Social media has undoubtedly changed the face of the world today. The way people interact is different as a result of the social media that they utilize; the changes in social interaction that have occurred have caused a significant cultural shift in humanity. More and more of the everyday actions that people take is occurring over the internet; today, many of people’s relationships occur online. Unlike the generations that came before, today’s world is full of people who are growing up increasingly isolated, except for connections that they make through the internet.
Of course human interaction will not disappear as a result of the existence of these spaces that are now available to people on the Internet-- but they have unquestionably and forever altered the nature of human behavior and human interaction. Relationships no longer have the same metrics for judgment that they had in the past; the growth of popularity of the Internet and, perhaps more specifically, social networking sites has changed the way people perceive themselves and their peers.
- Social Networking and Social Media
Before discussing the impacts that social media has had on relationships, it is important to discuss what “social media” and “social networking” mean in the context of this discussion. Social media is a form of networking that allows people to connect with others via the Internet. Social media and social networking services are part of the web 2.0 world; they are interactive sites or applications on mobile devices that are used to connect with people that the individual wants to connect with-- whether they are individuals that the person knows in real life, or they are online friends (Hongladarom, 2011). It is common to use social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to promote one’s personal friendships, but it is also common to use these kinds of sites as an online face or presence for one’s business or professional life (Hongladarom, 2011).
Social media has inundated the world today. It is difficult to succeed in any professional sense without some kind of connection with social media; even video games have become places in which people can connect and form bonds. There is no denying the fact that social media can easily help people build bonds with people they would normally have no matter what; however, it also has a tendency to pull relationships apart for many people. This is the focus of the Tokunaga (2011) study; it was a discussion about the impact of social networking on relationships.
- Study Methodology
The issue addressed in the “Friend Me” (Tokunaga, 2011) study was a question of how social media and social media technologies change the relationships of the people who are using them. There are a number of steps taken throughout this survey, but Tokunaga (2011) describes the procedure, saying: “Using a mixed-methods approach, open coding of open-ended responses revealed 10 negative event types that surface during participation on SNSs. Quantitative coding was then used to identify a cut-off point for the most frequently experienced negative events. The findings reveal that the three most commonly experienced negative event types include ignoring or denying friend requests, deleting public messages or identification tags, and identifying ranking disparities on Top Friends applications. The practical, theoretical, and negative social implications of participation on SNSs are discussed” (Tokunaga, 2011). People experience very real real-life responses to the ways in which people act on social media; the actions of others on social media is immediately linked to the ways in which their peers and acquaintances act on their chosen social media site (Tokunaga, 2011).
When people stop seeing friendship on a sliding scale, Tokunaga (2011) suggests, there is a real psychological effect on the individual as a result of the image portrayed on social media. The primary action that the Tokunaga (2011) study had to take was dealing with the issue of defining “friendship” on social media-- and noting that it is a binary, rather than a spectrum. Tokunaga (2011) writes:
The ambiguous and elastic notion of ‘‘friends’’ on SNSs presents an additional challenge through which users must navigate Interpersonal problems can sometimes stem from the use of the word ‘‘friends’’ because certain expectations about interaction norms accompany such labels The negotiation process on the road to becoming friends can foster problems that originate from conflicting philosophies about friendships. Because rejecting or ignoring a friend request is viewed as a risky behavior, some users unconditionally accept others as friends regardless of closeness. Alternatively, other users are more selective about the individuals they allow as friends. The reduced social presence on the Internet may also play a central role in motivating negative events on SNSs (Tokunaga, 2011).
Tokunaga goes on to state that there are significant ways in which the negative act-- the failure to add someone as a friend on social media-- can be seen as a social snub, and can lead to serious social reprisals for the guilty party (Tokunaga, 2011).
The study used 197 university students and asked them to recall incidents where their social media network use caused them significant strain over time. The participants were then asked open-ended questions regarding how and when social media networking sites had put strain on their social relationships. Tokunaga (2011) suggests that “The most frequent relationships in which negative events on SNSs emerged was between friends or romantic partners: friend 59.39%, boyfriend/girlfriend 20.81%, relative/spouse 6.09% (n ¼ 12), best friend 6.09% , acquaintance 3.55% , friend of a friend 2.54%, coworker 1.02% , ex-partner 1.02% , and stranger 0” (Tokunaga, 2011). While friends seem to make up a good portion of the people who cause problems on social media, it is also much more likely for an individual connected to another individual to be a friend than a spouse or romantic partner.
There was a distinct set of ranking and coding statistics assigned to each response, and then each response was further codified into a certain type of response. A content analysis was done on the information that was made available by the coding. In addition, Tokunaga writes, “A chi-square analysis of the frequencies for each negative event type, obtained in the quantitative coding procedure, provided a criterion to select the most commonly experienced negative events”(Tokunaga, 2011). The most commonly experienced negative events, according to the research, is the event of having a friend request ignored by the recipient.
Another case that commonly caused problems between individuals in the Tokunaga (2011) study is the issue of deleted comments. It seems that whenever someone feels as though their thoughts or presence is being deleted or ignored, it leads to more strain and stress associated with the social media networking site in question that the individual is using (Tokunaga, 2011).
