At the recent Western States Communication Association (WSCA) Conference two panels “Social Networking and Beyond: Computer Mediated Communication and Community” and “Relational Communication and Social Networks” contained interesting research on how people are using social networking. The overarching theme is that people are using social networking as a means of simultaneously forming and communicating their personal identity and relationships. I have briefly summarized some of the research and provided links for you to dig further if you are interested.
Valerie Barker from San Diego State University discussed research comparing Mixi Diary vs. Facebook. She looked at Japanese vs. American young women’s uses of these social sites. Mixi is popular in Japan like Facebook is in America. She notes that there are differences: Mixi is used primarily through mobile devices. On Mixi the network of friends is smaller with more of a sense of privacy and a closer experience than Facebook use among American young women. Motives for using the social sites include social identity gratification (bolstering a sense of belonging) and social compensation (making up for offline unhappiness).
Ahlam Muhtaseb from CSU San Bernardino shared research entitled “Mobilizing Online: The Internet, Political Involvement and Community Participation of Arab Americans” Ahlam found that from a convenience sample of 185 Arab Americans, 75% were users online users and 25% were non-users. Users showed a greater propensity for community participation, in particular political involvement with a statistically valid correlation between users and voting.
Makenzie Phillips from Boise State University researched social networking sites for surveillance in romantic relationships and found that 83% of respondents are engaging is some type of surveillance behavior. Jealousy and entitlement were predictors of surveillance behavior.
Karen Lollar from Metropolitan State College of Denver has been tracking Denver neighborhood's use of social sites, such as Neighborhood Link for the past 10 years and shared how neighbors are interacting differently online. She has discovered that most online topics match what neighbors discuss face-to-face, such as pets and local civic issues.
Erin Koppel from University of Arizona looked at 2008 Pew Internet data on social networking use to determine if relationship initiation and relationship maintenance was related to age and found only a negative correlation between age and relationship management online. She noted that this counter-intuitive result could be because of the nature of relationships that exist on the site.
Lynne Webb (and others) from University of Arkansas researched how ethnicity was enacted on Facebook and found that of the 488 open profiles they studied, 29% showed some ethnicity, primarily through quotations or applications. Webb noted that Facebook does not give space in the profile set up for people to share anything about their ethnicity.
There is such a wealth of information to be studied as social network sites become a pervasive form of communication around the world. Delving into how communication remains the same and changes as the medium changes will be of great research interest in the coming years.