationship."

Regardless of how severe the threat was, trying to redirect attention away from the content or trying to get rid of it was continuously associated with a decline in the relationship between the offender and the victim. While impression management is not a new phenomenon, trying to maintain one's social image is a part of human nature, this is the first time that the behavior was documented on a social media platform, the researchers said.

"I think it's important for people to think twice before they post something that contains information about someone else, because you may put them in a very difficult situation," concluded Wohn.

Source: Wohn DY, Spottswood EL. Reactions to other-generated face threats on Facebook and their relational consequences. Computers in Human Behavior . 2016