One of the more antiquated features that the study also looked into was the issue of ranking “top friends.” This is not really an issue on Facebook or many of the other popular social media sites that are available today, because most of these do not include a “top friends” ranking system. This system was popularized by Myspace, a now largely-defunct social media networking site that was a predecessor to Facebook and the wildly popular social media networking sites of today.
However, Tokunaga (2011) also notes that unlike the dichotomous nature of the deleted or ignored friend request, the top friends ranking feature does not inspire as much irritation or anger. Perhaps this lack of irritation or anger is because the system is mostly defunct, and those who participated in the study are less likely to value these types of ranking systems. These ranking systems have a way, Tokunaga (2011) writes, of ranking people’s friends and letting the whole world know who means the most to who; these ranking systems,when they are readily available, wreak social havoc. It allows teens (and adults) to announce who means the most to them in their lives. Undoubtedly, this can and will lead to hurt feelings over time.
- Platonic Relationships and Acquaintances
Platonic relationships cause most of the problems on social media networking sites, according to most studies, merely because people usually have more friends that they consider platonic than they have romantic relationships. Sometimes these relationships are close-- best friends-- and sometimes they are not close at all, and the people involved are more like acquaintances. Jin (2013) suggests that “using data from a survey of Facebook users, the result revealed that Facebook users’ self-systems played an important role in the formation of bridging and bonding social relationships as well as in generating social capital effects. However, self-esteem did not affect bonding social relationships significantly (Baym, Zhang and Lin, 2004). The study also found that Facebook users’ self-systems mediated the relationship between bridging and bonding social relationships and social capital effects” (Jin, 2013). What Jin did discover is that users generally keep each other at the same level of intimacy online that they would have in real life-- and because people inherently understand this, they see the online life of an individual as a direct reflection of the offline life of that individual (Baym, Zhang and Lin, 2004). When a user is snubbed online, that user will then see the snub as a direct reflection of the relationships that they have offline (Baym, Zhang and Lin, 2004).
Conversely, most people see internet communication as less “valuable” than other forms of communication-- for example, when compared with the phone, internet communication is found to be slightly less important and slightly less valued than phone conversation (Baym, Zhang and Lin, 2004). It seems, then, that people ascribe the meaning they want to ascribe to certain actions that are taken by others on the internet; although Tokunaga (2011) suggests that people take what other people do serious, Baym, Zhang and Lin (2004) suggest that they themselves do not value the communications that take place over the internet as highly as they value communications that take place via other media (Baym, Zhang and Lin, 2004). This indicates that there is some kind of disconnect for many people regarding the meaning of a friend request-- or the denial of a friend request, as it may be-- and the actual meaning ascribed to the actions taken by an individual on their social media site (Baym, Zhang and Lin, 2004).
- Intimate, Family and Romantic Relationships
Another area that is commonly discussed in terms of social media is the issue of intimate relationships. Some people choose to put almost no information about their relationships on social media networks, while others air dirty laundry where everyone can see. This is, of course, very dependent upon the people who are using the social media networks; this is as varied as peoples’ personalities can be. However, according to Tokunaga (2011), a large number of people suggested that they have trouble on social media with the people in their most intimate circle: family, closest friends, and intimate partners (Tokunaga, 2011).
The world of romantic relationships can be difficult, especially online. Tokunaga (2011) suggests that one of the things that causes the most irritation for people is the issue with friend requests; LeFebvre et al. (2014) concur, suggesting “The analysis revealed online behaviors that overlapped with the dissolution model as well as paralleled previous research into online behaviors. Results are discussed using the relationship dissolution model framework to individuals modifying online relationship statuses, ‘unfriending’ previous partners, and limiting profile access in order to manage relationship termination” (LeFebvre et al., 2014). As relationships in the offline world end, so too do the relationships that people have with each other online evolve; LeFebvre et al. (2014) go on to suggest that terminating a friendship on Facebook or the social media equivalent is often something that is mentioned when end-of-relationship problems are discussed with people who rely on social media for interpersonal connection (LeFebvre et al., 2014).
- Business Relationships
The Tokunaga (2011) study does not mention the issue of business connections very significantly, but they are worth consideration; work colleagues may be friends, but friending work colleagues also may be problematic for some people, depending on the nature of the things that they post on their social media page. This may be another instance where the issue of ignoring or deleting a friend request may come up; while it may not be a good idea to friend work colleagues, deleting or ignoring friend requests can also cause hurt feelings and problems in the workplace.
- Discussion and Conclusions
Despite understanding that placing too much stock in what people post or do on the internet is a bad thing, people in today’s work are placing increasing emphasis on the things that people are saying on the internet. The wonderful thing about social media is that it is a good platform for reaching many people-- but people also get to choose what kind of information they are sharing with others when they post on social media.
Social media solves many problems, among them the problem of maintaining long-distance friendships and relationships-- but it can also cause problems within friendship groups and relationship circles, because it often forces individuals to quantify a qualitative feeling-- how much or what someone feels about another person.
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