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After watching this clip on Jimmy Kimmel Live, I began to question the affect Facebook has on our offline interactions and relationships.

The literature available on the subject is surprisingly positive; linking Facebook use to increased social capital, subjective wellbeing, and social self-esteem. Of course there are a number of counter arguments…

Social capital

So what is social capital and social self-esteem?

Social capital refers to the resources, both virtual and physical, that are accumulated through interpersonal relationships. Social self-esteem is a person’s judgment and evaluation of themselves in a social context.

The good

Facebook is seen to increase social capital in that it can strengthen weak ties and assist in maintaining bonds with a larger, diffuse network. Ellison, Steinfield, and Lampe (2007) found that Facebook was successful in increasing social bonds and social capital, although the level of increase was dependent on the participants’ self-esteem. Participants who had low self-esteem or satisfaction from life were seen to benefit the most from a high Facebook use intensity, with a significant difference in their bridging social capital compared to participants who had low self-esteem and low Facebook use intensity. Moreover, Facebook use and other computer-mediated interactions led to positive community interaction. However, Valenzuela, Park, and Kee (2009) suggest that although Facebook did increase social capital amongst disengaged youths, it was minimal in their study and there may be better measures.

The bad

Nie (2001) and Wellman, Haase, Witte, and Hampton (2001) argue that Facebook use decreases the time spent interacting offline or is used to replace offline time, diminishing an individual’s social capital.

Subjective wellbeing and self-esteem

The good

Kim and Lee (2011) found that if people give you positive feedback online, it increases an individual’s self-esteem and wellbeing.

The bad

Similarly, if an individual receives negative feedback it is detrimental to their self-esteem and wellbeing (Kim & Lee, 2011)

Is there any point to this debate?

Chan and Cheng (2004) looked at the difference between online and offline relationships between 162 Hong Kong Internet users. They identified a number of differences between the types of relationships, highlighting that offline relationships have more “interdependence, breadth, depth, code change, understanding, commitment, and network convergence than online friendships”. However, over time these differences diminish until this is no significant difference found between offline and online relationships. It is suggested that this may be the case, as people tend to already be offline friends or acquaintances before they are Facebook friends (Lampe, Ellison, & Steinfield, 2006). Moreover, people who meet online are very likely to meet up offline at some point (Ellison et al., 2007). What the literature describes is a restructuring of the way in which we interact with others. It is no longer offline versus online interaction, but a concoction of both.

Apart from some personal blogs online, I am yet to find any undisputed empirical evidence that Facebook devalues friendship. Even if it could be proven that friendship is being devalued in our society, is Facebook really to blame or is it part of a larger cultural shift?

References

Chan, D. K.-S., & Cheng, G. H.-L. (2004). A Comparison of Offline and Online Friendship Qualities at Different Stages of Relationship Development. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21, 305-320. doi: 10.1177/0265407504042834

Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., & Lampe, C. (2007). The Benefits of Facebook ‘‘Friends:’’ Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12, 1143-1167. doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00367.x

Kim, J., & Lee, J.-E. R. (2011). The Facebook Paths to Happiness: Effects of the Number of Facebook Friends and Self-Presentation on Subjective Well-Being. Cyberpsychology, behavior, and social networking 14(6), 359-364. doi: 10.1089/cyber.2010.0374

Lampe, C., Ellison, N. B., & Steinfield, C. (2006). A Face(book) in the crowd: Social searching vs. social browsing. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 2006 20th Anniversary Conference on COmputer Supported Cooperative Work.

Nie, N. H. (2001). Sociability, interpersonal relation, and the Internet: Reconciling conflicting findings. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 420-435.

Valenzuela, S. n., Park, N., & Kee, K. F. (2009). Is There Social Capital in a Social Network Site?: Facebook Use and College Students’ Life Satisfaction, Trust, and Participation. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 14, 875-901. doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2009.01474.x

Wellman, B., Haase, A. Q., Witte, J., & Hampton, K. (2001). Does the Internet increase, decrease, or supplement social captial? Social networks, participation, and community commitment. American Behavioral Scientist, 45(3), 436.