The Games People Play on Facebook: An Introduction to Transactional Analysis Through Social Media

1 Introduction

This is not a book about Facebook or the popular social networking games like FarmVille or Mafia Wars. This is a book about a powerful communications and psychology theory, called Transactional Analysis, which will use Facebook as a way of introducing and illustrating the concepts and uses of that theory.
This year will mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. Eric Berne’s groundbreaking communication and psychology model Transactional Analysis. TA, as its adherents call it, was introduced to the world in 1964, through a text that Berne penned, entitled “Games People Play”. A national bestseller, TA became one of the most influential theories of interpersonal communications, personality, and psychotherapy.
“Games People Play,” a short book in which Berne described his neo-Freudian theory of interpersonal communication, was intended to be read by academics and psychotherapists. Berne had made Transactional Analysis so accessible that his book quickly became a popular “self-help” reference. To date, Berne’s 1964 text has sold nearly 5 million copies.
Transactional Analysis, along with Gestalt psychotherapy, became the rage in the 1960s and enjoyed popularity through the 1980s. Many “self-help” books appeared during this time, some better than others, presenting Berne’s ideas to a wider audience. The theory became so accessible that TA lost favor in the academic research world, as well as the psychodynamic community. Unfortunate “motivational” titles may have sold books, but they also discredited TA from serious, academic research. It is only recently that a new generation of communication theorists and psychologists are rediscovering the powerful model that Berne developed, and establishing university research programs around it.
One such program, which I have been involved with, investigates the relationship between Berne’s “Ego States” and Marry Ainsworth’s Attachment Styles Theory. This research is drawing on two theories that originated in the 1960s and are showing increasing validity and usefulness today. It seems, after two decades of rest, TA is back in the spotlight for serious, communications and psychology research.
What makes TA so appealing is its effectiveness in everyday life. In psychology we say that it has “high ecological validity”. This means that the model is a very powerful tool for describing, predicting,and changing human interactions. I have found TA to be an invaluable tool for understanding and dealing with others, as well as, for understanding and dealing with myself. I am not alone. Since I started teaching TA in my classes, about 7 years now, students have reported remarkable transformations in their lives. On a regular basis I receive e-mails and comments from former students who thank me for introducing them to TA. In fact, one student has made TA the focus of his academic research. When I introduce basic TA theory in my psychology and media/communications studies courses, students become instantly enamored. It is as if light is suddenly shed on a mystery that was long dark.
It wasn’t long before I started to see the usefulness of TA on social networking sites. It began as a tool for handling those “delicate” situations that can occur when we speak interpersonally while in a mass media format. Traditionally, we shape and choose how and whatwe are going to say depending on whom we are saying it to. An audience, such as a class group at a party, requires a different set of communication considerations than does a one-on-one conversation. Determining how or whatto say in a one-to-one (interpersonal) conversation, can be much different than choosing what and how to talk to a large audience. The reason for this is the shear diversity of characters and opinions that are present in a group, versus the limited characteristics and opinions present when talking with a singular partner.
When we address an audience, we must consider the spectrum of attitudes that are present in that audience, and adjust our message accordingly. This often results in a safer, more socially “appropriate” discourse, one that maintains conversation, but avoids alienation by inflexibility. Interpersonal communications can allow for a more intimate, and more charged conversation. This is the difference between personal and public discourse. We do see the character who takes pride in “speaking their mind,” or “telling it like it is” in a public setting. This character type attracts a portion of their audience, and alienates the rest. This is an effective strategy for those who wish to rally a cause, but runs the real risk of alienating others. It has its cost and should be used with care.
In social psychology and sociology there are two concepts concerning why we forget that we are in a group and temporarily assume a sense of aloneness. Deindividuation and disinhibition can be useful in describing that false sense of intimacy and aloneness that often encountered on social networks. Sociologists describe the enmeshment of the individual with the group, to a point in which the individual loses their sense of being in a group and enters into a false sense of aloneness. This experience is described by individuals who spend a good deal of time on social networks. Often it is not until after one ahs posted a too personal message that one becomes aware of its public implications.
Interacting on a social media platform forces us to confront something entirely new in human communications, a sense of disinhibitedintimacy, while in a completely public, mass communication system. This same effect, or something that seems to be related to it, occurs when we are far away from those whom we perceive to be authorities over our actions. As we have seen in examples including the Abu Grhaib prison abuses, the Milgram obedience to authority study, or the wild summer holiday far from home, we tend to have a lessened sense of accountability for our actions when we perceive to be distant form those who will judge us. This is often expressed in the colloquial as, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!”

We are not alone on social networking platforms. In fact, our posts are not limited to the sometimes-small network of “friends” that we chose to limit our broadcasts to. As media and technology theorists have pointed out, the Internet is a massive copying machine. Every utterance of text, sound, image, and video that we place on the Internet is easily replicable and transferable. Unlike hand written or oral communications, every act on the Internet is necessarily an act of mass communication. Regardless of an e-mail, text message to a friend, or a “private” message, the nature of the technology transforms all private communication into mass communications. There is no interpersonal communication on the Internet, yet we struggle with the paradox of the sense of intimacy and privacy that also comes from the nature of the technology.
Social networks are the platform through which we share our thoughts, feelings, and actions. We provide commentary on our lives through audial and visual media. When we “post” our thoughts, feelings, and activities on our wall we are making them available to the discretion of our “friends;” those whom we allow access to our thoughts, feelings, and actions.
The considerations of the phenomenon of the Internet and social media are immense. In this book we will be looking specifically at the interactions that people have on facebook and other similar social networking platforms. We will introduce the theoretical framework of Transactional Analysis, through facebook, which, in turn, will equip the reader with a powerful tool for communication on social media sites.
The chapters will follow Berne’s format for explaining TA. We will begin with an understanding of the motivation for interacting on social networks. We will then move on to the analysis of the structures of facebook dialogues (the structure of our virtual identities), and then the analysis of the dialogues (called transactions) themselves. We will then explore how “procedures,” “rituals,” “pastimes,” and “stamp collecting” serve to maintain our virtual identities. The remainder of the book will introduce the 36 “games” that people play to maintain their sense of identity, their sense of “self”. The main goal of this book is to introduce the social network user to the powerful theory and method of Transactional Analysis, through the platform of the social network.